Kaleidescape Tackles Complete 4K Ecosystem with Strato Player and UHD Content
Kaleidescape launched the Strato 4K UHD movie server at CEDIA 2015, but there’s a bigger story behind the black box. CEO Cheena Srinivasan discusses hardware, Sony 4K films and perennial disdain for streaming media.
Julie Jacobson · October 27, 2015
Kaleidescape, the 12-year-old maker of arguably the best movie servers for the home, presented its opus at CEDIA Expo 2015: the Strato 4K Ultra HD movie server with support for HDR (high dynamic range) video and losless Dolby Atmos surround sound. Concurrently, the company announced an agreement with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment that will make 4K titles available through the online Kaleidescape Movie Store.
“This is going to rock and shake CEDIA,” said Kaleidescape CEO Cheena Srinivasan in an interview with CE Pro just before CEDIA, the leading tradeshow for home technology integrators. “It’s the world’s most advanced 4K movie player.”
First, the hardware.
The Strato (MSRP $4,495 with 6TB storage, $3,495 without) is a powerful piece of hardware that supports lossless multichannel audio and 4K video with HDR at 60 frames per second. Movies are downloaded from the Kaleidescape Movie Store into the Strato player itself and/or the company’s new Terra Movie Server.
There isn’t a whole lot of 4K content available now for download, but there are a heck of a lot of 4K-enabled displays out there. So Kaleidescape packed upscaling algorithms into the box to render 1080p content in 4K resolution.
Most of the name-brand 4K TVs today already do a good job of upscaling HD content internally, but Srinivasan says scaling quality differs from display to display and suggests, “Let the TV do its regular job, and let us do the processing.”
The processing becomes even more important in whole-house applications, where multiple streams of video are distributed to multiple players, and content must be optimized for each player and the attached display.
That’s where the new Terra Movie Server comes into play. The device provides computing and caching services that “enhance the performance” of each player on the network, including the new Strato and the existing Alto – the Atmos-capable player that was introduced last year. The Alto ($2,295 without storage) supports bit-for-bit DVD and Blu-ray downloads, but not 4K.
Kaleidescape says the Terra can simultaneously stream 4K movies to up to seven Strato players, or Blu-ray quality films to up to 15 players (Strato or Alto). Together, these three products comprise Kaleidescape’s new Encore line, which can support up to 50 players on a single network.
The Encore line, which also includes multi-disc carousels, has “pretty much the same architecture” of earlier Kaleidescape systems, says Srivinasan. “But from the ground up, every single part is brand new. We had to leap-frog existing technologies.”
The Terra will be available in November; the Strato in Q1 2016.
4K Content and the Kaleidescape Ecosystem
Kaleidescape introduced its Movie Store in 2012 in an effort to move customers from DVD hard discs (a long-time legal bane for the manufacturer) to downloadable bit-for-bit renditions. The company added Blu-ray-quality videos to the store in 2013.
And now it’s time for the next generation of content: 4K Ultra HD video with Dolby Atmos surround sound.
In conjunction with the Strato announcement at CEDIA, Kaleidescape revealed a licensing agreement with Sony Pictures to offer 4K Ultra HD films for download from the Movie Store. Each Strato sold will include five downloadable Sony flicks of the customer’s choice.
Kaleidescape customers also can upgrade their previously purchased UltraViolet SD and HD Sony Pictures titles to 4K Ultra HD format, where available.
4K titles will cost about $30 per movie, compared to the going rate of $10 to $20 for HD movies.
Like all Kaleidescape downloads, the titles are owned by the customer for unlimited playback within the Kaleidescape ecosystem.
“To be able to license the highest quality requires the highest level of security,” Srinivasan says, “like give-away-your-first-child level of security.”
Dave Donald's excellent presentation of the Kaleidescape Strato movie player and Terra server at CEDIA Expo 2015
But security is only one of the challenging fundamentals in creating a premium entertainment experience. You also need scalability – for both the network and the content. Kaleidescape has that, supporting up to 50 players and up to 4k/60 resolution. And you need local storage, which Kaleidescape offers in both the Strato itself (optional) and the Terra server. The final piece, content, is coming together with an expanding library of studios and titles.
The store currently offers 11,000 movies and 1,500 television seasons, including 100 Ultra HD titles.
Srivinasan says of the Strato and the Kaleidescape ecosystem, “The reason why there’s nothing else like it is because rather than just making a device, we take a holistic approach – the device plus service.”
That service, by the way, includes a perennially favorite user interface (to be rendered in 4K with Strato), as well as a highly curated content database that includes 260,000 records, each of which contains more than 100 data points, including hand-picked bookmarks for crowd-pleasing scenes.
And Still ... No Streaming
If there’s one thing missing in all of this, it’s the availability of streaming content in Kaleidescape’s world.
Today (or soon), you can stream 4K content from the likes of Roku 4 ($129), Amazon Fire TV ($99) and Nanotech Nuvola ($299) through services including Netflix, Amazon, UltraFlix, YouTube, M-Go and more.
But you can’t do it through a $3,500 Kaleidescape player.
That’s been a frustration among Kaleidescape users and dealers, dating all the way back to the early days of video streaming. The company has never supported it in the past and does not plan to allow it in the near future. It’s just not good enough for discriminating customers, according to Srinivasan and his Kaleidescape co-founder Michael Malcolm before him.
“At the highest level, the vision has never changed,” Srivinasan says. “We are the purveyor of the finest immersive entertainment experience for the home. … We are the go-to device for every customer and dealer that needs the best.”
Customers, he says, will invest in a good TV and then be disappointed by the video quality: “The pixels are still lit up, but the quality is lossy. Lossiness is OK when you have a smaller TV but not for larger sizes. ... You need a device with a hard drive for storage. It’s not good enough to rely on multiple hops from the Internet.””
Without live-streaming capabilities, though, Kaleidescape users have to plan ahead, especially with 4K movies.
Srinivasan says he can download a 4K movie in 45 minutes to an hour with his 120 Mbps broadband service.
Bottom line, according to Srinivasan: “No one else can do what we’re doing because we have a decade long of expertise. We are the only ones that have brought it all together.”
His objective is for home technology integrators to include Kaleidescape products in 25 percent of their home theater projects.
NEXT PAGE: Kaleidescape Strato, Encore, Sony press releases from CEDIA Expo 2015 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - JULIE JACOBSON
Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org
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