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Kaleidescape: Slashes the Price, Retains the Awesome!

Posted on December 2, 2010 at 9:37 PM

OK, so it’s no real surprise to regular readers that I love the Kaleidescape movie and music server system. Love it like that rich uncle that when other people send you a $20 Barnes & Noble gift card, he sends a card with two open-ended airline tickets and a note that says, “Enjoy! Get into just enough trouble!” And having lived with a Kaleidescape system for the past 3 weeks now, I can conclusively say that ownership is a case where familiarity breeds nothing but more love and absence of the system – even just thinking ahead to a time when it might not be there – makes the heart grow colder and sadder. (I am already picturing the Sophie’s Choice decision one day where I have a UPS return label in one hand and my check book in the other...) In our short time of system possession, Lauryn has already mastered the kid’s remote and now has her own movie collection of like 50 titles. She has taken total ownership of “her collection” and strolls the halls of our home filled with all the pride, power and bluster that a sub-40 pound 4-year old can muster. She enjoys the freedom and ability to totally control the system without me freaking out that she’ll drop my URC wand or accidentally turn the projector on or worrying that she might stumble across some kind of skin melting off scene from Terminator or something equally unsuitable for a Lauryn-aged person.

 

Does this affect my objectivity as a reviewer? No. Maybe. I don’t think so. Shut up! The truth is, the system is so kick-ass, that there is very little not to love about it. And if I were the only person out there proclaiming how great it was, perhaps you could question my exuberance. But this is pretty much a universally hailed product. (Generally when you hear someone bashing it, it is often from some gear head that feels computer speakers and a 20-inch monitor are the height of A/V Nirvana and is followed by lengthy paragraphs of how they have cobbled together some PC and over-clocked video card, and off-shore, quasi legal DVD ripping software and developed something that is almost-not-quick-nearly-just-as-good as Kaleidescape for so much less.) Kaleidescape’s GUI and interface? The awesome. Video quality? Amongst the best I’ve tested. Speed and access? Unrivaled. Does it give you a smooth, close shave and make you smell of musk? No. Will it make the ladies love you? Well, if the ladies you want to love you are your four year old daughter, then yes. Maybe. I can’t tell sometimes. But is Kaleidescape the best at what it does? No question.

 

My biggest complaint about the system hasn’t wavered since my first experience: the price. It started at over $30,000. (I can recall when Bob Ankosko, Sound & Vision’s EIC at the time, called me up and said, “Sciacca, what is this thing you’re reviewing? They took my credit card to cover the $32,000 system! You better be sure to get it back to them in one piece!” ) Then it went to like $20,000. Then it went to $10,000. But still, ten...THOUSAND...dollars. That’s not a cheap piece of entertainment no matter how Hilton-ey your last name is or what tax bracket you’ve Obama’d your way into. But recently I’ve come to the realization that while it may be too expensive for me, I shouldn’t project my budget onto others. There are a great many things that other people buy that I can’t. Would I like to come home every night and have Cristal champagne fights with my Dana? Well, no. But it would be nice to know that we *could.* Would I like to replace my Toyota with something low-slung and Vee-Twelvey and British? Absolutely. But when you sweep the price away, and just boil it down to the basic question – Is this thing awesome and will it make my entertainment experience better? – those that can afford it definitely should consider it. However, even when my dollars are your cents, it’s *still* pricey. (Hey, even if you can afford a $20,000 Patek or to drink three-fingers of Johnny Blue every night or to cut your grass and weed your lawn wearing Alfred Dunhill bespoke Sea Island cotton button-downs, they’re still not cheap.)

