Technology continues to rapidly change the world of audio/video and home theater. Over the past few years we have gone from analog tape to DVD and have seen the emergence of various technologies for video files. Also, since the MP3 revolution, we have seen the rise of hard disk audio servers that store a large number of audio files. As hard disk capacities have grown larger, and processing power cheaper, we are now starting to see the first video servers coming to market. These are designed to organize video files, and provide them instantly on demand to the user. Kaleidescape, a California based technology company, has entered this market in a major way with what is arguably the most ambitious hard disk based server in existence.
The Kaleidescape system is designed to organize a large DVD library. It is capable of making a bit-by-bit copy of a DVD, including the encryption systems, and storing it on the Server's hard drives using a redundant disk technology called RAID, which protects the DVD library in the event of a disk failure by essentially spreading each disk's stored information amongst all the drives. In the event of a disk failure, all the user needs to do is replace the failed drive with no loss of information and no down time. This system can easily organize libraries of hundreds or even thousands of DVDs. The base system is upgradeable to 12 300GB hard drives, but the one sent to me had five 200 GB hard drives that could store in excess of 150 DVDs. (Current shipments of the Base System Server use five 300 GB drives that store approximately 180 movies; a single Server can expand to hold approximately 500 movies.) The reason the Kaleidescape can actually "copy" the DVDs onto the hard drive is that it keeps the encryption entirely intact, and is licensed through the DVD Copy Control Association as well as Macrovision. Because the Kaleidescape server uses a closed, secure and proprietary operating system, the stored data can only be accessed by other Kaleidescape components. This way, the System protects the intellectual property rights of the DVD manufacturers.
The Kaleidescape System is further designed to network within a home, so multiple Movie Players can be placed around the house, hooked up to an Ethernet network, and access the Server conveniently tucked away somewhere in the house to provide the video feed to multiple spots. Since the Movie Player is about the size of a fairly thin DVD player, it is conveniently placed near any video monitor. The Kaleidescape Base System also includes a DVD reader. This is where you insert a DVD and it will automatically import it onto the Server.
None of this exciting technology comes cheaply. The Kaleidescape system is an enterprise grade server product, and uses a Faroudja de-interlacer chip to provide an excellent progressive scan output. The grand total for the system with one Movie Player, one DVD reader, and the Kaleidescape Server is a cool $27,000. Each additional Movie Player that is networked around the house is $4,000, and an additional DVD reader is $3000. Additional Servers can be added to seamlessly store as many DVDs as you wish to own. Call it the price of being on the cutting edge of technology and, in principle only (not cost), similar to buying a Maybach. To be fair, Kaleidescape does provide quite a bit of service for this price, including their own proprietary Movie Guide Service. When you import a DVD, the Server will go out across the Internet and connect to Kaleidscape, where it retrieves information about that movie. When you select the movie from the main menu, this information is presented as a synopsis, vitals of the movie, and my personal favorite, a copy of the cover art of the movie.
This information is actually researched and hand keyed by Kaleidescape employees, and if a movie is not in their data base, a customer can simply give them that movie's UPC code and they will go out, find the information on it, and catalog it. More estoric movies not found in their database can also be sent to Kaleidescape, where they will be cataloged in the database and will automatically appear on the customer's Server. Basically no matter what movie you import onto your Server, Kaleidescape will find the vitals on it and download the information to your Server. Quite the impressive service, and I am sure a significant part of that pricetag. Of course, software updates and tweaks are automatically also sent along the Internet to the server. It almost goes without saying that a broadband internet connection is very useful with this device.
One of the other very important features of this system is that while it mainly outputs 480i and 480p for the moment, it is quite capable of outputting 720p and 1080i for when HD-DVD becomes available, thereby future proofing it.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
The system itself is very well built, and solidly put together. All the pieces are rack mountable, and have a white translucent plastic face that covers them. When in operation, the blue LEDs on each of the Server's disk drives, as well as the blue LEDs on the player and reader, are illuminated so all the products actually glow a very cool blue. If there is a problem with one of the Server's hard disks, the blue LEDs will change to an amber color behind the face. The different components connect together, using your existing Ethernet network. Anyone purchasing the Kaleidscape System from a dealer would have it custom installed at their house, but for the purposes of this review my units came from the company, so Kaleidescape was kind enough to send an engineer out to set it up.
