Let’s dispense with the unpleasantness right up front: Yes, Kaleidescape temporarily ceased operations back in August. This was due to some poor luck after the company’s chosen System-On-Chip manufacturer unexpectedly shuttered this business, seriously delaying finalizing product development, and wiping out the company’s product ramp up assumptions for this year.
Three weeks later, the company restructured, slashed expenses, and secured needed funding. Kaleidescape is now back to work with a team focused on developing “forward-looking technologies that will enable our movie store to offer even more titles, with even higher quality.”
The fruit of this labor is the Strato 4K Ultra HD Movie Player, and it has been worth the wait. In fact, the company is quick to mention Strato is the greatest technical marvel the company has produced.
Kaleidescape’s’s Strato 4K Ultra HD Movie Player is the company’s first product since its restructuring.
I’ve had my Strato review unit for several months (serial number 007, actually) so I’ve experienced multiple operating system (kOS) updates. The latest roll out – kOS 7.3 – adds several features including 4K HDR playback, support for Dolby Atmos/DTS:X audio with 4K titles, and the ability to configure a large number of Stratos in a single system.
Strato is a massive departure for Kaleidescape, as it doesn’t play or import any discs. In fact, there is no optical drive. Rather, all content downloads from Kaleidescape’s store at store.kaleidescape.com. (Kaleidescape plans an update next year that will allow Strato to play DVDs and Blu-rays from one of the company’s Disc Servers.)
Fortunately, Kaleidescape has agreements with virtually every major film studio, including Disney, DreamWorks Animation, Fox Searchlight, Lionsgate, Magnolia, Marvel, NBCUniversal, Pixar, Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, and Warner Bros. This means the store is packed with content, including more than 11,000 DVD and Blu-ray quality movies, 1,500 TV seasons, and the largest selection of UHD titles, currently I46.
Pricing for new UHD releases, like The Shallows, Money Monster, and Ghostbusters is comparable to UHD Blu-rays at $29.99. The store also supports UltraViolet rights, giving access to digital copies and disc-to-digital upgrades when available. For example, because I own Lawrence of Arabia and Battle: Los Angeles on Blu-ray, I could upgrade those movies to UHD for only $13.99. And, because I own Spiderman and Groundhog Day on DVD, I could upgrade those to UHD for $17.99.
Strato comes in two versions: with or without internal storage. The 6-terabyte model stores approximately 100 UHD, 200 Blu-ray, or 900 DVD-quality titles in any combination. The disc-less version retails for $1,000 less and streams content from another Strato with storage or from Kaleidescape’s Terra Movie Server, available in 12 and 24TB versions. Streaming requires a hardwired network connection, with Wi-Fi used only for store downloads and updates.
Visually, Strato breaks from Kaleidescape’s signature gloss-white look. The front panel is button-free and gloss black with rounded edges and sides, and a case finished in brushed aluminum. At nearly 14 pounds it feels solid and well-built, with high-end fit and finish.
Installation is straightforward, and Kaleidescape smartly included two HDMI outputs–one fully HDMI 2.0a/HDCP2.2 carrying both audio and video, and one audio-only HDMI 1.4. Additionally, Toslink and coaxial digital outputs are available, insuring wide installation compatibility.
Setup includes some additional steps, including network configuration, registering the Strato with Kaleidescape, video and audio output settings, and parental controls. Strato ships with an IR remote and also supports virtually every third-party control platform on the market, including AMX, Control4, Crestron, RTI, Savant, URC, and others. It also works with Kaleidescape’s free iPad control app.
One of the most ingenious tools that Kaleidescape tucked into Strato’s Web GUI is a “Show primary HDMI port capabilities and status” tab. Click this and you’ll get a detailed snapshot of your system’s capabilities, along with the current signal transmitting to your TV. This is a terrific means of confirming that you are actually watching a true 2160p signal with HDR and BT.2020 color space, as well as checking the bit depth and chroma resolution. You (or your customers) will no longer have to wonder if they are getting the performance they paid for.
