Kaleidescape Adds DRM to Blu-ray Copying


Loaded into a Kaleidescape server via an M500 player, a Blu-ray disc is bookmarked and ready to play from the hard drive ... as long as the disc is in the tray.

New M-Class players let users copy Blu-ray discs onto Kaleidescape media server, but the disc must be in the tray in order to play it.

May. 11, 2010 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

For seven years, Kaleidescape has been recognized as having the most reliable multiroom movie server.

But some have been twiddling their thumbs while the manufacturer developed a solution for Blu-ray storage.

Those who have been waiting will finally get what they wished for … sort of.

Two new M-Class players (M500, M300), which will ship May 18, let users add Blu-ray discs to a Kaleidescape movie library and play them throughout the house – with one major caveat: The physical disc must be in the DVD tray.

That DRM Thing
DVD copying is a sticky business. Real Networks lost a lawsuit last year for its RealDVD movie management software. And Kaleidescape has been battling the DVD CCA (Copy Control Association) since 2004. The DVD CCA, which licenses the Content Scrambling System for decrypting DVDs, maintains it is a violation of its licensing agreement to copy DVDs, even if the CSS remains intact.

In light of the murky DRM waters – and especially Kaleidescape’s highly publicized legal struggles – the industry has wondered if the company would even touch Blu-ray.

They’re touching it, but that’s about all for now.

The new M500 can copy Blu-ray discs onto a legacy Kaleidescape server. The Blu-rays, along with all of the metadata, appear in the standard Kaleidescape library.

“Just like DVDs, the Blu-rays are a pristine bit-for-bit copy,” says Linus Wong, director of product marketing.

In order to play a Blu-ray title, the physical disc must be in an M500 DVD tray. At least you can place it in any tray on the network. And, as Wong says, “Most installs would have a few M500 players.”

The system then verifies that the user actually owns the disc and didn’t simply rip it from a rental.

“One of the studios’ main concerns is that they’re worried about rentals – that someone going to rent a movie and copy it,” says Wong. “In our implementation, we require that a physical disc for Blu-ray be present when you play a movie.”

He admits, “It’s a little less convenient, but it’s an interim inconvenience.”

It’s just a short-term fix because Kaleidescape plans to introduce a multidisc changer next year. Users can load (and copy) their entire movie collection, and the server will validate that a Blu-ray disc is present before it plays. As before, standard DVDs can be copied and played without the extra measure of DRM.

So Why Bother?
The inconvenience notwithstanding, the M Series offers plenty of value to Blu-ray-loving consumers.

“It’s actually nice to even see on the [TV] screen what Blu-ray discs there are,” says Kaleidescape CEO Michael Malcolm. He notes that users can even sort their libraries by Blu-ray titles.

The complete library, including Blu-rays and DVDs ... or search only Blu-ray movies.

And it’s not like you press the play button and the disc chugs in the changer before it plays. “The advantage of importing it is that it doesn’t even move in the tray,” says Malcolm. “When you go to start a movie, it goes right from the hard drive.”

In addition, long before the company supported Blu-ray, Kaleidescape began tweaking the metadata and bookmarking the discs. Instead of having to suffer through opening trailers and other movie preambles, users simply hit the “Play” button to jump right to the beginning of the show.

In the case of concert videos, Kaleidescape has bookmarked every song, so users can easily navigate to their favorites.

“Bookmarking is our crown jewel,” says Malcolm.

Currently, Kaleidescape has more than 3,300 Blu-ray titles in its Movie Guide, in addition to 135,000 DVD titles.

“If you did happen to rent a Blu-ray movie, you can play it from the tray,” Malcolm says. You can’t do that with the legacy Kaleidescape players.

Each song is bookmarked in a concert video.

Coming in 2011: Multi-disc Changer
Wong acknowledges that Kaleidescape’s DRM-laden Blu-ray solution “certainly is not as convenient as what we have today with DVDs. That’s exactly the reason we’re developing a loader. It gives you a seamless experience without having to find a disc.”

