Kaleidescape Mini System Music and DVD Server Review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

 
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post #1 of 9 Old 09-26-09, 07:59 AM Thread Starter
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Kaleidescape Mini System Music and DVD Server Review

Kaleidescape Mini System Music and DVD Server

By: Dr. Ken Taraska

The easier it is to enjoy your movie and music software, the more you will reap from the collection. If you don't believe me, just count the number of iPods you see in a day. Having the disc you want to see or hear immediately at your fingertips makes you more likely to simply enjoy it. Kaleidescape has been one of the preeminent entertainment servers in the world, allowing just this type of access for movies and music throughout your entire home, regardless of its size or the number of zones you desire. Their new Mini System is a scaled-down, free-standing version of their system, but still packs plenty of punch and expandability. The Mini System allows for one primary zone capable of audio or video and two additional zones that can independently control and distribute audio-only. Base price for the Mini System starts at $7,995, with 500 GB of storage, capable of providing 1080p video to one zone and audio to three.

The Mini System is not locked into its base configuration. You can add two more 500 GB hard drives ($595 each), as well as Mini Players ($1,995), which each add video and audio to additional zones. For those with larger movie and music collections Kaleidescape offers the 1U and 3U Servers, which allow whole-home access to huge libraries of thousands of DVDs and CDs. The Kaleidescape system keeps all data in a RAID array. Therefore, one drive in all systems is for back-up; each additional drive adds storage. Each 500 GB can hold up to 75 DVDs or 825 CDs, give or take, all of which are loaded and stored on the unit in completely native uncompressed format.

The Kaleidescape Mini System connects to your display by either HDMI, component, S-Video or composite connectors, and offers coaxial and optical digital outputs, as well as stereo analog outs for the main zone and each of the two additional zones and an RS-232 control port. A USB and Ethernet port round out the rear of the unit. The fronts and sides are finished in a white plastic; the front glows blue when powered on. The Kaleidescape logo sits dead center over a small arc of charcoal and the IR sensor. The front panel flips down to reveal the power button, four hard drive bays, a DVD drive, play, import and eject buttons. The remote is pretty simple, yet highly effective, offering a numeric pad, transport buttons and a five button control, as well as movie and music symbols for quick access, info, intermission, shuffle, now playing and both DVD menu and system menu buttons. The remote is smoothly peanut-shaped and, with the exception of the lower half not being backlit, is one of the finest remotes I have ever received with a product. The remote worked so well that I assumed it was RF, but when I finally and completely covered the front, it didn't work, proving it was just an exceptional IR remote. A simple touch of any key brings on beautiful blue backlighting to the keys that is easy to use while not being obnoxious in a dark room.

When I first fired up the Kaleidescape system, I was worried I hadn't received a manual of operation. I later figured out why. The functionality of this system is so intuitive that there is no manual. You simply select menu, movie or music, and can scan either in a list or by cover art. When using the cover art method, pausing on any cover will reorganize the remaining covers, placing similar types of discs nearby, so if you pick Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy might pop up next to it, while that old Queensryche CD of yours won't be shown at all. The same goes for films: pick a horror film and other scary films and films with similar actors jump into place. You can select music by artist, album, genre, release year and disc time. Movies adds cast, rating and director.

Web-based access allows for deeper control and programming. I will not go into much detail here, as it is assumed those buying the Mini System are having a dealer install the system and they will handle most of the more complicated set-up for other zones, etc. Despite its up-front ease of use, there are plenty of neat tricks hidden. You can program custom intros to movies for that true theater experience, without the ads and waiting in line for popcorn. Your favorite scenes can be marked and combined, allowing you to make for the coolest, most extreme demos for your fellow home theater nuts, or to cut together concert videos in a live music collection or even to bypass those hours of boredom between cute scenes in your home movies. You can customize play lists just as easily. When watching shows, if you pause them and then go back, be it six minutes or six weeks later, the system will keep track of where you left off, so you will never have to waste time finding your place. Movies output Dolby Digital 5.1 over any of the digital outputs.

