Escient DVDM-300 First Impressions and Set up
When the boxes arrived on my back porch, I was surprised at two things, 1) the small size of the FireBall box, and 2) how much more the FireBall weighed over the Sony DVP-CX777ES 400 disc DVD/CD changer. Clearly this was a substantial piece of hardware. While my review unit was no spring chicken, the box had held up well and the unit was well packaged. I was impressed by the amount (and quality) of interconnects provided. Even the analog connectors were of sufficient quality that I felt no need to use any other specialty interconnects. These were no "throw away" wires!
For those of you that have a wireless router in your home, you understand the joy that only a WiFi network can give. If you are like me, you also understand the frustration that integrating a router into you system can bring. Apparently, when I switched from DSL to Cable, something came askew and the computer wasn't recognizing the router. I don't know. I do know that it took me three hours on the phone with tech support to get the router working and three minutes with the FireBall to get it to work. User friendly? Plug and play? I think so. In fact, it bears mentioning that ALL (not some, not most) of my "problems"integrating the Escient FireBall into my system were from the computer side. Having a 5 year old computer with a history of (what can only be described as) psychotic behavior, has gotten me used to such occurrences. Heck, plug-n-play is practically non-existent in my house!
Build Quality and Fit and Finish
For the most part the build quality is very good with the Escient. The DVDM-300 is a substantial box with a large number of well laid out connections. I liked the nice silver finish and the clean look (complete with blue LEDs on the buttons) of the unit though the plastic oval in the center that served as the CD tray cover seemed out of place. I was especially concerned by the flimsy CD tray that creaked ominously every time I loaded a CD into it. One thing I noticed almost right away -the unit has a fan. It is not a loud or obnoxious fan, but it is a fan nonetheless. Personally, next to mosquitoes, cell-phones/loud people in movies, and food that comes out of a can... fans in audio equipment is my biggest pet peeve. Check that - hearing fans operate is actually my pet peeve. The Escient is probably the most likely piece of equipment to find a home somewhere else rather than in the room with you, but, if you are like me, chances are it's going to live with everything else. With my open rack, I could hear it switch on and off (even if it was in standby mode which I found odd) but I think it is quiet enough that with either a door (even with a screen on it) or a little more distance, it would be all but unnoticeable.
Set up - General
Can you hook up a VCR? This is slightly more complicated -but only slightly (about the same as hooking up a DVD player). Depending on the number of units you will be connecting for the DVM-300 to manage, you are likely to complete the process in minutes. Yes, I said MINUTES. The large, easy to follow Quick Setup guide is more than adequate to lead even the least tech savvy among us to successful FireBall integration. Note: You MUST have the unit connected to the Internet in order to access it. There is no getting around it. As I struggled with my router, I tried to power up the unit because... well, because it's a $5k box and I wanted to play with it. Without an Internet connection, you can't get past the first screen. The Escient doesn't have an internal WiFi card so a physical connection must be made. Once connected to the Internet, though, the setup takes... well, about a minute.
There is a user manual and available online support for the FireBall, but truthfully, the thing is pretty self-explanatory. Every menu is well laid out, the setup and option screens have easy to understand labels, and frankly, anyone that can operate a Denon 3805 (or program a VCR for that matter) is probably going to ignore the manual for the most part. Some of the functions that I "discovered" included:
- Using the included wireless keyboard, the first two letters you type will be used for a search.
- If you have WiFi in your house, you can log into the FireBall, and control it (including all the setup and option menus). All you need to do is go into the options (using the keyboard or remote), select network , and give the FireBall a name. Type that name into the URL location on Explorer or Safari and whamo! You have all the control you would with the remote.
- When you control the FireBall with a computer, the display on the TV doesn't follow exactly what you see on the computer, allowing you to do things like watch a movie on the main system while browsing the movie library or making edits to other discs via the Internet UI.
- You need to have the unit on "display and play" rather than "record and eject" if you want to duplicate a disc. Otherwise you need to use the "create a mixed CD" option when recording.
- The guide followed by the menu/view buttons are your friends. Use them well, use them often.
Set up and Performance - Movies
400 DVDs! That's a lot... and if you utilize the maximum capacity with three DVD changers, it handles 1200 DVDs. To be honest, I have been resisting the urge to purchase a bunch of DVDs, mostly because I get "the look" whenever I bring another one home. Well, I decided that I'd stick 20 in the massive Sony DVP-CX777ES 400 disc DVD/CD changer and extrapolate from there. Being an evil reviewer, I made sure to include some of my more obscure and bonus discs in hopes of "tripping up" the recognition software. Well, it took an average of 26 seconds per disc (so a full 400 should take around 3 hours) - not too shabby. And once it is done, it's done! You can actually disconnect the FireBall from the Internet and, as long as you don't try to make any changes, it will store those discs in its memory. This means that if you wanted to transport the Escient somewhere you could do so without having to re-identify all your movies and music.
The FireBall connects to the Internet accessing Escient's proprietary 28,000 title movie database, MovieDB, to download the title, cover art, statistics (run time, actors, directors and such), and synopsis of each disc. This allows the current catalog to be viewed by title, genre/user defined groups, or cover art. This is an extremely useful feature, especially if you don't know what you want to watch. The database seems to be relatively complete as it only failed to recognize one of my discs, Marillion, Marbles on the Road . All the rest it found without a problem. It is easy enough to label the disc using the wireless keyboard and frankly, filling in the genre and title is enough unless you plan on skipping to one or more scenes often. If you want to, you can fill in more information including title, cast, year, length, rating, aspect ratio, genre, and description. One thing that absolutely deserves to be mentioned is that if you decide to add a few movies (or switch out some), and you hit the "Quick Lookup" feature, it remembers which movies were originally in each slot. It does a fast scan that lets it know what changed and only spends time identifying those movies. This is a very nice feature as it eliminates the need for the user to remember which ones they switched out (or be forced to re-index the entire carousel).
Setting up play lists or groups is easy enough; just name one, click on each of the movies you want included, and save. Simple. The one thing I would have liked to see was some ability to choose scenes from movies, however this is a limitation of the DVD format that cannot easily be overcome. I envisioned compiling a montage of explosions or deep bass or funny one-liners to use to demo my system. Would have been cool except that I really don't think there is a way to bypass all that anti-piracy FBI warning stuff at the beginning of discs. Oh well. It's a thought.
I really appreciated the fact that they included parental controls. All you have to do is set up a numeric password and choose the ratings that you are allowing. Then, whenever the kiddies turn the unit on, it asks if you want to enter the password for full access or if you want to enter as a guest. Pretty easy to implement and change if the kids wise up (and you know they will).
I questioned Escient about why they didn't include the ability to rip movies to the hard drive. Other than the space concerns (apparently, 300 gigs is not NEARLY enough space to rip an appropriate number of movies) the legal implications were the big hurdle. With piracy being on the forefront of the studio's minds, no one wants to put out a product that could be viewed as encouraging such acts. Once the hubbub settles down and DRM standards are set for protecting and/or transferring movies, I wouldn't be surprised if products like the FireBall to include this functionality -especially since the price of hard disc storage keeps dropping.