Media Server Reviews

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Kim Wilson  |  Jan 19, 2011  |  1 comments

Price: $399

At A Glance: Single-box solution • Easy setup and operation • Perfect for smaller rooms, garage, and outdoors • Integrates with existing Sonos systems • Product now called Play:5

Sonos, a leader in low-cost, wholehouse audio, has made it possible to inexpensively stream audio from a computer to multiple A/V systems using one or more of its ZonePlayers. The $399 Sonos S5, the newest ZonePlayer, is completely self-contained. It incorporates its own power supply, amplification, and internal speakers, which allows audio streaming from a wide variety of sources without a dedicated sound system. It can serve as your main (or only) ZonePlayer or as an extension of an existing Sonos system.

David Vaughn  |  Oct 11, 2010  |  0 comments

Price: $300

At A Glance: Elegant touch-sensitive screen • Decodes multiple audio formats • Internet radio support • Integrates with Facebook and Flickr

Remember the days when you stacked hundreds, if not thousands, of CDs into towers or bookshelves so you could have your entire music collection at your fingertips? The CD player evolved from a single tray to a multi-disc changer that allowed up to 400 discs per unit, but you still had to find a place for all of those pesky cases. In 1999, the music world turned upside down when 18-year-old Shawn Fanning created Napster, and a new way of music delivery was born. Millions of people around the world digitized their music into MP3s, which compromised quality in favor of convenience. Fortunately, as computing power increased and storage became cheaper, audiophiles could store their digital music in a lossless format (FLAC, WMA Lossless, Apple Lossless, etc.) in order to preserve the integrity of the original recording. But with all of this music digitized, how do you listen to it in your home theater?

Shane Buettner  |  Sep 20, 2010  |  0 comments

Price: $16,470 (as tested) At A Glance: One-of-a-kind, best-in-class movie interface • Very expensive • Music management not at same level • Blu-ray playback currently cumbersome • Standout pure performance

Escape Physical Media

Going back several years, I remember my first reaction to learning of the Kaleidescape paradigm. Then, media servers didn’t exist, and a Kaleidescape starter system cost a startling $30,000. On paper, it looked like its principal novelty was ripping and playing back DVD movies without having to load a disc into a player. My first thought was something like, “Wow, life is really expensive for people who don’t want to get up and walk a few feet to grab a disc and put it into a DVD player.” Of course, this was exceptionally ignorant and shortsighted. My cynicism lasted roughly two and a half to three seconds into actually using a Kaleidescape system. Much like the Apple products that are so near and dear to my heart, Kaleidescape’s power is in the interface. The library management and organization is a metadata-enriched, best-in-class experience. It’s about changing the way you browse and experience your content at least as much as it’s about storing your digital content on a server. What’s better still, it’s dead simple to use. You could hand the remote to your mom, and she’d be watching a movie in seconds. But power users can dig deeper and find movies by their favorite actors, directors, genres, and more.

Darryl Wilkinson  |  Apr 26, 2010  |  0 comments

Price: $1,098 (as reviewed)

At A Glance: Robust wireless communication between devices • Supports most audio codecs except Apple FairPlay DRM-protected and WMA lossless • Access to numerous online audio-subscription services • ZonePlayers can stream local analog sources to other zonesI’ve often thought it would be nice to have music in multiple rooms of the house; but, as I’ve alluded, my home is not custom install friendly. I decided that a wireless multiroom system would definitely be the best bet. Sonos, a company that focuses exclusively on wireless multiroom audio, has a system that’s designed to do just thatŃand moreŃin up to 32 independent zones without breaking the bank or tearing down any walls. After I read the endearing tag line, “Wireless that works like magic,” I thought, what better time or place could there be to check out Sonos’ latest system incarnation? So I asked Sonos to send out its Bundle 150 two-zone package ($999 ) plus a ZoneBridge and let the fun begin.

Kim Wilson  |  Mar 29, 2010  |  0 comments
Price: $6,294 At A Glance: 1-terabyte hard drive • Built-in CD/DVD optical drive • Two audio zones • Remote worldwide access to F2 server • Blu-ray capable (though not standard)

Single-Source Access

ReQuest is one of the first companies to bring proprietary music and media servers to the home entertainment environment. The company offers various systems that simplify how you store and retrieve your music, movies, photos, and more. ReQuest’s F2 Media Server is primarily designed for integration into existing A/V systems, and its IMC Intelligent Media Client adds video functionality to the F2.

Michael Fremer  |  Sep 08, 2009  |  0 comments

Price: $8,600 At A Glance: Instant touchpanel music access • Housewide and worldwide access • Elegant, intuitive interface • Unlimited storage capacity • Automatic backup and MP3 creation

Sooloos Sticks a Fork in the CD

The custom installer’s eyes lit up almost as brightly as the Sooloos Control 10’s LCD touchpanel screen as he scrolled through the 700 CDs and high-resolution digital files that had so far loaded onto the system’s hard drive.

