Ken Taraszka M.D. is an anesthesiologist by trade based in Tampa Bay, Florida. Ken is also a professional audiophile and home theater writer specializing in AV preamps and all facets of the audiophile market. In the past, Ken has been a staff writer and editor at AVRev.com. He has also at times been a frequent contributor at AudiophileReview.com.
While computer audio is becoming the norm, videophiles haven't had it so easy making the switch from physical media to hard drives and servers. The bandwidth required of Blu-ray, HDMI specifications and copyright laws make a true Blu-ray quality media server a logistical nightmare. You can stream from a host of services that are billed as HD, though admittedly are only 720p. Many don't even have Dolby Digital or DTS audio. If you want a true server for native Blu-ray content throughout your home, Kaleidescape is the only company that has managed to work through the legal mess to release such a system. The Kaleidescape M Series players and disc vaults deliver 1080p video with Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD-MA to any room in your home over your wired network. I received a system that included the Kaleidescape M700 Disc Vault that retails for $5,995, an M500 Player ($4,495) and a 1U Server ($9,995). The system is modular so you can always add on as your needs grow.
• Read more media server reviews by HomeTheaterReview.com's staff.
• Explore LED HDTVs and Plasma HDTVs to pair with with M Series.
• See receiver options in our AV Receiver Review section.
In this system, the hub is the 1U server that has four disc bays and can store up to 150 Blu-rays or 900 DVD videodiscs as well as CDs. The 1U Server measures 17.5 inches wide by nearly two inches tall and 18.8 inches deep. It occupies one rack space, thus the name 1U. The 1U can distribute DVDs to 50 zones simultaneously and Blu-rays to nine while accepting up to four simultaneous imports of discs - clearly this thing has some serious bandwidth. Connections are limited as this is a networked device. Yes, it has a 100Base-TX/1000Base-T Ethernet port via RJ45, and RS-232 port for control, two USB 2.0 ports and the IEC connector for the power cord. The Kaleidescape servers are RAID arrays in order to further protect your data. Kaleidescape even monitors hard drive performance and will notify you or your dealer of impending failures.
The M500 player is also a single rack space in height, 17.5 inches wide and 13.5 inches deep, with a weight of 10 pounds. The M700 is much larger at almost nine inches in height by 21.9 inches deep and 17.5 wide. The M700 weighs 38 pounds empty and 49 loaded with discs. Both the M700 and M500 have the same connectivity. Video output from the players includes HDMI, component, composite and S-Video while audio options are stereo analog, coaxial and optical digital outputs. An RS-232 port, as well as RJ45 connector, USB 2.0 port and a 15-amp IEC connection for power are also present. Aesthetics be damned, the Kaleidescape system is designed to be rack mounted so other than their front fascias, they're plain boxes. The front of all the pieces is a frosted white and the panels illuminate either a soft blue, or orange when things go wrong or the pieces haven't yet recognized each other after power up - like when I didn't put the drives into the 1U server before trying to use the system. What few buttons there are on the units also light up either blue or orange.
For zones where you won't want or need to import discs, Kaleidescape makes a smaller player, the M300 that is also one rack space high but only a little over eight inches wide, allowing you to install two next to each other in standard rack configuration. The M300 lacks the optical drive of the M500, as well as the S-Video and optical digital outputs, and retails for $2,995.
I spoke earlier of legal issues and Kaleidescape has had plenty of them in the past but they are past all of that now. The main way they moved forward to make their Blu-ray media server closed system legal was to actually include the disc in a player even if it's also on a close-ended server. In the older K-scape systems, you could import your DVDs or CDs and remove them yet still access them on your network. Blu-ray won't allow for this so the hard drive will not play a Blu-ray that it has not found in the disc vault or in a player's optical drive on the network. Reloading the disc into either the disc vault or the player does allow access to the movie and does not require reloading the film onto the hard drive. The M700 Disc Vault stores up to 320 Blu-rays and they can be networked together to accommodate larger libraries. In order to use this system to its potential you need to have enough disc vaults to hold all of your Blu-rays as well as enough server space to store them all on.
Kaleidescape has an app for iPhone, iPad and Android users that assists you in building your media library by keeping your current collection organized and easily accessible on your phone. Once downloaded, installed and set up, you can scan any disc's barcode with you phone's built-in camera or manually type it in to see if you already have the disc. It will even tell you what format you have it in, say if it was DVD and you just found it cheap on Blu-ray, you'll be able to decide if it's worth it.
A new feature coming down the pike via a free firmware update allows the Kaleidescape M Series components to scale its output to 2.35:1. Those lucky enough to have a projector with an anamorphic lens can stay in 2.35:1 when searching the cover art or list views and have either a few more columns of data or twelve more covers per screen. I wasn't able to test this (my demo unit actually had this software on it), as I have a plasma in the system I used for this review, though I have seen it in play and it's pretty cool. It saves the lag time for your lens to slide in and or out for the various aspect ratios.
