Kaleidescape Strato 4K Ultra HD Movie Player Review Page 2

For such a complex bit of kit, installation is surprisingly straightforward. Around back you’ll find dual HDMI outputs (one full HDMI 2.0a/HDCP 2.2 audio and video, one HDMI 1.4 audio only), both coaxial and optical audio, a Gigabit Ethernet connection, a minijack IR connection, 12-volt power, and two USB connections (one for service, one for future use). The dual HDMIs are terrific for bridging the HDCP gap on older A/V receivers or preamps that haven’t been upgraded.

The system requires some basic initial onscreen setup, including making network connections, registering the system with Kaleidescape, setting parental controls based on MPAA ratings (to determine which movies will appear without a password), and choosing default language and subtitle preferences. For the network connection, wired is always preferred, but you can use Wi-Fi as a convenient option for a standalone player to download movies and guide updates from the internet. For systems with multiple components, a wired connection is mandatory.


Beyond the initial setup screen, more advanced A/V configuration is performed by logging into Strato’s web GUI. Here you set audio behavior such as whether the player decodes multichannel to PCM or outputs bitstream, and which audio formats your system can support. Under video settings, you can manually select output resolution to be 720p, 1080i, 1080p, or 2160p if you’re connecting to an older system or having issues, and you can opt to use Kaleidescape’s CinemaScape mode, which optimizes the display for 2.35:1 anamorphic projection screens.

You also get some terrific HDMI tools to ensure that Strato works regardless of where you might have a weak link in your system. First, you can disable 4K Ultra HD output, which automatically downscales 4K content to HD. You can set the system to use HDMI 1.4 modes if some device in the system isn’t HDMI 2.0 capable. You can select whether to limit the output to 10.2 or 13.5 Gbps if some component or some of the cabling can’t accommodate the full 18-Gbps signal flow.

If you’re watching a movie and the video connection isn’t stable, chances are you’ve exceeded the bandwidth of a cable in the system, and you’ll have to replace it. (I had to replace one in mine.) If this isn’t possible, it’s awesome that Kaleidescape gives you a way to dial back the horsepower so that you can enjoy your system to its maximum.

4K, 4K, or 4K?
Right now, we’re living in what feels like the wild, wild west of 4K. Is my source 4K? Is my display getting 4K? Is it true 4K? What’s happening? Diagnosing exactly what you see on your screen can be a difficult prospect at best. The last bit of setup awesomeness that Strato delivers is a tab titled “Show primary HDMI port capabilities and status.” This will provide HDMI answers about your system in a way that no other consumer component even dreams of. In short, the tab tells you definitively whether you’re getting true 4K or something else.

Clicking the tab shows which version of HDCP your system currently supports, which HD resolutions it supports, and whether it can handle Deep Color and HDR. When content is playing, it tells you the current status/capability of the media and the output. Is the current media HDR, and is it being sent that way to your display? What is the current chroma, color space, or frame rate? This tool is phenomenally beneficial, not only for diagnosing issues but also for confirming that they’ve been settled.

I connected Strato to several different products, including a Sony VPL-VW365ES 4K projector, a Marantz VP-11S2 1080p projector, both Sony XBR75X850D and Samsung UN65JS8500 4K Ultra HDTVs, and a few A/V preamps and receivers, using both the single and the dual HDMI connections—and I noticed a variety of HDMI quirks when I looked at the tab, depending on the device.

816kali.rem.jpgFor example, when I first connected to the Sony projector, I thought the picture looked great. However, I was plugged into the HDMI 1 input, which, it turns out, isn’t HDMI 2.0, and content was being downscaled to 1080p. With the status tab, I could have gone a long while thinking I was watching 4K and never known. When I connected to the Sony TV, I got a warning of “non-HDR-capable display,” even though a huge sticker on the TV screams, “HDR”! I had to enable wide dynamic range in a menu setting and then reboot the TV. The Samsung TV required me to enable UHD color, and a Sony STR-ZA5000ES receiver’s HDMI inputs needed to be set to Enhanced.

Another thing I discovered: If a lower-“caliber” display is connected in the chain—even though you aren’t using it—then the entire system scales back to its maximum capabilities. For example, I have a dual-display setup in my reference system, the Samsung 4K TV and the Marantz projector. With the HDMI 1.3 projector connected but powered off, the Samsung couldn’t receive 4K content. This was fairly easily rectified by just unplugging the HDMI output to the projector, but it was still an interesting HDCP quirk.

However, I loved that instead of merely presenting me with a frustrating blank screen of nothing, Strato simply adjusted its video output so I could watch and enjoy the content. In other words, “The show must go on!” It’s an attitude that reflects Kaleidescape’s philosophy of always delivering a terrific customer experience.

Video to the Stratosphere
Finally, we get to it: What does Strato look like? Kaleidescape pre-loaded my review sample with nearly 50 Ultra HD Blu-ray titles, and from the second the cover art GUI fills the screen, it’s obvious that video quality has been nitrous-injected to the next level. Cover art in the user interface is much sharper and more vibrant compared with what I’ve seen via 1080p. There is exceptional detail letting you read even the smallest print. Navigating your collection is done in an ultra-fluid, 60-frame-per-second scroll that is beautiful to look at, as images glide by without any hitching or tearing. When you select a movie, it begins playback in about five seconds. No trailers or warnings, just straight into the film.

