Kaleidescape Strato S 4K Ultra HD Movie Player Review


Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $5,995 ($8,995 as reviewed)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Outstanding interface and ease-of-use
Movie store offers 4K titles not available on disc
No A/V quality compromise compared with discs
Minus
Pricey hardware
Some movies lack immersive audio
No Movies Anywhere support

THE VERDICT
Kaleidescape delivers an out- standing user experience, and its online movie store features Ultra HD movies with uncompromised A/V quality, including some titles that aren’t available on disc.

I've been keenly aware of Kaleidescape since the company's start when I first laid eyes on its beautiful onscreen interface at a high-end A/V store in Seattle. Since then, I've regularly encountered that same interface in the homes of my video calibration clients, in stores, and at trade shows. Back in Kaleidescape's early days, when the only comparable media server was early Windows Media Center on home theater PCs, the company's offering was not only innovative, but awe-inspiring. The home video world has changed drastically since then, and slick interfaces from the likes of Apple TV, Netflix, and others are now the norm. But Kaleidescape has also changed, with the company having now moved to a digital media experience that bypasses shiny discs in favor of internet-delivered content with audio and video quality on par with pre-recorded media.

The Player
For this review, Kaleidescape sent me its Strato S 4K Ultra HD Movie Player. The focus of a product review is typically an actual product, but I honestly feel that Kaleidescape is more about the experience than a single product. Yes, with its anodized aluminum case, the Strato S 4K Ultra HD Movie Player is a gorgeous-looking high-tech component that has evolved since Sound & Vision reviewed the original Strato model back in 2016. Specifically, the Strato S case is half the height of the original and it now offers either 6 TB ($5,995) or 12 TB ($8,995) of onboard storage. You can also opt for the smaller Strato C player ($4,995), with no onboard storage. A Strato C can access content stored on a networked Strato S player or one of the company's Terra Servers (starts at $12,495) from any room throughout your home. Which direction you go will be a matter of need—and also budget—as all of the Strato players offer an identical Kaleidescape experience—the focus of this review.

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Digital Delights
Kaleidescape started out as a solution to manage a large disc collection via an assortment of playback and storage products—one with an advanced interface that made access and playback as simple as possible. But the company's solution also came with a rather high price tag. Price remains a consideration as the products still exceed the budget of many, but the Kaleidescape experience has also advanced to a new level that helps justify the steep price points.

The current line of products load content exclusively from Kaleidescape's online movie store where you'll find a massive catalog of films, TV shows, documentaries, concerts and more to purchase and download. Titles are available in video formats ranging from standard-definition 480P all the way up to full 4K with HDR for movies. Kaleidescape supports HDR10 high dynamic range, but not Dolby Vision or HDR10+. During my review, I didn't see any TV shows being delivered in 4K/HDR, but that's something I expect to see in the future as more shows are delivered in that format on streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon.

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Kaleidescape's offerings might sound the same as what you get from services like iTunes, Amazon, and count- less others, but Kaleidescape is the only digital platform that delivers movies with the same A/V quality as their disc counterparts. Kaleidescape is not a streaming service—purchased titles are downloaded directly to your Strato S or Terra Server and then accessed by the player. The last time Sound & Vision reviewed a Kaleidescape system, its online movie store could only be accessed from an internet browser on a computer. Now, the store can be accessed directly from the player, a computer, or the Kaleidescape mobile app, along with full access to your account info, movie lists, and more. This makes it easy to add titles to your collection at any time. Hanging out at a friend's house and hear about a movie that you'd like to check out? Launch the app on your phone, add the title to your collection, and it will download to your system and be ready to view before you return home.

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The Kaleidescape movie store is the main reason why I decided to invest in my own Strato S during the course of this review. I've always been a film lover and have amassed a huge library of shiny discs over the years. But I'm finding that studios are slowly moving away from pre-recorded formats. I am always looking for the best A/V experience possible and for that reason prefer viewing movies in 4K/HDR. And while there's a sizable list of titles on Ultra HD Blu-ray disc, many new releases I want to own are only being made available in disc format on regular Blu-ray or DVD. Tent- pole blockbusters and classics occupy the majority of the Ultra HD Blu-ray catalog, with many independent films appearing on lesser formats.

COMPANY INFO
Kaleidescape
(888) 352-5343
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
jeffhenning's picture

... but, I'd have to get a new pre-pro and TV to use it.

While I like the idea of having the ability to buy 4K movies in their box, I can't really find a way to justify the price.

