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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Exclusive Hands On review: Kaleidescape's M700 Disc Vault

Posted on July 19, 2011 at 12:08 PM

A rose by any other name is still as sweet, and whether you call it the Integrated Disc Vault (the pre-production name), the hipper, abbreviated IDV or the Vesta (the internal code-name),  Kaleidescape’s new M700 Disc Vault, announced today and immediately available for order by Kaleidescape dealers, is still as cool!


Kaleidescape’s Director of Product Marketing, Linus Wong, reached out to me nearly two weeks ago inquiring if I would be interested in receiving a review sample of a new product prior to launch. Of course, I jumped at the chance! To date I’ve been fortunate enough to audition nearly every product to come from the Sunnyvale, California video server vanguard, and I was eager to be able to play with what I (correctly) assumed would be the long-awaited integrated disc vault.


While it has been referred to as the Integrated Disc Vault even by the company itself, the new product shall heretofore be known by its official name, the M700 Disc Vault ($5995, squeaking under the "less than $6000" price promised by the company). This dog’s new “trick” is that it includes storage for up to 320 discs: CD, DVD and/or Blu-ray. Previously supporting a Blu-ray library this large would have required 3 Modular Disc Vaults (MDV), each connected to its own M-class player. (And, that would have only supported 300 discs, Blu-ray only.) The M700 is part of the new M-class architecture and offers audio and video performance identical to that of the existing M300 and M500 players.  The principal difference being that the M700 is subject to the Blu-ray analog sunset rules, meaning that Blu-ray playback over component video is limited to 480i/576i. For owners that have yet to make the switch to HDMI, do so now! (The M300/M500 players will not “sunset” until the end of 2011, so you have 6 months left to buy one if you need your HD analog video.) While the M700 IS a player – and can stream anything stored on the server – it is not technically a standalone player like the M500 in that it cannot play a disc until it has already been imported. But, more on that later.


From its disc capacity – 320; a 20 disc “bonus” compared to all pre-launch speculation about the unit’s capacity – I knew that the M700 would have to be large. And when it arrived, it definitely did not disappoint on this front. Here’s a picture of the box with a Blu-ray and CD sitting by it for perspective:




Included in the box are a power cord, remote control, a booklet on the Kaleidescape experience and some information on the M700.




From these pictures you can see that even out of the box, the M700 is a BIG gal and will likely be the largest component in your system.




It includes rack mount ears (which are easily removed) and takes up 5U of rack space. From this photo you can see the three front panel buttons: OK, Options, Cancel along with a label saying “Label” to indicate proper disc loading. (Which, sadly, still didn’t prevent me from feeding in several discs backwards. The system quickly identifies the error and then prompts you to eject and re-enter the discs. It also does so without the slightest implication that you are performing the technological equivalent of pulling on the door labeled “PUSH”.)




The M700 measures 17.5 x 8.8 (feet off) 9.3 (feet on) x 21.9 inches (width, height, depth) and weighs 38 pounds empty and 49 pounds when fully packed with discs. The M700 is a complete Kaleidescape design and build, unlike the current MDV. This means that it shares the family design aesthetics including the gloss-white front panel and (adjustable/defeatable) glowing blue lights. More importantly, because it is a “true” Kaleidescape product, it carries the same 2 year warranty which can be upgraded to 5 and is constantly being monitored for any performance anomalies by the Kaleidescape Mother Ship. (I can personally attest to this latter part, as I discovered a disc eject issue when working with certain CDs; Kaleidescape was able to remotely retrieve my logs and tell me exactly which discs caused the issue and then how they resolved the problem. Nice!)


The rear panel looks virtually identical to the current M500 player, and features all manner of connections that you could need. (Though if I EVER run across one of these connected via S-Video, I am seriously going to have an aneurysm! Composite to some kind of touchscreen or video distribution? OK, sure, I'll allow it. But going S-Video is just too unnecessarily medieval for this technological Titan.) The IR and RS-232 codesets used are identical to the existing protocol.




The large front panel removes (presumably for servicing) and reveals the many – 25 – blue LEDs it takes to illuminate the front panel.




Install was a snap. I connected an HDMI cable, an Ethernet cable and power and, POW! That was it. The system instantly recognized the vault, it appeared as a new component on my system and it was ready to rock-and-roll. (Kaleidescape did push me the latest version of their KEAOS operating system, 4.2.0-9754 which allows the M700 to be a part of the system. Plus…well, more on the “plus” in a bit...) Once installed the unit configures like the other M-class players allowing you to select video resolution, enable blacker-than-black and Deep Color, and choose preferred audio soundtracks. (Note the added red box indicating the restricted component video resolution settings.)




