Strato Movie Player Review
The award-winning Kaleidescape Strato is the world’s finest movie player.
THE HIGH NOTES
- Enterprise Grade Components
- Best Picture and Sound Available
- Best Movie Search Interface
Company & Product Overview
The time was 2003 and one of our good friends of Audio Advice had convinced us to take a look at a new company that had figured out a very unique way to manage large movie libraries. They came to visit and after about an hour of set up we walked into the room to see an older gentleman sitting on the floor in front of some white boxes. He was casually dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and flip flops. Little did we know this was Michael Malcolm the founder of Kaleidescape, but also one of the three founders of Network Appliances, a company whose revenue had grown to $1B at the time Michael cashed in and retired. He told us he had a huge movie collection on DVD and had grown really frustrated with how to manage it all and had decided to invent the Kaleidescape system.
His idea was to legally rip your DVD’s to an enterprise grade server and display all kinds of rich information about your collection in a way that made it super easy to find any type of movie. What was especially interesting was its movie cover view where all of your movie covers would come up on screen and if you clicked on one, the view would rearrange to show you all of the other similar movies. Another concept this ripping allowed was for the movie to instantly start with no previews of warnings. To this day, these are still two of the coolest features Kaleidescape has.
Kaleidescape had worked with the studios to try and make ripping DVD’s you owned available on the server. Their system was an instant success for people with large DVD collections and their business boomed until BluRay came around. With BluRay, the movie studios were not happy about allowing people to rip discs, so Kaleidescape had to develop what was essentially a carousel that would confirm you actually had the BluRay in your possession. To make matters worse, from around 2007, the movie industry brought suit against Kaleidescape pushing back against the idea of ripping anything at all. Kaleidescape then had a brilliant idea of coming up with a movie store that would allow you to buy the movies and download them to your machine. This idea made the studios happy, but the legal fight over their legacy machines that ripped DVDs continued. They fought them for years, but in 2016 had to close their doors due to spending millions in court battles.
However, Kaleidescape owners are some of the most loyal technology owners you will ever find and investors stepped up to reopen their doors after just one month of being shut down. The owners of Kaleidescape wanted to put their technology in front of a larger market and knew they had to really develop the movie store and get the price down for a Kaleidescape system.
The fruits of their labor is the subject of today’s review, the Kaleidescape Strato system.
Packaging, Design & Build Quality
We need to say first and foremost, the Strato is a luxury product. As such, no expense was spared to give you the best possible picture, sound, and user interface.
The Kaleidescape Strato is a component sized piece of gear that has an internal hard drive with two sizes available, 6TB and 12TB. The unit we tested (and wound up keeping!) was a 6TB unit. There is also a Strato external server called the Terra for very large collections.
When you pick up the 1.75” tall Strato you are immediately struck at how well it is built and how heavy it is! The brushed aluminum case is very well machined like you would expect for something in this price range. The only thing on the front panel you will see is the Kaleidescape logo. This lights up when the unit is on, and you can even control how many of its LEDs turn on through the user interface.
The rear of the Strato is pretty simple, with a connection for the external power supply, an HDMI output, another audio only HDMI output, both a toslink and coax digital audio output, a future use USB connection, an ethernet connection, and a rear IR input to keep the front panel clean with an IR control system. You get the additional HDMI output since the Strato is full 4K. An older system may not be able to handle 4K, so this allows you to run the main output to your TV or projector and the second HDMI or digital outputs to your audio system.
The unit also comes with a very user friendly remote control- although we suspect most Stratos will wind up in a system with some sort of home automation remote. In this case, you will likely use IP control for the Strato.
It is not until you connect up the Strato and start playing around with its interfaces that you figure out just how amazing this piece of gear is!
Features & Technology
The Strato by itself is an amazing piece of gear, but when you couple it to the Kaleidescape movie store, there is nothing out there that can even come close. The way the two work together is just a thing of beauty!
Let’s first talk about the movie store. You can access the store through the on-screen interface, a computer, or tablet. I need to get across a clear distinction about the Kaleidescape store compared to Netflix, Apple, Vudu, Amazon or any of the other on demand movie services. With Kaleidescape, you actually purchase the movie and it is downloaded to your system. The downside is that it takes an hour to two to download so you’ll want to pre-order movies if you want them right when they become available. There is a huge advantage however to this method which I’ll go over in the performance section.
We found that the most fun way to access the movie store is from a computer. Just about every major movie studio is present in the store. With the vast amount of movie content available, we have tested all kinds of different systems for sorting and finding great movies. We’ve tested Apple, VUDU, IMdB, AllMovie, Amazon and more. None of these even come close to the way you can hunt for movies in the Kaleidescape store. Most services have about a dozen or less movie categories. Kaleidescape has 18. But then they have put together collections by categories and here you have 80 different collections! Let’s say you just want to go ahead and buy all of the 2018 Golden Globe movies. Select this collection, click buy now, and you are done! You can also search by movie studio, Rotten Tomatoes Fresh, rating, release date and much more. When you click on a movie, you will see more information about it than you can ever imagine. The really great part, and we must say VUDU has something similar to this, you can then click on the director, cast members, etc, then the screen will refresh with all of the movies that person has been a part of. Ridley Scott fans will love this!