The Hookup
Few things have been as simple to connect as the Kaleidescape Mini System. I unboxed the device, which ships as a free-standing unit, but also includes the rack mounts, placed it on my rack and connected power, Ethernet and HDMI cables. Literally within minutes, I was up and running and able to watch or listen to any of the 84 DVDs or 99 CDs preloaded onto my review sample. To add music or movies of my own, I only had to open the front fascia of the device, place the disc into the tray and click the "import" button. The Mini System searched the Internet for all the metadata and imported the disc for me. Importing CDs took about seven minutes for an hour disc. Once the data is imported, the Kaleidescape system requires you to confirm that you actually own the disc for copyright reasons. Movies take longer to import and, depending on size, can take 15 to 20 minutes. To truly torture-test the system, I attempted to import several adult titles, none of which were recognized by the server, so they would have had to be imported without metadata. I am not just referring to esoteric small studio either; movies from the likes of Vivid and Pink Visual were unrecognized as well. I understand (thanks to a good source who owns a full Kaleidescpe system and enough to open a rental store that would be deemed obscene in most communities) that adult titles can be imported as long as the UPC is entered in the web system, though I didn't go to the trouble of doing it.

Large disc collections will take days of constant disc-swapping and is a job best completed by your installer, utilizing a mass loading system. Once your collection is in the system, adding a disc here or there will not be a problem, as the system can import data in the background during normal operation. To truly test audio from the player, I connected it to my Krell Evolution 707 AV preamp by HDMI, single-ended analog and coaxial digital connectors, and switched between them for music and videos. Video was handled by my Sony XBR2 70 inch rear-projection HDTV.

Performance
From an audio standpoint, the Mini System did well on tracks such as Jimi Hendrix's famed live version of "Machine Gun" from Live at the Fillmore East (Universal). The sound was full and rich, though lacking the huge space and air I find with true audiophile source components. Bass was solid, but lacked some slam and low-end depth. The timber of the instruments was pleasant to hear, with no harshness or glare. The fast guitar riffs on "Izabella" were lively, but again lacked the space and air of a great source. Generally, there was a slightly closed-in nature to the sound of the Kaleidescape system. Things sounded right, which is a huge part of music reproduction; they just didn't quite make the ultimate audiophile grade. The sound was not bad in any way, and in fact was better than many highly-rated players I have heard timber-wise. For its intended use of whole-home music distribution, it would do fantastically well. I found the closed-in nature present with both digital and analog outputs of the unit, though in my set-up, the digital was a bit open.

I imported a favorite disc of mine, Tori Amos' Boys for Pele (Atlantic/WEA) and cued up "Mohammad My Friend." The bass of the Boesendorfer piano was a bit soft and, again, the soundstage was closed-in. More aggressive music, like Arctic Monkeys' Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (Domino), left me a bit flat. The raw guitars of "Still Take You Home" lacked air and seemed smaller than when spun on any of my other players. Even the more subtle nature of "Riot Van" seemed confined on the Kaleidescape.

Ironman was pre-loaded onto the Kaleidescape system I received, so I cued it up and watched it as one of my first movies on the system. Audio came across in Dolby Digital 5.1 and the DVD's native 480i video was scaled by the Kaleidescape to 1080p for my display. The video was well-scaled and the movie was a pleasure to watch, with solid dynamics and clear vocals. This is not to say it bested the Blu-ray version. It didn't, neither in audio nor video performance, but the client interested in this system isn't always sitting in a reference home theater. Often, he or she might be watching a video in the bathroom or on the deck or kitchen and the performance of this system is not only good enough, but likely overkill for these applications. I kept thinking of the levels of luxury that this product brings to the table, especially in a distributed audio and video system throughout a large modern home.

The Downside
The music interface is nice, and being able to search both by categories and album art makes for fun and "wow" factor, but I prefer the ease of searching even a small library with my AppleTV to the Mini System. The scrolling on the Mini System has two speeds and, for larger libraries, the fastest would leave you waiting all day to scan the collection.

