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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Kaleidescape, I love you, but... (UPDATED!)

Posted on April 7, 2010 at 11:52 AM

Today saw the end of two technology greats, Escient and Snell. And, as much as I love Kaleidescape – and don’t get me wrong, I *love* Kaleidescape – I fear that they may be the next casualty. And, frankly, this makes me sad.


As a reviewer, I’ve been fortunate enough to evaluate the Kaleidescape movie/music server system on multiple occasions. When it first came out in 2004, then again when Kaleidescape added music in 2006, then when they stepped up to a 1080p movie player in 2008 and just last year with the launch of their new Mini System.  (You can find links to my reviews in the Reviews/Feature stories tab.) And the system never fails to impress me, with a user interface (GUI) that is still the best in the industry. This is even more amazing since the GUI has essentially remained unchanged since it came out in 2004, which just shows that when you nail it the first time, there’s no need to screw around with it.


As a dealer, Kaleidescape provides an experience that is pretty much unrivaled. I like to tell people that “in a store of cool toys, Kaleidescape is pretty much the coolest.” And I believe that. If you have a large movie and music collection, Kaleidescape addresses the problem of managing and enjoying that collection better than anything else on the market. Between sorting movies by rating, genre, actor, director, running time, and the terrific parental controls features to block content from young eyes to the great artist bios and album reviews in the music section, Kaleidescape allows you to enjoy your content in more ways. Not to mention the ability to share an entire library throughout your home – simultaneously – over a single Cat5 network cable.


However, Kaleidescape is getting harder and harder to sell. First, they are still staggeringly expensive. A “real world” system – not a starter Mini which just can’t hold enough content at this point – generally starts at around $15,000. At a time when people are buying sub $1000 1080p TVs with a $49 DVD player and deciding whether they will pay their mortgage or car payment, telling someone the price of a Kaleidescape system often produces a derisive snort. Storage is cheap. An 8-Terabyte system *should* cost less. WAY less. You've had years to recoup your R&D. Hardware costs have dropped at a meteoric pace. At this point, after 6+ years in business, we need to see a Kaleidescape system under $5000.


Second, their inability to bring a Blu-ray solution to market is, frankly, killing them. *Every* potential customer says, “And it will play my Blu-ray discs, right?” Not really like a question, but more of a statement. Like, it is just assumed that something costing more than a small car will handle a format that is now entrenched and been around for several years. When you have to explain that their new $15,000 “toy” won’t do what a $149 machine at Best Buy will, it is pretty much the end of the sales pitch. At this point, the argument that it will manage all of your DVDs and CDs is pretty much lost, as ANY movie collector will by now have amassed a pile of Blu-rays. (I store mine in several ungainly stacks under my pool table. How about you?) You shouldn't need to make excuses and stammer when selling this product. You need to be able to say, "Hell yeah, it'll do Blu-ray! Watch this!"


Kaleidescape’s CEO, Michael Malcolm, went on record saying that Kaleidescape *would* have a Blu-ray solution by 2009. That date came and went and Malcolm responded with a fairly terse message, the gist of which is in this paragraph:


“The Blue-Laser Player is the most important engineering project at Kaleidescape, and we have made substantial progress in its development. Pre-production units are running, and the results are exciting. Unfortunately, we will not be able to ship this product by the end of 2009 as we originally projected. We expect to release the Blue-Laser Player in 2010. Not only has our schedule slipped, it has become less certain due to dependencies on third parties over which we have little control. We cannot predict when all of our suppliers will be ready or when the extensive Blu-ray certification process will be completed. Our best estimate is that it will be a few more quarters before we will have this product in production.”


Using terms like “expect to” and “less certain” and “cannot predict” does not cause my cup of warm-and-fuzzy to runneth over. It seems like a giant helping of hedging and buck passing.


Now when (I’m not going to say “if” because, well, I still believe) the solution DOES come to market, it will be a Blu-ray player only. It will NOT rip/store/stream Blu-ray titles in the same manner that their system handles DVDs. And no matter how terrific it can make your Blu-rays look, this will be a crushing blow, and a giant evolutionary step backwards for their product and won’t help my stack of discs.


Plus, I’m certain that the industry shift towards 3D is going to mean one of two things.

One: It will push back the release of the Blu player as they retool it to handle 3D and HDMI 1.4 compliancy.

Two: It won’t handle 3D. I fear this is more likely, and again, we’ll end up with an extravagantly priced system that lacks the features of a $150 product. And whether or not a Kaleidescape owner ever watches a 3D title, their product needs to be state-of-the-art and that means staying ahead of the curve, not making excuses for why the curve isn’t important.


Kaleidescape: Prove me wrong. Please!


*** UPDATE ***

Well…shortly after posting my story, I noticed a flurry of hits from Sunnyvale, California followed by a call from Kaleidescape’s VP of corporate marketing asking to arrange a conference call with Director of Product Management and CEO, Michael Malcolm himself. Prior to the call, I had to fill out a non-disclosure agreement (rats!), but after spending about 30 minutes on the phone with Malcolm, I can share a *few* things about Kaleiedscape’s plans.

1)     They are very excited about their new Blue-Laser Player which they are targeting for release *very* soon. Malcolm described the player as the “biggest, most complicated project we’ve ever developed, including the original Kaleidescape system.”

2)     Malcolm just installed a new Digital Projection “Titan” 3D capable projector in his own home, and “3D is definitely on” their roadmap.

Sadly the most exciting news from my call that will really energize Kaleidescape owners and dealers, is the big thing I can’t mention. Suffice to say….stay tuned, and be excited!

Categories: April 2010, Electronics, Reviews

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1 Comment

Reply Mike
7:21 PM on April 7, 2010 
As an owner of a Kaleidescape system, I can say that the coolness of it never really wears off - you just get used to it working and being there and when confronted with a DVD menu and warning screens and such at a friend's house it just drives home the point of how much better Kaleidescaspe owners have it.

Kaleidescape is obviously in it for the long haul. They have a huge client base even at the high prices for their systems and are willing to put their money and effort to support their product, standing up to Hollywood's lawyers long after everybody else threw in the towel. I wouldn't count Kaleidescape out and certainly wouldn't question their efforts to keep innovating. When you realize that their interface is so slick that is hasn't changed in 6 years, you have to realize that they have a firm belief in just getting things right the first time. That means you won't be the first person out the gate with the latest gadget/feature but when they do deliver a product, it will be well thought out and both reliable and easy to use.

Too often, when you are ahead of the curve, you end up off-roading when the curve doesn't catch you. Imagine how bitter you would be if you bought a Kaleidescape HD-DVD player. They don't need to be first out with each new feature - they need to be first in ease of use and convenience because that is what has built their company and made their reputation as a must have for high end installations.