Well, I think I’ve finally caught up on rest since returning from CES, so it is time to write up a few more details from the show. On the last day of the show I managed to swing by XStreamHD’s booth and pick up some more info. I already posted the information from their press release during the show, so see that if you haven’t already.
The XStreamHD system consists of three major components – the satellite dish, the Media Server, and the Media Receiver. Content is received primarily via the dish, but some content will also be delivered via broadband. The latter is mainly used for ‘vintage’ content or SD programs. The server has a cover which conceals two drive bays, which can each hold 500GB or 1TB drives. It also has eSATA to support additional external storage. The drives pop in and out quite easily, making it easy to upgrade the unit.
The Media Server is accessed from Media Clients that can be distributed around the home. The basic setup is sold with a single receiver, but up to four HD streams can be supported at one time. Additionally, the XStreamHD HD Media Server is DLNA 1.5 certified and you can use any compatible DLNA device to access the content. One such device is the PlayStation3, and there are also HDTVs with DLNA support built in, so you could access the content without the Media Client. Of course, you’d be using the DLNA interface built into the device and not XStreamHD’s UI in that case.
Another requirement is a fast network – you really want Gigabit Ethernet. 100Mbps Fast Ethernet is not fast enough. XStreamHD says 802.11g WiFi is not fast enough, and even 802.11n WiFi may not be. Why? Because all the heavy lifting is done by the Media Receiver. The HD video – up to full 1080p with up to 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio – is sent across the network uncompressed. The decompression and decoding is done by the server, so the clients are fairly lightweight. But that means you can have streams up to 80Mbps – and up to four of them simultaneously. That explains the need for some serious network bandwidth. XStreamHD designed custom silicon for their Media Server, and most of the work is done by two custom ASICs.
The Media Receivers also have HDMI 1.3 output, along with component and composite video. Audio is over HDMI, optical or coax S/PDIF, or stereo (RCA) audio. There is also a USB port on the top of the unit for locally connecting devices like MP3 players for playback of content. They support both IR and ZigBee RF for remote control, which also means they can be controlled via ZigBee based home automation systems.
In addition to receiving content from satellite or broadband the Media Server also has three OTA ATSC tuners which support Live TV viewing or DVR usage. XStreamHD calls it ‘NVR’ for Network Video Recorder. One caveat – the tuners are UHF only. While most ATSC stations are UHF, there are some VHF ATSC channels and it seems this unit will not be able to tune those stations.
I didn’t get to see the DVR interface, but the reps told me it will be ‘full featured’, with support for recordings similar to TiVo’s Season Passes. I doubt it will be up to TiVo’s level of functionality, but the DVR functionality is secondary to the main functionality of the unit.
The oddest feature of the system has to be the PBX functionality. It just doesn’t have anything to do with all the other features, so why is it there? Well, I asked, and the answer seems to be ‘Why not?’ Apparently they were brainstorming what they could do with the units for additional functionality and that’s when the PBX concept came up. The Media Server has two POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service – the old analog phones) jacks and it also works with VOIP. And it isn’t just tacked onto the unit. You get on-screen Caller ID, voice mail with forwarding over email, hold music for your callers, conference calling, and more. It is really a full featured PBX. And it will make free VOIP calls to other owners of the XStreamHD system. Hmm, I didn’t think to ask if the VOIP system can connect with all existing systems, such as Skype, but that is the impression I got.
One thing that I am very curious about that they couldn’t give me more information on is the “Patent Pending Adaptive Recording”. They claim that they’ll be able to automatically adjust the DVR functionality so that if programs run long the unit will continue recording instead of stopping when the guide data says the program is supposed to end. I’d really love to know how the system works. My suspicion is that it is based on the PSIP information carried by ATSC broadcasts. My understanding is that the programming guide used for the DVR scheduling is obtained from the OTA PSIP data.
I have a few data sheets that I’ll get scanned as posted soon. This looks like some fairly high end hardware and an interesting service, and I’m generally not keen on yet another STB. The question is if XStreamHD can execute on their content deals and really bring the product to market with worthwhile content to justify the costs. I’d be interested in testing this out for myself if the content is there.