Control & Automation

Modulus 4K Media Server Does Everything: Rips DVDs, Records Hulu, Replaces DVR

Modulus lets you rip DVDs and Blu-rays, record content from Hulu and Netflix, share shows to Plex-enabled devices, replace your cable DVR, skip commercials and control it all by voice, app or qwerty remote.

Modulus 4K Media Server Does Everything: Rips DVDs, Records Hulu, Replaces DVR
There appears to be nothing on the market like the Linux-based Modulus M1 media server that lets users rip DVDs and Blu-rays, record streaming content like Hulu, record CableCard and OTA TV, and store it all on a 12 TB server that can be shared with others. Founder Steve Schulz says it's perfectly legal.

Photos & Slideshow

Julie Jacobson · November 2, 2017

If Kaleidescape, Roku, TiVo, AnyDVD, Alexa, PlayOn, Sonos, UEI and Plex had a baby … it might look like an M1 media server from Modulus. One of the showstoppers at CEDIA Expo 2016 and 2017, thing lets you play, stream, record, store and share virtually any type of media from one box - no switchers and complicated installations required.

TV shows, movies, photos, personal video and music can be summoned via voice command, QWERTY remote control, or app. It doesn’t matter if the content resides on the Modulus box, in the cloud, on the electronic programming guide, or somewhere on the home network. Modulus will find the content and play it or record it or share it or do whatever the user wants.

The M1 seems rather inexpensive (see below) for everything Modulus claims it can do, but price isn’t the first thing home-tech pros tend to ask about. They wonder: Is it legal?

Modulus founder and CEO Steve Schulz answers with a resounding “Yes." 

“Modulus Media Systems will comply with all existing U.S. copyright laws,” he says. “This position is based upon multiple legal counsel inputs, case precedent, and prior management team experience.” (More details below.)

The Hardware & Prices

The flagship M1 server features a 12 TB hard drive and a graphics engine that supports 4K with full HDR (Main10 Profile). The price of the box has been published on multiple sites as $2,995 (including remote), but that is simply a baseline price.

M1 media server from Modulus

Distribute, Share Content

Complementing the M1 is the Mx1 ‘Mini’ clients ($495), which dish up M1 services to remote displays.

Schulz says the Mx1 boxes were designed for local sharing over a wired or wireless Intranet; however, if the bandwidth is sufficient and routers (unwisely) configured to allow open ports, then theoretically the server can be shared with other premises.

Interestingly, the "Modulus-Plex" feature permits Plex users to stream/transcode content from the M1 to any Mx1 on the Internet (using transcoding as needed), or to any other Plex-capable client device including smart TVs, Blu-ray players or dedicated streamer.

Play and Rip Blu-rays and DVDs

Via an onboard disc loader, the M1 will rip copy-protected DVDs and Blu-rays straight to the server, and catalog them in the movie library for browsing, playing and sharing.

“DVD ripping is enabled using the native library in Linux,” Schulz explains. “For Blu-ray, the user (or integrator) types a command. The library is downloaded from a third party at no charge.”

He adds that although the related library is “widely and freely available, that library is not native in Linux, so we do not distribute it.”

DVR with EPG

Users can chuck the cable DVR with the M1. The product features CableCard slots for cable-TV services, and users can mix and match with OTA tuners. Modulus will sell configurations of three, four and six internal tuners with the option for adding 12.

There’s an electronic programming guide that works pretty much like any cable or satellite EPG to search, play and record TV content to the hard drive.

Play and Record Streaming Services including Hulu and Netflix

Some Nifty Modulus M1 Features

Ultimate DVR

Search is easy and instant. Automatically record upcoming shows by title, keyword, genre, and more, even from a remote location.

Automatically Skip Commercials

No device eliminates the noise like Modulus: during playback; pause, rewind, fast-forward, skip any # of minutes forward or back.

Time Save Mode

Short on time? Modulus plays recordings 10-50% faster (you choose how fast) with perfect, pitch-corrected audio.

M1 doesn’t simply support streaming services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime, the product also allows users to record content from these commercial services (of course, customers must subscribe to the respective services).

The M1 records the shows in real-time, live or in the background, and deposits them into the movie or TV libraries for later viewing.