The back of the Movie Player has a plethora of connections including component, S-Video and composite outputs. I hooked up the Kaleidescape using Tributaries component video cables directly to my Fujitsu 50-inch plasma display, and connected the digital audio coaxial output to my Krell HTS 7.1 processor using a Wireworld Silver Eclipse coaxial cable. The rest of the system included the Monster balanced power unit, a Parsound Halo A51 amp, and a Krell DVD Standard for picture quality comparison purposes.
The Kaleidescape is designed to be controlled by an integrated control system such as a Crestron, or even a Philips Pronto, but for review purposes they sent along a universal remote with the proper codes in it.
The Movie Guide Service is very well put together. It is organized by movie or category type (such as actor, genre, etc.), and selecting a program brings up a secondary menu that has the movie synopsis and the cover art. There is also an option for similar titles to the one selected, something that you often see on internet shopping sites but not on your personal home machine. There are also controls for playing the program, and interestingly enough, you can play it either as an entire disc (it goes through the initial menus and acts just like a regular DVD), or by going directly to the beginning of the movie, which is a nice time saver. This is accomplished through Kaleidescape's patent-pending video bookmark technology. There are video bookmarks placed at the beginning and end of the movie (the credits) which can be used as "event cues" with control systems to automate control of lighting and curtain positions to create the feeling of being in a theater while at home. Instant gratification is definitely worth paying extra for. Menu controls are fast and smooth, and there is never a flickering screen or jerkiness in the process. This is obviously a well put together product. In fact, I never had one bug occur in the entire time I had the system, something that I cannot say about other complex technology products I have had in my home.
There is also the favorite scenes feature, which allows you to bookmark scenes that you like in different movies and play them in succession, something that is probably very cool for parties.
Picture quality is, in a word, fantastic. Clean, clear, crisp and very detailed, it is very close to the quality of the Krell DVD Standard, which is the finest DVD player I have had the pleasure of using. The Faroudja chipset is rock solid as usual, providing nary an artifact to mar the picture quality. This product is eminently enjoyable, and provides that instant gratification that we crave. An entire DVD library is at your fingertips while you lay on your sofa or in your bed, with no getting up to look for or switch discs. The cover art makes looking for a movie like browsing your local Blockbuster. It makes the whole process easier than finding a television program to watch.
Importing a movie onto the hard drive is as simple as placing a disc in the DVD reader. It automatically starts the process when you push the tray door closed, and takes approximately 25 minutes for the average movie, during which time the player unit flashes its blue LEDs.
Kaleidescape has pushed the envelope and produced an extremely solid, well thought out and slick product. There is much to impress, and little to complain about besides the hefty pricetag. The very fact that I had no issues with this rather complex device during its visit is testament to the thoughtful engineering that has gone into it.
This is definitely a recommended product for those who can afford it.
Expandable to 3.3 terabytes of usable storage (based on currently available disks)
Supports 12 user-accessible Disk Cartridges
Each Disk Cartridge has a capacity of 300GB
100BaseT Ethernet port
RS-232 serial port for connecting to
external control systems
17.16"H x 8.72"W x 18.03"D
5 rack units
Kaleidescape Movie Player
Component (YPbPr), S-Video, and composite 480i, 480p
High-definition ready with support for
720p and 1080i
Coax digital, optical digital, stereo analog
Dolby ® Digital, DTS ®, PCM
100BaseT Ethernet port
RS-232 serial port for connecting to
external control systems
IR extension port supporting Xantech control signals
17.16"H x 1.72"W x 14.03"D
1 rack unit