Since its products first appeared in 2003, Kaleidescape has been the system to beat in the video server market. By pioneering the category and establishing a benchmark GUI that still has no equal, the company has continued to steadily upgrade its systems—adding music management, increasing storage capacity, improving video scaling, etc.—to stay atop this high-end category.
The two new Kaleidescape Blu-raycapable players are the M500, which features a disc drive for local playback and disc importing, and the M300, which has a much smaller form factor but lacks the drive and only streams content stored on the server.
Kaleidescape’s biggest unaddressed limitation in recent years has been its lack of Blu-ray support. That limitation was finally removed this spring with the release of company’s new M-series architecture, which was designed with the future in mind. Kaleidescape also took advantage of this additional processing horsepower to give its GUI a new HD facelift.
A Kaleidescape system involves at least two components: server and player. The server is offered in two form factors, a 1U model with a maximum six terabytes of storage and a 3U model with a 24-TB capacity, both in a protected RAID array. (My review sample was a 1U server with four TB of storage, retailing for $11,230.)
The two new Blu-ray-capable players are the M500 ($3,995), which features a disc drive for local playback and disc importing, and the M300 ($2,495), which has a much smaller form factor (capable of fitting behind many wall-mounted flat panels) but lacks the drive and only streams content stored on the server.
Kaleidescape simplified my installation by sending a fully pre-racked and connected system, requiring that I just connect a power, network, and HDMI cable. Fortunately, typical installs aren’t much more complicated, and definitely do not require having a network specialist on staff.
The Kaleidescape components (servers and players) communicate over a network using standard Cat5/6 wiring, with the player(s) connecting to the A/V system. While the players offer all legacy analog connections, the HDMI output is certainly the preferred and highest resolution connection.
The network’s quality is one of the biggest differences when using the M-class players and streaming Blu-rays, which require up to 54 megabits per stream. This means that a Gigabit network is essential. With a “well-designed” Gigabit network, Kaleidescape claims that up to five simultaneous Blu-ray streams are possible.
Player configuration—selecting video resolution (it supports 1080/60 and 1080/24), Deep Color support on/off, setting preferred audio format, selecting internal audio decoding or bitstream output, etc.—is done via a web interface.
While Blu-ray playback is certainly the big trick here, the brand-new, fully HD rendered GUI simply looks stunning. Box art is now so razor sharp that I could easily read even the smallest text. Discs (Blu-ray, DVD or CD) can be played directly from the M500’s tray or imported to the server. Blu-ray imports average an hour, while DVDs take around 25 minutes. When discs a disc is inserted, it takes about 26 seconds to spin up and identify. Non-imported titles began playing after an additional 18 seconds, while stored content started in 11 seconds. One terrific feature is that both stored and nonstored content jumps right to the film, bypassing warnings, trailers, and menus.
Viewed alongside the new Kaleidescape interface (left), the older players’ cover art (right) now looks blurry and out of focus.
The biggest caveat is that imported Blu-ray titles will not play unless the physical disc is in a Kaleidescape player’s tray somewhere on the network. While this requirement appeases studio concerns (eliminating any renting/ripping/returning), it certainly detracts from the traditional Kaleidescape experience. Kaleidescape plans on addressing this limitation by releasing a new product, the Disc Loader, sometime next year, which will hold “at least” 100 (but preferably more like 300-400) titles. Discs will remain verified in this “vault” and be available for instant streaming to any player.
The other performance limitation is that Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master audio soundtracks can be output as a bitstream, but cannot be decoded in full resolution internally. (Internally decoded audio is down-converted to 48 kHz and limited to 5.1 channels.) This will be disappointing to owners of receivers/processors incapable of decoding these next-gen audio bitstreams.
Video performance from my M500 was stellar, sailing through my battery of HD and non-HD test discs. I also noticed significantly better DVD upscaling performance compared with the older player. While top-notch animation always looks good, Ice Age looked so good I actually checked to make sure that was a DVD! Blu-rays looked terrific, as always, and I never experienced any stutters, dropouts, or anything that differed in any way from viewing the disc on a “regular” Blu-ray player. Also, the system supports profile 2.0 features like additional web content.
As an additional layer to the entire Kaleidescape system, the Blu-ray players and Blu-ray playback contribute to an overall unforgettable user experience. And, although the disc-in-tray requirement is certainly a bummer, this limitation will largely be eliminated when the Disc Loader arrives next year. For now, the M-class players present Kaleidescape dealers with a way to differentiate themselves from other server solutions, which is a significant upgrade offer for existing clients and yet another reason for new owners to step-up to Kaleidescape.
The brand-new, fully HD rendered GUI simply looks stunning.
Imported Blu-ray titles will not play unless the physical disc is in a Kaleidescape player’s tray somewhere on the network.
■ New M-Class player architecture
■ Processing power for new on-screen interface
■ Audio and video codecs for Blu-ray
■ A platform for future sources of content