If you do discover issues–likely due to some weak link in the HDMI/HDCP signal chain, there are a variety of tools to address them. First, you can limit the output to either 13.5 or 10.2Gbps if the system can’t accommodate the full 18Gbps signal. You can also use HDMI 1.4 modes only, disabling UHD output and having Strato downscale 4K content to HD resolutions. Kaleidescape has done everything to make Strato work with as many systems as possible.
Once installed, Strato fills the display with Kaleidescape’s iconic cover art view, but improvements are immediately apparent. Covers are sharper and more vibrant, showing finer detail. Moving the onscreen cursor in any direction reveals navigation rendered in an ultra-fluid 60fps scroll that’s visually gorgeous. Covers slide around on screen, gracefully and flawless. It’s a seemingly small thing, but it’s beautiful to behold.
It’s when a film starts, Strato really struts its stuff. With 8.3 million pixels on screen, jaggies and edge artifacts are gone, and everything is rendered in hyper detail. Subtleties like the fine stitching in costumes, pores in actors’ faces, textures in fabric, or grain in landscape are more apparent. Images are sharp, crisp, and well, perfect.
Black level detail is also terrific. I’m frequently bothered by banding and other grayscale transition issues in low-lit scenes, and I can’t recall a single instance of this in the dozens of films I watched. Between the H.265 compression, 10-bit transfer, and upsampled 4:4:4 chroma resolution, images are pristine, and reminiscent of my experience with watching video on PRIMA Cinema.
Part of the kOS 7.3 upgrade was HDR capability, and I have watched five of the 10 titles that Kaleidescape currently has available. (Many more titles are expected to be available by the time you read this.) Color detail in The Angry Birds Movie was terrific, pushing animation to the next level. Reds seem to especially benefit from the wider color gamut, producing extra depth and pop to Spiderman’s suit. The expanded BT.2020 color space also made water more lifelike in The Shallows, letting you appreciate every subtle shade between blue and green in the Mexican water. Sunsets also greatly benefit, with myriad hues between purple, red, orange, and yellow fiercely and vibrantly detailed. Further, HDR made underwater scenes and low-light shots far more realistic, delivering tons of black detail while still producing eye-squinting white levels when called for.
Simply put, Strato’s stunning UHD HDR picture is as close as mere mortals will get to experiencing a Hollywood master print in their homes.
Rest assured that Strato includes every “gee-whiz!” Kaleidescape feature that you’ve come to love. This includes pre-bookmarked iconic scenes and songs from films, a variety of ways to browse your collection, CinemaScape to optimize the experience on a 2.35 aspect screen, and near instantaneous access straight to the movie.
The home cinema experience is only as good as the weakest link in the installation chain, and Strato looks to fill the role of ultimate source component, delivering the finest on-demand audio/video experience with every viewing, eliminating traditional “pain points” like bandwidth and buffering streaming issues, and managing a physical library.
At $4,500, Strato brings the luxury video market downstream to an even wider group, and provides a 4K delivery solution for home theater owners. The company even hinted at more exciting news to come by mentioning “earlier release windows” in a letter to dealers. As CEO Cheena Srinivasan teased, “Stay tuned for some interesting news from a company dedicated to the custom channel and high-end home cinema installations.”
Gorgeous 4K/60 interface; pristine audio and video quality; unrivaled entertainment experience
Waiting on UHD HDR/Atmos library to expand
► 6 Terabyte hard disk stores up to 100 UHD quality movies
►Supports HDR10 open standard and BT.2020 color space with 10-bit color depth
► I ntegrated 802.11AC WiFi
► Dolby Atmos/DTS:X audio support
► Connections: 1 HDMI 2.0A/HDCP 2.2 handles UHD HDR10 content; 1 HDMI 1.4 audio only output; coaxial digital, Toslink optical digital; 3.5mm infra-red input; (2) USB (1 for service, 1 for future use), Gigabit RJ45 Ethernet, 12-volt DC power
► Dimensions: 14 x 3.1 x 10-inches (WxHxD); 13.7 pounds