The Kaleidescape system works over your hardwired home network. Each device will identify other Kaleidescape components and network together automatically, and their cumulative storage is available to every player on the network. Once I opened the shipping boxes and unpacked the M700 disc vault, 1U Disc Vault, M500 player and cables, all I had to do was connect one RJ-45 connector between the M700 and the router, connect an HDMI cable to my receiver from both the M500 and M700 and plug it in.
Once connected I loaded in a few Blu-ray discs that I was provided with from Kaleidescape since they were already preloaded on the system's hard drive. Within moments of the disc being recognized, it spun it into the carrousel and was available system wide. Loading discs was easy; with the M700, you simply slide them in the drive and the carrousel does the rest. Honestly, they load faster than you'll be ready with the next one. The M700 then goes through each new Blu-ray disc and stores them on the server's hard disc drives. New discs took a little while to load and the time for them varied. I found many to load in 30 to 45 minutes but it took almost two hours for the M700 to rip a few. It's not a real issue as the M700 will rip the discs to the server by itself.
I imported a ton of discs at once and the M700 just kept plugging along until they were all stored. I could load discs onto the 1U server with the M500 optical drive, but the disc would need to stay in that tray, or be placed into another connected M series player or disk vault in order to be accessible. Should you want to remove a disc it is as simple as selecting the title. A drop down menu allows you to eject the disc from the vault, and depending on where the disc is in the tray will affect how quickly it ejects, but I found the M700 pretty speedy at finding and ejecting single discs.
The Kaleidescape system is as easy as an iPod to work yet offers much more flexibility and performance. The M Series systems are capable of streaming native Blu-ray content, both audio and video, over your home network. I remember reviewing the Kaleidescape Mini system and was surprised to find no manual included; once again this system came without a manual too. Why? Because you don't really need one. The system is so easy to use your grandparents could handle it, even if they can't figure out email or Facebook. Kaleidescape even has a special child remote. The child remote has limited functionality as well as parental controls that limit movie selections available to it, so your kids won't accidentally be permanently and emotionally scared by that German foot fetish film that somehow got ripped to your server. The child remote is solidly built and heavily rubberized to increase durability and has fewer keys than the actual remote but worked just as well, and in an adult house I could see people actually wanting this remote over the actual, full-function remote control.
Browsing discs can be done in one of three ways: by list, cover art or through the collections menu that allows you to sort music by genre, age, artist, album and tons more. The list is alphabetical and scrolls at two speeds. The faster speed is a little slow for even the medium sized collection I had on this system and could get frustrating with much larger collections. A third faster speed would have been nice. When using the cover art method, pausing on any cover will prompt Kaleidescape to rearrange the remaining covers to similar or related discs. This feature is great when you don't quite know what you want to watch as you might pause on one thing and be reminded of another film by the same actor or a similar piece thanks to the intelligent shuffling of covers.
One really nice thing about the system is when you want to watch a Blu-ray you can select to watch either the disc, like you loaded it into any Blu-ray player, or just the movie. This is a huge step forward, for anyone who has watched a Disney Blu-ray knows what a pain it can be sitting through what feels like hours of previews. The average movie loaded in seconds, far faster than even the fastest Blu-ray player made. There is no comparison on this one, Kaleidescape has the fastest movie start up times of any Blu-ray player available - period. My movies averaged about three seconds to playing the actual film. Even the fastest Blu-ray players will still just be on the menu by then.
Playback on the M Series system was impressive with near instant startup on playback. When navigating the music interface you can select anything you like, song, albums, collections, etc. You can play them immediately or add them to the playback queue. When in the now playing screen you can see the entire queue, search through it, and do some minor editing of the list. Medium width bars represent single songs while albums are in larger windows to show the entire album. You can easily scroll up and down through any playlist to jump to other songs.
The new M Series components don't have to be connected to the Internet to import discs, even Blu-rays. Kaleidescape has gone to a system-wide update plan so they add data for new releases periodically through updates to your system. I loaded everything from the Spiderman box set (Columbia Pictures) and the entire Adult oriented Pirates collection (Digital Playground). The system recognized all my films, even the adult content, without being connected to the Internet. Some newer titles did need to be connected to get cover art but for the most part it worked flawlessly without an Internet connection.
Many of the bigger hits and classics also have a playback option called "scenes." When I was scanning the cover art I might see a film I hadn't seen in a while and while not interested in watching the entire film, I found myself watching the scenes and getting Kaleidescape's recap of the movie. The scenes are uploaded to your system periodically and are useful for revisiting a movie like an old classic or for making demos. I used this on Gone With The Wind as I had no interest in its near four hours of southern droll. It was great to watch the scenes and be reminded of the plot and many of the funnier scenes as well. I liked the feature for demoing movies for friends and I suspect dealers will like this feature too.
The scenes feature is totally customizable. Scenes can be edited and pasted together to create a custom intro for your systems but this needs to be done through a web browser. This is likely one of the coolest features for the mega user who could program each of their multiple home theaters to have their own dedicated intro. Imagine if you started a film in the bedroom it came up calm and mellow, while in the main theater you might start off with the X-wing fighters of Star Wars heading into your name and theater over whatever you want. You could even upload your own home movies and use the web interface to edit home movies for super funny, or embarrassing, shorts for family and friends.
