Kaleidescape Cinema One review

The Kaleidescape Cinema One is the company's first consumer-focused media server. But at $4,000 it's only for consumers with deep pockets.
Photo of Kaleidescape Cinema One

Kaleidescape is a California-based company that makes media servers for large and custom home theater systems. In the twelve years it’s been around, it has become known for creating complicated, powerful systems that cost tens of thousands of dollars to store all of your movies and music into one place, retaining all of the quality and content you’d get from the physical discs. It’s been a name well-known among home theater installers, but has only now gone into the consumer market with its first media server intended for purchase and setup without assistance. It’s called the Kaleidescape Cinema One, and it’s an impressive home theater component.

It’s also $3,995 (direct), so it’s not exactly accessible to the average consumer. That’s as much as eight high-end Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray players, or seven top-of-the-line TiVo DVRs. On one hand, it means you can rip your entire DVD and CD collection to a single box and have a curated, responsive library of movies and music at your fingertips that stores every scene, trailer, and extra from your discs. On the other hand, it’s extremely expensive and requires an additional pricey piece of gear to offer the same convenient experience with your Blu-ray disc library.

Design
The Cinema One is a large brick, albeit a very stylish large brick. At 2.8 by 17 by 10 inches (HWD) and 10.2 pounds, it’s comparable to the Oppo BDP-103, which is large for a Blu-ray player. Its front panel is a glossy white framed with gray metal that covers the player’s body. The front holds a slot-loading Blu-ray drive and Eject, Power, and Source buttons, with a glowing Kaleidescape logo between them. Around back, there are minimal inputs and outputs: a single HDMI port, stereo RCA and coaxial audio outputs, a USB port, an Ethernet port, and a port for an infrared receiver if you want to put the box behind cabinet doors. It conspicuously lacks an optical audio output, but HDMI is more than functional enough, especially if your home theater uses a separate A/V receiver to handle audio (which, if you can spend $4,000 on a media server, is very likely).

The included remote looks like a slightly translucent satellite or cable box remote. It’s simple to use, but you have plenty of other options for controlling the Cinema One. An iOS app lets you browse your library and manage playback from your iPhone or iPad. Ethernet support for home theater and automation systems let you integrate the Cinema One into your already present (and very expensive) Crestron or Control4 custom control system. Currently, there’s no Android app. You can also get the $39 Child Remote, a simplified and colorful remote that restricts kids to browsing movies you add to the Cinema One’s Child collection.

The interface is simple and easy to use, though it gets less functional the prettier it gets. Your media is separated into “Movies,” which includes both films and television shows, and “Songs,” which includes all of your albums. Each category can be viewed in an alphabetized list with cross-referencing options for directors, bands, and genres between each choice. You can also view each category in a grid that shows the cover art of your movies or albums. It looks much nicer, but it’s much more difficult to navigate, with the order of choices seemingly random or near-random. The choices shuffle based on whatever the cursor is pointing at, arranging movies and television shows the Cinema One thinks are most like that choice around it. This means you can do some very nice zen-like browsing of your media library, but you can’t flip through a grid of movie or album art arranged alphabetically.

Importing Movies
The library-building process is very easy to learn. Connect the Cinema One to the Internet using an Ethernet connection or the included Wi-Fi adapter. Insert a CD, DVD, or Blu-ray into the slot-loading drive. After a few seconds, the Cinema One will identify the disc and give you the option or playing or importing it. Importing copies all content from the disc to the hard drive, a process which takes about half an hour per DVD. Once the CD or DVD is imported, you can play it from the library menu even when the disc isn’t in the drive. It becomes part of the collection stored on the Cinema One’s hard drive.

Blu-ray is trickier. Because of copy protection, you need to have the Blu-ray disc in the optical drive to play a movie you copied to the hard drive. Kaleidescape offers a workaround for this with the DV700 Disc Vault, $5,495 accessory that can hold up to 320 Blu-ray discs. If the Cinema One detects the Disc Vault Connected and reads that the movie in your collection is in the disc vault, it plays the content of the disc from the copy it imported to the hard drive, making it load much faster. It’s still inconvenient, and makes an already expensive and bulky home theater component much more expensive and bulky.

