We’re halfway through the first decade of the 21st Century, and it’s become a popular complaint among stand-up comics that so many of the once-predicted futuristic developments of science never arrived. Where are the flying cars? Why aren’t robots making us dinner? Why can’t we cure all known diseases with a single pill?

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However, scientists and sociologists more reliable than the science fiction films of the 1950s have also been saying that we live in an era of home entertainment in which audio, video and the Internet would merge TV, radio and music into one component.

With the continuously evolving media server, that last prediction seems to be coming true.

Your Home’s Digital Content Centerpoint
The Evolving Media Server

Traditionally, a media server was any device that could store audio, video, photo or data files in a central location for on-demand access later. But, that definition is already out of date. Based on that concept any modern home PC or Mac would fill the bill. However, a true media server for the 21st Century must not only store the data for access on demand but, offer it to different eyes and ears at the same time.

Media server systems are usually comprised of a combination of three components—a server used to distribute the signals, mass storage to house the multimedia files, and any number of clients used to feed the signal to a video display or audio device. So, the device must connect to outlet points in any home’s network, using common hard-wired networks (LAN) or wireless (WLAN) devices.

According to Bill Duncan, CEO of iMuse Electronics, media servers have been defined as any device that can store digital content and play it back. But Duncan makes it clear that what has passed as a media server in the past, no longer qualifies for today’s evolving consumer demands.

“First, a true media server for the high-performance marketplace must consolidate all of the consumer’s digital content,” Duncan said. “The consumer shouldn’t settle for a glorified PVR (personal video recorder). It should be a completely converged digital content manager, capable of delivering simultaneous audio and video feeds throughout the network.”

iMuse Serves Up the Servers

iMuse Electronics is a Colorado Springs-based developer and manufacturer of digital media management devices primarily for use in high-end custom home theater systems.

According to Duncan, “We’re looking to meet the needs of organizing, structuring and delivering digital media content such as video, photos, audio with a very simple user interface. To fulfill that mission, we’ve introduced our iMuse Media Server Series™.”

The iMuse SIERRA™ is the entry-level device (often referred to as a set-top), with the iMuse SUMMIT™ adding multi-zone audio distribution and additional storage, and the iMuse AVALANCHE™ providing expandable mass storage up to 14 terabytes. In case you were wondering—that’s enough space to store over 1,700 full-length, full-quality DVDs from your personal collection.

Scott Fuhrman, iMuse Product Manager, said the goal was to build a network server to consolidate a family’s entire music and movie collection along with photos and make them immediately, easily accessible.

“The iMuse Media Server Series provides instant access to — essentially the sounds and images that make up your life, whether entertainment-oriented or not —through an onscreen graphic interface,” noted Furhman. “Our on-screen interface allows the user to distribute different files (or the same file played simultaneously) through the set-top clients located throughout a house, to high-quality television monitors, speakers and stereo systems.

Ready for Prime Time and Beyond

The iMuse servers also offer a feature not included in the industry’s first generation of servers. Internet radio shows are a growing phenomenon. With the dawn of “Podcasts,” the on-line radio world is booming—constantly expanding with shows available only via the Internet. The iMuse servers centralize, catalog and collect Internet radio feeds for easy, on-demand access.

“Our products offer a single solution for all household media needs,” Furhman said. “The iMuse Media Server Series offers custom audio/video designers and installers a range of choices with the best price-to-features ratio on the market. iMuse has,with the introduction of this next generation product series, redefined the audio-video media server world and set the standard for all other that want to be called a media server.”

In addition, the entire iMuse product line offers the access to Internet radio without the need for an extended search. The server offers access to a collection of over 3,000 Internet radio stations gathered weekly, automatically, and presented in a user-friendly interface for selection and playback.

Life is Beautiful in 1080p

On its introduction, iMuse offers the only media servers in the price range supporting 1080 progressive lines of high-definition clarity, the highest HD resolution currently available. But even with all this HDTV connectivity, the iMuse leaves no display behind—providing connects to all analog and digital monitors.

Other cutting-edge iMuse functions include Offline DVD Content. Any iMuse server is capable of generating lists of DVDs with matching metadata fields that are not currently stored on the device. That means any iMuse server device will capture and store the information from an DVD you play—giving you a record of key information about the disc for later recall and reference.

Inline Storage Expansion allows the audio/video technician to add more storage capacity with little downtime and without the need to backup existing disk storage.

Another standard feature on every iMuse server is a DVD drive in every unit. And, every unit in the iMuse line provides industry-leading connectivity options as all units include a digital video interface (DVI) connection for the best quality picture possible as well as digital coax and optical audio outputs for superior sound.

A New Market Under Construction

The media server market continues to develop with several companies forming in hope of defining the category—only to fold before bringing a product to market. In some cases, the proposed server systems were so elaborate and expensive that they priced themselves out of the mainstream audio/video consumer market.

Meanwhile, new technology and new media (like the still-evolving Internet radio market) continue to alter the requirements for cutting-edge media servers.

iMuse Electronics’ Bill Duncan said there is a need for a mid-line competitor to the leading much higher-priced digital servers.

“We’ve kept price and value in mind throughout the design and development of our product line,” he said. “The iMuse Media Server Series offers—feature for feature—the best value for the price of any competitor. In most cases, our base model outperforms other established models for half the price.”

Meanwhile, the evolving media server market remains the domain of those who can afford to invest as much as $5,000 for a basic system and that’s before adding the a/v receiver, speakers and screens you will no doubt want to buy so you can watch all that digital content you can store for on-demand use.