Kaleidescape Cinema One Review

Kaleidescape Cinema One offers an unrivaled way to manage, enjoy and experience your movie and music collection at the lowest price in the company’s history
Kaleidescape Cinema One offers an unrivaled way to manage, enjoy and experience your movie and music collection at the lowest price in the company’s history
Kaleidescape Cinema One offers an unrivaled way to manage, enjoy and experience your movie and music collection at the lowest price in the company’s history

Highs

  • Phenomenal user interface manages movie and music collections
  • 4TB storage holds 100 Blu-ray/600 DVD/6500 CDs
  • Download store offers true Blu-ray quality downloads
  • Near instantaneous access to movies and iconic “Scenes”
  • Rock solid reliability and performance

Lows

  • Expensive
  • No RAID protection for storage
  • Ripped Blu-rays require disc-in-tray of use of DV700 Disc Vault
  • Doesn’t support 3D titles

Unless you run in crowds that discuss the merits of fractional jet ownership versus the full commitment of buying your own G5 whilst sipping drams of 30-year old single malt or complain over the outrageous charges levied for docking your mega yacht in Monaco, then you probably haven’t experienced a Kaleidescape system outside the pages of a Robb Report.

If you are comfortable installing a Blu-ray player, then you will definitely be able to handle the Cinema One’s installation.

In fact, you might be surprised that Kaleidescape has been in business since 2001 when it pioneered an entirely new entertainment category called the movie server. Like a larger, more powerful iPod with massive storage, Kaleidescape did for movie collections – importing, storing, managing – what other systems were doing with music. Over the past 12 years, the company has continued developing and refining its system, adding features and performance enhancements to stay atop the premium, luxury category it established.

My first experience with Kaleidescape was back in 2003 when I reviewed their initial product offering; a massive DVD-only server capable of storing 440 uncompressed DVDs and costing a credit card-melting $33,000. Since then, performance has improved, storage has increased, features have been added and the cost has been more than cut in half. However, 5-digits are still too much for most people to handle when contemplating a Blu-ray player, regardless of how many bells and whistles it includes. With the introduction of the new sub-$4000 Cinema One, Kaleidescape hopes to attract an entirely new level of clientele. If not exactly priced for mainstream, the Cinema One expands beyond the 1% of Kaleidescape’s Premier Line into the range of movie lovers with more modest means. If your current disc-management system involves some kind of Excel spreadsheet and/or a haphazard pile of discs strewn across cabinets and bookshelves around your house, read on for a much better solution.

Out of the Box

Typically, Kaleidescape systems are sold through its premium dealer channel and require professional installation. In reality, the system installs quite easily and, assuming no networking hijinks, is often up and in running in minutes. With Cinema One, Kaleidescape simplified installation and setup even further, to the point it is selling the system not only through its typical dealer channel, but also via Magnolia and its own on-line store. If you are comfortable installing a Blu-ray player, then you will definitely be able to handle the Cinema One’s installation.

Instead of the plain cardboard box housing most components, Cinema One arrives in an attractive four-color box covered with graphics showing the on-screen user interface and bullet points espousing all of the exciting benefits.

Kaleidescape Cinema One disc driveRemoved from its Styrofoam captivity, the Cinema One is a striking component, with a grey-silver case and a white faceplate. In a rack of bland, black components, the Cinema One makes a strong impression. The front panel is very clean, with a slot-loaded drive that accepts round discs of the Blu-ray, DVD and CD variety and three soft buttons: eject, import and power. In the middle of the player’s front panel is the Kaleidescape logo which glows softly in company-colored orange and blue when powered on. (The front panel smartly dims to all-but-off whenever a movie is started so as not to be a bother in a darkened room.) It measures 17 x 2.8 x 10 (WxHxD-in inches) and weighs a solid 10 pounds.

Around back, the Cinema One has the connections found on a modern Blu-ray player: HDMI, analog and coaxial digital audio output, USB, Ethernet, 1/8-inch infra-red input and connection for the 12-volt power supply.

In a rack of bland, black components, the Cinema One is striking and makes an impression.

Cinema One uses a 4 Terabyte disk drive to store approximately 100 Blu-ray, 600 DVD or 6,500 CDs. There has been some concern over the fact that this is a single drive with no RAID back-up or any way for a user to back-up the drive. This is one of the major differences between the Cinema One and the Premier line of servers which all feature RAID in some form. Should the drive crap the bed, and Kaleidescape be unable to retrieve the data from the drive, then, yes, you would lose all of your content. This would be an epic boning. Any titles purchased from Kaleidescape’s store (discussed below) would automatically be redownloaded from the cloud, the rest would have to be re-imported

Systems ship with one pre-loaded title – a documentary called Gray Eagles – however my review system was delivered with nearly 100 films and almost as many albums along with 10 credits to download movies from Kaleidecape’s online store.

