Is disc-based media on life support? Maybe not quite yet, but one of the biggest reasons to keep pumping medicine into that patient just got taken off the list. Kaleidescape, the video storage and distribution system for discerning home theater buffs, just launched high definition movie downloads on the company’s online store. And it appears pretty impressive.
In December 2012 Kaleidescape launched the online movie store which allowed users to select, purchase and download movies (currently the store contains about 2,700 titles) directly to the Kaleidescape server in their homes. At that time the selection only contained DVD-quality movies, but Blu-ray was always in the plan.
This week Blu-ray downloads are real. We’re not talking about hyper-compressed pseudo high-definition video like you can get from a number of streaming services. This is the real thing. Full 1080p/24 Blu-ray quality video with Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio lossless soundtracks. And here’s the icing—you also get all the bonus features found on the original Blu-ray disc, the documentaries, bloopers, games—those things you pay extra for but don’t usually watch. The only thing that’s missing is the box and the trip to Target.
“Our objective is to take away any of the reasons you might have to not buy downloads instead of discs,” says Tom Barnett, Kaleidescape’s senior director of marketing. If you’re worried that one of those objections is price, you probably don’t have to (of course if you paid $14K+for a movie server system you probably aren’t nit-picking over a few bucks for a movie). In any case, movie pricing appears to be in line with actual selling prices at retail. For instance, Kaleidescape lists the Blu-ray download of the The Hobbit at $19.99, which also happens to be the same price that Amazon is selling the disc for.
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The cool stuff doesn’t stop there though. Along with the copy of the movie that gets loaded onto your Kaleidescape server, you get an UltraViolet version which goes into your online locker. You then view your UltraViolet movies on a PC, smart phone or tablet via one of several partner apps. You can also watch UltraViolet movies through several streaming media devices (such as Roku) or smart TV apps, but if you have a Kaleidescape in your house, there’s really no reason to (though it would make sense if you want to extend your library to a vacation home).
But that’s a lot of data to download, right? Yes, so don’t expect to download a Blu-ray title to your Kaleidescape as fast as you would start streaming a movie via Netflix. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is more than 50 GBs. Download time will vary based on your home internet connection, and could be as short 90 minutes or as long as 10 hours. Even at the extreme end, that’s faster than ordering a disc from Amazon, waiting for it to arrive in the mail and then physically loading it into your disc vault. To make purchasing easier, the store has features to help you find titles you don’t own, order in groups based on theme (such as award winners) or genres.
If you already have a DVD version of a title in your collection, Kaleidescape offers an easy upgrade path for you to download the Blu-ray version at a discount.
Currently there are about 500 titles in HD, all from Warner and New Line, which means that there are a ton of popular movies not on the list. Hopefully that will change soon. Barnett says that the company is actively talking to most of the major movie studios to try to get them on board.
There are two things that are not part of this news, which may be of concern to some movie fans. The first, is that the downloads don’t offer 3D versions. The Kaleidescape player doesn’t currently support 3D, so none of the titles include 3D versions of the movies. Barnett says that if Kaleidescape eventually offers a 3D player, an upgrade path for user’s existing movies would likely be available. “We typically find a way to keep our happy Kaleidescape customers happy Kaleidescape customers.” Barnett didn’t specifically say so, but I’d be very surprised if a 3D Kaleidescape wasn’t on the way.
The other thing missing is 4K. Like 3D, the Kaleidescape player does not play 4K video, and there are no 4K titles in the store. Sony plans to offer a 4K player later this year for $699, and presumably (the company is scant on details) will deliver those titles via the internet, though it’s assumed those will only be Sony titles. 4K is still an immature format, and in fact it’s not really an official format, just a display resolution, so it’s probably too early in its development to speculate on what will happen with it.
In the meantime, the Blu-ray downloads from Kaleidescape represent a pretty significant step forward, especially for Kaleidescape customers, but also in the market’s march toward a disc-free future.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.