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Escient Fireball

Spire_JeffSpire_Jeff Formerly Caffeinated ProgrammerPosts: 1,917
I am just wondering if anyone has had experience using multiple Fireball units with multiple touchpanels on a jobsite? The scenario I am dealing with is that the price point (and uncertainty of the future of DVD encoding) makes the MAX system a less than perfect fit. However, using an E2-160 and two MP-150s works out well. Any experiences good or bad would be helpful in our evaluating the true cost of multiple fireballs vs a MAX system.

Thanks,
Jeff

Comments

  • Reese JacobsReese Jacobs Junior Member Posts: 342
    Escient Fireball

    Jeff,

    I have used multiple Fireballs and multiple touchpanels on several projects with a great deal of success. The main reason for choosing this solution was of course cost. We have implemented distributed audio and video systems using Fireball E-120s, E-40s, and even the new E2-300 combined with MP-100s (have not done an MP-150 yet) for different clients. Further, we have used the DVDM-100 DVD Managers combined with the Sony CX777ES changers for very cost effective DVD systems. The downside to a Fireball based video solution is of course the single zone limitation but we have cost effectively implemented multiple managers and changers and still the price is considerably lower than Max or Kaleidescape. For music, given the price of the clients (MP-100s), it is hard to beat a Fireball based music system.

    One thing we have not done with the Escient-based systems and this is an area where Max and Kaleidescape excel, is with cover art and other UI based niceties. These are harder to do with Escient on some touchpanels although touchpanels with video capability can display the native Escient interface or the interface can be presented in a joystick window for direct touchpanel control without the need for you to implement anything specific to the Escient interface. In this manner, the customer would see the same interface on an AMX touchpanel as they would see in a browser.

    The Fireball is also easy to control - IP based with a very nice protocol. They could use a couple of enhancements in the protocol area that would facilitate integration for AMX touchpanel control but all in all, it is hard to complain. Also, the newer Fireballs have built-in web interfaces so a customer can control the units from a browser. Escient is in the process of releasing software updates for the older systems to provide the same capability. The updates for the E-120, E-40, and the DVDM-100 are now available and should be available for the MP-100s soon. This is also a very nice feature that allows a standard PC or laptop to become a control interface to the system from anywhere.

    I have also done a Kaleidescape system mainly because of their support for a HD client. Max does not have the same range of high-def video output as the Kaleidescape system but then the Kaleidescape system suffers from the fact that it is DVD-only and can not be used for CDs (music).

    In all, I think Fireballs make a very cost-effective solution. I really like the multi-zone hard-drive systems like Max and Kaleidescape but often the cost of these systems is a non-starter with many customers. I do not have any experience (directly) with ReQuest other than having priced some of their systems for audio and video. The VRQ is cost competitive with the DVDM from Escient although cover art continues to be a major hangup with the VRQ. I have always found the Audio ReQuest prices to be high in comparison to Fireballs but people who use ReQuest swear by their products. I would recommend the Fireball appropach as a very reasonable alternative although any of the products mentioned would be a great solution.

    Reese
  • DHawthorneDHawthorne Junior Member Posts: 4,584
    We pretty much use Fireballs exclusively. If you are after simple control, they are very easy; it gets hairy if you are going to use the database lookups. The AMX NetLinx module is fine for comm - but it has some issues (transport state feedback is the most egregious - it reports the Fireball is stopped 100% of the time). The UI module I have yet to get to work; it crashed and burned on my last attempt, eating up all available non-volatile memory and then some. I made my own based on the screens you can download from Escient (I like them better than the ones AMX supplies), but it has some issues too.

    The "module" Escient supplies works - but it is an include file; no instancing or multiple units with that one, and all the button channels are hard-coded and referenced throughout the code. It would be no minor feat to change the channels from what their screens supply. I made a rough adaptation to a module format for it once, and only used it that once. Not everything did what was expected and since I was determined to re-write it altogether, I never went back to that.

    There are also many, many functions you can only access through their own on-screen UI, so my strong recommendation is to use it. Send a video feed to your panel, and send XY coords to the Fireball (it supports that directly, it can be used with an Elo panel or such plugged directly into it). Transport and navigation controls are likewise trivial to implement. Alterantely, you can send the video output to your monitor and just use the panel to navigate that.

    The biggest problem with them is the database lookups. Everything comes back as a relative reference, and you have to keep strict track of what you asked for, and in what context. The feedback itself provides no anchor, and no indication of what query it is responding to. If I want a list of Country-Western CD's, for example, I have to go through the following: (1) set the library to User; (2) query for the number of genre's in that library; (3) query for a genre list using that number for a limit, select Country Western from that list; (4) query for the number of titles in that genre; (5) list the titles and select what I want; (6) query for the number of tracks; (7) list out the tracks - and only at that point can I select and play a song. Sometimes the Fireball simply does not respond, and I have yet to find a foolproof way to deal with that. It is very irritating to wait for a list to populate and see nothing happen, just to have to fill right up next attempt. Since the database can change at any time, you either have to internally store all the genre, title and track lists in your own code, and update them with every change; or query for all the data each time for each range of every listing. Information comes back in the form of something like: record one of 6, data requested. But the numbers are relative to your query, not absolute internal disc numbers, or anything so tidy as that.

    Escient has promised to release a real NetLinx module in the near future though. This is one time I would be happy to scrap my own work on a device; I simply don't have the time to develop it to the degree of finesse my customers have come to expect.
  • DHawthorneDHawthorne Junior Member Posts: 4,584
    Ah, I nearly forgot - there is one other way to control them. There is a built-in HTML interface. Escient now actually sells a "portable touch panel" for them that is nothing more than a tablet PC with a touch screen monitor that brings up a browser. So you could just hook a PC up somewhere and use Computer Control. Fireballs also appear on your network as UPnP devices, and you can open the media content as a folder and drag new material right into it, or back it up in the other direction.

    Overall, I like the machine quit a bit, I've just been frustrated many times with control issues with the database.
  • Spire_JeffSpire_Jeff Formerly Caffeinated Programmer Posts: 1,917
    DHawthorne wrote:
    Overall, I like the machine quit a bit, I've just been frustrated many times with control issues with the database.

    I know what you mean. I am starting to write my own module for them because I can't get the AMX module to work properly with multiple touchpanels. Obviously the video screen functionality works great on our CV7, but if you try to use the selection screen on the MVP-8400 it flips out (depending on what the CV7's selection screen has done recently). The other issue that has been annoying me with the AMX module is that it is not handling the database info properly from the fireball. It seems to work fine for most titles, but there is atleast 1 CD that has rather long artist and title strings that seem to confuse the module. I just tried the latest AMX code from Escient and it does not exhibit the same behavior, so I'm going to try and build a module from that code.

    The reason I started this thread was just in the hope of determining how many difficulties others may have encountered in attempting this in the past. I actually have business time dedicated to this task so I am hopeful to be able to complete it in the next week or so. If I'm successful, I'll post my creation.

    Thanks for the input,
    Jeff
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