The service is similar to PlayOn, which allows users to record, stream, skip ads and even schedule an entire series with a single click. In Modulus’s case, though, the shows will record in 1080p, as opposed to PlayOn’s 720p.

PlayOn, too, is confident in the legality of its system, which has been selling for more than eight years. The company writes: "We have established that the making of a recording for personal use for the purposes of time- or place-shifting is protected as 'fair use.'" 

In the case of Modulus, “The UI for setting up recording options is still being finalized,” Schulz says, “but we plan to include the option for batch recording of a series.”

Navigation

When you wonder about the Modulus Media Server, you don’t ask what it does. You ask what it doesn’t do. It is a television DVR, movie management and streaming machine, music streamer and server, and repository for photos and personal videos. Oh right, and a karaoke machine scrolls lyrics for your favorite tunes.

For all its capabilities, though, the system seems fairly simple to navigate.

The navigation page is divided into four main sections – TV, movies, music and personal media – with sub-categories that make sense. Under Movies, for example, there are choices for viewing movie trailers, browsing the video library, streaming video and exploring and playing DVD/Blu-ray titles.

View the Modulus M1 Photo Gallery

The handheld remote features a full qwerty keyboard, as well as a microphone for issuing voice commands. It's a backlit RF remote that offers traditional navigation and serves as an air mouse as well. There's also an earphone jack for listening to a show without waking up the family.

Of course, there is an app for navigation and for enjoying content on your personal devices.

A search feature allows universal search capabilities across all media tabs. The list of commands is curated, but Modulus will continue to expand those command options in the future. Searching “Robert Redford,” for example, would bring up related titles from the DVR, Netflix (if you subscribe) and imported content.

Back up to the Cloud or Local Storage

Modulus can backup locally stored media to attached storage, NAS, or cloud services. The user can sign into, or set up, accounts with their favorite cloud storage provider, including Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, Oracle, Rackspace, and others.

“By default, all personal media will be automatically synchronized with the cloud and kept up to date, providing security for family videos, photos, and music,” Schulz says. “The user may choose to customize what they backup to include other media files as well.”

Is it Legal?

Competitor and category leader Kaleidescape famously fought Hollywood over DVD-ripping from 2005 to 2014, ostensibly on breach-of-contract claims with the DVD CCA. The companies settles out of court. Those issues don't apply to the M1, according to Schulz. His explanation is below.

With respect to Kaleidescape, they were sued for breach of contract with the DVD CCA. They won in a March 2007 ruling, but it was overturned 5 years later on appeal (over a technicality). The license agreement they signed included adherence to the entirety of the “CSS General Specifications”, which explicitly prohibited them from ripping DVDs. Had they not signed that agreement, they would not have been sued for violating it. Modulus has no need to license logos, firmware, or other technology; we do not manufacture disc drives, but rather buy from component suppliers that have the requisite licenses.

DVD support is included along with every major distribution of Linux, using a tiny library (“libdvdcss”), freely available as "open source" under the GNU Public License (GPL). This library won its only legal challenge, and the U.S. DMCA Act even includes specific exemptions for software necessary to provide interoperability (as is the case with DVD playback in  Linux); the exemption was included to avoid potential antitrust and restraint of trade concerns.

The Blu-ray support library is not included with Linux distributions, although there has been no legal ruling against it and one could argue the same DMCA exemption would win in court. So, in an abundance of caution MMS does not distribute this library. It must be added independently, although we can provide the 99% supporting infrastructure around managing (either commercial or non-commercial) imported disc content.

Shipping, Distribution, Integration

Modulus began Beta testing its products in Q2 2017 and expects to ship product this year through home-technology specialists. At launch, the M1 will be compatible with Control4 home automation systems, and Schulz says he expects to work with three more smart-home systems in early 2018.

 


  About the Author

Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at [email protected]

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  Article Topics


Control & Automation · Audio/Video · Distributed Audio · Multiroom Video · Software & Technology · Events · CEDIA · News · Products · Control4 · DVD CCA · DVD Ripping · Kaleidescape · Media Server · Modulus · All Topics
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Comments

Posted by weddellkw on November 7, 2017

CEDIA 16 may have been their first public showing but I’m sure this was floated and previewed earlier than that.

