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Product Review
 

Escient Fireball SE-D1 and SE-80 Media Servers

Part I

June, 2006

Piero Gabucci

 

Specifications:

Fireball SE-D1
Uses the Sony DVP-CX777ES 400 Disc Changer
Instant Movie/Music Access and Description
Automatic Disc Identification
Automatic Video Switching
MSRP $999 USA

Fireball SE-80
Built-in 80G Hard Drive
CD-RW Drive
Automatic CD Identification
WMA and Internet Radio
MSRP $999 USA

Escient

www.escient.com

Introduction

I'm a bit untidy, I admit it. My desk at the office is so cluttered that I barely find space to roll my mouse around, usually shuffling papers to squeeze a 10 square inch area for a mouse pad. Of course, I tell people it's my way of organizing, I know where everything is, and exactly which pile contains that one letter or sketch. But, that Andy Rooniesk admission aside . . . .

At home, I'm no different, the proof is all over my house, and in fact you may recall the rack I built just to get the equipment off the floor. Listening to CDs or dropping in a DVD for reviews usually leaves a pile in front of me.

The photo below is no stage prop for this review of a music/movie server system; that's really the way I store my discs. I'm ashamed sure, but I know exactly where everything is, well with a bit of digging anyway.

The alternative of course is a real nice media rack, with all CDs and DVDs in nice alphabetized rows, or organize by genre, perhaps by music type, I listen to most. Then there is all that space they need, I know some video/audiophiles are truly proud of their collection and love to show it off. Eh, for me it's just a bunch of jewel cases, not all that attractive.

Then there is the family factor.

I've walked in often enough on my family in the middle of watching a movie on network television and the image is 4:3 and in stereo. Recognizing the movie is one we own on DVD sitting on a shelf 3 feet away yet they'd prefer to watch it conveniently from the click of a remote control. I generally shake my head and ask why not drop in the "real thing" and get 16:9, and surround sound? The answer is usually a shrug of the shoulders.

The answer really is, hey, we were flipping channels, and it was on, and we watched.

Same scenario, discovering a favorite movie on TV, probably half-way through, you decide you'd prefer to watch from the beginning, in its proper format and in Dolby/DTS. Reach for the remote to activate the Fireball and find the same movie conveniently stored on a 400 disc DVD player and play the movie properly. Other than the thumb-work required not much of an effort.

How many times does this happen? "Should we put a DVD in?" This is usually followed by, "Well, what do you want to watch," and everyone standing around the DVD collection. Imagine staying put on the couch and scrolling on your screen for movies by genre or title, complete with description, movie plot and actors? Escient Fireball.

When I was offered the Escient D1 and SE-80 for review, I took the opportunity to get organized. I had witnessed the ease of operation of the Escient DVDM-300 demonstrated at a press conference and previously reviewed by Sandy Bird back in November of 2005, but at $5k well, a bit out of my financial league.

Although you may question the review of two units at the same time, after all, on the surface the SE-D1 and SE-80 Fireballs offer many of the same features, individually however they do very different things.

SE-D1 DVD and Music Manager

The quiet and cool SE-D1 is simple in design. On the face, the Escient logo, "slash" cuts through the brushed aluminum plate. Other than a dimly lit blue LED light and power on/off, no other functions are controlled from the unit itself.

On the rear, you'll find audio and video connections similar to a receiver or DVD player. The most important jack you'll see is the RS-232 serial cable connection, used to communicate with the Sony DVP-CX777ES 400 disc CD/DVD player; more on that later. Also on the rear you'll find audio/video in and out jacks. The Sony sends signals through the SE-D1 to your receiver/controller, then to your video source and speakers. In fact, if 400 discs are just not enough, the SE-D1 will allow a second 400 disc changer.

Video is handled with either S-Video, composite, or preferably component. Audio connections include both stereo analog and digital optical. Included is an Ethernet connection needed to communicate with Gracenote CDDB , the online movie/music identification server.

The SE-D1 is more than a movie manager. Music can also be organized the same way by loading in CDs too. With the Sony storing 400 discs, there is plenty of space. Add a second changer if desired; at under $400 street price for these Sonys, that's not necessarily a bad deal.

Setting up the SE-D1 and the SE-80 are quite similar, so I'll try not to repeat myself. Make sure your Ethernet is properly connected though, otherwise it will spend some time looking. A quick cancel will suffice if you're not connected.

Activating the set-up on the remote, you'll discover settings for screen saver, time zone, and the background you want to use. A parental control password can be stored for any movie rating desired.

A network set-up takes you through connectivity of your server. A changer manager gives some information like Statistics, Quantity of Discs, Types, Free Slot and how many covers it knows or doesn't know. The manager also does all the research through lookup commands.

Finally, you can check at the Escient website for the latest software version.

Set-up

Loading the Sony changer will take some time. I put about 100 discs, mostly DVDs. Since I had the SE-80, I kept the CD storage to a minimum here. Once the Sony unit is closed, the Fireball will begin to identify each disc and load the information. For the few DVDs unidentified, I manually entered the information. I wasn't surprised that it didn't find the DTS demo discs I'd acquired at press events.

Once a movie is identified, you do have the option to review the information it found and do an edit, if so desired.

Playing a DVD or CD via the SE-D1 is remarkably simple, if not downright fun. Movies are listed as Action or Adventure, Animated, Comedy, Drama, Horror, or Musicals. Highlight a movie, let it tell you all about it, and press "OK on the remote. Within seconds, the Sony carousel whirls into action, and the movie is playing. Pressing a guide button will instantly return you to the main selection screen for another choice.

Likewise for CDs, or Internet Radio. Have I told you it is way too much fun?

Click Here to Go to Part II.

Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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