Enclosed in a separate box are the system’s power supply and cable, USB Wi-Fi adapter, HDMI cable and remote control.

Set up

As mentioned, installing the Cinema One is on parity with connecting a modern Blu-ray player. In fact it’s simpler in some ways as there are no Netflix, Amazon or Vudu third-party accounts to try and pair with. For most users, installation will be as simple as connecting an HDMI cable to their A/V system and then either connecting a CAT cable to the LAN or connecting the USB Wi-Fi adapter.

The Cinema One is so simple to install that I actually boxed it up and took it on vacation with my family. We spent a week at a condo in Destin, Florida, and the Cinema One provided the perfect entertainment companion, providing nearly a hundred movies for us when it became too rainy or sunburn-y outside to enjoy the beach.

To simplify installation, Kaleidescape moved the Web-based setup options to an on-screen interface. Hitting “Menu” on the remote and scrolling to “System” and then selecting “Settings” gives a list of multiple configuration options typical to things you would find on many Blu-ray players such as whether the audio is output as bitstream or decoded internally (up to 5-channel PCM), screen aspect ratio and video output resolution (supports up to 1080p24), and Wi-Fi setup for selecting the correct SSID and entering any security passphrase. There are additional setup options for configuring parental controls, language and subtitle preferences (if you prefer to always listen to DTS over Dolby, for instance, the Cinema One will remember this and select that soundtrack for you if it exists).

If you are lucky enough to have an anamorphic front projection system using a 2.35 aspect screen (rather than HDTV’s 16×9), Kaleidescape has a unique feature called CinemaScape that reworks the user interface to take advantage of the wider screen area and also magically reposition subtitles into the viewing area which would otherwise disappear from the bottom of the screen. The CinemaScape processing can also be used to rescale images allowing you to keep the anamorphic lens in place all the time, simplifying operation.

Discs are imported in full, bit-for-bit quality and include all supplements, extra features, language tracks, etc.

The system is expandable, and up to two Cinema Ones can live on a system. When two players are linked, storage size doubles – up to 200 Blu-ray/1,200 DVD/13,000 CDs – and they form a single, unified library. However both players must be hardwired to the network, and cannot stream to each other via Wi-Fi.

To import discs, simply slide a disc into the slot and press the import button. Import times vary by disc, but CDs typically take around 6-10 minutes, DVDs 15-20, and Blu-ray discs an hour. Discs are imported in full, bit-for-bit quality and include all supplements, extra features, language tracks, etc. This includes any seamless branching (remember that) from titles that support that. CDs are ripped in full resolution WAV format. Of course, discs can be played back without importing, and even rental/non-imported titles benefit from Kaleidescape features like bypassing all menus, trailers and warnings and skipping straight to the film or letting you select from the movie’s most iconic scenes.

Kaleidescape Cinema One back portsWhile the Cinema One can import Blu-ray discs, being in compliance with AACS (Advance Access Content System) licensing agreements requires the disc to be physically present in the system for playback of imported titles. (It’s important to note that this only applies to Blu-ray discs, and not DVDs or CDs.) Kaleidescape addresses this drawback with the DV700 disc vault, a large component that holds 320 discs – Blu-ray, DVD, or CD – and communicates with the Cinema One over the network. Any disc in the DV700 is “authenticated” and available for near instant playback on the system. Also convenient, the DV700 imports discs to the system; simply load it with titles, and it automatically imports them all. The DV700 retails for $5495, but if you purchase both a Cinema One and DV700 together from an authorized Kaleidescape dealer, the bundle sells for $7990, a $1500 savings and strong reason to purchase from a local dealer.

Download Store

Once the player is connected and on-line, you register the system and then can go to the Kaleidescape store to create an account that is linked to your player. This is all simply done and takes just a couple of minutes. Once an account has been created, you can purchase and download titles directly to the player.

This self-awareness is a great way to insure you don’t accidentally purchase the same title twice.

