Home Theater Review

 

Kaleidescape Mini System Music and DVD Server

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HTR Product Rating

Performance
5 Stars
Value
3.5 Stars
Overall
4.5 Stars

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The easier it is to enjoy your movie and music software, the more you will reap from the collection. If you don't believe me, just count the number of iPods you see in a day. Having the disc you want to see or hear immediately at your fingertips makes you more likely to simply enjoy it. Kaleidescape has been one of the preeminent entertainment servers in the world, allowing just this type of access for movies and music throughout your entire home, regardless of its size or the number of zones you desire. Their new Mini System is a scaled-down, free-standing version of their system, but still packs plenty of punch and expandability. The Mini System allows for one primary zone capable of audio or video and two additional zones that can independently control and distribute audio-only. Base price for the Mini System starts at $7,995, with 500 GB of storage, capable of providing 1080p video to one zone and audio to three.

Additional Resources
K-scape adds Blu-ray to Servers
Read about AppleTV here.

The Mini System is not locked into its base configuration. You can add two more 500 GB hard drives ($595 each), as well as Mini Players ($1,995), which each add video and audio to additional zones. For those with larger movie and music collections Kaleidescape offers the 1U and 3U Servers, which allow whole-home access to huge libraries of thousands of DVDs and CDs. The Kaleidescape system keeps all data in a RAID array. Therefore, one drive in all systems is for back-up; each additional drive adds storage. Each 500 GB can hold up to 75 DVDs or 825 CDs, give or take, all of which are loaded and stored on the unit in completely native uncompressed format.

The Kaleidescape Mini System connects to your display by either HDMI, component, S-Video or composite connectors, and offers coaxial and optical digital outputs, as well as stereo analog outs for the main zone and each of the two additional zones and an RS-232 control port. A USB and Ethernet port round out the rear of the unit. The fronts and sides are finished in a white plastic; the front glows blue when powered on. The Kaleidescape logo sits dead center over a small arc of charcoal and the IR sensor. The front panel flips down to reveal the power button, four hard drive bays, a DVD drive, play, import and eject buttons. The remote is pretty simple, yet highly effective, offering a numeric pad, transport buttons and a five button control, as well as movie and music symbols for quick access, info, intermission, shuffle, now playing and both DVD menu and system menu buttons. The remote is smoothly peanut-shaped and, with the exception of the lower half not being backlit, is one of the finest remotes I have ever received with a product. The remote worked so well that I assumed it was RF, but when I finally and completely covered the front, it didn't work, proving it was just an exceptional IR remote. A simple touch of any key brings on beautiful blue backlighting to the keys that is easy to use while not being obnoxious in a dark room.

When I first fired up the Kaleidescape system, I was worried I hadn't received a manual of operation. I later figured out why. The functionality of this system is so intuitive that there is no manual. You simply select menu, movie or music, and can scan either in a list or by cover art. When using the cover art method, pausing on any cover will reorganize the remaining covers, placing similar types of discs nearby, so if you pick Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy might pop up next to it, while that old Queensryche CD of yours won't be shown at all. The same goes for films: pick a horror film and other scary films and films with similar actors jump into place. You can select music by artist, album, genre, release year and disc time. Movies adds cast, rating and director.

Web-based access allows for deeper control and programming. I will not go into much detail here, as it is assumed those buying the Mini System are having a dealer install the system and they will handle most of the more complicated set-up for other zones, etc. Despite its up-front ease of use, there are plenty of neat tricks hidden. You can program custom intros to movies for that true theater experience, without the ads and waiting in line for popcorn. Your favorite scenes can be marked and combined, allowing you to make for the coolest, most extreme demos for your fellow home theater nuts, or to cut together concert videos in a live music collection or even to bypass those hours of boredom between cute scenes in your home movies. You can customize play lists just as easily. When watching shows, if you pause them and then go back, be it six minutes or six weeks later, the system will keep track of where you left off, so you will never have to waste time finding your place. Movies output Dolby Digital 5.1 over any of the digital outputs.

