Thursday, October 16, 2008

Media Servers Past and Present

By: Lee Distad

If you’re paying attention to trends in CE, you don’t have to be Nostradamus, nor know Moore’s Law to see that Media Servers are rapidly careening towards mass-market consumer price points.

Take the sheer number of competitors who have sprung up. At CEDIA Expo last month there were twice as many companies at the trade show listed under “media server” as in 2007. That alone tells you which way the wind is blowing, as well as the kind of money at stake in taking media servers mainstream.

At the same time, I have to wonder how long the players at the luxury end of the market will be able to hold onto their cache as high-end toys. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very familiar with the features and reliability that differentiates products like Kaleidescape from it’s competitors, but software capabilities and processing power in mainstream PC’s are catching up. To be honest, I'm kind of glad I'm no longer on the custom install front line pitching media servers that cost $50K or more to the rich and famous.

While the tangible difference between an economy car and a luxury automobile are as obvious now as they were in Henry Ford’s time, computer hardware and software is quickly usurped by products that are newer, faster, better, and cheaper.

Let’s not forget the DYI element: home made servers. Just surfing around at various online computer vendors, I figure I could build my own movie server with retail PC parts, starting with a 600 DVD capacity, and upgradeable for under $2000. In reality, by the time I quit procrastinating and got around to it, it would be less. What do you think a Terabyte is going to cost next year? Easy answer: less than it does now. However bear in mind, that homemade solutions require hours and hours of futzing and troubleshooting, and are anything but plug-and-play.

At the moment, the battle between the MPAA and Real Networks over the Real DVD archiving software is just beginning to heat up. In the meantime, while the movie studios try and turn back the clock, you can imagine that win or lose, Real Networks isn’t going to be the last software company to try to put powerful tools in the consumer’s hands. At the moment, US legal precedent leaves custom channel integrators in the clear; let’s hope that continues.

I don’t mean to come across as being negative about media servers going mainstream, far from it. I think that they represent a huge opportunity for the CE industry as they grow in popularity. I’m just suggesting that there are risks and pitfalls that you need to consider if you’re going to get on board.

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