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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Kaleidescape owners say, "Meh..." (UPDATED!)

Posted on May 13, 2010 at 10:09 PM

(Scroll to bottom for updated material...from Kaleidescape CEO Michael Malcolm!)


Yesterday was a big day for Kaleidescape. (If you haven’t read that announcement, click here...) Owners of their premium movie server system have been waiting A LONG time for a Blu-ray solution, and with yesterday’s announcement reception was a solid…coolly neutral. Not really so much as a home run, but more of a squib single or advance on hit-by-pitch.

 

I’ve been checking in with the Kaleidescape Owner’s Forum  over the past several days, where the participants have vested interests in this new player. These are not your typical chat room posters slagging the system for being ridiculously overpriced or comparing it to some hard drive and Franken-cobble computer home-brew solution. These are people that have already ponied up the $10,000 and up (usually WAY up) admission price into the club of Kaleidescape ownership. And so far, many of the comments have been quite a bit less than “Way to go, Kaleida!”


The most obvious and loudest groan came from the requirement of needing to have the Blu-ray disc in the tray for playback. Some members understood this as a need to appease studio concerns, but the vocal majority felt it was a huge step backwards from the performance and usability they’ve come to expect:


(Panamar) I have to say I’m not completely impressed. Extremely disappointed that the disc is required in the tray (for the next year and a bit at least)! Pointless! If this is the case I see no reason to upgrade until the loader/stacker is available.

 

(JerryL) First of all, the requirement for people to have a single disc in a player is absurd. The need to keep the discs in trays or some kind of bulk loader is very inelegant- never mind the legalities. One reason we pay through the nose for K products is because of the elegance. So for now we have a mega buck system that in order to play a BR disc we have to put it in a tray, and if we want to play something the UI says is in there, we might have to run around the house to find the physical disc and put it in the tray- nothing different from the person with the Samsung player, except that the Samsung might decode to PCM and handle 3D and cost 1/100th the price. Honestly, I would rather Kaleidescape would have waited to get this right instead of this kind of cobbled together approach. This is a very clunky solution- the antithesis of the K experience so far and I for one will not spend a dime on such an inelegant solution. Maybe I'll lighten up later when I think more on this but this is my first reaction and it’s all negative.


(ptrubey) At first blush, this doesn't do a whole lot for me now. I already have a Blu-ray player where I need it. I can buy DVD/Blu-ray combo packs (or even separate disks) so that I can view my movies in SD in most of the house, and use my existing Blu-ray player for the theater.

 

(Brodricj) Why couldn't they at least let you import a BR title to the server and have it stay there for 7 days (before self erasing) without needing the disc to be in the tray?? I could import 7 days worth of future watching and then have the whole familiar Kaleidescape experience available to me for the next week. I'd be more than happy with that arrangement.

 

(AnOutsider) I'm sorry, but crippling the experience like this just plain sucks. Yes, I know they had to appease the studios, but come on: I'll need to buy hard disks to rip the content to, plus a 3 thousand dollar overpriced DVD carousel to play them back on if I want any semblance of the current kscape experience. I can also stream instead of ripping... big friggin woop, you've just given me the most overpriced bluray player on the market. [And] skipping previews seriously doesn't justify it in my personal opinion. My players are in my basement, I typically watch content in my bedroom. I'd have to get up and walk down 2 floors to pop a disc in to "skip intros" when I could just as easily keep my BD discs upstairs and pop them in my PS3 instead. Thousands in savings and the only thing I miss is the guide info and the ability to skip intros.


One suggestion that I offered to CEO Malcolm was the ability to import only a small fraction of the disc title that would allow the cover art and other metadata to show up in the collections GUI. Since the disc is required to be in the drive for playback, why burn up 35+ Gigs of storage to just have the title essentially added to your collection? (Admittedly, having the movie play from the server should GREATLY speed up load times and eliminate trailers and FBI warnings.)


Josh agreed: Why not let it scan my disc, but NOT copy the whole movie, just add the title, cover art, andother metadata to my collection? Save me 40Gb with what I believe would belittle loss of functionality. Once the vault/reader is released, then let me decide if I want "full import" or "metadata import" for each of my titles. Full import copies the image to the server and keeps the disc in the vault and enables full multi-room playback. "Metadata import" lets me remember I have it, show on my lists, but will not take any server space, letting me play back from disc by asking me to find and insert the disc. Same adherence to (dumb) studio demands, but now with better utility and flexibility for the users.

