Hands-On with Kaleidescape's New Digital Download Store
12/11/2012 6:49 AM
“If you could purchase movies over the internet with precisely the same video and audio quality of a physical Blu-ray Disc or DVD, would you ever purchase a shiny, round disc again? Well guess what? This is now a reality.”
My first brush with Kaleidescape’s innovative disc-based movie server was back in 2002. I was one of the first reviewers to be sent the product for review, and I can recall standing on my front lawn, talking on my cell phone with company co-founder, Cheena Srinivasan, going over the system. When describing what Kaleidescape was, Cheena told me his vision for the future of the company. “We want to be more than just a media management company,” he said. “We want to eventually get into content delivery.”
Ten years ago, Srinivasan felt that digital delivery was going to be an important roadmap milestone for Kaleidescape. Starting today that is a reality.
While the goal of digital delivery has been a company dream for a while, the reality of getting the store opened and the studio deals lined up has taken time to get in place. At CEDIA 2011, the company offered dealers a glimpse of this concept by allowing them to log in to a rudimentary version of the store and download a Blu-ray-quality version of a short documentary called Gray Eagles. The company then teased the download store further at this past CEDIA EXPO by giving select individuals a brief, closed-door demo of how the store would look and feel.
And for the past week I have been part of a beta group testing the store—browsing, purchasing, downloading and watching titles. So far, my experience has been great. In fact, it’s been so easy and convenient to use, that I’ve purchased more movies in this past week than I had this entire year.
With a mouse-click, titles are purchased and automatically downloaded to my Kaleidescape server and are then ready for viewing. No more getting in the car to drive down to Redbox with a return date looming over my head. No more waiting for the Netflix or Amazon.com disc to show up in the mail. No more fighting for a parking space at Wal-Mart or Best Buy. Just a click, and it’s mine.
Downloaded titles incorporate all of the Kaleidescape features beloved by system owners, including favorite scene bookmarking, Rotten Tomatoes and Common Sense Media info, and bypassing all warnings and menus. With my internet connection, DVD titles took between 72 and 112 minutes to download, ranging from 8.5 to 11.8 Mbps. (2001, below, is an outlier as my router crashed in the midst of the download and my internet was off-line for nearly six hours...) Kaleidescape installed a fiber link between its Sunnyvale facility and its data center to support the Store’s bandwidth, and is capable of supporting customer download speeds over 60 Mbps!
There's quite a bit that separates Kaleidescape’s Store from purchasing a digital download of a movie on iTunes, Amazon or Vudu. First, Digital Entertainment Group data suggest that while people have embraced electronic delivery methods for rentals and subscriptions, they don’t do so yet when it comes to purchasing and owning content. Where electronics delivery makes up 63 percent of the subscription and 38 percent of the one-time rental model, it is only a scant 9 percent of the purchase market. This certainly points to there being some dissatisfaction with the current system.
One of my biggest objections with download or streaming services like iTunes and Netflix is the quality of the title. When I watch a first-run film, I want it to be in the very best quality possible, and that has meant a physical Blu-ray Disc. But Kaleidescape addresses this by eliminating any differences to the customer between a digital and physical version. Every movie purchased at the Kaleidescape store will be a bit-for-bit identical copy of the original disc. This means that sound and picture quality will be exactly the same—1080p/24, DTS-HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD for Blu-ray quality titles—between the digital and disc versions. Kaleidescape is the only company that is delivering a true, full Blu-ray quality version for download; a real differentiator for discerning videophiles.
Further downloads will also include all of the extras that were found on the physical disc: bonus features, making of documentaries, deleted scenes, alternate endings, commentaries, subtitles and language tracks. If it was on the disc, it will be included with the download.
For content, Kaleidescape has signed a multi-year deal with Warner Bros. Digital Distribution. At launch, there will be approximately 1,500 titles available in standard-definition (DVD) format. (High-definition content will be added to the store beginning in early 2013.) While all existing Kaleidescape players will be able to access and download movies from the Store, an M-Class Kaleidescape player will be required to play back HD content.
Kaleidescape will continue adding titles at the estimated rate of 500 per week until they reach the total Warner Brother’s distribution deal of 3,000 feature films and 8500 television episodes. This content will represent 1 in 5 titles—20 percent—of those typically imported by Kaleidescape customers.
I have found titles to be competitively and reasonably priced. For example, Inception is $9.99, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is $14.49, The Dark Knight is $8.49, Dark Shadows is $14.49 and Season 4 of Fringe is $44.99.
Another key difference of the Kaleidescape Store is the integration of UltraViolet for portable streaming. Any title purchased that is UltraViolet-enabled (roughly two-thirds of the Warner content to date) will be made simultaneously made available for viewing on mobile devices. (UltraViolet features will be enabled by March 2013 and any eligible titles purchased prior to that date will be automatically upgraded for free.)
Kaleidescape will also offer UltraViolet rights for existing, pre-loaded movie content. For titles that have UltraViolet rights available, customers may purchase a same-resolution (SD rights for DVD, HD rights for Blu-ray) UltraViolet license for $2 per title. There will be a “buy all” option for every eligible movie, or owners can pick-and-choose titles individually. For Kaleidescape owners that have been looking for an easy way to make their collections portable, this is a terrific solution.
Michael Malcolm, founder, chairman, and CEO of Kaleidescape commented, “The inclusion of UltraViolet in our service will give owners of Kaleidescape movie servers a whole new way to enjoy their content.”
Even more exciting is a new option will enable Kaleidescape owners to upgrade previously purchased DVD content to Blu-ray quality.a Provided that HD UltraViolet rights are available, Kaleidescape owners can upgrade any title in their collection to full, Blu-ray quality for just $8. This will include all extras and bonus content identical to the Blu-ray Disc. I can think of dozens of titles in my own collection where I’d gladly pay $8 to upgrade over buying a $24.95 (or more) Blu-ray Disc.
Another bonus to purchasing titles from the Kaleidescape store is that any purchases will automatically download to up to five different Kaleidescape systems. For owners that have systems installed in multiple houses, this will be an incredible convenience, as it will save them the hassle of having to manually load titles in each location, or purchase five separate Blu-ray copies to keep in disc vaults at each residence.
Users browse the store in a manner similar to browsing a collection on their Kaleidescape system, where you can click on an actor or director to see all of the available films, or browse a genre like Sci-Fi or Action or view collections such as Rotten Tomatoes Certified Fresh, Best Picture Academy Award Winners, or All-Time Favorites featuring the top 100 movies on Kaleidescape systems around the world.
Additionally, since the Store is linked to an owner’s Kaleidescape system, it is aware of all of the movies currently owned by that specific user, and will indicate if the movie is already loaded in DVD or Blu-ray format. For owners of large collections, this will keep them from buying the same title more than once. (I thought this was a ridiculous concern until I bought a second copy of one of the Bond films!) It will also be helpful for quickly and easily completing a collection. Say, purchasing all movies directed by Clint Eastwood or most watched Comedies, or to round out your Keira Knightley collection. (Surely I’m not the only one...)
With its Store, Kaleidescape now offers the first way to combine and mange films downloaded with those imported, similar to the way that iTunes combined purchased and pre-owned music collections into one library.
“The potential represented by the Kaleidescape System and the new Kaleidescape Store is, in many respects, similar to the role the iPod played in kick-starting online music purchases,” Malcolm stated. “We believe that this consolidation is a pre-requisite for mass adoption of electronic movie purchases. By introducing the Kaleidescape Store in conjunction with the Warner Bros. deal, we are simplifying how movies are purchased and enjoyed at home.”
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.