If you don’t want to bother with a Blu-ray carousel that costs almost one and a half times the Cinema One itself to add high-definition movies to your library, you can go through Kaleidescape’s own movie and television store. The store has about 2,800 movies and television shows, which is paltry compared to the libraries available on Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon, and Vudu. Only a fraction of the titles available are of actual Blu-ray quality; the rest are all DVD quality. Like imported discs, movies and television shows you download from the Kaleidescape store have all relevant extra features and menu systems.

Curated Experience
While you can load any DVD (or Blu-ray if you have the Disc Vault) you’ve imported into the Cinema One as its own disc, most titles offer much more convenient watching features that let you skip automatically to the movie or specific scenes without navigating the disc’s own menus. Kaleidescape handles its own metadata information, which means your collection can become a highly curated, searchable library once you import it. Kaleidescape adds text descriptions to scene breaks in many movies, letting you jump straight to specific scenes, and television series can be organized by their season and have immediate jumps to each episode.

This curated navigation doesn’t apply to all imported discs, though. When I imported season two of Dexter on DVD, all four discs were added to a single Dexter season two menu item, with each episode labeled for instant access. However, when I imported the motion comic Marvel Knights: Inhumans on DVD, I only got the “Play Movie” option, which began playing a featurette from the beginning track of the disc instead of the motion comic itself. I could still load the DVD from the hard drive and navigate all of the features and scenes in the disc’s menu system, but the convenient movie and scene playback features weren’t available. The DVD included with Jurassic Park 3D on Blu-ray was a mixed bag, with a handful of scene selections but all other features only available through the disc’s menu.

Kaleidescape sent us a Cinema One preloaded with a selection of movies, television shows, and music to test, and we further expanded its library with several ripped DVDs and films credited to us from the Kaleidescape store. With the exception of the Marvel Knights motion comic, everything we loaded onto the Cinema One integrated well, with relevant metadata for searching and scene information for flipping to preset scenes.

The box can hold up to 600 DVDs or 100 Blu-ray discs worth of content, give or take a few. If you want to expand your collection, you can connect another Cinema One to double the capacity (and price), or add a Kaleidescape Premiere server. Servers can store between 1,800 DVDs (or 325 Blu-ray discs) and 7,200 DVDs (or 1,300 Blu-ray discs), depending on the size of the server. However, like the Disc Vault, Premiere servers are very, very expensive.

Speed
Besides the convenience of having all of your movies and music at your fingertips instead of having to juggle discs, the Cinema One has the added benefit of being much, much faster than discs. Films from both DVDs and Blu-rays loaded in just a few seconds, when even the best Blu-ray players take between ten and twenty seconds just to start showing the warnings and trailers on the disc. Flipping between different movies felt as fast and responsive as changing channels on a cable box, and they loaded faster than it usually takes Netflix to start streaming a movie or show.

The Kaleidescape Cinema One is a great way to put all of your DVDs and CDs together in a single media server. It’s also a really, really expensive way, even if the $4,000 component is the company’s first consumer-oriented product. It’s hobbled by Blu-ray copy protection, and unless you’re willing to spend a total of $10,000 on the Cinema One and the Disc Vault, you’ll have to be content with just storing your DVD library and flipping between Blu-ray discs when you want to watch a high-definition movie. A few years ago, this would have been the holy grail of home theaters, but without a way to compile all of your Blu-ray discs into a seamless library without disc-switching it doesn’t justify its hefty price. If you can afford a full Kaleidescape system for your custom home theater, by all means pick one up. Otherwise, invest in shelves and learn to appreciate the exercise of walking across your living room.

Specifications
Internal Storage 4,000 GB
Web Browser No
Online Content Services Kaleidescape Store
Tuner None
Blu-ray Yes
Wi-Fi Compatibility Yes
Smartphone/Tablet Control Yes
USB Ports 1
DLNA No

Verdict
The Kaleidescape Cinema One is the company's first consumer-focused media server, but at $4,000 it's only for consumers with deep pockets.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc