Product Review: Kaleidescape’s Co-Star Movie Server Switch

What Kaleidescape’s latest product — the very aptly named Co-Star — does is merge these two collections together once again into a single, seamless library, allowing users to navigate a movie collection of any size with ease regardless of where the movie is stored, or whether it is playing off a physical disc or disk data.
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To move its technology forward into the 21st century, where the company would be capable of fully supporting ultra high definition movies in high dynamic range with full 4K60 resolution, Kaleidescape needed to create an entirely new hardware platform: Encore. The ultimate result of this was the development of the Strato Movie Player, the most ambitious and complex piece of hardware the company has created to date.

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Kaleidescape's StratoStrato’s ability to handle the massively encrypted UHD content demands the studios insisted on as well as offering full HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2 encryption, however, created a bit of a problem. Kaleidescape’s new flagship product was not “compatible” with the thousands of existing Premiere movie server systems that the company had been selling for over a decade. Namely, movies downloaded and installed on Strato systems could only be viewed and played back on Encore systems, and movies on Premiere systems could only be viewed and played back on Premiere systems. Also, due to another bit of engineering and hardware bad luck, if an Encore system included a Strato and a Disc Server, the Strato could not view the physical Blu-ray discs stored in the Disc Server.

The result was a bit of clunky inelegance that was entirely opposite of everything Kaleidescape was founded on, namely beautiful simplicity and an “it just works” philosophy. Customers would go to one player and user interface to view this collection of movies, and then select another player and user interface to view that collection of movies. With an ever-growing library of UHD content available from the company’s movie store, this “split collection” would become an even bigger issue.

No more.

What Kaleidescape’s latest product — the very aptly named Co-Star — does is merge these two collections together once again into a single, seamless library, allowing users to navigate a movie collection of any size with ease regardless of where the movie is stored, or whether it is playing off a physical disc or disk data. Co-Star is compatible with M-Class Premiere players (M700, M500, M300) and second-generation Cinema One systems. 

My install integrated with a Strato and an M500. To say Co-Star gives equal billing to both systems, would be slightly inaccurate, as the Strato handles the on-screen display presentation, giving your entire collection the full 4K60 treatment courtesy of the Strato’s interface. The result is an ultra-sharp and detailed GUI that glides across the screen in a beautifully fluid ballet. 

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Co-Star by KaleidescapeThe Co-Star switch is not much larger than a deck of playing cards and has two HDMI 2.0a/HDCP 2.2 inputs and one output (along with power), and comes with two 1.5 meter HDMI cables tested and verified to pass 18 Gbps. Installation is a study in simplicity, and something that even your most junior tech could perform in about 10 minutes. You connect the primary (video and audio) HDMI output of the Strato to HDMI 1, and the Premiere player’s HDMI output to HDMI 2, and connect the Co-Star switch’s HDMI output to your AVR/pre-pro/display. 

For a consistent experience, you want settings in both Strato and Premiere to be the same. This includes things like bitstream out or player decoding, aspect ratio, subtitles, preferred movie language, audio, etc. Parental controls need to be turned off in the Premiere player and set in the Strato.

Pairing the systems together is a two-step process. First you log into the Strato’s Web GUI and under settings select “System & Player Pairing.” You then select the system to pair with Strato. You also select the location where HD and SD content will download. The recommendation is for non-UHD content to download to the Premiere system so it will be available throughout the home (assuming not every Premiere player is paired with a Strato), with UHD content automatically downloading to the Strato. Once the systems are paired, you then select which Premiere player to pair with Strato.

After pairing, the Strato automatically takes control of the Co-Star switch, cycling between HDMI 1 (Strato) and HDMI 2 (Premiere) depending on the location of content being played. The switching process — and location of content — is virtually seamless to the end user, as Co-Star is totally silent with just a moment of “black screen” as the switching process occurs.

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Integrating with a control system is also incredibly simple, unless the Premiere is controlled via RS-232 (Strato doesn’t support RS-232.) Because the Strato now handles all control, you just direct control there. If using IR, simply move the emitter to the Strato, and you’re done. If using IP, just change the Strato’s static IP address to that of the Premiere player, and give the Premiere a new address. Easy breezy. All told, the installation process took me about 10 minutes.

After pairing, the switchover between players is automatic and never once failed to switch to the correct player. During my nearly two months with Co-Star it was truly a set-and-forget device. The only issue I had was due to the constant resolution, format, and HDMI changes going back and forth, which occasionally gave my Marantz AV8802a fits. Most times it worked flawlessly, but sometimes I would be greeted by a screen full of micro-static signifying some kind of handshake issue, requiring me to switch to a different input on the pre-pro and back to the Strato, or change the TV to a different HDMI input and then back. Using a different source device — the new Sony HT-ST5000 Atmos soundbar — showed that these issues were with my Marantz and not the Co-Star. 

There are three additional bonuses of using Co-Star with Strato. First, it actually opens up an HDMI input on your AVR or processor by not having both systems connected separately. Second, you pick up additional storage for your combined library; 6 Terabytes of storage in my case. This is enough for around 110 UHD titles, 200 Blu-rays, or 900 DVDs. Third, you are able to download Disney titles without having to “opt in” to the Disney Content Amendment, which would mean being able to no longer import Disney DVD or Blu-ray discs. Now I get to import discs and download Disney content!

But, Co-Star is not without its blemishes. The largest bummer by far is you lose access to any CD music from paired Premiere systems. The music is there, but can’t access it and play it. With 200-plus CDs on my system, this is a definite bummer. Kaleidescape has suggested they might re-enable access to music, but go in to Co-Star assuming music access is gone.

If you have an older, non-HDCP 2.2-capable audio system and have been using the Strato’s secondary Audio Only HDMI output, Co-Star requires a different solution. For Co-Star to work, you must use the primary audio/video HDMI output from the Strato. Now, you could disable the 4K output of the Strato and put it into HDMI 1.4-compatibility mode, but then you would miss out on UHD HDR quality. Kaleidescape says that they are working on a separate solution to address this issue, and product is expected “imminently.” Dealers can reach out to Kaleidescape’s sales team for particulars.

Co-Star is just coming out of Beta as I finish this, and there are currently several features that weren’t yet enabled. Kaleidescape says these will be added “as soon as we can,” but for now disc playback via the M500 is not supported, Strato doesn’t show digital offers or extras for content on the paired system, user-created collections on the paired system aren’t displayed, and the (awesome) iPad app doesn’t work. Again, these features will be restored in future kOS updates, some of which might be working by the time you read this.

For Kaleidescape owners with both a Premiere and a Strato system, Co-Star is an ingenious solution to combining their movie libraries. It’s a near invisible solution that gets back to the pure simplicity and “just enjoy the movie” that Kaleidescape’s products are so known for. 

650.625.6100

www.kaleidescape.com

Kudos

Incredibly simple install; seamless to end user; fully combines movie libraries

Concerns 

Eliminates music library; “full” system functionality will be restored via updates

Product Specs

* Combines libraries by pairing Strato and Strato C with Premiere M700, M500, M300 and Second Generation Cinema One 

* One Co-Star required for each paired player combination

* Two HDMI 2.0a inputs, One HDMI 2.0a output 

* Includes two 5-foot HDMI 2.0 cables

* No programming required

Dimensions:

1.0 x 4.75 x 3.875-inches (H x W x D), 5.5-ounces

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