There are several things that make the Kaleidescape store different from other online purchasing. First, since the store account is linked to your player, it knows what films you already own. This self-awareness is a great way to insure you don’t accidentally purchase the same title twice. (I’ve done it with a James Bond disc before. In my defense it was at a midnight Black Friday sale at Wal-Mart, so I was clearly in a state of heightened agitation.) Also, it lists which movies can be upgraded from DVD to Blu-ray quality. Upgrading a title is a very affordable $6.99, giving an inexpensive way to breathe HD life into an old favorite. I wouldn’t have repurchased Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory on Blu-ray for $22.99, but I totally did for $7. Second, movies purchased from the store are automatically added to your UltraViolet account (free and easy to create if you don’t have one) and are then viewable through other services like Vudu or Flixster. This means you can either stream or download purchased titles on an iPhone, iPad or Android, giving additional value to the purchase. Third, SD movies are identical in quality to the DVD and HD movies are identical to the Blu-ray disc. There is no further compression or reduction to the title, it is in full 1080p24 quality, and visually/audibly there are no differences from watching a download to watching the disc. Fourth, the download includes all of the content present on the original disc. All of the special features, all of the commentaries, all of the language and subtitle tracks. Fifth, you own the movie and it resides on the hard disk, meaning it will play even if you aren’t connected to the Internet. Another benefit is that any discs purchased from the store are exempt from the AACS “disc in tray” requirement.

Kaleidescape Cinema One frontBlu-ray quality movies are competitive with purchasing the disc from Amazon, and the files are huge – 20-40 Gigabytes. This means download times vary greatly based on your Internet speed. For example, The Matrix took me 6 hours 10 minutes to download at 14.5 Mbps, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey took a total of 10 hours 23 minutes for the film and all the supplements at 14.4 Mbps. Movies can be downloaded to up to five separate Kaleidescape systems, so should you find yourself so in love with the Cinema One you feel compelled to outfit your other homes, boats, RVs, etc., rest assured you’ll be squared away.

Features and Performance

It’s difficult to separate a Kaleidescape system’s features from its performance, as many of the features that make it standout and unique are its performance, and vice-versa.

From a strictly performance standpoint, the system is above reproach. Video quality is terrific, full of detail equaling the best Blu-ray players and passing all of the typical video pattern torture tests with flying colors. Scaling, resolution, detail, motion artifacting…you won’t feel like you are being short-changed on video quality by using the Cinema One regardless of the caliber of your video system.

Kaleidescape’s interface has been emulated over the years, but no other system has managed to capture the total elegance, power and simplicity.

Granted, my time with the Cinema One was limited to just a couple of weeks, but I have lived with a Kaleidescape 1U server and M500 player from the Premier line for quite some time and never have to reboot them. Never. As in ever. The system just works and works and works. Press play, the movie starts. A large part of this is the purpose built operating system – KOS – that Kaleidescape has built from the ground up. It is rock solid and as stable as any piece of consumer electronics you’ll find.

The Cinema One can be controlled via the included IR remote or terrific iPad control app. (No iPhone or Android version available.) The iPad app does a terrific job replicating the on-screen GUI, and gives instant access to many of the system’s cool features like favorite scenes, special features and songs. The iPad app also incorporates Rotten Tomatoes and Common Sense Media data, providing more information about the films in your collection. Kaleidescape also supports many third party IP controllers such as URC, Control4, Crestron, AMX, and Savant.

The first thing you notice once the system fires up is the graphic user interface (GUI). Kaleidescape’s interface has been emulated over the years, but no other system has managed to capture the total elegance, power and simplicity. Movies can be browsed in one of three ways: Cover art, list and collections.

Kaleidescape Cinema One remote angleCover art is by far the most visually impressive, filling the screen with high resolution art for each title. Pause on a selection and a small synopsis of the movie appears. Wait a moment longer and the system can (this option can be disabled in settings, but why would you, you heartless monster?!) automatically bring similar titles together. For instance, pause on a Bourne movie, and it will draw other Bourne movies around it along with any other spy thrillers like Bond or Tom Clancy films. Pause on an animated title, and the screen fills with other kid-friendly content. If you have a large collection, this is a terrific way to rediscover movies that you might have forgotten you owned or haven’t seen in a while. Press select on a title and you’re presented with a list of details from the film; rating and reason for rating, running time, aspect ratio, release year, cast, director and genre.

List view presents titles alphabetically by sortable groups, making it easy to quickly find a specific film, actor or director. You can also sort by genre, rating, release year or running time which is a terrific way if you want to see a list of films that you can finish by bedtime.

The Collections view automatically populates with new titles, movies that you start and then pause or stop before finishing. You can also create multiple collections of your own using the onscreen GUI. For instance I created “Blu-ray” and “Concert Films” collections that let me quickly find all of my titles fitting those categories. You could create collections for “Academy Award Winners,” “Favorite Westerns,” “Spy Thrillers,” or, well, pretty much any damn thing you like.

You could create collections for “Academy Award Winners,” “Favorite Westerns,” “Spy Thrillers,” or, well, pretty much any damn thing you like.

