Exclusive First Look: Kaleidescape 1080p Player (KPlayer-6000)
They say luck favors the prepared. It also doesn't hurt to be in the right place at the right time. Whatever. The planets aligned in my favor, resulting in my being one of the few reviewers handpicked by Kaleiedescape co-founder and COO, Cheena Srinivasan, to audition and preview their latest addition.
For the uninformed, Kaleidescape is a movie and music server. More accurately: Kaleidescape is the movie and music server, since they invented the category. On its mega-sized hard drives, all your movies and music are stored then streamed to clients, or players, around the home. Since Kaleidescape's introduction, other companies have come along with their own movie servers - many of which are built on modded versions of computers running Media Center. However none have produced an interface that approaches the elegance and simplicity of Kaleidescape.
Like any technology company, Kaleidescape has steadily released updates and improvements to their line. Some, like the addition of HDMI video outputs and larger hard disc cartridges (from 300 Gigabytes to the current 1 Terabyte), were necessitated by market demand. Others, like adding iTunes integration and an interface that eases classical music-browsing, are just further enhancements to the experience.
Cheena promises that the new players will deliver next-level video performance, so I was definitely excited to get my hands on one. From experience, I know that Kaleidescape's current-gen movie players are no performance slouches. In fact, during my last review, I noted, "The Movie Player 2 flawlessly passed the video scaling tests on the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark disc, offering the best performance of any device I've tested." How much better could the new player be?
Within days, two boxes arrived on my front porch. The larger box held the server, which houses the hard disc cartridges and actually stores all the movies and music, while the second box held the new player. Cosmetically, there's little to distinguish the new player from the old, save for a single new button to the right of the Kaleidescape logo on the front panel (more on this in a bit). While a label on the back identifies it as the KPlayer-6000, it's officially called the Kaleidescape 1080p Player. If the title didn't give it away, the big news here is that this player upscales content to 1080p (though it doesn't play actual 1080p - more on that later).
To squeeze out the next performance level plus support 1080p output, Kaleidescape turned to Sigma Designs for their Gennum VXP video processor chip. This highly regarded chipset uses 10-bit, 4:4:4 color processing to deliver accurate colors and natural skin tones and provide better transitions from light to dark images.
The first thing I noticed when powering up the system was how much sharper and clearer the movie cover art appeared in the onscreen display (OSD). While Kaleidescape has always used high-res images for album and movie cover art, these covers just had more pop, and were noticeably sharper, making the OSD come alive. The lightsabers on the cover of Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones looked much crisper and were free of the stair-stepping that was visible on the previous generation, the Movie Player 2. It's as if the screen displaying the old OSD was out of focus, as titles appeared blurred and softened.
Beyond the higher performing Gennum chip, I was experiencing an enhancement Kaleidescape calls "content-aware" video processing. Through the Kaleidescape Movie Guide database, the player knows about the material being played, and can adapt processing accordingly. For instance, the cover art display is processed to have sharper edges and higher contrast than movies. The 1080p Player can also mine information from the Movie Guide to zoom letterboxed movies to fill a 16x9 display and relocate subtitles for optimal viewing. While Kaleidescape isn't alone in using Gennum's scaling, they have a unique ability to tailor the processing in this manner which would be impossible for an external scaler.
I began my evaluation by pulling out the trusty HQV Benchmark DVD and throwing a battery of tests at the player. One test is of a waving US flag that's torturous because of the rippling red and white stripes against a brick background. I've seen this clip many times, but it's never looked as crisp, detailed, and jaggie-free as it did via the 1080p Player. Another test determines the speed at which the processor locks onto the 3:2 cadence of a film. Most players usually lock onto the signal and clean up the image in a second; the current Movie Player takes about half a second. However this player was so quick, there was never even the slightest glimmer of moiré.