 

But with today’s announcement, the E-ticket entry to owning the Kaleidedscape experience just got more affordable. In fact, a whole world of more affordable. Today they announced a new product called the Cinema One. The Cinema One is essentially a renamed, fully loaded Mini System (which is now known as “doesn’t exist anymore, buy the Cinema One” ). The Cinema One includes 4 500-Gigabyte disk cartridges that can store up to 225 DVDs or 2,500 CDs in a RAID protected array, and it includes both a full functioning system controller and the new kid’s remote. (Have your kid send Lauryn an e-mail and she’ll be happy to set up a Web-Ex to demo how to use it.) Most importantly, the system has received a Congressional Oversight level price cut, coming in now under $5,000. They also dropped the price of the 1080p Movie Player to $1995, meaning you can add a second movie zone AND keep that spare kidney! Go ahead! Drink that third glass of single malt without fear!

 

So, what’s the catch? What did they chop out? What aren’t you getting? You get it all, baby. The whole Kaleidescape magilla. The best in class DVD movie management. The terrific Kaleidescape support staff. The magical dancing around covers. The press play and jump straight to the movie, skipping all those trailers and warnings. The terrific video. The terrific parental controls and I’m-still-surprised-no-one-else-has-thought-to-market-this-way-to-kids Children’s collection. The ability to create scripts of your favorite scenes. Two independent music zones. And the ability to expand the system as you get it in your home and discover, “Yep, that John! He sure knows what he’s talking about. I should really send him something to show my appreciation. Something nice!”

 

The DVD management solution has evolved from an Excel spreadsheet and a carefully alphabetized shelf crammed with titles to a more “elegant” management solution for many people for MANY years of using an Escient or ReQuest device connected to a 400-disc Sony DVD changer. That solution worked, but it was slow, it was clunky, and if the disc was removed or damaged, it didn’t work. Didn’t keep track of any paused titles. Couldn’t skip trailers. Didn’t have any digital music management. Couldn’t do 20% of what the Kaleidescape offers and sold for $3000 and up. So for a little more, you get A LOT more.

 

OK, the kinda fine print. The Cinema One doesn’t do Blu-ray. Sure, at first I thought, “Wow, if only it did Blu-ray...” but then I stepped out of myself and did some thinking. First, with 1.5 usable Terabytes of storage, you’d be looking at storing a whopping total of like 31 Blu-ray discs. That’s a pretty freakin’ unimpressive movie collection. Next, upgrading the Mini System-cum-System One to the new M-class architecture would have certainly raised the price. Also, while kid’s aren’t the primary target for this system, the kid’s management feature will be a big-throbbing deal to anyone with kids, and the majority of their movies – short of the biggie-big Pixar and Dreamworks titles – are mainly on DVD. And even if you buy the buy Blu-ray version, it usually comes with a DVD, so load that into the K-player for the kids, and then feed the Blu disc in manually like you’ve always done. At least until you decide you can’t stand it and have to pony up to the M-500 big leagues. Finally, it would have definitely delayed the time to market. No, at $4995, it’s not a deal killer that this doesn’t do Blu. And, it is a fully expandable platform, so you want to add an M-500 player and more storage down the road? No problem, the Cinema One will still stream all of its content to the new player and stream all of the new server’s new non-Blu content. Honestly, for under $10,000 you can build a system that has 3 Terabytes of usable storage – about 450 DVDs worth – 2 discreet movie zones, 4 music zones, and something that would have cost you north of $20,000 not too long ago. And something that will bring you, “Yeah, that’s just the frickin’ coolest!” for years to come.

Categories: December 2010, Electronics, Movies

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1 Comment

Reply Michael Malcolm
11:52 AM on December 3, 2010 
John,

Cheena [Srinivasan, Kaleidescape co-founder] read your new blog at dinner tonight from his iPhone while Tom Barnett [Kaleidescape Director Product Management] and I laughed and laughed. It's the best article on Kaleidescape to date!

I especially liked your comments about your daughter and how she loves "her" collection of movies. My 5-year-old daughter reacted the same way. They are HER movies and she takes full control of them. This was something I didn't anticipate during the years(!) it took to get this feature implemented. I thought she would love "her" remote, but it isn't about the remote so much as her personal collection of movies. It sounds like your daughter feels the same.

I'm glad you are enjoying your Kaleidescape System. Keep in touch.

Mike