If you’re a big movie fan, desire quick and easy access to your movie collection, and don’t like heading out to a store to get the latest disc, then you’ll like Kaleidescape’s latest high definition movie server, the Kaleidescape Alto. It’s also notable because at $2,495, it’s significantly less money than anything the company has offered before. (Read about the Kaleidescape Cinema One here)
The Alto is, in a way, Kaleidescape’s response to two big motivations in the video delivery market. The first, and maybe the most pressing of those motivations was a long legal battle with the movie biz over the company’s products that recorded DVDs and Blu-ray discs onto a hard disc server. Kaleidescape lost that battle, and the end result is the removal of disc recording capabilities. With that move, the only legal way to record DVD and Blu-ray movies for your personal home use has ended (there are systems that will do it, but you risk the wrath of the movie industry’s lawyers).
The second motivation leading to the Alto is more of a paradigm shift in the entire home video industry. Digital delivery is the future, and recognizing that, Kaleidescape decided to do it their way, rather than the streaming video way (as in Netflix, Amazon, Vudu). The Kaleidescape way is to support the highest quality video standards available. That used to be Blu-ray. Now it’s digital downloads.
The Kaleidescape Alto receives all its content in the form of digital downloads from the company’s online video store. Rather than switch to a streaming platform, which couldn’t support the bandwidth-heavy requirements of uncompressed high definition video, Kaleidescape offers full bit-for-bit Blu-ray equivalent downloads of movies and TV programs from many of the major movie studios including Sony, Lions Gate, Warner Brothers and NBC Universal (and Kaleidescape tells me that more studios are coming).
How It Works
Setting up and using the Kaleidescape Alto is very simple. While Kaleidescape systems are primarily installed by professional AV technicians into custom home theaters, the Alto isn’t any more complicated to install than the average internet-connected Blu-ray player. It connects to your media system via an HDMI cable, and your network with an Ethernet cable (you can use Wi-Fi with an adaptor, but it’s not recommended for a strong network connection). After that there are a few registration steps to get you setup with the Kaleidescape web store, and then you’re ready to go.
Well, you’re not exactly ready to go then. You need to add movies, and for that you need to go to a web browser. This is one of the drawbacks that Kaleidescape really needs to work on. All movie purchases from Kaleidescape are done from the web site—you can’t browse movies to buy through the product itself. Netflix, Amazon streaming and Vudu have conditioned us to browse content on the same interface that we watch it on, but those two worlds are separate here.
The Alto can hold up to 100 movies in 1080p Blu-ray quality (with the full Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, and DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound track) or 600 DVD quality movies. Four Altos can be networked together to quadruple the storage capacity. When you add another Alto, you not only expand storage, you also add another video zone to the system (by using a separate Alto for each room/display). Sometime in 2015 the company will launch a hard drive expansion that will be a cheaper way to increase storage, but won’t give users the additional viewing zone.
Shopping for movies on the web store is easy and intuitive. When you select your movie you have the option to buy and download (you don’t have to download all your movies right away). Downloads of Blu-ray quality high definition movies can take several hours, so it’s a good idea to shop for movies well before you plan to watch them. The Alto can show you the download status so you know how much of your movie has arrived. If you need a movie for Friday night, then log on to the site during the day to make your selection. The plus side of this issue is that because the movie is downloaded, not streamed, you don’t need to worry about buffering pauses that Netflix viewers often complain about. Also, the video and audio quality is vastly better.
Even though the Alto doesn’t record movies from discs, there’s still a way to get a lot of your current movie collection onto it. When you put a DVD or Blu-ray into the system, it will search the Kaleidescape store to see if that movie is available. If so, you can purchase the digital download for $1.99 or, if the disc was a DVD, you can upgrade your movie to a Blu-ray equivalent download for a little more money.
Your Kaleidescape purchases are also available on other devices via Ultra Violet, which is handy if you want to watch your movies on the road on a tablet, for example.
Once your movie had downloaded to the system, you get the same excellent navigation features as previous Kaleidescape players. Titles can be organized and searched in a variety of ways, and you get instant access to special scenes and movie data. Another bright feature of the system is that it completely bypasses those pesky startup screens and previews. When you select a movie to play, it plays immediately. That instant play benefit also carries over to discs you insert in the disc drive, making it the only Blu-ray player that can skip through the nonsense automatically.
High video quality of the downloads is a major focus point for Kaleidescape. Sure there are tradeoffs in a download system, but if you have a serious home theater and want the best picture and sound, you either need to buy Blu-ray discs (and find a place to put them) or use this device to get the same experience without the disc. The downloaded movies are bit-for-bit identical in all audio and video respects to a Blu-ray disc, but you don’t have to worry about where the disc is, because all the movies are right on one easy interface. In my opinion, downloaded movies played through the Kaleidescape Alto looked as good as the best videophile Blu-ray players. The system also reacts quickly to skip and forward commands from the remote.
Speaking of remotes, the system comes with an easy to use handheld remote, but Kaleidescape also offers an excellent iPad app, and the system is compatible with the major home automation systems, such as Elan, Crestron and Control4.
Even at $2,495, the Kaleidescape Alto is an expensive movie player, and its business model clearly isn’t for everyone. Kaleidescape appeals to people who spent a lot on their home theater or media system, and don’t want to watch highly-compressed and artifact-ridden streaming videos on it. If that’s you, then this is the product you want.