I found the metadata to be a bit soft on the Kaleidescape system. The data obtained was pretty basic. Sure, it had album, songs, band, composer, year recorded, etc., but I couldn't dive into esotery of the album the way the Meridian Sooloos system allows you to do. If I wanted all songs with Noel Redding on bass, for example, the Sooloos would let me do this. This is even more an issue for jazz and classical fans, who know how important it is to know which performer is playing your chosen piece. The metadata is much better than average overall, as there are high-end music servers that can't even get band names right (think: Jimi Hendrix spelled three different ways, Yes spelled with caps and no caps, or Prince listed for every permutation of his band, not to mention his Symbol era). It's just that there are servers that take it to even higher levels. Consider the Mini System an 8.5 out of 10 for metadata in comparison with the rest of the field.

The last thing I have to pick on the Mini System for is that, while it scales video to 1080p, the video it is scaling is 480i. Rumors abound, and Kaleidescape confirms, that a Blu-laser (they do not say Blu-ray) drive-equipped system will be out by the end of the year. I am not sure if the current unit will be able to be retrofit this or whether this will require purchase of an entirely new unit to allow true HD content to be sent throughout your home. If and when it does come, I suspect importing will take significantly longer than it does now and the storage required will be vastly larger than what is already needed. My Mini System came with one terabyte of storage and, with its 84 DVDs and 99 CDs, only 35 gigs were left, only enough for a handful of movies or maybe 100 more CDs. Clearly, even modest collections will require additional storage units. Lastly, the system provides no wireless Internet access, which is likely not a problem for a client having a home completely set up for distributed audio, but it could be a headache for those who want to retrofit this unit into an older home.

Conclusion
The ability to control all your DVD movies and music from one central hub and to distribute it throughout your home is a huge convenience and one that cannot be underestimated. Thanks to being designed for AMX and Crestron systems, the Mini System allows those with the bank accounts to own it a rock-solid easy-to-use closed-ended system interface that will simplify and enhance the entire family's enjoyment of their music and movie collection. Parents can use parental controls to ensure their children won't see movies they deem inappropriate, and as your CD and DVD collections grow, so too can the Kaleidescape system. Even if your house grows, you can add more zones to the system.

No matter how hard I try not to think about cost when doing a review, it is tough not to ding this system for value, and not just the system, which isn't cheap. What gets me is the gouging of the consumer for the hard disc drives that you must use in all Kaleidescape systems. 500 GB laptop drives are cheap and getting cheaper every day. A quick Google search showed any number of these available for less than $90. While Kaleidescape does enhance the strength of the drive, adding a case and cool release mechanism, I highly doubt that makes their $595 price for each drive even remotely reasonable. Factor in the need for large amounts of storage, and the cost of even a simple system for a modest library of a few hundred DVDs can skyrocket unnecessarily.

The Kaleidescape user interface is very simple and intuitive to use, but partially due to this, I found it cumbersome for even the 100 CDs I had on mine, much less the 1,000 I keep on my main computer. I found searching my library easier on my AppleTV than the one a tenth the size on the Kaleidescape system, though clearly the Kaleidescape system is more expandable and versatile and allows for multi-zone control from integrated wall panels, which clearly my AppleTV never will. I love AppleTV, but its lack of RS-232 control makes is unsuitable for a large installation like the CEDIA-type of unit that allows installers to make a living. For that type of system, the hard-wired control and closed-ended architecture makes Kaleidescape better than AppleTV and any media center PC that I have seen to date.

The Kaleidescape Mini System is a true luxury for those with large homes that are designed to be wired to the hilt with the best in audio and music entertainment. The interface is easy to use for the whole family and, with a few extra hard drives, you can have a moo baby moo of a collection of music and movies available to you anywhere in your home at the touch of a finger. In a world where source components cost hundreds of dollars, the best AV dealers and installers say it best when they tell you, "It only takes two or three minutes before a client's wife is firing up her favorite movies and the Kaleidescape system is sold." The Kaleidescape is the ultimate new-school source for today's luxury home's distributed audio and video system.