I have a Nvidia Shield Pro and a Synology NAS with two 1Tb SSD's and all the associated Cat8 cabling for less than $1K.

Johan81's picture

I agree, I have the Vero 4K which plays all full UHD/Atmos/DTS:X fine over my network and CAT5e is enough for the bandwidth which with my NAS (which I already had) cost me less than $200
This option seems to be less of a grey area, but at this price you better be able to watch all movies for free. Buying movies on disc will surpass the price of the option as reviewed after more than $20 UHD discs.

This device has no real right to exist to me.

jeffhenning's picture

These types of boxes are for people who can’t do anything technical.

I upgraded all my AV Ethernet cables with the best Cat8 from Monoprice when Netflix started acting dodgy on my top-line, 6 YO, Samsung TV. The cables helped, but, in the end, the CPU in the set couldn’t handle the latest HEVC encoding. The Shield Pro kicks ass. It’s several orders of magnitude better than the TV in every aspect when it comes to streaming.

In the end, none of it was very expensive.

jeffhenning's picture

These types of boxes are for people who can’t do anything technical.

I upgraded all my AV Ethernet cables with the best Cat8 from Monoprice when Netflix started acting dodgy on my top-line, 6 YO, Samsung TV. The cables helped, but, in the end, the CPU in the set couldn’t handle the latest HEVC encoding. The Shield Pro kicks ass. It’s several orders of magnitude better than the TV in every aspect when it comes to streaming.

In the end, none of it was very expensive.

trynberg's picture

The Kaleidescape system in general, is fantastic, although the lack of a full library and some immersive soundtracks are definitely issues that need solving.

It's unfortunate that providing this type of service while meeting all the laws and keeping Hollywood happy results in this kind of pricing. Luckily for those of us mere mortals, Plex server on a Shield with a NAS or attached hard drive and a UHD drive for ripping, get us most of the way there. I am concerned about the lack of UHD (or even BD) discs going forward though.

I will say the $3k upcharge to go from 6TB to 12TB is pretty egregious.

CoolToys's picture

When Kaleidescape and ReQuest first launched I was the owner of a small A/V business and not one of "means" that could get a Porsche or Ferrari priced server to watch movies. I built many media servers hoping that Microsoft would come around to "legalizing" DVD ripping. It never happened of course or we wouldn't be discussing the new Kaleidescape. Yes I have known people how used Handbrake on a mac. I want tech that is ready to cross the chasm, not in alpha or beta. This coming from a guy who's latest app can't escape the alpha tests. I see the irony as I type.

Eventually the business grew and I had a choice to make. Become a dealer for ReQuest or Kaleidescape. Honestly it was a budgetary decision. The dealer package from ReQuest was 1/3 of Kaleidescape's. Better yet I could order a second unit at that price for my home. I still have that unit and four more I found on eBay that I bandaid together.

The ReQuest as a movie server has been flawless. The only errors have always been with the QNAP NAS. For a while QNAP decided to do it's own "transcoding" and it lost all of the movies from "T-Z" before I figured out how to turn it off.

I am intrigued to say the least about the Kaleidescape pricing, but then reading about the cost of the movies, suddenly it makes sense. Why they haven't gone the route of razor blade marketing like Roku, Amazon and AppleTV is a bit baffling. Yes Trynberg $3k upcharge for 6TB is ridiculous.

In 2009 I got out of the A/V retail business and went on a new adventure that kept me plugged in. My home is a fully integrated home with five Amazon echo's listening in to everything I say. The advantage of this is that I have audio streaming to every room in the house. Since I downgraded in my new home from ReQuest multi room to A-bus, the headphone out of the echo dot's lets me play music in any room. The CD storage part of my ReQuest is useless but it is still there if the internet goes down for some reason or if Amazon decides to charge for Amazon music instead of including it with Prime.

Finally the thing I didn't see in the new Kaleidescape is the ability to store the 200+dvd's and blu rays I already have. This is where I have to say I love my ReQuest and I like the Kaleidescape. With the ReQuest I can buy that $1.99 bargain movie at Wally World, record it and I own it. No worry about the company going under or the internet going down. If I buy a Kaleidescape am I starting my collection over with their full retail pricing?

Yes streaming in convenient but I don't get compression blooming or artifacts when I watch a movie on the ReQuest. That is the only thing I see as a benefit to the Kaleidescape. But for the price? How many times can I really watch Cars or Smokey and the Bandit? It clearly is a luxury purchase.

I'll stop now, the sun is rising and the surf is calling.

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