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.
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
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.”
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.
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.