When a company’s co-founder and CEO starts a conversation by stating its new product is “the beginning of a new era” for the company, you should probably take note. When that CEO is Cheena Srinivasan and the company is Kaleidescape, the established benchmark in its category, you can only wonder what that new era will be.
Alto delivers every aspect of the Kaleidescape “experience” that the company is known for, except importing physical discs. When I reviewed Kaleidescape’s initial product offering–a physically massive, DVD-only server that stored 160 DVDs and carried a premium price tag–back in 2003, Srinivasan shared his vision that Kaleidescape would ultimately be more than just a DVD importer, but rather become a means for content delivery. Fast forward to today and we have Alto, a system retailing for under $2,500 that Kaleidescape’s VP of marketing services, John Sykes, describes as “the purest expression of what we set out to do when we founded the company.”
If you’re familiar with Kaleidescape, rest assured that Alto delivers every aspect of the Kaleidescape “experience” that the company is known and revered for: High-resolution movie cover art from the company’s Movie Guide; indexing by title, genre, date, rating, actor/director, or running time; instant access to bookmarked iconic scenes from films, songs from concerts and musicals, and individual TV episodes from series; advanced control integration support of virtually every automation control system; library management and sorting by collections and parental controls; a CinemaScape onscreen interface supporting 2.35 aspect front projection systems; and the same stellar scaling and video quality that makes every movie look and sound as good as possible.
Alto also doesn’t do the thing that the company was literally founded on: import discs. Instead it imports 100 percent of its stored content from electronic downloads from the online Kaleidescape store. In this respect, Alto is ready for the trend of users transitioning away from physical media to electronic delivery. (It won’t import or play back CDs either. Inserting a CD produces the message, “The inserted disc is not a DVD or a Blu-ray disc.”)
Visually, Alto is a striking component, with a grey-silver case and glossy white faceplate. The front panel is very clean, with a slot-load drive and three soft buttons: eject, catalog and power. Around back, it resembles any modern Blu-ray player with HDMI, RCA analog, coaxial digital audio, USB (for the included Wi-Fi adapter), Gigabit Ethernet, 1/8-inch infrared input, and connection for the 12- volt power supply.
Alto’s 4 terabyte hard drive can store approximately 100 Blu-ray-quality or 600 DVD-quality titles and up to four Altos can be grouped together, forming a single, unified library that both quadruples storage and viewing zones. (For streaming reliability, linked players must be connected via Ethernet, not Wi-Fi.) Kaleidescape plans to release a storage expansion module in the first half of 2015 that will provide additional storage for those not needing extra viewing zones. The system ships with one pre-loaded title–a documentary on the P51 Mustang called Gray Eagles–and includes both an Ethernet and HDMI cable and remote control.
Installation is incredibly simple and took me about 15 minutes. And that included giving it a static IP address, adding it to my Control4 system, registering the player with Kaleidescape, and creating a store account. There are a variety of onscreen setup options such as whether audio is output as bitstream or decoded internally (up to 5-channel PCM), screen aspect ratio and video resolution, configuring parental controls, and language and subtitle preferences.
While it won’t import any discs, Alto does play them. Whenever a disc is inserted, the player reaches out to Kaleidescape, identifies the disc and presents a much richer experience with high-res cover art, a synopsis of the film along with rating, run time, release year, genre and cast. It also offers a variety of options that other Blu-ray players can’t offer, like “Play Movie” that goes straight to the film past all the trailers and warnings and “Play Scene” or “Play Song” that jumps to key moments. I found Alto to be pretty speedy, taking 27 seconds from inserting a Blu-ray to the movie on the screen. (A disc already in the drive took only 11 seconds.) DVDs launch even quicker, taking 20 seconds from inserting disc to movie, and about 5.5 seconds once in the drive.
The Alto’s 4 Terabyte drive stores approximately 100 Blu-ray-quality or 600 DVD-quality movies. Up to four Altos can be combined to quadruple storage and viewing zones Alto’s on-screen interface has two new options, called “Digital Offers” and “Catalog.” Digital Offers reaches out to the Kaleidescape Store and presents the option to purchase from the interface if the movie is available from the Kaleidescape Store. Blu-ray-quality digital copies typically cost $5.99 while DVD-quality copies are $1.99. Click on “purchase” and you’re prompted to enter a 4-digit passcode, the movie is charged to a credit card linked to the store, and the download begins. The process really couldn’t be easier. Once downloaded, DVD-quality titles begin in about four seconds and Blu-ray in around eight seconds.
Cataloging takes about two seconds and adds disc information to the movie library, showing the title in the on-screen GUIs, including any available scenes and extras. However, the movie (or scenes/ extras) won’t play until the disc is re-inserted. Why would you catalog a disc? For one, it offers an elegant way to keep track of all owned movies, whether downloaded or on a physical disc. This is helpful when browsing and choosing what to watch. Second, the Kaleidescape Store uses this information to suggest other movies you might like based on what you own. Third, as Kaleidescape continues adding studios and titles to its store, cataloging helps to check for any digital offers.
While the store has tons of content–currently more than 8,500 movie titles and 1,600 TV seasons–there are still a lot currently unavailable. Kaleidescape will solve the “what about all my current discs that don’t have digital offers?” dilemma by offering Alto integration with its DV700 Disc Vault sometime next year. While the Vault won’t import titles, it holds up to 320 discs (Blu-ray or DVD) and will offer fully-automated playback direct from the physical disc.
Alto is designed for movie lovers of all budgets that are interested in quality, performance, and simplicity, and who want the easiest way to enjoy and grow their movie collections.
Brings terrific movie management experience to a new price point; excellent Store integration; it’s a Kaleidescape
• Terabyte drive stores approximately 100 Bluray- quality or 600 DVDquality movies
• Up to four Altos can be combined to quadruple storage and viewing zones
• Imports 100 percent of content from Kaleidescape Store
• Supports majority of control systems (Crestron, Control4, Savant, URC, AMX, Elan, etc.) and dedicated iPad app
• Supports video resolutions up to 1080p60/50/24
• Bitstream audio passthrough of Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD Master Audio
• Connections: HDMI, RCA coaxial digital, RCA stereo analog, USB for 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter, Gigabit Ethernet, 1/8-inch IR input, 12 VDC power
• 3-year manufacturer warranty (extendable)
• 17 X 2.8 X 10-inches (W x H x D); 10.2 pounds