Kaleidescape has had a very eventful existence. The company that has become synonymous with the high-end movie server spent its early years battling the movie studios over its DVD-based server systems. The two sides eventually made peace, which then evolved into partnerships that have proven to be mutually beneficial.
About five years ago, Kaleidescape opened its Movie Store, which allowed customers to download bit-for-bit Blu-ray copies of movies to play back on the company's line of Internet-connected movie players. They began to make deals with the major movie studios to offer content through the store. The studios were happy because it took the disc (and thus the disc copying) out of the equation, and customers were happy because the downloads offered the quality of Blu-ray, with uncompressed Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA soundtracks.
In 2015, Kaleidescape launched the flagship Encore line of 4K-compatible movie players and servers, including the top-shelf Strato 4K movie player, which supports HDR10 playback, and began adding 4K content for download through the Movie Store. Things seemed to be rolling along.
Suddenly, in August 2016, we were all pretty shocked to hear that the company had to close its doors due to a lack of funding. A few weeks later, we were happy to hear that they had secured new funding and were back in business.
Since then, things have been fairly quiet on the public front, but Kaleidescape has continued to build up its Movie Store. The company has now secured deals with all the major studios, and the store features quite an extensive amount of 4K content. The company also has continued to enhance the functionality of its line of movie players. Kaleidescape recently sent me a sample of the Strato as it prepares for a major software update that will bring some desirable new features to the experience.
Kaleidescape is very careful to call the Strato a "movie player," not a media player. The Strato is a disc-less playback device--the only way to add content to it is to download titles from the Movie Store to the device's hard drive. The box is available in two versions; a 6TB version for $4,495 and a 10TB version for $5,995. If that's not enough storage, you can add the Terra 4K server, available in 24TB or 40TB form. Multiple Terras can be linked together, too.
The Encore line also includes the Strato C, a smaller movie player with no hard drive that costs $3,495 but must be mated to a Terra server to store content. Those who want to continue to access their own collection of BDs and DVDs can go with the Alto movie player ($2,495), which has a Blu-ray disc drive and supports HD-quality downloads from the store, as well as the Disc Server that holds 320 discs.
Okay, now that we're all caught up on the company's activities and product lineup, it's time to really dig into the Strato.
As one would expect from a high-end product, the Strato is built like a tank, with a thick, brushed aluminum shell around the top, bottom, and sides. The current box is bigger and heavier than any UHD Blu-ray player I've auditioned, including the best built of the bunch: the Oppo UDP-203, which weighs 9.5 pounds. The Strato measures 17 inches wide by 3.1 wide by 10 deep and weighs a hefty 13.7 pounds. (For the record, as I write this, Kaleidescape intends to introduce a new Strato box design with a smaller form factor, but I don't expect the overall build quality to diminish any.)
The front panel is just a strip of glossy black with the Kaleidescape logo in the center, which illuminates white when you power up the device. Around back you'll find one HDMI 2.0a output to send up to 4K/60p HDR to your AV receiver or display device, plus an audio-only HDMI 1.4 connector and both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs to mate with older audio components. You also get an Ethernet port, and the box has built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi. One USB 3.0 port is available, which is just listed as "reserved" on the spec sheet; you can't connect an external USB drive for media playback.
The back panel has an IR port but no RS-232. However, the Strato does support IP control, and drivers are available for major control platforms like Crestron, Control4, AMX, and Savant. The package includes an IR-based remote control with an intuitive button layout and a nice rubberized texture. Much of the front face is backlit with bright blue backlighting. Only the number panel and color keys lack backlighting, but you really aren't gonna use those much.
Kaleidescape also offers a free iOS app for iPad only, not iPhone. The app will find and connect you to any Strato on the same network, and through it you can issue remote commands, browse your movie collection, adjust settings, or automatically launch Safari to access the Movie Store and browse/buy content.
Speaking of which, is this the moment to mention one of the big changes coming through the latest software update? ... Nah, we'll get to that in a minute.
Kaleidescape products are primarily sold through custom channels, so all of the initial setup and authorization of the box, as well as linking it to the Movie Store, will likely be handled by a professional installer. My review sample came preconfigured and preloaded with over 80 movies in both HD and UHD quality, but I did test the downloading process, which I'll discus in the Performance section below.
My primary test system consisted of the LG 65EF9500 HDR10-capable 4K TV and the Onkyo TX-RZ900 AV receiver, with an RBH surround sound system. I also tested the Strato with the Optoma UHD65 HDR-friendly 4K DLP projector and an older, non-HDR-capable Samsung 4K TV. My sample was correctly set up out of the box to output 4K/HDR to compatible TVs, as well as bitstream audio output to my receiver--so I didn't have to do anything but plug it in, connect it to my network, and start browsing.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...