Kaleidescape System 3000 Entertainment Server

If you're like me, with a large library of DVDs (I think I'm over 1000, but I haven't counted them lately), just finding the one you want is a chore. Try as I might to keep them in some sort of order, it never works for long. I pull out a few to watch, and before you know it there are little piles scattered all around the house.

And if you're like the typical home theater fan, you don't always want to watch the whole film. Repeat viewings, in particular, often gravitate around a few favorite sequences. But watching snippets of one disc and another involves sitting through FBI warnings, skipping through trailers (when you can), choosing options in the menu, and, after what seems like hours, getting to where you want to be—and watching a clip that's probably shorter than the time it took to get to it! One particularly noxious DVD in my collection has a dozen trailers and promotions in front of the film.

If you have an elaborate, multi-room system, you also might want to watch a favorite film in another room separate from the main home theater setup. Or different movies in different rooms. Or you might like to start the movie in the home theater and finish watching it in the bedroom.

You'd also like to sort your collection in various ways. Tonight you want to find a favorite John Wayne film. Or a classic from the 1930s. Or you only have 90 minutes, so you want to select a film shorter than that without spending so much time locating one that there's only enough time left for half an episode of Gilligan's Island: The Director's Cut. You also wish you could readily find a list of the family films in your collection, or even films suitable for your pre-school rug rats.

The Kaleidescape Entertainment Server can do all that—and more. These features don't come cheap, but this is the coolest product I've ever used in over ten years of covering the ever-changing home theater market.

The Sum of the Parts
At its most basic, the Kaleidescape System consists of three primary pieces. The largest of these is the Server. It contains up to 12 hot-swappable cartridges, each containing 400GB of hard-disk storage. That's a total of 4.4 terabytes of useable storage—enough for up to 660 DVDs (depending on length). The minimum system ships with four of these cartridges, sufficient to hold about 180 movies. Additional cartridges may be added at any time, and multiple servers may be linked together for those with really big collections. The multiple servers work together seamlessly, and the user interface simply looks like a single, larger server.

The hard drives are configured in a proprietary RAID format (Redundant Array of Independent Discs)—no movies are lost if a single disc cartridge fails, and a failed cartridge may be replaced while the system is on. After a bad cartridge is replaced, the system automatically restores the content redundancy to the new cartridge.

The two smaller modules are the Movie Player and the DVD Reader. The terminology here can be a little confusing. The DVD Reader is actually the device that you use to load DVDs onto the Server. It functions much like a conventional DVD player, except that the only control, apart from the power button, is for opening and closing the loading drawer. You can't play a DVD directly from the DVD Reader. When you close the drawer, it simply begins copying the contents of the disc onto the hard drives in the Server. Loading takes about 25 minutes for an average-length disc, during which time the soft blue glow that illuminates the Player's front panel pulses. (All three of the system's main components are lit by same blue glow, which turns amber when certain malfunctions occur.)

The information loaded into the Server is an exact copy of what is on the disc. According to Kaleidescape, there is no added compression or additional manipulation of the contents that would affect playback quality.

The Movie Player receives the stored data from the Server and plays it back on your system. Think of it as a DVD player with conventional audio and video outputs (see Specifications) but no controls (apart from Power) or disc drawer. It receives its content directly from the Server. The Movie Player includes an HDMI link and can output either 480i or 480p from DVDs—or upconvert them (only on HDMI) to 720p or 1080i. I used the 480p setting.

Multiple Movie Players may be located in different rooms, connected to the Server via a hard-wired (recommended) Ethernet network. Different films may be viewed in these multiple remote locations. My test sample used a single Movie Player located in my main home theater room.

In order for the Kaleidescape System to function as intended, it should be connected to a broadband Internet service. The Internet connection is used to download data about the disc, including cover art. You'll occasionally find a disc that isn't in the Movie Guide Service; with these, you enter the DVD's UPC code and Kaleidescape System will add the information to the Service and download it to your Server in a day or two.

A wireless connection is possible for the Internet and control links (a hard wire connection is recommended for importing and playing back the program material itself due to wireless bandwidth limitations). But I had difficulty getting my new wireless home-office router to interface seamlessly with the wireless router that Kaleidescape installed next to their Server. (Normally a router is not required with the system, but I do not have an Ethernet system installed in my home.) It can be done, but my knowledge of wireless computer networks ends with the spelling of Linksys. I fell back on a long CAT5 cable for the link, which worked fine as both a digital connection and a handy trip-wire between rooms.