While some had initially hoped that the M700 would allow internal decoding of high-res audio formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master, it does not. It will pass these formats along in bitstream for decoding by a capable processor/receiver. (One Kaleidescape power user has unlocked the “Kobayashi Maru” workaround for getting high-res audio onto Meridian systems. If anyone is interested, reach out to me and I will gladly get you in touch with them.)


OK, so how does the M700 work? When it isn’t importing or housing discs, it works just like any other M-class player; it streams and plays back anything that is stored on the server. You get the same Kaleidescape GUI and user interface and experience that you either A) already know and love B) have read about and are jealously hoping to own one day or C) have no idea what I’m talking about, at which point I’m surprised you’ve even read this far. (For anyone wanting to know more about Kaleidescape, here are some links:

On adding the Modular Disc Vault to store all of my Blu-ray discs,

the new, lower-priced Cinema One system,

my 4-year old daughter, Lauryn, presenting the AWESOME Kid’s remote,

and an official review of the M500 Blu-ray player.)


For $5995, you get a component that is WAY more than just an M500 player and MDV. For one, you get the obvious 220 additional storage slots. With Blu-ray discs needing to be somewhere “on the system,” these extra slots are invaluable for Blu-ray collectors. With TV series on Blu-ray becoming increasingly more popular – Twilight Zone and/or Lost anyone? – it isn’t difficult to quickly amass a large collection. So, this will address that issue. Second, the M700 holds/imports ALL disc types, unlike the MDV that only handles Blu-ray discs. For customers looking to ditch all of their jewel cases and yet retain the physical disc, this provides an excellent storage and organizational solution.


“Hey, where’s my Star Wars disc?”


“Which one?”


“The first one. Star Wars, Star Wars."


"You mean Episode IV? A New Hope."


"Yeah. That one."


"Which version?"


"That re-re-release of the original trilogy. The theatrical version.”


“Where Han shots first and with just 2-channel audio?”


“Yeah.”


“Why do you want to watch that?”


“Look, I just do, OK! Where is it?”


“In the vault! With all of the other discs!”


Having all of your discs – well, at least 320 of them – housed inside the vault, you will quickly and rapidly be able to find anything in your collection and eliminate a town of shelf clutter. For some people, that’s pretty cool. (I’m weird; I like to hang onto my jewel boxes. But, I’m an admitted hoarder and I hang on to EVERYTHING.)


For me, the coolest thing – and how I see the M700 adding the most value to both dealers and new users – was the all-mighty power of the greatly simplified import process. Now, it isn’t like it is especially difficult to import discs into the Kaleidescape system currently. Open tray, insert disc, press import button, wait 3 – 60 minutes (depending on format) until tray opens and repeat over and over until finished. But for new users – or power users that frequently purchase tons of discs at once – this can be a time-consuming process. And I’ll be honest, prior to receiving the M700 I hadn’t bothered to load a single CD onto my Kaleidescape system. Not...one...single...audio disc. It wasn’t because I didn't want to enjoy the music; it was just that I didn’t want to spend all of the time doing it! But with the vault, it was SO easy that it would feel lame not to. So, that’s what I did. I pulled all those jewel cases out, liberated the shiny discs and fed them into the M700 just as fast as I could unbox them.




And that’s what I imagine all new users – or their dealers – will do with the vault; use it as a turbo-loader to fast-blast content onto the system. The M700 will accept discs virtually as fast as you can feed them into it -- I'd say at least one per second -- and that is the extent of the effort required. There are no buttons to press no doors to close, just insert discs and walk away. Once all of the discs have been loaded, the carousel spins and whirs and identifies every disc and then goes about the process of importing any new content. (I asked why it didn’t immediately start importing once a disc was identified, something that would cut the number of carouself spinds literally in half, and Kaleidescape responded, “We believe that identifying a disc is important to do quickly because you may be putting a Blu-ray Disc back into the vault. In this case, you may want to watch the movie, and you may want to do so before all the imports are done. Note that if you interrupt an import by inserting a disc, it will resume where it left off if it’s a Blu-ray Disc. (DVD and CD imports start over from scratch.)” So, there you have it.)