Pricing to purchase a movie on the store varies based on HD quality or UHD/HDR. The prices you see are very similar to what you’ll see on Amazon or Walmart for purchasing the disc. But there is another cool part to this. You may have noticed on a lot of your BluRay movies a little UltraViolet logo. This is a system that lets you watch a movie you own through lots of mediums. All you have to do is sign up for an UltraViolet account and enter in the bar code that comes in the box with the movie. Kaleidescape lets you link your UltraViolet account to their store. We found in our testing that about half of our UltraViolet movies were able to get some special treatment in the Kaleidescape store. If they were a BluRay disc, we were able to put an HD version into the Strato for no charge. There was also an option to get the UHD/HDR version for about half of the normal price. This is one heck of a great way to get your old movies into the system. And again, more later in the performance section as to why you want to do this!
Another great feature of the Kaleidescape system is how you can manage your collection. You can link up to 5 systems together, which is really handy for people with vacation homes. Within the interface you can decide which movies will download to each machine and when you go to purchase a movie, you can decide where to send it.
Now, the basic Strato will hold about 105 Ultra 4K HDR movies, or over 600 DVD quality movies. What happens when you run out of space? Well, you have two options. If you want to be able to see all of your movies at once, you can purchase a Terra external drive, or you have the ability to remove movies from the Strato, but you still own them in the Kaleidescape cloud. We think this is really great for vacation homes where you can simply plan in advance which of the movies you own you want to show up when you get there. To put the movie back on the system, you simply find it in the store (and you can hunt for owned but not downloaded) and click on it.
Once you get a library built up on your Strato, that’s when the fun really begins! You can sort your library by every category you can imagine, even including playing time if you’ve got for instance, only 90 minutes before heading out! You can even set up your own collections! For instance, I love to watch concert videos with my family. So we have a collection set up with dozens of concerts. We will sit in our theater on a Saturday night and pass the remote around and choose songs from different concerts to play. Kaleidescape has booked marked the top scenes from movies and the songs from concerts. So you can click straight to a song and it will start playing immediately with no FBI warnings or previews. It’s almost impossible to describe how this experience changes the way you enjoy your home theater. The system will show you all of your recent downloads and any movies you have paused so you can click on them and they will immediately resume where you left off--and I mean immediately.
If you are having movie night or entertaining a big crowd, you should test out the very cool script feature. Not only does the movie start to instantly play when you hit play, but for most movies, the Kaleidescape team has gone in and figured out what the really great scenes are from your movie. With scripts, you can tie these scenes together! You can even have the cover for the movie show up on screen for any length of time you choose before the next part of your script starts.
This can be especially fun as you can set up a couple of your own “previews” then after they end, immediately have the script play the entire movie your guests have come over to see. If you have a great theater and want to show it off during a party, a 30-45 minute sequence of scenes you put together will have your theater packed all night!
As might can tell, we are pretty excited about the features found in the Strato and Kaleidescape movie store. They are reason enough for anyone who has a great home theater to want a Strato, but those features are only half of the story. The other half is the technology that provides an experience like no other.
When Kaleidescape gets a movie from the studios to put in the store, it is not just a disc they rip to their servers. It is the same full digital version the studios send out to movie theaters! It’s a huge file, which is why it takes 1-3 hours to download just one movie. But boy is it worth the wait.
Kaleidescape puts in the best quality video player on the market inside the Strato. On the audio side, there is no compression, giving you the best possible audio source.
We’ve spent the last two weeks playing with the Kaleidescape Strato, and we can say without question, the picture and sound it puts out is superior to playing the exact same thing on a state of the art 4K Bluray player! This is because that download you purchase is a bit for bit perfect copy of the original movie. There is no error correction like what is present on a BluRay player as a laser tries to read a spinning disc. When you compare a 4K movie on the Kaleidescape to streaming 4K from Apple, VUDU, Netflix, or Amazon, the comparison is just laughable. It completely blows streaming out of the water! As a matter of fact, we felt the HD version played on the Kaleidescape looked better than the supposed 4K stream from any of the streaming services. This is probably due to the fact that the Strato upscales all HD 2K content to 4K and does an amazing job with it.
What we noticed on the video side that was just so impressive was the total lack of noise. The movie just looks like a super high resolution still picture. You never see any trace of artifacts or motion noise. Every detail is just super clear and colors are amazingly rich, but it is really that clarity that sets it apart.
The audio quality difference between a BluRay disc and the Strato, while there, is not as big as the video, but we did feel deeper, faster bass, better Dolby Atmos effects and a slightly smoother top end. However, when you compare the Strato to a streaming service on the audio side, it is like comparing a high end steak dinner to a nuked sandwich at a gas station! There is just no comparison!
Now, remember that part about your UltraViolet movies? Well, when you download them, you get that same bit for bit perfect copy, so you effectively upgrade those as well!
In summary, the Strato is the best looking and sounding movie player we have ever encountered.
At $4,500 for the basic Strato, this is obviously for people with serious home theaters. If you are someone who owns a great home theater, you are not experiencing the full benefit of your great projector, screen, and speakers until you put a Kaleidescape Strato in your system, period! We feel the bigger your screen is, the more of an advantage you will see with the Kaleidescape Strato. It is easily visible on a 100” screen, but when you get into 150” and up, the difference is just huge.
It used to cost $20K+ to get into a Kaleidescape system. With the new Kaleidescape Strato at $4,500 and the great movie store, anyone with a serious home theater should own one of these for both the performance and movie browsing experience. We can not recommend it more highly!
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
Best Picture and Sound Available
With the Strato, you get a bit for bit copy of the original movie, no compression, no streaming, just perfect!
Best Movie Search Interface
We have never seen a better interface for finding movies than the Kaleidescape movie store, then once you have a collection built up the on screen interface is a joy to use.
Enterprise Grade Components
You can expect a lifetime of enjoyment from this enterprise level component.