 

Another major sore point is the handling (or lack thereof) of next-gen lossless audio formats. The new players will output these formats in bitstream, but will not decode them to full bandwidth PCM. As you can imagine, people that own Kaleidescape systems also typically have VERY high-end electronics to go with them, and this lack of decoding will be a MAJOR problem (as in they won't be able to experience the full resolution audio tracks) for owners of Halcro, Meridian, Sunfire, and Lexicon processors. Here are some gripes:

 

(Brodricj) I have recently invested a lot of money in a Halcro SSP in anticipation of the new K-player supporting lossless PCM. Heck, it doesn't even support lossless 5.1 PCM let alone 7.1 PCM anything. Never in my wildest dreams did I consider K would not be supporting lossless PCM in a new player. My Halcro stays. It sounds awsome with lossless PCM from my PS3. There is no place in my system for a new Kaleidescape player that can't send lossless PCM to my Halcro SSP.


(Panamar) If it turns out the M500 can't internally decode DTS-MA and output it as LPCM then I won't be buying.


(tweaks) I was actually one of the seemingly small minority here who were happy with K's announcement- until I read about the PCM issues for Meridian owners. This is a major concern for me and, for the moment, has caused me to reconsider what otherwise would have been a sure upgrade.


(JerryL) As to [not] getting LPCM decoding inside the player- give me a break. How much more space would they need for conversion to LPCM? Oppo does that already and can do so much more so if you swap out the DVD-A/SACD for the K interface stuff its probably even. I'll be sticking with what I have. In the end the lack of Meridian support (no LPCM over HDMI of the lossless) is the biggest killer for me personally.

 

(Mars) I find it stunning that this level of Blu-ray solution won't decode DTS Master Audio so that you can have the lossless format if you don't have PrePro that can decode (which mine cannot) - the Oppo does this as well as almost all new blu-ray players out there - what am I missing?

 

(Josh) This [PCM issues for Meridian owners] is a major concern for me and, for the moment, has caused me to reconsider what otherwise would have been a sure upgrade.

 

Another issue was the inability to import homemade Blu-ray discs. (The system will currently play them, but not import them. This feature could be enabled in a future software update.)

 

(Ptrubey) Why the restriction on not importing non-encrypted BR disks? Home videos are an obvious reason why this is a useful feature.

 

(Joe) No homemade BD imports? Major downer. I've been shooting HD video and burning BD disks for years now.


And, our old friend 3D popped up as well, but the lack of 3D support was really not too bothersome for anyone.


(JerryL) I don't care about 3D either but it could become important and I see this as another place where we would have to pay thousands of dollars again to get a feature that we really should have had from the beginning.


(AnOutsider) 3D is still pretty gimmicky to me. I wouldn't mind not having it.


(Mr. Poindexter) Lack of 3D could be an issue for some, but I suspect the vast majority of players are not going to be in 3D capable systems for a long time if ever.

 

I’m forwarding this post to Kaleidescape’s PR and would welcome any reply they might feel like sharing. If nothing else, here's a real-world snapshot of how your faithful are reacting to the latest news.

 

As for me, I’m expecting a review system to arrive any day, and I can’t wait to try out the new GUI and Blu-ray support for myself! Expect a full review at Sound + Vision's website...


UPDATE!!!

When you say that you're forwarding a post to the PR department and would welcome a reply, what you're *really* thinking is that you'll never hear anything back. Wrong!


This Blu-ray launch is obviously a BIG deal to Kaleidescape and CEO Michael Malcolm. So, with a HUGE thanks to their PR department for making this happen (especially Diana Cartwright, VP of corporate marketing---the biggest of ups!) here is a lengthy reply to these gripes from Mr. Malcolm himself.


Dear John,

Our new Kaleidescape players with Blu-ray support have been well received by most of our dealers and customers.  Feedback from those who have used them has been very positive, and purchase orders have been pouring in.  We have followed the discussion on Kaleidescape Owner's Forum.  It saddens us that some of our most loyal high-end customers are disappointed by the bitstream pass-through of lossless audio.  I appreciate how they feel because I ran into the same problem in my own theater.  By the way, your list of surround processors that are unable to decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio is missing the Mark Levinson No. 502.  The No. 502 is what I had in my theater when I installed the first M500 player.  I solved the problem by replacing the No. 502 with a Krell Evolution 707 that has excellent performance and provides these lossless codecs.


