As suggested by the $1,999 list price of its DVDM-100 DVD and music manager, Indianapolis-based Escient specializes in the rarefied territory of high-end home entertainment systems. Targeted squarely at individuals with large DVD and CD libraries, the DVDM-100 connects to up to three 400-disc DVD/CD changers and fetches information from the Internet, automatically organizing your disc collection into easily navigable categories such as genre and cover art. The DVDM-100 also plays Internet radio stations and streams MP3s from the hard drives of other Escient products connected to the same network. Although the DVDM-100 works like a charm and has a highly refined TV-based interface, it lacks a few features commonly found on sub-$300 digital media receivers. Specifically, it doesn't have integrated wireless networking, can't stream music from the hard drives of networked PCs, and doesn't support Rhapsody, a subscription-based, on-demand streaming music service. Despite the fact that its only front-panel control is a power button, the DVDM-100's thick, black-metal casing and black-metal faceplate exude an understated, high-end confidence. You operate the unit either with the included remote control, with the included wireless keyboard, or with an optional touch panel. The well-designed, backlit universal remote includes buttons for Movies, Internet Radio, and Music that shortcut directly to the device's main media navigation screens. Meanwhile, the requisite 4-way keypad and Page Up and Page Down buttons facilitate straightforward, rapid navigation through track and movie lists. Transport buttons (Play, Stop, and so on) and a Menu button provide a familiar way to control DVD and CD playback. The wireless keyboard essentially covers the same functions as the remote but makes it easier to surf Escient's OpenGlobe portal and manually enter disc information whenever necessary. A minor gripe: If music playback is active and you press the Movies button, playback stops. It would be better if you could browse your movie collection while listening to a CD, for instance.
Because you can connect up to three DVD/CD changers to the DVDM-100, the unit's rear panel hosts a forest of jacks. The DVDM-100 has progressive and interlaced video pass-through and switching. Video jacks include three component, three composite and three S-Video inputs; to enable connection with virtually any TV, the unit has one component, one composite and one S-Video output. Secondary composite and S-Video outputs are supplied for connecting an Escient Touch Panel controller. (The device is also compatible with command systems from AMX, Crestron, Niles, Philips, and others.) The DVDM-100 has three coaxial and three optical digital audio inputs. Three sets of 5.1-channel analog audio inputs and one set of 5.1-channel analog outputs facilitate DVD-Audio and SACD pass-through. Three S-Link ports, a wired IR input, and an IR output help control connected DVD/CD changers and an A/V receiver. Compatible changers are limited to a handful of Sony and Kenwood models (see Escient's Web site for details). Escient claims that all new Denon, Marantz, and McIntosh receivers with RS-232 ports are controllable via the DVDM-100. Finally, the unit has a phone jack for the built-in modem as well as an Ethernet port for wired home networks. Although you could use a third-party wireless bridge to add wireless networking capabilities, we would've preferred a network card slot or a built-in wireless networking option. The DVDM-100's wizardry is rooted in its slick, TV-based user interface and automatic sorting of DVDs and music into easily navigable categories. When you first connect a DVD/CD changer, the DVDM-100 contacts Gracenote's CD Database to retrieve cover artwork and the text information used to categorize your music. It also contacts Escient's own database for similar information pertaining to your DVD collection. The top of the main music screen displays cover artwork and production details (such as release year) for the item that's currently selected in the content list spanning the bottom half of the screen. Pressing the remote's left and right arrow keys sorts the content list by a variety of categories, including CDs, playlists, and genres. The main DVD screen is essentially arranged the same way; Escient's database handily provides the information required to facilitate sorting DVDs into genres. Clicking the OpenGlobe button opens Escient's portal, where you can read reviews and check out other detailed information related to movies and music. (Until recently, you could purchase discs through the device, but that feature has reportedly been disabled. It would be really cool if Escient were to partner with a service like Netflix, allowing you to research and queue up rentals from the DVDM-100's interface.) The unit comes preconfigured to play more than 80 Internet radio stations; additional streams can be added as long as they're WMA versions 2, 7, 8, or 9 format. Unlike Prismiq's $199 , the DVDM-100 can't freely surf the entire Internet and doesn't support AOL Instant Messenger.
To test out its interoperability with other Escient products, we connected both the DVDM-100 and a to a home network. After finding its companion, the DVDM-100 seamlessly added the E-40's hard drive-based MP3 files to its music screens, enabling playback of the remotely located files. (Unfortunately, the DVDM-100 can't stream other file formats, such as WMA.) In terms of performance, the DVDM-100 is a first-class ride. We tested the unit with a Sony DVP-CX777ES changer. Audio and video quality were excellent across the board, and the DVDM-100 didn't cause any noticeable playback glitches. Although it did take a few seconds for disc playback to start, that was an unavoidable result of the changer's mechanics. Superior stability is one upside to using a wired network connection as opposed to a wireless one; for hours, I streamed music to the DVDM-100 from the E-40 without a single hiccup. Despite being directly in front of the DVDM-100 and only a few feet away from it, I occasionally had to press a remote button twice before the device responded.
The well-written 185-page user guide thoroughly covers the device's main features, while supplemental materials located at Escient.com explain the more esoteric details. Unlike some digital media receivers that interface with PCs, the DVDM-100 is easy to configure.
The DVDM-100 is one of those rare products that stretches the boundaries of home entertainment without showing noticeable signs of growing pains. If you have a large disc collection and plenty of cash, you can't go wrong picking up the DVDM-100, a couple of compatible DVD/CD changers, and maybe even a hard drive-based Fireball model, such as the E-40.