And totally agree that relying on the streaming services to turn a blind eye on the likes of PlayOn and this product is not a long term solution.  Good for them if they get to market and make a profit, but its just not a product I’d want to recommend, support and warranty for my customers.  With an AppleTV or a Roku, if something stops working, it stops working for a huge customer base.  I can honestly inform people that its not their or my fault, and most likely the manufacturer/provider will fix it promptly.  Sell low-volume boxes like this that skirt the edges of legality and you become the focus of your customers ire.  If Netflix or Hulu change their streaming app, or suspend your customers account, I do not want to be on the receiving end of that phone call.

Posted by Richard Gunther on November 7, 2017

@AVonSteroids, you’re probably right about the timing—it just feels like a long time coming. So “year after year” delays is not an accurate framing, but I’m still just not excited.

Posted by AVonSteroids on November 7, 2017

@Richard Gunther CEDIA ‘16 was their first show (I talked with them there) you must be confused.  No switching HDMI inputs, total voice control, clean integrated UI seems like a killer user experience to me.  What’s wrong with simply pointing at what you want on the screen?  It uses CAT5/CAT6 distribution, which is where things are headed.  Anyway, seems very credible, maybe not your thing, but there’s nothing else like it.

Posted by Richard Gunther on November 7, 2017

Tenuously clinging to the fair use doctrine aside, I just don’t see this going anywhere. We saw this product several years ago at CES. Struck me then and strikes me now as a bloated HTPC. And in typical waterfall product development fashion, it gets delayed year after year as they add more to it. In my opinion, the only way a product like this works if if they’re offering a killer user experience. That’s one of the things that sets Kaleidescape apart. Some (maybe still many?) of their online streaming services actually require you to use a mouse pointer because you’re simply using a service’s web experience. IMO, that’s a non-starter for many people, especially on the TV or home theater screen.

Posted by CalDreaming on November 7, 2017

@Paul Cunningham: Recording from an authorized Netflix subscription is analogous to any DVR out there saving a subscribed cable TV show (i.e. “time-shifting”), what’s the difference?  That can be done with any Tivo box, and it seems to fall within “fair use”.  If they don’t do any decryption to save streaming, then it’s not violating the DMCA, either.  I suppose it does violate Netflix’ terms of use, but that’s a choice of the subscriber, not the company, which is a contract dispute, not breaking federal law.  Besides, the article talks about Playon that has been successfully doing that for 8 years now with no legal impact.  What about Plex, which makes your media available for your friends - that’s clearly illegal but even that is accepted these days.  Frankly, I care much more about when I can get one for myself, and we’ve already had customers asking for it, too.  If it really does all that’s on their website, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a big success.

Posted by Paul Cunningham on November 5, 2017

@CalDreaming - if the subscription-based content recorded from Netflix et al is still accessible after the subscription expires, I do believe that would be illegal and fall squarely outside of “fair use.”

Posted by CalDreaming on November 3, 2017

@Homemedia: Exactly who isn’t paying for what?  I didn’t see where anyone was stealing anything, I got the impression users can save to disk what they are paying to legally access and playback, not steal or upload.  Frankly, lots of clients want exactly this capability for their own home, using cable and streaming services they pay to get, and DVDs / Blu-Rays they own.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on November 3, 2017

So the trick is to not let them get too big then!

Posted by weddellkw on November 3, 2017

They appear to be off-loading the legal risk (with regards to DVD/BD ripping) to the end-user.  Not sure how much longer people will care about that anyway.  (Edge cases like yachts, remote vacation homes, etc not withstanding.)

Tough to believe that recording/storing streaming content from Netflix, Hulu etc is not a violation of the ToS, or at least their intent.

Services like PlayOn use the DVR defense to side-step this.

If any box or service that accomplished all of this became mainstream I’d expect a legal/legislative showdown of some sort.

That being said, I got to see the product demo’d six or seven months ago.  It appears to work as advertised, and they’re pitching an attractive starting price.

Posted by Homemedia on November 3, 2017

Did you obtain a service or content without paying for it?  then its illegal - pretty simple.  why should software be an different.  oh i took this Blu Ray player out of the store but i didnt sign any agreement and all its parts were made legally,  therefore i can ..  does that sound legal?    the only thing that has kept them from being sued is the small size of their operation, not worth the legal costs, but if it gets any bigger then they will show up on the legal radar.  no amount of double talk will save them.