Kim Wilson  |  Aug 31, 2009  |  0 comments
Price: $5,499 At A Glance: Ample storage • Easy to navigate and access media • Plays Blu-ray, DVD, and CD media • Best installed by a professional • Uses Windows Media Center interface

Extreme Media Server

While there are many media servers, I would venture to guess that the average consumer doesn’t understand them. One of the biggest reasons for that is the cost of entry. It is so far outside the reach of most people that they haven’t bothered to research the various brands on the market.

Joshua Zyber  |  Nov 24, 2008  |  0 comments
It’s like a Blu-ray and a half?
Chris Chiarella  |  May 04, 2008  |  0 comments
Move your TV programs from computer to home theater at the speed of walking.

One of my favorite (to make fun of) bits of business-speak is the phrase “leveraging our core competency.” Not content to say, “We’re doing what we do best,” guys in suits spout this lofty verbiage to inspire confidence as they draw upon their unique strength and experience. As the creators of flash memory cards, SanDisk’s core competency has long been those tiny, solid-state wafers in ever-expanding capacities, manufactured in form factors to fit just about every digital device imaginable. They pushed their products in interesting new directions, with dedicated living-room devices that read from and even record to various cards (the SanDisk V-Mate, May 2007 HT). That’s in addition to their broad and popular line of portable MP3 players, with and without video. But with Apple ruling the roost in video-software downloads, and consumers clamoring to watch their digital videos in the comfort of the home theater, what’s next?

Adrienne Maxwell  |  Apr 27, 2008  |  0 comments
A media center…minus the PC.

In theory, I’m a big fan of the all-in-one media center, a single device through which you can enjoy all of your digital entertainment: DVDs, music, photos, and video. In practice, though, I’ve been less than impressed by the Media Center PCs I’ve used, of both the Windows XP and Vista varieties. Nothing ever works quite as seamlessly as it should, I don’t want to keep a keyboard and mouse in my living room, and, most importantly, system crashes make me angry.

John Higgins  |  Apr 27, 2008  |  0 comments
The one HTPC to rule them all.

A couple of years ago, home theater personal computers were on the cusp of being the next big thing. Everyone wanted to make them to get in on the market, and why not? The ability to put all of your home theater media in one box is incredible. No more getting up to sift through CDs or DVDs only to find that the one movie you want to watch is missing. Instead, you can store movies on a hard drive and access them by remote.

Chris Chiarella  |  Mar 24, 2008  |  0 comments
It’s like a UFO landed between your sofa and TV.

You’ve seen me write in these pages about the allure of the Microsoft Windows Vista operating system for PC, with its integrated Media Center application for serious next-generation living rooms. And you probably have one or more techy friends who extol the virtues of their multimedia PC, with its countless hours of stored music and video, TV recording, and the benefits of Internet access. But beyond custom-building your own rig or buying a traditional tower to stand next to your stylish A/V rack, how can you introduce a home-theater-friendly computer to your HDTV? Several manufacturers offer PCs with a form factor in the realm of traditional consumer electronics, namely a horizontal box with a remote control and a front-panel readout. The release of Alienware’s first such machine, the DHS-321, kicked off an evolution from that “digital home system” to their new high-definition entertainment center, code-named Hangar18.

Chris Chiarella  |  Jan 18, 2008  |  First Published: Dec 18, 2007  |  0 comments
Sometimes cutting the cord is a mixed blessing.

Certain catch phrases from my youth have stuck with me more than others. I was never a "Where's the beef?" fan, but lately, the one that keeps coming to mind is, "I want my MTV." It's not so much for the images of hyperactive rock stars and animated moon missions so much as the underlying fervor with which individuals demanded their favorite programming. That could pretty much apply to all TV these days, as well as movies or even video games—and the options for a media-hungry generation have never been as varied, or as powerful. I won't call the Slingbox a revolution for the same reason I won't apply that term to my beloved TiVo. Their uses of technology are bold, but the Slingbox has been a tad slow to penetrate the mainstream, as was the DVR in its early years. The Slingbox, if you don't recall our November 2006 review, is a network-ready place-shifting device that streams the audio and video from a connected home theater component, making it available on a PC connected to the Internet. Rather than start a game of Me Too with the more established Sling Media, competitor Monsoon Multimedia has upped the ante in two significant ways that you can probably figure out from the moniker of this particular model from their HAVA line.

Chris Chiarella  |  Nov 15, 2007  |  0 comments
Yeah, stick this in your PC. . ..

Whatever happened to portable TVs, anyway? I know my dad had one. It was a fairly bulky affair with a relatively small black-and-white screen. But the novelty eventually wore off; even the slenderized Sony Watchman didn't exactly take the world by storm, did it? Their allure is still undeniable, and they're certainly still out there, resting upon the knees of tailgaters and beachgoers. But shifts in the ways we use technology have also inspired the tech-savvy to put TV tuners into the omnipresent PC, conceivably turning a laptop into a portable HDTV, with a few caveats.

Chris Chiarella  |  Nov 15, 2007  |  First Published: Oct 15, 2007  |  0 comments
Stream like you've never streamed before.

I guess the Internet is never going to hit maximum capacity.