Kaleidescape System 3000 Entertainment Server Page 3
Even more intriguing are the system's high-definition capabilities. Up to now, the Kaleidescape System has been designed mainly to serve DVDs, and that is still its primary function. But Kaleidescape did provide some HD content pre-loaded on our review sample: a promotional feature for the Kaleidescape System itself and two documentaries about the Kalahari Desert, which ran about an hour each. They looked superb.
Kaleidescape's plans for providing HD content to its customers is still in flux, but they appear to involve obtaining rights to HD movies, loading them onto removable hard-disk cartridges, and selling them to owners for installation into Servers in the field. This would protect the rights of the content providers, providing the copy-protection scheme meets with their approval. But it's clear that this mode of distribution would be very expensive, especially with the quantity of movies that would be needed on a cartridge for the system to make business sense—and the film selection might not appeal to all customers.
So far, there are no plans to allow the user to load HD programming into the Kaleidescape Server from any current or proposed high-definition format. Redesigning the system so that a consumer could load movies from the upcoming Blu-ray and HD-DVD formats appears highly unlikely; the copy protection on those discs will be far more robust than the system used for DVDs, and it's not presently clear just how flexible the studios might be for HD content in allowing the sort of downloading the Kaleidescape System employs. But the future of such an expensive system demands the availability of a wide selection of high-definition material, not just standard definition. Kaleidescape's pre-loaded cartridges may be the only practical, if pricey, solution. For more on this, see "A Modest Proposal for High-Definition Distribution," in this month's Viewpoint.
Since most Kaleidescape System users will control the system with a high-end touchscreen controller from the likes of Crestron or AMX, the company decided not to include a remote control. They did provide me with a nice universal remote, with which I had no trouble operating the system. I occasionally accessed the controls using a wireless link from my laptop to the external router that was installed with the Kaleidescape System, but this was necessary mainly for setting up Scripts.
One item that was not provided with the Kaleidescape System was a real owner's manual. The two manuals that were included were clearly written for the professional installer, not for explaining the day-to-day operation of the system to the average user. There is apparently a User Guide for the system, but I did not receive it.
Nevertheless, the system is so intuitive that I found my way around its main features without much trouble. I'm still learning new things about it nearly two months after it was installed, and it's a delight to use. As a reviewer, it was a huge time-saver for accessing specific parts of a DVD. I loaded and bookmarked not only some of my favorite test scenes, but DVDs of test patterns as well. The only problem I experienced is that the system would not let me bookmark a still frame as a favorite scene (apart from the cover-art page for a DVD). Since the test patterns on, say, Digital Video Essentials, are stills, they could be accessed and viewed but not assembled in a convenient sequence as a script.
Apart from the few minor quirks I've already mentioned, there really was no downside to the Kaleidescape System—pocketbook issues excepted. Okay, maybe its fan noise; you can hear it in a quiet room, though thankfully it has a tolerable pitch.
Audio and Video
As for the Kaleidescape System's pure performance quality, my first impression was that a film viewed on it actually looked better than from a good, stand-alone DVD player. But is this really possible?
To find out, I compared the sound and image from the Kaleidescape System with the original DVD played back on the Pioneer DV-59AVi—a solid performer. To make a rapid changeover possible, I routed the digital video output of both devices through the DVI switcher on the Outlaw Model 990 preamp-processor. The HDMI outputs of both players were set to 480p. The audio was switched and auditioned through a Denon AVR-5805 receiver, using a coaxial digital connection from both sources.
The source on the Kaleidescape System did look better than the HDMI video from the Pioneer. Its image was clearly sharper, but did not appear over-enhanced in any way. Looking at test patterns proved a little more ambiguous. If I stood really close to the screen, I could barely see what looked like a little more ringing from the han from the Pioneer. But this was totally invisible from my normal viewing seat—certainly not enough to account for the apparent improvement in detail I did see from there. Neither player looked like it was emphasizing any part of the luminance sweep pattern on Digital Video Essentials, but the high-frequency end of the sweep was stronger from the Kaleidescape System. The same proved true of the 6.75MHz response; there was less apparent rolloff from the Kaleidescape System, though the response at this frequency—the upper limit of DVD's capability and a frequency rarely found on most commercial discs—was also clearly visible on the Pioneer.
On the other hand, the color response rolled off much more obviously on the Kaleidescape. This isn't unusual; even Faroudja rolls off the color response at high frequencies in its video processors to minimize deinterlacing artifacts. But otherwise there was no obvious visible difference in the subjective color quality of the two players.
The system's deinterlacing was a mixed bag. (I did all my standard-definition viewing of the Kaleidescape System with its output set to 480p). On the HQV Benchmark DVD (v1.4), it passed the first jaggies test (a rotating bar), failed the second (three rapidly bouncing bars at different diagonal angles), exhibited significant jaggies on the fluttering-flag test, looked excellent on the Detail test, and passed the difficult racetrack-bleacher test.
Kaleidescape states that the system uses Faroudja DCDi deinterlacing technology. The results I obtained were clearly not, in several respects, up to the performance level I have experienced with other products using Faroudja video processing.
Of course, a good outboard video processor could solve these issues, but it really shouldn't be necessary in such an expensive product. On the other hand, the bottom line for me is that in nearly two months living with the Kaleidescape System and viewing all sorts of program material, I can't recall a single instance in which I was distracted by artifacts.
I did encounter one significant video issue. From its HDMI output, at 480p, the Kaleidescape System would not properly display a non-anamorphic, letterbox widescreen DVD with any of the standard aspect-ratio settings on the Yamaha DPX-1200 projector I used for most of this review. Instead, it displayed a properly proportioned widescreen image in the center of a 4:3 area of the screen. That is, it would not fill the screen from left to right. I could get around this by using a special aspect-ratio mode on the Yamaha called Cinema Zoom. But that's a mode you may not find on all projectors. The most common modes—Normal. Zoom, and Squeeze (Full)—would not correct the problem. If your collection contains a large number of such non-anamorphic DVDs, you might want to check to be sure your projector can produce a normal image with the Kaleidescape System. (Kaleidescape reports that the next version of the software will fix this.)
As for audio, the Pioneer sounded a shade brighter and crisper than the Kaleidescape System, which was slightly sweeter and more rounded. But the audio differences were less obvious than the video, and I certainly would not factor audio quality into any buying decision on this product, either pro or con.
The Kaleidescape System is a staggeringly impressive technical achievement. I don't even want to think about the design and programming effort that went into its design. And I don't have to. Once it's set up, it's amazingly simple to operate for such a complex device. There is simply nothing else like it.
Yes, its price is more than a little daunting. I wish I could afford one. Those who can, and take the plunge, will not regret their decision.
Highs and Lows
• Excellent overall performance
• Unrivalled convenience
• Multi-room video capability
• Sticker shock