I know that few of our customers will be willing to give up their Halcro or Meridian surround processors in favor of something more compatible with Kaleidescape's new players. Ironically, less expensive surround processors usually support these codecs.  For example, the Denon network receiver in my hangar, that I bought for less than 10% of the price of an Evolution 707 or a No. 502, supports all of these audio codecs.


It surprised us to learn that some of the very best surround processors do not support codecs for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.  But even if we had known that this would be a problem for many high-end theaters, we couldn't have done anything about it other than delay our product introduction by another year.  The reason is that the high-performance hardware required to support both the Kaleidescape user interface and the Blu-ray video and audio codecs is only beginning to appear on the market.  The current generation of hardware does not support the lossless audio codecs.  The next generation will solve this problem. Given that this limitation in the M500 and M300 players only impacts a very small number of our (very important) customers, we decided to introduce the product with this limitation while the next generation of hardware is still in development.  Supporting these lossless audio codecs in future players is a high priority for Kaleidescape.


Your suggestion (and Josh's) that we recognize the Blu-ray Disc, add it to the collection viewed in the user interface, but not actually import it, leads to additional complexities in the user interface that we believe will be confusing, even after the disc loader becomes available.  We resist unnecessary complexities in the user interface.


Importing Blu-ray Discs before the disc loader is available may sound futile, but I suggest that you reserve judgment until you have tried playing some imported Blu-ray Discs.  The ability to start the main feature in mere seconds is only part of the benefit (albeit an important part!).  I enjoy listening to portions of concerts using our new Play Song feature.  Playing various tracks from Chris Botti's and Andrea Bocelli's fabulous Blu-ray concerts is a very enjoyable way to spend an evening, especially since it is now effortless to start each new track.  The mood isn't spoiled waiting for the disc to spin up or navigating the Blu-ray menu.


I also think that many of the negative reactions to our disc loader will subside once people start using it. The disc loader will give us the same Kaleidescape experience with Blu-ray that we have today with DVDs.  In addition it will provide automatic bulk import; you will no longer need to stage your new discs in a stack while you feed them into a player one-by-one.  Later, it will help you locate a physical disc because the Kaleidescape user interface will make it easy to find and eject any disc from a loader.


Importing home videos from Blu-ray Discs is a high priority for us.  This was one of the many features that fell victim to the inevitable triage that preceded the product launch.  We will add this feature in an upcoming KEAOS software update.


3-D is on our roadmap, but its priority is not very high.  I say this having recently installed a new Digital Projection TITAN 1080p 3D projector in my own home theater!  But there is only one 3-D Blu-ray title available today, there is only tepid interest in 3-D among our customers, and we have bigger fish to fry.


Finally, John, you neglected to include the best quote to date on the Kaleidescape Owner's Forum, by Mr. Poindexter:  "Well, you cannot be all things to all people - especially with a crazed rabid monkey riding on your back trying to gouge out your eyes and set  you on fire."


Sincerely,

Michael Malcolm, CEO

Kaleidescape, Inc.

 


So, wow! Thanks, Mr. Malcolm! While this certainly doesn't solve the lossless audio issue, it offers a real glimpse into the mindset of the decision making process that led to releasing this product----now, instead of another year (or more) down the road. And, I'm incredibly appreciative that you would let me voice your personal message and that you took the time to respond to some of your most loyal owners here.


As you say, I can't WAIT to see for myself how the new players work. Mine is supposed to ship out tomorrow! :)

Categories: May 2010, Electronics, Reviews

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8 Comments

Reply brodricj
11:29 PM on May 13, 2010 
No more complaints from me about the lack of support for lossless audio decoding. CEO Michael Malcolm himself didn't realize his ML 502 processor couldn't decode the lossless bitstream until he plugged in the M500! That this happened to him of all people mellows my disappointment over the M-Class product considerably. It was fortunate for him that he could revert to a Plan B. Unfortunately for me I can't afford his Plan B so I'll just have to wait until the next new gen KPlayers come out. Don't worry Mr CEO, I'm still keeping the faith with your brand.
Reply MrPoindexter
2:31 AM on May 16, 2010 
Nice to know my comment was appreciated. I look forward to installing the BluRay players once mine ship out.
Reply John Sciacca
8:33 AM on May 16, 2010 
MrPoindexter says...
Nice to know my comment was appreciated. I look forward to installing the BluRay players once mine ship out.

It's *always* cool when someone high-up actually reads (and reacts -- hopefully positively) to something you wrote. And, I have to agree---it was a great quote!
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