Chrisy

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post #2 of 9 Old 09-26-09, 11:33 AM
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Re: Kaleidescape Mini System Music and DVD Server Reviewed

Compared to the well-rounded Apple Mini, the ease of use of an Apple TV, or the power and flexibility of systems like the Popcorn Hour, it seems that you've heaped the Kaleidescape with faint praise. Reading between the lines seems to indicate that a fool and his money are soon parted.
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post #3 of 9 Old 01-20-11, 02:54 PM
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Re: Kaleidescape Mini System Music and DVD Server Review

I love the Kaleidescape interface, it's simply beautiful! But unfortunately, even with the lower cost servers, I still believe it's too highly priced. It's great if you can afford such luxury, but I keep attempting to imitate most of its features with my HTPC's Boxee, XBMC and iTunes apps, all at a fraction of the cost. But when I win the lotto...
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post #4 of 9 Old 01-20-11, 03:24 PM
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Re: Kaleidescape Mini System Music and DVD Server Review

I will swap my own DVDs until the lotto as well.


"its exercise get off your butt ya bum"
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post #5 of 9 Old 01-20-11, 03:39 PM
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Re: Kaleidescape Mini System Music and DVD Server Review

Exercise is always good Andre, but I have way too many DVD's to have to pick through them all. I did what Hollyweird hates and backed up my complete collection, except my Blu-rays to my HTPC. The ease of viewing using alpha, via actor, genre, etc., and using DVD cover art is way to sweet. Besides, I'm lazy, if I could automate my dog and have her walk herself, then I'd do it.
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post #6 of 9 Old 01-20-11, 04:08 PM
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Re: Kaleidescape Mini System Music and DVD Server Review

I have "tried" to digitize. I went out and bought a WD TV and a 2TB USB HD. I couldn't figure out how to make it look like what is on the WD site.

My wife bought the software and barcode reader form collectorz.com, purchased 4 Ziotek DVD carousel. It was supposed to let you scoll through covers by gene or whatever when you find the one you want, click and the software finds the DVD in the appropriate carousel and pops it out for you, couldn't get that to work properly either. The carousels work so we printed out our library sorted 3 different ways and put it in a binder.

The Blurays now ocuppy the shelving. Lotto happens I will hire someone to explain to me in cassette 8 track terms what I did wrong.
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post #7 of 9 Old 01-20-11, 04:34 PM
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Re: Kaleidescape Mini System Music and DVD Server Review

Well, this probably isn't the right area to point you in the direction of how to make cover art work, but it's not that hard. Try using a media center application, like Boxee, XBMC or Plex on the mac. Copy all your media to the hard drives and have the software search for the titles. Worked like a charm for me, and it didn't require much effort. I did have a few DVD titles that required renaming to match the IMDB library source, but not many. I also considered purchasing the Western Digital WD TV Live Hub Media Center WDBABZ0010BBK-NESN, but since I've built an untold number of PC's and even a few macs, I went ahead and constructed a more versatile HTPC to run the software and access the hard drives. Love it! I also like Popcorn Hour and am currently evaluating their offerings before making my purchase. But no Kaleidescape for now, way to expensive for me.

Last edited by Powerhead; 01-20-11 at 04:42 PM.
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post #8 of 9 Old 01-20-11, 04:46 PM
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Re: Kaleidescape Mini System Music and DVD Server Review

XBMC looks very nice...still need a geek to make it work though. I have a bunch of old computer parts I could feed one, nothing useful, modems, old memory, wires...etc. They are hard to catch though
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post #9 of 9 Old 01-20-11, 05:03 PM
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Re: Kaleidescape Mini System Music and DVD Server Review

I am a geek. Computers just float my boat. I'm always tinkering. I have a 27" iMac for browsing and most of my graphics work, but nothing beats opening the hood of a PC. A HTPC is great because once one 2TB hard drive is full you can stuff it with another. LOL The prices of hard drives is really in the toilet. I'm loving it!
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