Kaleidescape 1U Server & M500 Player Page 2

Without digging too deep into this area, the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA) has been tied up in the courts with Kaleidescape for years over its DVD importing capabilities. Kaleidescape contends that its customers have a fair-use right to make copies of DVDs or CDs that they own a copy of, and so far, Kaleidescape is still in business building and selling its systems. However, the Blu-ray solution is in compliance with Blu-ray’s AACS copy-protection scheme and clearly seems intended to discourage anyone who’s thinking of renting and ripping their way to a huge Blu-ray Disc library. With this system, you have to own the Blu-ray Discs you import, and you have to load the disc into the network somewhere to prove it. That somewhere is where things will get interesting.

The next two components on the Kaleidescape road map are Blu-ray Disc vaults. These add a lot of expense to an already expensive solution but also restore all the convenience lost with Blu-ray storage at this point. A Modular Disc Vault scheduled for Q4 of this year will hold 100 Blu-ray Discs and must be connected to an M500 or M300 Player via USB. This vault will be $1,500 or $3,995 bundled with an M300. A larger Integrated Disc Vault solution is tentatively scheduled for June 2011 and will hold 300 discs and connect to the Kaleidescape network via Ethernet, making it more of a scalable, standalone device. While the Integrated Vault’s not-to-exceed price is a hefty $6,000, it will include built-in M-Class player functionality and will be able to handle bulk imports for a large number of discs. The disc vaults aren’t changer devices; imported discs still play back from the server. But once either of these solutions is in place and your Blu-ray Discs are loaded into them, the system automatically verifies the presence of the disc on the network and enables Blu-ray Disc streaming. You no longer need to track down the disc and put it in a tray. This will be an expensive proposition if you have a large library of Blu-ray Discs, and we obviously couldn’t test it here to verify that it’s as seamless as Kaleidescape’s other components. But for Blu-ray snobs like me, it seems apparent that a more expensive Kaleidescape system with these vault devices will actually have more value to prospective buyers. Not to mention that people who can afford any Kaleidescape system can probably afford a few of them.

Blu-ray Now
As of now, Kaleidescape’s Blu-ray playback still has significant advantages. First, as far as media servers that can import Blu-ray Discs go, it’s probably the only game in town. Some systems claim Blu-ray capabilities but require third-party software to rip the discs, software that the manufacturer doesn’t officially support. It’s a wink-wink, nudge-nudge deal between you and your installer. There’s no need to become a hacker or a felon here; importing Blu-rays is the easy button push import that CDs and DVDs are.

Once Blu-ray Discs are imported, with the disc in a drive on the network, playback is better and faster than any Blu-ray player I’ve used. Even Java-intensive discs start up in seconds. Tired of skipping past 10 screens of warnings and trailers just so your kids can watch WALL-E for the 29th time? Kaleidescape goes directly to the movie and skips all the junk. So, imported Blu-ray movies start in seconds—single-digit seconds. Fox Blu-ray Discs are among the slowest-loading discs out there. Fantastic Mr. Fox takes about a minute and a half to load on my OPPO BDP-83, but the imported version starts on the Kaleidescape in less than 20 seconds. And most imported Blu-ray movies start much faster. You can also stop a movie and then resume play where you left off even if the disc isn’t Java-encoded to perform that function. I know of no other BD player of any type that can defeat either of those annoyances. Overall, even though I was putting a disc in the tray, interacting with my BD library and watching BD movies on the Kaleidescape system was still a vastly improved experience over using a standalone player.

When I tested the M500’s pure performance like a standalone player (i.e., playing back from the disc tray, not an import), it yielded fantastic results. Disney’s Ratatouille, a notorious boot-time stress test, revealed that the M500 tracks within a few seconds of my OPPO, meaning it’s quite fast. I tested its video processing converting both 480i and 1080i to 1080p with our usual battery of Video Test Bench testing (note that this would apply to standalone disc playback and playback of imported Blu-rays and DVDs). I saw excellent results from both standard- and high-definition discs. Rolled-off chroma response at the highest frequencies was the only blemish, and nothing I saw on any program material—DVD- or Blu-ray-sourced—showed anything less than pristine performance. One note, though: Your installer will use a PC/Web browser interface to set up the Kaleidescape. The system defaults to clipping black and white levels over HDMI and overenhancing upconverted DVDs. For the performance I describe here, make sure your installer enables blacker than black/whiter than white, selects None for Detail Enhancement, and allows Deep Color. The M500 doesn’t offer onboard lossless audio decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, so I engaged bitstream output for the lossless formats from the PC/browser setup.

Another note on Blu-ray playback and interactivity: The Kaleidescape system is optimized for movie watching more than digging into extras and interactivity. To access real-time chapters, Bonus View PiP features, or BD-Live interactivity, you select Play Disc instead of Play Movie. Even though you’re still accessing the imported version of the movie, it’s just like you’re playing back the physical disc. When the Java engine starts, you have to cut through all the splash screens and trailers, etc. Play Disc was swift and sure with the PiP features I tried, even the tricksy one for Warner’s Watchmen Maximum Movie Mode. It was sometimes inconvenient to not have access to Blu-ray’s real-time chapter menus when using Play Movie to watch imported titles.

Browsing and Watching: The Glory
This is where I was hooked into the Kaleidescape experience. The best thing about Kaleidescape’s movie capabilities is how fully it understands and anticipates a movie watcher’s behavior. Basic navigation in the system is breathtakingly intuitive. It requires just four direction keys and an OK button to engage menu selections. Because of the enormous breadth of what the Kaleidescape system can do, explaining this in greater detail would make it seem complex when it isn’t. Its functionality is incredibly robust, but using the Kaleidescape for movies requires no learning curve. It’s that easy. It’s also fast. Scrolling in any direction through the interface is lightning fast, and in two-plus months of continuous use, it’s never slowed down, frozen, or needed to be rebooted. It’s very robust hardware. Keep in mind this is with the stock remote, which is quite good. Most Kaleidescape owners will use an integrated control system, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the remote that ships with the unit, especially for a simple system in a bedroom or guest room.

The HD graphics and cover art have a lot of pop. They’re very crisp and clear. For movies, there are three main views, and they’re exceptionally easy to navigate to, from, and within. The Covers view is sexiest; it shows a tiled mosaic of all of your movie cover art. Hovering over a movie rearranges the covers around it on theme—from simple to complex. For instance, highlight a sci-fi title, and watch the sci-fi titles come up front; highlight a Pixar movie, and see the other Pixar and computer-animation movies tile around. But it goes farther. Highlight Raiders of the Lost Ark, for instance, and all the other Indiana Jones movies populate around it. Ditto for Star Wars or Harry Potter. Highlight The Book of Eli, and you’ll see Inside Man and Remember the Titans, also starring Denzel Washington. Highlight Blade Runner, and director Ridley Scott’s Gladiator then comes front and center. Get the idea? It’s smart.

Kaleidescape, Inc.
(650) 625-6100