Kaleidescape knows three things about its forthcoming multi-disc loader:

  • It will be available in 2011
  • It will accommodate at least 100 discs
  • It will past muster with the studios and digital-rights organizations, including the Advanced Access Content System Licensing Administrator (AACSLA), which is sort of the DVD CCA for Blu-ray

“It will be hard to get a disc out [of the loader] without us knowing,” says Malcolm. “Every once in awhile, there is a way to randomly check. Once it finds that one [disc] is missing, it will check them all.”

Kaleidescape is examining a variety of options for Blu-ray changers including off-the-shelf products and a homemade version.

“Unfortunately, to my knowledge, no one has really made a reliable one,” says Malcolm.

As for pricing, Malcolm “thinks” it will be lower than the $9,000 200-disc changer from Crestron. “We’re hoping for quite a bit lower,” he says. In fact, Kaleidescape is aiming for a $3,000 to $5,000 price range, but “it’s too early to tell.”

Back to DRM and Lawsuits
The Blu-ray powers-that-be, including the AACSLA, don’t have a rule book for DRM, according to Malcolm.

“It’s just like with DVDs,” he says. “There is a set of organizations that you need to get licenses with. It’s the same old people, they just operate under another umbrella. It’s another shell organization that essentially is controlled by studios.”

As such, while the Blu-ray police run a battery of tests to ensure players meet certain performance parameters, you can’t approach “them” to vet a shiny new product.

But Kaleidescape is tiptoeing gently through the DRM landmine.

“Our strategy is to be confident that we comply with the agreements and try not to upset the studios,” Malcolm says. “They [studios] could not be worried about rent-rip-return if the disc has to be in the machine.”

Although it is quick to appease the Blu-ray gods, Kaleidescape is not about to put similar restrictions on DVD playback.

“With the DVD CCA license, we’re confident that products shipping today are within the four corners of the agreement and we comply,” Malcolm maintains.

Even so, he adds, “You never know what a court is going to do.”

The DVD loader will give Kaleidescape a nice fall-back in case the DVD CCA prevails in the lawsuit.

“If the court goes against us, this is plan ‘B’,” Malcolm says.

Regardless, a disc changer is a nice thing to have, according to Malcolm. “I have 1,200 DVDs loaded in vinyl. I’d rather have them in a loader.”

That way, the Malcolms can easily locate and eject “Dora the Explorer” for long road trips.

More on the M-Class Series
In addition to the M500 Blu-ray copier/player, Kaleidescape is coming out with the M300 player that omits the disc tray.

The M500 will retail for $3,995, or $1,000 more than its DVD-only equivalent, the 1080p Player. The M300 will retail for $2,495, or $500 more than the DVD-only 1080p Mini Player.

Both units have the processing power to render the Kaleidescape TV interface in native 1080p vs. the upscaled images rendered on current players.

M500 importer/player (bottom) and M300 player: $4,000 and $2,500 respectively

The resolution of the on-screen display (OSD) is one of Kaleidescape’s “major improvements to the UI [user interface],” says Wong. “We’ve been shipping for seven years and we haven’t really made substantial changes to the UI because customers love it.”

With the new OSD, “The cover art is much sharper, the color is brighter, and we changed the font to make it more readable,” Wong says.

The early feedback from integrators is “all fantastic,” according to Wong. “They love the user interface. They feel they can upgrade customers just on that alone.”

Enhanced processing power and new software makes the new M Class “a platform for future sources of content,” says Wong, but he’s vague when it comes to naming those “future sources.”

Integrators have been asking Kaleidescape for any kind of networking solution, either for streaming from a NAS or the Internet, or syncing with iTunes. But they won’t see that in this generation of product.

And certainly don’t expect streaming movie rentals a la Vudu or Netflix anytime soon.

“When we think of content delivered over the network,” says Wong, “we really think of it as something that people want to download and own. We view content coming from the Internet as another way to load into our system.”

The M-Class platform does not yet sync with iTunes, but “it’s still on our road map,” says Wong. Ditto for AVCHD, the format used by most high-def video cameras: “It’s on our list. There are lots of things on our list. We had to triage. Right now, we’re focused on commercially available Blu-ray. Home videos are very high on the list, especially given our focus on families with children.”

One of the “major improvements to the UI”

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