When it is importing the front panel display looks something like this:




and the Web GUI lists how many discs are waiting to be identified and imported: (And, unrelated, just re-watched the Rocky movies...having them at your fingertips is one of the huge boons of the Kaleidescape system. And I gotta say, those movies are just *great* fun. Rocky II is definitely my favorite. "He's all wrong for us, baby. I saw you beat that man like I never saw no man get beat before, and the man kept coming after you. Now we don't need no man like that in our lives!" Would I have pulled that old movie out to rewatch it? Maybe, but probably not. With Kaleidescape presenting it to me for instant viewing? Absolutely.)




You can see from this image that importing times are quite speedy, taking between 3 - 5 minutes, and on par with what I experienced with front panel imports from my M500 player:




The functional upside to this is that I was able to load in a ton of discs before going to bed, and then when I woke up in the morning, have all of that new content ready and available for use. This will be a giant aide to anyone purchasing a new Kaleidescape system and will eliminate one of the biggest hassles for new owners. (Also, I can envision larger Kaleidescape dealers keeping an M700 on hand to pre-load client’s collections to deliver a fully loaded and working system. Many third party companies charge for this service; the M700 now offers dealers an additional service opportunity to their clients.) This will also make it easier for dealers to sell some of Kaleidescape’s pre-packaged movie collections as the mass importing of so many discs will now be a non-issue.


When the system is finished importing everything, the front panel displays current status. (Assuming, of course, that you haven’t turned all the lights off in the installer GUI.) (While I left my loaner at the default generic name of "Disc Vault - 0600 00000039" you could rename this to whatever you'd like. Say something rogue like adding an extra 0...)




Removing discs is easy; from the front panel you are given the option of removing all CDs, all DVDs, all Blu-rays or ALL discs. Initiating that command causing the unit to spit out discs in the order they were originally added; first in, first out. Single discs can be ejected from either the on-screen or Web GUI.




My only real nit with the M700 is that I had hoped it would be a true player. I envisioned it and a server being the ultimate system configuration, allowing users to store a phenomenal amount of content in just two components. However, the M700 is not equipped to handle rental discs, something that I do quite a bit of. So while you could use it as a standalone system – importing rental discs, watching them and then deleting them upon return -- you would A) be violating Kaleidescape’s EULA on DVDs and CDs and B) would have the hassle of having to wait up to an hour for the Blu-ray to import before you could watch it. I would love the ability to be able to insert a single disc which is instantly available for viewing – without importing – for those times when I get a Netflix title. (Assuming, of course, I don’t cancel the service after their latest bit of skullduggery.  And, seriously, is that not a great word?)


Kaleidescape said they considered – and debated – allowing this feature but ultimately felt it would only add confusion and complicate the system’s ease of use. Put in disc, it imports, no fuss no muss. And, while I totally get that, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to have my cake and eat it too! Owners that do more buying than renting would be totally fine using the M700 as their principal player.


The other notable feature of the new KEAOS 4.2 operating system is the addition of Kaleidescape Scenes. Kaleidescape has gone in and added hand-selected and bookmarked scenes to many movies. While the ability to add – and even share with other users – favorite scenes has been around for awhile, this has been one of those things where I – and I’m guessing many others – have just frankly been too lazy to do. And, it seriously couldn't be any easier to do. I mean I even have a "Start Favorite" and "End Favorite" button on my URC remote for heaven's sake! But now, I don’t have to rely on myself to do this, but rather sit back and enjoy the scenes that Kaleidescape has selected for me. This was a great way to sample some of the best moments from films -- generally there are 3 to 5 scenes selected per film -- or get a “Cliff’s Notes” flavor of a movie. Scene examples include "I Know Kung Fu" from The Matrix, "The Long Rock Wall & the Oak Tree" from The Shawshank Redemption, "The Race Home" from Ferris Bueller and "Come with Me If You Want to Live" from T2. Kaleidescape will continue building on the scenes library, adding additional titles on a regular, on-going basis. Just another of those things that makes the Kaleidescape system so unique and amazing.


Kaleidescape has a current “Puppy dog loaner” program going where you can experience a system in your own home. If you’ve always been intrigued about it, now is a perfect time to set up an audition for yourself. Unfortunately, the M700 is not included…but trust me, you’ll want to buy one! And starting today, you can.

Categories: July 2011, Reviews, Electronics

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