Kaleidescape Movie Server Page 2

The system is made up of three components: a DVD Reader, a Movie Player, and a server. (In our photo, they're stacked next to a Samsung LTM-1775W high-def LCD monitor.) Installation is straightforward and nearly foolproof. All three pieces connect via a Fast Ethernet (100-megabit-per-second) home network. (Due to the volume of data transferred, Wi-Fi is not recommended.) In fact, besides power, the Ethernet ports are the only connections to both the server and the reader.

In a typical installation, the server would likely be stowed away in an equipment closet or rack somewhere, and the DVD Reader would be placed where it's convenient to load movies. The Movie Player, which has all of the outputs of a traditional DVD player and connects to the TV as any player would, sits near the home theater's electronics. It also has the aforementioned Ethernet connection, a rear-panel infrared input, and a serial RS-232 control port for hookup to whole-house control systems. Once the Kaleidescape is connected and sitting on the home network, installation is complete.

Though a broadband Internet connection is not absolutely necessary, the system performs at its best when one is available. Periodic software updates and tweaks will be automatically loaded into the player along with DVD information from Kaleidescape's Movie Guide Service, and any problems (like drive failures) are automatically reported.

After installation, the user (or installer) configures system preferences (preferred soundtrack, TV aspect ratio, video output), checks system status (movies on the system, date of import), sets parental controls, deletes movies, and even controls the system through the home network using a Web browser interface on a PC. The system doesn't even come with a remote-control handset for routine operation. This is likely a nonissue since most people purchasing a Kaleidescape will probably have an advanced system controller, like a Crestron or AMX touchpanel. But if you don't own a touchpanel, you can either "teach" the DVD codes to a learning remote control - the Kaleidescape is compatible with the codes for Toshiba or Kenwood players - or use the control-panel interface accessed over the home network.

Loading movies takes roughly 30 minutes per disc, so you'll need to set aside some time if you have a 400-disc collection. Following a successful import, a warning screen appears to say, "Movie has been imported. It is illegal for you to import movies that you do not own. By pressing select, you agree that you either own the imported movies or that you will delete them." While nothing but honesty keeps someone from renting movies and copying them, it does violate the licensing policy that new owners must agree to, and doing so could result in the loss of the Kaleidescape service. A subscription to the service is included with the system, and this is where Kaleidescape is transformed from just another component into a video godsend, making the act of selecting a movie entertaining in itself.

With the touch of a button, movies can be sorted in a number of ways. Want a list of Harrison Ford movies? Sort by actor. Feel like a comedy? Sort by genre. In a Hitchcock frame of mind? Sort by director. Looking for something family-friendly? Sort by MPAA rating. Do you prefer wandering through the video store looking at box covers? Browse through your entire collection by cover art displayed on your TV screen.

Pausing on a cover re-sorts titles in a "If you liked this, you'll also like . . ." manner. This sounds simple - Amazon.com does it all the time - but I found it to be phenomenally cool, and I spent lots of time with it. Suggested titles were almost always right on (in fact, I made a game of predicting what Kaleidescape would pick). Clicking on a cover brings up the DVD's rating, running time, cast, director, and a synopsis of the movie.

When you've decided what to watch, Kaleidescape acts like a traditional player. Pressing play takes you right to the movie, and I mean right to it. Within a second, the movie is playing, having skipped over all the warnings, previews, and menus. Full access to the original DVD's menu system, extras, and even Easter eggs is retained. And with multidisc titles (like the two-disc special edition of Memento), the second disc is instantly accessed when the first has finished. Picture quality was excellent, on par with high-end players. Fast forward and reverse scan, however, were choppy, and there was no slow motion or frame-advance. The company says that it intends to resolve these issues in future software upgrades.

Want to wow friends with your system when they come over? Store your marquee demo scenes in a Favorite Scenes list and skip instantly to the best parts. Unable to finish a movie? Pause it, and Kaleidescape will remember where you were - for any number of movies, for as long as you'd like. If you have more than one Movie Player, you can start a movie in your theater, pause it, and finish it in the bedroom.

While the system is cool with one player, it's unrivaled in its role as a housewide entertainment machine. An unlimited number of players can be installed throughout the home, with each server supporting up to seven simultaneous streams.

Kaleidescape's goal is to "deliver a substantially improved theatrical experience to the home theater," and I'd say it has succeeded. Using the system is a treat, and if you can appreciate the technology, it actually makes watching movies even more entertaining. Now, if they can only make one that costs less than an SUV . . .

Tech Notes

As high tech as it is, the performance of the Kaleidescape boils down to the quality of the signals on its outputs. As with any DVD player, instead of using the stereo analog audio output, we'd recommend feeding a digital surround receiver from the digital audio output. That's the only way you'll get multichannel audio out of all those whirling hard disks. And after spending all that money, you might as well invest a few grand more on a full home theater sound system.

The video performance was right up there with that of the best DVD players we've tested lately. Progressive-scan behavior was good, with no jagged diagonals or major chroma-upsampling anomalies. The luminance rolloff of the progressive-scan component output was slightly disappointing. Response fell rapidly above 10 MHz and was down some -6 dB at 13.5 MHz. Although this still produced a visible 540 lines of resolution (the DVD format limit) on test patterns, the patterns were discernibly rolled off. Fortunately, this behavior had little effect on movie images, mainly because they have little content requiring such high resolution. - David Ranada