View all comments.

Posted by kipoca on November 3, 2017

That “legal” defense is pretty flimsy. He’s arguing that DVD and BD playback is supported legally, when the question isn’t playback but breaking the encryption. The DMCA exemption is also for playback, not ripping.

Posted by kipoca on November 3, 2017

Call me unconvinced when we sold a similar product years ago and that manufacturer went under because of legal costs defending the software to rip DVDs, and they didn’t even provide the software - it was downloaded from a russian server. But because they gave directions to download and install the software, it was a problem.

Posted by Homemedia on November 3, 2017

Did you obtain a service or content without paying for it?  then its illegal - pretty simple.  why should software be an different.  oh i took this Blu Ray player out of the store but i didnt sign any agreement and all its parts were made legally,  therefore i can ..  does that sound legal?    the only thing that has kept them from being sued is the small size of their operation, not worth the legal costs, but if it gets any bigger then they will show up on the legal radar.  no amount of double talk will save them.

Posted by weddellkw on November 3, 2017

They appear to be off-loading the legal risk (with regards to DVD/BD ripping) to the end-user.  Not sure how much longer people will care about that anyway.  (Edge cases like yachts, remote vacation homes, etc not withstanding.)

Tough to believe that recording/storing streaming content from Netflix, Hulu etc is not a violation of the ToS, or at least their intent.

Services like PlayOn use the DVR defense to side-step this.

If any box or service that accomplished all of this became mainstream I’d expect a legal/legislative showdown of some sort.

That being said, I got to see the product demo’d six or seven months ago.  It appears to work as advertised, and they’re pitching an attractive starting price.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on November 3, 2017

So the trick is to not let them get too big then!

Posted by CalDreaming on November 3, 2017

@Homemedia: Exactly who isn’t paying for what?  I didn’t see where anyone was stealing anything, I got the impression users can save to disk what they are paying to legally access and playback, not steal or upload.  Frankly, lots of clients want exactly this capability for their own home, using cable and streaming services they pay to get, and DVDs / Blu-Rays they own.

Posted by Paul Cunningham on November 5, 2017

@CalDreaming - if the subscription-based content recorded from Netflix et al is still accessible after the subscription expires, I do believe that would be illegal and fall squarely outside of “fair use.”

Posted by CalDreaming on November 7, 2017

@Paul Cunningham: Recording from an authorized Netflix subscription is analogous to any DVR out there saving a subscribed cable TV show (i.e. “time-shifting”), what’s the difference?  That can be done with any Tivo box, and it seems to fall within “fair use”.  If they don’t do any decryption to save streaming, then it’s not violating the DMCA, either.  I suppose it does violate Netflix’ terms of use, but that’s a choice of the subscriber, not the company, which is a contract dispute, not breaking federal law.  Besides, the article talks about Playon that has been successfully doing that for 8 years now with no legal impact.  What about Plex, which makes your media available for your friends - that’s clearly illegal but even that is accepted these days.  Frankly, I care much more about when I can get one for myself, and we’ve already had customers asking for it, too.  If it really does all that’s on their website, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a big success.

Posted by Richard Gunther on November 7, 2017

Tenuously clinging to the fair use doctrine aside, I just don’t see this going anywhere. We saw this product several years ago at CES. Struck me then and strikes me now as a bloated HTPC. And in typical waterfall product development fashion, it gets delayed year after year as they add more to it. In my opinion, the only way a product like this works if if they’re offering a killer user experience. That’s one of the things that sets Kaleidescape apart. Some (maybe still many?) of their online streaming services actually require you to use a mouse pointer because you’re simply using a service’s web experience. IMO, that’s a non-starter for many people, especially on the TV or home theater screen.

Posted by AVonSteroids on November 7, 2017

@Richard Gunther CEDIA ‘16 was their first show (I talked with them there) you must be confused.  No switching HDMI inputs, total voice control, clean integrated UI seems like a killer user experience to me.  What’s wrong with simply pointing at what you want on the screen?  It uses CAT5/CAT6 distribution, which is where things are headed.  Anyway, seems very credible, maybe not your thing, but there’s nothing else like it.

View all comments.