Kaleidescape, the high-end DVD and Blu-ray server favored by many Electronic House Home ofthe Year award winners is finally delivering downloaded content to its pricey devices, thanks to a new online store populated with titles from Warner Brothers. Warner is Kaleidescape’s first licensing partner, but the plan is to attract many others.
When it launches this week at store.kaleidescape.com, the new service will offer roughly 2,000 feature films and TV episodes, adding about 500 new titles per week until all 3,000 Warner flicks are loaded. More TV episodes – of which more than 8,000 currently are available—will follow.
In addition to media downloaded into Kaleidescape’s proprietary hard drives, the titles will be available via off-the-shelf media devices, thanks to the new UltraViolet cloud-based scheme embraced by key studios.
While Kaleidescape is hardly the first vendor to implement UltraViolet – Walmart made it famous through the retailer’s Disc to Digital service – one thing about the Warner deal is especially unique. Autonomic added UltraViolet to it’s Mirage MMS-5AV product earlier this year.
“This is the first distribution deal for downloading movies in precisely the same audio and video quality as a Blu-ray disc or DVD,” says Kaleidescape senior marketing director Tom Barnett in an interview with CE Pro.
Barnett notes that Vudu, known for its 1080p HDX streaming, is nice, but it isn’t bit-for-bit like Kaleidescape downloads.
“Vudu has done a very good job of compressing video so that 1080p looks pretty good,” Barnett says, “but it’s not literally bit-for-bit the same.”
Furthermore, in order to protect video quality while keeping files small, Vudu and other streaming services like Netflix, tend to skimp on audio.
“Blu-ray will often use four times as much storage for audio than for video,” Barnett says. “Streaming providers tend to use their available bandwidth for video because they know it’s important to get video to look as good as possible. But audio often suffers because they think, ‘How many people actually have more than two speakers?’”
Tour of the Kaleidescape online media store
Kaleidescape is well known in high-end circles for its bit-to-bit renderings (including DRM) of physical media including DVDs and Blu-rays. But there has only been one way to load the content onto its servers until now – by sticking discs into the machines and copying them (or ripping them, some would call it).
There was no streaming or downloading of any kind, whether from the Internet or local PCs/hard drives.
The studios and the DRM police have been unkind to Kaleidescape, despite its protected ecosystem with solutions that can cost well into the five digits. A legal battle has raged between the DVD CCA (Copy Control Association) and Kaleidescape for eight years.
The deal with Warner Bros. marks Kaleidescape’s first relationship with any content provider and paves the way for the manufacturer to extricate itself from the DVD CCA’s grip.
Discs, especially of the DVD variety, are so passé given the wide availability of online alternatives. Even so, Kaleidescape customers own on average 509 physical discs, loading about 189 movies onto their systems in the first three months of ownership, Barnett says.
So you can see why the studios might want to tap this small but important base of wealthy customers. They’re known to be trend-setters.
The same could be said of Warner Bros. Digital Distribution group, which “tends to be a bit more progressive,” Barnett explains. “Their whole charter is to make as much headway as possible for Warner Brothers in digital delivery.”
The studio was among the first to launch “day and date” movies on iTunes and Video on Demand (VoD), releasing them on the same day as they are available on DVD; it was the first to launch “App Editions” of movies available for sampling and purchasing within individual apps; and it was the first to launch movies through Facebook.
Kaleidescape’s vast experience in digital delivery and its influential customer base, along with Warner Brothers’ innovations in content distribution, make the two companies a good match.
Together, they set out to establish a standard on such technologies and partnerships, Barnett explains: “We weren’t just using standard rental agreements because we knew that to make electronic sell-through work, changes needed to be made.”
With some of the ground work done – and no exclusivity, according to Barnett—Warner Brothers can more easily work with other potential partners, potentially ones that can provide more mass-market solutions.
Barnett explains, “We’re hoping to start an inflection point where the concept starts at the high end, and then is leveraged, with people building thousands of devices to store their movie collections.”
Pricing, Download Speeds and Comparisons with Other Services
We have already established that Kaleidescape will have the best bit-for-bit downloaded content available. And bit-for-bit includes bonus content, “which is not usually an area of focus for rental,” Barnett says.
So what does all of this goodness cost, aside from the hardware? Barnett says, “We will try to match what you would pay for the disc version, with no shipping fee.” Older titles might cost $6 to $7 with new releases about $20. “Our objective is for there to be no advantage to buying a physical disc,” Barnett says.
When you buy from the online store, the content can be played on up to five Kaleidescape systems, which doesn’t mean much if you only have one home, but many customers outfit their yachts, planes and vacation properties.
And, of course, there’s UltraViolet for downloading and playing back content on mobile devices.
Downloading a movie over a 50 Mbps Internet connection can take about 15 to 18 minutes for standard definition or 1.5 hours for high-def.
“It’s all a matter of perspective,” Barnett says, “It’s much slower than Netflix, but it’s much faster than getting in the car and buying a Blu-ray disc, which is what you’re doing today if you care about quality.”
Kaleidescape is famous for providing arguably the best user experience for movie lovers. It has painstaking coded thousands of movie titles, to let viewers skip to iconic scenes, for example, and watch them over and over again.
Recently, the company added Rotten Tomatoes movie ratings and Common Sense parental guidance to its iPad app. It also announced a partnership with Leonard Maltin in which the famous movie critic highlights sleeper movies that Kaleidescape owners might not own.
Kaleidescape has created its own collections, as well, so users can have the option of buying all Oscar-winning movies, again, that they don’t already own.
Julie Jacobson is co-founder of EH Publishing and currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro, mostly in the areas of home automation, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. She majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. Julie is a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player with the scars to prove it. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.
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