There are some nice parental controls that can be enabled by zone, important for when all of your titles reside in a common, out-in-the-open place. Any movies that exceed your rating limit are completely invisible on the system, not appearing in any view. Individual codes can be used to unlock different ratings, say one code for your tweens to open PG titles, another for your guests to unlock PG-13s and a master code to reveal the entire library.

When you select a film, you are given a list of playback options that include “Play Movie” or “Play Disc.” Play movie jumps straight to the movie, bypassing all trailers and warnings and anything that is not the beginning of the film, with DVDs beginning in about one second and Blu-ray titles taking about seven. Compared with other Blu-ray players, this is lightning fast. Play disc starts the disc just as if you’d put it into an ordinary player. I often use Play disc when watching rental titles because I like to check trailers for any movies I may have missed, but use Play movie when watching my own film library.

Many discs also feature other playback options like “Play Trailer”, “Play Scene” and in the case of many Pixar or Dreamworks animated films, “Play Short.” The trailer is pretty self-explanatory, and if it is available as an option on the disc, then it appears in the Kaleidescape playback menu. Play short gives instant access to the short film that preceded the film.

Play scene is another of those totally unique Kaleidescape features that elevates the system to the next level. The Kaleidescape team has gone through thousands of movies – more added constantly – and bookmarked the most iconic scenes. Think of the 4-5 most standout scenes from your favorite films and those are typically the scenes that you will find bookmarked. Things like “Chase to the Embassy” from Casino Royale, “Bane Breaks the Batman” from The Dark Knight Rises, “Jeanie vs. Rooney” from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and “I Am a Jedi Like My Father Before Me” from Return of the Jedi. Often, when friends come over, we’ll flip through my movie collection sampling the best scenes and getting a good laugh or awesome surround demo. Scenes offers another way to rediscover your favorite movies, because after watching a few moments of your favorite film, you’ll likely want to view it all over again. That happened to me this weekend with The Godfather and The Godfather Part II.

Play movie jumps straight to the movie, bypassing all trailers and warnings and anything that is not the beginning of the film, with DVDs beginning in about one second and Blu-ray titles taking about seven.

You also have the option of creating your own favorite scenes with a simple Begin and End Scene command from either the remote or the iPad app. For some reason, Kaleidescape didn’t find it essential to bookmark the how-are-you-so-amazing-Zooey-Deschanel?! Elevator, “I love the Smiths!” scene from 500 Days of Summer, so I created it on my own.

TV series collectors will appreciate that Kaleidescape automatically titles TV episodes. I’ve imported all of the “Twilight Zone” – like 50 DVDs worth – as well as the full series of “Lost,” and the titles appear by season, making it easy to find a specific episode. Kaleidescape also bookmarks songs in many concert films and musicals, making it easy to jump straight to a favorite track.

I’ve mainly focused on movies here, but it’s important to realize that the Cinema One is also a full blown music server, offering the same level of browsing your music collection as your films. Another very cool touch with music is providing album reviews, artist bios and genre descriptions, giving you another way to enjoy and explore your favorite music. For instance, I learned that Michael Hedges died in a freak car accident at 43 while listening to “Aerial Boundaries.” In the scheme of 4 TB of storage, music takes up so little space that most users could load all of their CDs and barely put a dent in the memory.

Conclusion

It’s easy to dismiss the Cinema One as just an exceptionally expensive Blu-ray player. Which it is. But that’s only a small part of its story. It’s also easy to make claims of how much cheaper you could build your own movie server. Which – depending on your technical ability and willingness to use “grey” software that is technically illegal – you probably could. And if you like tinkering and don’t mind the instability of reboots and software crashes and updates and performance issues inherent to such homebuilt server systems, then the Cinema One probably isn’t right for you.

But while these other systems may indeed store and play movies, they will never provide the full Kaleidescape experience.

If you are a movie lover with $3995 and a disc collection looking for a rock-solid, it-just-works system backed by incredible support and an industry-leading interface and feature set, then you owe it to yourself to give the Cinema One a closer look.

[Update: This review has been revised to reflect the correct pricing of the Cinema One as $3995, not $4995 as originally published. DT regrets the error]

Highs

  • Phenomenal user interface manages movie and music collections
  • 4TB storage holds 100 Blu-ray/600 DVD/6500 CDs
  • Download store offers true Blu-ray quality downloads
  • Near instantaneous access to movies and iconic “Scenes”
  • Rock solid reliability and performance

Lows

  • Expensive
  • No RAID protection for storage
  • Ripped Blu-rays require disc-in-tray of use of DV700 Disc Vault
  • Doesn’t support 3D titles
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