Strato is capable of delivering up to 100 Mbps (compared with streaming’s 15 Mbps, and a range of 82 to 128 Mbps for UHD Blu-ray depending on disc capacity), and the resulting video quality is spectacular. As seen here, Ultra HD’s nearly 8.3 million pixels have finally and completely eliminated any hint of jaggies; no matter how tight the detail or how fine the pattern, there was never any breakup or any artifact creation around object edges. In Moneyball, there are scenes where Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) drives past telephone lines or where the camera pans past chain-link fences or netting; always, the lines remained sharp and stable. Whether it’s the brick work in the German towns of Fury as tanks slowly roll past or the grilles on cars in Men in Black as they blast down the freeway, lines and edges stayed in focus.

One of the things you really appreciate is just how clean the images appear. Everything looks like you’re watching a Hollywood master print with zero wear. The closest comparison I can give is to viewing satellite TV for the first time after having watched cable for years; the significantly smaller degree of compression makes for an all-around better picture. This is likely due to the superiority of the H.265 compression and also to the fact that all of Kaleidescape’s UHD offerings are 10-bit transfers (versus the 8-bit of Blu-ray) with 4:2:0 chroma resolution, which results in images that are completely free of any noise and that boast amazing depth and detail, letting you appreciate each pixel on the screen.

Black-level detail is also terrific, without any banding or contouring. This is certainly noticeable in a film with a lot of low-lit images, such as Captain Phillips. And while the picture quality of 1934’s black-and-white It Happened One Night was obviously soft and grainy due to age, the 4K transfer had amazing black-level detail and contrast, preserving all the tiny patterns in Clark Gable’s suits.

If the connected system supports it, Strato upscales chroma channels to 4:4:4. This results in vibrant, rich colors, especially reds. There are several scenes in Lawrence of Arabia where you can really appreciate the rich tapestry of fabrics and costume design, and the combination of resolution, detail, and color will make you marvel at how well this 54-year-old film has stood up.

At the eleventh hour of my review, Kaleidescape upgraded my Strato to the latest version of their KOS operating system and pushed me a download of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in HDR and wide color gamut. (Some issues with hardware partners and certification have delayed this upgrade from being rolled out sooner.) This was a glimpse of where Strato is headed and the quality of films that should be available by the time you read this. The images were just stunning, with the Times Square battle between Spider-Man and Electro showing off the larger color gamut (P3 for now, though Strato is ready for Rec. 2020 when content and displays come available). Spidey’s red suit and Electro’s glowing blue energy had far more intensity, as did all of the background neon lights and signs. Scenes such as the clock-tower battle finale demonstrated HDR’s strengths, with glowing-white electrical poles next to deep blacks that retained enough contrast and depth to allow you to still appreciate all the details in the Green Goblin’s armor and all the intricate gears in the clock mechanism. Although I didn’t spend nearly as much time watching non-UHD content, I did view enough—Jurassic World, Gravity, The Martian, Life of Pi, Mad Max: Fury Road—to confidently say that Strato does a terrific job of upscaling HD content to UHD resolution.

There is a lot I haven’t even mentioned about Strato: how it supports nearly every control system on the market, its terrific iPad control interface, how Kaleidescape bookmarks the most iconic scenes and songs in films so you can jump straight to your favorite moments (or bookmark your own personal favorites), the ability to create a kid’s collection based solely on age-appropriate content, and the variety of ways to browse your collection, such as by actor, director, rating, or run time.

Your home cinema experience is only as good as the weakest link in the chain, and Kaleidescape’s Strato ensures that content delivery will be of the highest caliber. For home theater enthusiasts who are passionate about picture quality and the overall cinematic experience, Strato comes highly recommended.

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Warrior24_7's picture

$4500-$8000 for a dead product. Even if it survived, who would spend that kind of money to watch downloaded movies? 24TB of HD space is less than a $1000 and iTunes is free. There are many ways that you go with too. I just do not see the benefits of this.

audioguy's picture

This is not a "for everybody" product. But having recently purchased the BD version of this product, it is worth every penny I paid for it. The list of benefits s much larger than even this review provided. Up unit I actually owned this product, I was a major nonbeliever. Not any more -and I am hopeful someone will come to the rescue.

Warrior24_7's picture

6 terabytes of internal storage ($4,495), The non-storage version is $1,000 less and either streams from another Strato with internal storage or pairs with Kaleidescape’s Terra Movie Server, which is available in capacities of 12 TB ($5,995) and 24 TB ($7,995).

Warrior24_7's picture

My problem is price and bang for your buck. At $3500 for the "non storage" (then you have to buy the server) unit absolutely fails against it's competition. An OPPO 105 Blu-Ray player comes with storage and is thousands less. An Xbox One gaming console will get you 1-2 TB of storage, a Digital TV tuner, and remote for about $500 or maybe a little more! You're watching the same movies! Build or buy a NAS system that functions as a media server for your home. A 24TB unit starting around $1300, a refurb is about $400 bucks! Everyone now has access to the same content when it becomes available so there is nothing special here, maybe there is, don't know.

brenro's picture

Add me to the perplexed list. You would have to have a pretty serious aversion to owning discs to choose this over one of the UHD blu ray players that cost a fraction as much. Plus there's 3d blu ray rental and hopefully eventually Netflix where you can rent UHD discs rather than shelling out $30 for movies you want to see but only once.

eugovector's picture

It will also be interesting to see how much of the previously purchased content persists if the Kaleidescape store folds. Hopefully owners don't lose the right to download/view their previously purchased content and play it back on other devices. More reasons to keep your content in open formats, when possible.

Warrior24_7's picture

I learned this lesson the hard way when I downloaded a movie to a PS3! It's now part of that PS3. Never again.

jaketillerson's picture

I'd love to know how the Encore (https://www.kaleidescape.com/products/encore/) compares to the Strato?