Kaleidescape Strato S 4K Ultra HD Movie Player Review Page 2

While discs are lagging when it comes to 4K/HDR, a lot of new and catalog releases from all genres are appearing on streaming services in that format. And while some of those services deliver a better A/V experience than I ever expected them to, what you get still doesn't match the quality of pre-recorded discs. The advantage to Kaleidescape is that it offers a large range of titles that are only being offered for digital delivery in 4K/HDR— the last time I checked, there were almost 400 4K/HDR titles available in the Kaleidescape movie store that are not avail- able on disc. I love big popcorn movies as much as the next guy, but there are many films other than blockbusters that I want to own and experience in the best quality possible, and Kaleidescape delivers just that. I can only imagine that Kaleidescape's advantage will grow as studios lean increasingly on digital delivery.

The Experience
Okay, we've established that Kaleidescape has key advantages when it comes to content selection, but what the company has built its reputation on is the Kaleidescape experience, and that starts with the glorious cover art interface. This displays your library of downloaded titles as a wall of cover art that can be arranged in various ways, including alphabetically or as a moving, evolving interface that shuffles as you highlight individual titles. Covers can be shuffled to show similar titles based on genre and more. And for those that don't like this method, you can instead select a list interface that can be sorted through a multitude of options including format, director, and actor.

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Once you choose a movie to watch, you can instantly navigate to any chapter from it, or even select from pre-chosen favorite demo scenes—a great feature for those of us who love to demonstrate the A/V prowess of our home theater. You even get the ability to make your own favorite demo scenes or create what Kaleidescape calls "scripts" that interweave trailers, scenes, and more. While the Kaleidescape interface is its signature feature, the system delivers much more than that. The players are networked and designed to interact with various control systems in order to deliver a fully customized experience, including cues for lighting and projection screen masking systems. Unfortunately, I didn't get to try out all of these features since I don't use a control system in my home theater, but I've seen them demonstrated firsthand in other systems and it's a fantastic enhancement.

The Strato players offer many well-considered features in their setup menus including the option to elevate subtitles in the main image for use with "scope" projection screens, default to a specific soundtrack language, and even perform the required scaling and stretching for projection systems with an anamorphic lens. Overall, I found myself very impressed with the level of thought and detail that went into the development of the playback system.

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One thing I was initially concerned with was how long it would take to download a movie to the Strato S for playback— probably the only hitch in Kaleidescape's delivery service. Download times largely depend on the speed of your internet connection, and you also may have to take into account data caps depending on how many titles you plan to download. My internet service is on the faster side, and I found that HD-quality movies would download in about 30 minutes and 4K/HDR movies in about an hour or less. So, not exactly instant access, but easy to plan for if you want to watch something later in the day or evening. Pre-orders for movies that haven't yet been released, meanwhile, get put in a queue and are downloaded as soon as they become available.

I quickly found that I didn't need to keep a local copy of all my titles on the Strato S player, which helped to preserve space. (A Strato S with 12 TB of internal storage holds up to 180 4K movies, 320 Blu-ray-quality movies, or 1,800 DVD-quality movies.) Since any movies that I owned could be downloaded from my account, I only needed to keep the titles I wanted instant access to, or knew that I would be watching in the coming days, stored locally. The only downside here is that the Kaleidescape interface doesn't display all the titles in your library, only the ones downloaded to the player. I've love to see the company add the ability to show everything in your library, including titles that aren't residing on a player or server's internal storage. I'd also love to see a pre-buffer option, so you could immediately start watching as titles download.

Bumps In The Road
I'm going to sound off here on a few more things I'd love to see Kaleidescape add to its movie store and overall experience. The most obvious one is broader support for immersive audio. Kaleidescape supports both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, with plenty of movies available in both formats. But there are titles lacking Dolby Atmos or DTS:X when the same movie can be found on disc or on other digital services with immersive audio. The specific movies I'm referring to are mostly from Universal and 20th Century Fox, although more Universal titles with Atmos were added during my review and I've heard that more are coming from Fox.

I was also surprised to find that many concerts in the movie store lack higher-resolution soundtracks. For example, quite a few concert Blu-rays I have in my collection feature 24-bit/96kHz multichannel mixes, while the same versions on Kaleidescape were standard lossless Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio. I was also surprised to find no Dolby Atmos music offerings similar to what's available on the Tidal streaming service. [Editor's note: According to Kaleidescape, its service offers a handful of concerts with Dolby Atmos, and you can find them by browsing collections with the Dolby Atmos filter set.—A.G] Even adding albums that were previously only offered on DVD-Audio or SACD seems like something Kaleidescape could pursue to create new options for the audiophile community.

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Kaleidescape's pricing is also worth noting. While sales were frequently offered during my review period, the company's standard pricing can be pretty hit or miss. This seems to be studio-dictated, with some prices (Warner Brothers and Paramount, for instance) bordering on offensive compared with the same movies on other digital delivery services or even disc formats. Prices for offerings from other studios were comparable to their disc counterparts, and sometimes a bit lower.

My only other beef involves the lack of some form of digital copy. Kaleidescape used to be compatible with Ultraviolet, but that feature disappeared when UV closed up shop in 2019. I'd love to see support for Movies Anywhere, so you could access content you've purchased through Kaleidescape's movie store on portable devices—a great feature for kids with iPads during travel. Buying a large digital library and then having access limited to devices in your home seems like a serious limitation, especially when Movies Anywhere has wide support from other digital services.

Conclusion
I was thoroughly impressed with Kaleidescape from the moment I first encountered the compa- ny's products, but also viewed it as an expensive solution that didn't make sense for my needs. But now that I've experienced Kaleidescape in my own home theater, I liked the Strato S player so much that I bought my review unit. While I adore the Kaleidescape interface, having access to uncompromised A/V presentation of movies is ultimately what sealed the deal for me. I hope the company continues to grow its library and smooth out the bumps described above. That said, Kaleidescape offers a superior digital movie delivery experience. Like Ferris Bueller once said (about a Ferrari), "If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up!"

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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.

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