The Hookup
Few things have been as simple to connect as the Kaleidescape Mini System. I unboxed the device, which ships as a free-standing unit, but also includes the rack mounts, placed it on my rack and connected power, Ethernet and HDMI cables. Literally within minutes, I was up and running and able to watch or listen to any of the 84 DVDs or 99 CDs preloaded onto my review sample. To add music or movies of my own, I only had to open the front fascia of the device, place the disc into the tray and click the "import" button. The Mini System searched the Internet for all the metadata and imported the disc for me. Importing CDs took about seven minutes for an hour disc. Once the data is imported, the Kaleidescape system requires you to confirm that you actually own the disc for copyright reasons. Movies take longer to import and, depending on size, can take 15 to 20 minutes. To truly torture-test the system, I attempted to import several adult titles, none of which were recognized by the server, so they would have had to be imported without metadata. I am not just referring to esoteric small studio porn either; movies from the likes of Vivid and Pink Visual were unrecognized as well. I understand (thanks to a good source who owns a full Kaleidescpe system and enough porn to open a rental store that would be deemed obscene in most communities) that adult titles can be imported as long as the UPC is entered in the web system, though I didn't go to the trouble of doing it.

Large disc collections will take days of constant disc-swapping and is a job best completed by your installer, utilizing a mass loading system. Once your collection is in the system, adding a disc here or there will not be a problem, as the system can import data in the background during normal operation. To truly test audio from the player, I connected it to my Krell Evolution 707 AV preamp by HDMI, single-ended analog and coaxial digital connectors, and switched between them for music and videos. Video was handled by my Sony XBR2 70 inch rear-projection HDTV.

Performance
From an audio standpoint, the Mini System did well on tracks such as Jimi Hendrix's famed live version of "Machine Gun" from Live at the Fillmore East (Universal). The sound was full and rich, though lacking the huge space and air I find with true audiophile source components. Bass was solid, but lacked some slam and low-end depth. The timber of the instruments was pleasant to hear, with no harshness or glare. The fast guitar riffs on "Izabella" were lively, but again lacked the space and air of a great source. Generally, there was a slightly closed-in nature to the sound of the Kaleidescape system. Things sounded right, which is a huge part of music reproduction; they just didn't quite make the ultimate audiophile grade. The sound was not bad in any way, and in fact was better than many highly-rated players I have heard timber-wise. For its intended use of whole-home music distribution, it would do fantastically well. I found the closed-in nature present with both digital and analog outputs of the unit, though in my set-up, the digital was a bit open.

I imported a favorite disc of mine, Tori Amos' Boys for Pele (Atlantic/WEA) and cued up "Mohammad My Friend." The bass of the Boesendorfer piano was a bit soft and, again, the soundstage was closed-in. More aggressive music, like Arctic Monkeys' Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (Domino), left me a bit flat. The raw guitars of "Still Take You Home" lacked air and seemed smaller than when spun on any of my other players. Even the more subtle nature of "Riot Van" seemed confined on the Kaleidescape.

Ironman was pre-loaded onto the Kaleidescape system I received, so I cued it up and watched it as one of my first movies on the system. Audio came across in Dolby Digital 5.1 and the DVD's native 480i video was scaled by the Kaleidescape to 1080p for my display. The video was well-scaled and the movie was a pleasure to watch, with solid dynamics and clear vocals. This is not to say it bested the Blu-ray version. It didn't, neither in audio nor video performance, but the client interested in this system isn't always sitting in a reference home theater. Often, he or she might be watching a video in the bathroom or on the deck or kitchen and the performance of this system is not only good enough, but likely overkill for these applications. I kept thinking of the levels of luxury that this product brings to the table, especially in a distributed audio and video system throughout a large modern home.

Read The Downside and Conclusion on Page 2

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