When you have a system like this connected to your home theater you change how you use your system. You no longer look for a disc that may or may not be in their cases. You chose whatever you want and select it no matter where you are in the home, which is insanely cool. Now I can watch any Blu-ray as if it were in a player in my room. Even better, I can just watch the movie and don't need to go through the previews and menus.
Read more about the performance of the M Series Blu-ray Media Server on Page 2.
I really liked the fast load times as in reviewing this piece I jumped all over the place. I watched Spiderman 3 (Columbia). My Onkyo receiver immediately recognized the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack and the movie began. I used the scenes feature and let the Kaleidescape system jump me through the key scenes so I got caught up on the film without actually watching the entire film. This is a really neat feature for demoing your system as you can totally customize the scenes from your web browser. The M Series players gave excellent color and sound. The dynamics were very good on the large explosions of the film while subtle details stayed clear.
I saw The Italian Job (Paramount) on the server so thought I'd run through it. The scenes mode passed me through a joyride of the movie from the first Mini test ride to the final chase scene with the Russian villains. The roar of the cars and subsequent crashes were lively and immediate and sounded no different than if being played back via the disc itself. Whether the scene called for explosive dynamics or subtly, the Kaleidescape system presented it faithfully and fully. This held true for video as I could detect no loss in quality when comparing the server's video to the actual discs.
I loaded the new Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Disney) into the system and watched it from the server. The DTS HD-MA soundtrack locked on and the film began almost instantly. The dynamics were excellent and color and contrast were impressive. I liked that by playing just the movie, the output starts out as DTS HD-MA so your receiver or AV preamp doesn't have to switch signals from whatever the menu is in, usually Dolby Digital or stereo, to DTS HD-MA. The film had great black levels and was open and dynamic. Subtle details like the creaking of the ships were well placed and the depth of attacks controlled. Never once did I experience even a subtle hiccup or glitch in my system's replaying of films, neither on the audio or video side.
I wanted to use the playlist feature so went to the music section of the server. I was able to quickly add tracks as well as entire albums to my music selection and if I liked I could go back to my playlists and modify them as well, to a point. This feature is simple but not as flexible as, say, Meridian's Sooloos system. You can skip songs and remove them but that is about it. Sound from the Kaleidescape was open and fairly neutral. On my playlist I had things like Johnny Cash's At Folsom Prison (Sony) and the twang of Johnny's voice was superb as was the raw guitar he plays on the title track. The tempo of "25 Minutes To Go" was lively and tight, making the song exciting to listen to.
This is a toughest piece of gear to find fault with. They even got the remote right and have a parent-controllable child remote as well. I don't like that I have to keep my Blu-rays in the vault to watch them on the network but that is the best the lawyers could come up with. This could be slightly cumbersome for those who travel with Blu-rays a lot but thanks to the M700's randomly accessible disc tray you can easily eject any disc you like whenever you want to take it on the road with you. The disc will again be available to the system once in a vault or player in the network. I would like the Kaleidescape system to have a third, faster speed for scrolling through the list menu as with large collections the scroll rate is a little slow and can be cumbersome.
The only real shortcoming of the Kaleidescape M Series movie server is its current lack of support for 3D content. I don't like 3D but for some this is an issue. Kaleidescape is working on this but it may require new players at the sites you want 3D content.
Competition and Comparison
The Kaleidescape M series system delivers something no one else does. Native, unadulterated, Blu-ray content throughout multiple sights in a network. Sure, you can use an AppleTV (720p for HD) but that won't get you close to the 1080p resolution the Kaleidescape system does. Meridian Sooloos is another system I recently had in for review. The Kaleidescape interface is simpler to use while the Sooloos gives more control over sorting and searching and is more attuned to the audiophile music server market - that and the Meridian Sooloos system only does audio. The Kaleidescape M series movie server system is the only system that gives you true Blu-ray quality video and bit-stream audio distributed throughout your home across a network.
The Kaleidescape M Series Blu-ray, movie and media server does what nothing else on the planet does, in that it has created a way to distribute Blu-ray quality audio and video as well as DVDs and CDs to any number of sites within a home network. The convenience of this simply cannot be beaten. Kaleidescape's interface is so simple they don't even have a manual, and you won't need one. Load times for Blu-rays are mere seconds and faster than all the best stand-alone Blu-ray players currently available. Literally, movies load and begin playback in three seconds, bypassing the menus and previews forced upon us by many studios.
The Kaleidescape M Series players are so simple even a toddler could use the system, and they make a special remote for them that you control. I remember not feeling so positive about the Mini System I reviewed awhile back but the M Series has floored me. I love this system. The Kaleidescape Blu-ray media server system isn't cheap, but the person putting such a system into their home likely isn't going to notice, for the enjoyment they will reap from their movie collection on the Kaleidescape server is priceless. The Kaleidescape M Series Blu-ray server is the absolute top dog among media servers.
• Read more media server reviews by HomeTheaterReview.com's staff.
• Explore LED HDTVs and Plasma HDTVs to pair with with M Series.
• See receiver options in our AV Receiver Review section.