Kaleidescape - The Best 4K Dolby Atmos Source EVER??

Company & Product Overview

Kaleidescape was founded on the premise of delivering the very best movie server experience possible. It starts with their no-compromise belief in keeping the movie lossless compared to the studio master so you can get superior video and audio than you would from the best BluRay. Layer on top of that a sorting and search capability that is best of class, and you’ve got the Kaleidescape solution. We think on-demand streaming platforms are really cool, and while they certainly allow access to tons of content, there are some compromises. We all know how difficult it can be for everyone to agree on what movie to watch. Finding the movie is the other problem we run into. With multiple subscriptions to different services, movie choices are spread across several platforms, making it difficult to easily browse all of your available content when deciding what to watch. While some services such as Apple have attempted to solve this issue, none have come close to Kaleidescape’s solution. Browsing the Kaleidescape store for what to watch almost reminds us of simpler times when you could just browse all the wonderful movies for rent at your local video store. This simplicity is part of what makes the store so special.

The Kaleidescape Design

When planning out your system and thinking about your budget, the best advice we can give is don’t discount the value of your source. We see lots of cases where people build an incredible system only to feed it substandard source material. While streaming services are now offering many titles in 4K and Dolby Atmos, this content is still compressed and in a lossy format, and the key to making your system sound its best is to feed it the best possible quality content.

The average video throughput from a streaming service is around 6-8 Mbps, while a quality BluRay disc will get you up to around 50 Mbps. The Kaleidescape comes through at a whopping rate of over 65 Mbps. While keeping the bitrate low prevents buffering when streaming, that is a very significant amount of data that is missing from the streaming service, and even a noticeable improvement over your typical BluRay. Often, the studio chooses to compress a movie to fit on a dual-layer 66GB disc. Many of those same titles available through the Kaleidescape store are between 75-100GB!

We see a similar trend when looking at the audio side. The average audio throughput of a streaming service comes in at under 1 Mbps, while Kaleidescape and BluRay see a throughput of 6 Mbps. This translates into much finer detail, improved surround effects, and a deeper, more impactful bass response. If you want to hear the leaves gently blowing in the wind on your favorite Atmos track or feel the slam in your chest of Kong jumping from the top of a skyscraper, the lossy format provided by streaming cannot come close to delivering the dynamics and intensity that you will get from a Kaleidescape.

Now, contrary to what most might believe, with such a significant difference in data transfer & storage, you don’t need to have a six-figure home theater to experience these benefits. When streaming you are not maximizing the potential of your system, but by adding Kaleidescape, you can make a good system sound great, and make a great system sound phenomenal!

Features & Technology

Let’s first talk about the movie store. You can access the store through the on-screen interface, the Kaleidescape app, a computer, or a tablet.  Before going any further, we 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 or rent the movie and it is downloaded to your system as opposed to streaming content over the internet. 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 a lossless quality movie curated from the original studio master! While it does take a short amount of time for the movie to download, it comes with some significant advantages that we will cover later in the review.

Kaleidescape Interface on theater screen

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. Kaleidescape has direct relationships with more than 50 movie studios, which provides a huge catalog of over 13,000 titles, and the list is growing all the time. 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, Plex, 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 fewer movie categories. Kaleidescape has 18. On top of this 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 2021 Golden Globe movies. Select this collection, click buy now, and you are done!  You can also search by the 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. Another 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!

Movie store pricing varies based on HD or UHD/HDR quality. Titles are available for purchase for as little as $9.99, with most major titles available for the same price as purchasing the disc version from Walmart or Amazon. Kaleidescape also regularly offers promotions throughout the year on many of its fantastic collections, meaning you can purchase the complete Marvel Cinematic Universe or your favorite Disney collection at a discounted price. Over 8,000 of the 13,000 titles in the Kaleidescape movie store are also available for rental. Most rentals cost only $7.95 and this will get you the same reference quality copy of the movie that you get when purchasing. When you rent a title through the store, you get access to it for 48 hours once you begin playback and you can watch the movie as many times as you would like during the 48 hours. The cherry on top is that if you decide to purchase a title that you have rented within the 30-day rental window, half of the rental price is credited towards the purchase, which is just fantastic, and something no other rental platform does!

For a lot of us who have built a large collection of physical media over the years, the passion for watching and collecting movies will often mean we find ourselves having to repurchase the same favorite movies again and again as soon as the next big thing comes out. Back when 4K BluRay discs replaced 1080p DVDs, many of us wanted to own the same copies of our favorite movies in the newer format, so we had to repurchase some of our favorite titles at the full (and sometimes more expensive) price just to have the higher resolution copy, and the same will eventually happen whenever movie studios make the switch from 4K to 8K. As a company that was made by movie buffs for movie buffs, Kaleidescape realizes the passion people have for the collection of physical movies they already own. They just get it. So, they teamed up with the movie studios to come up with a way that helps Kaleidescape customers enjoy all of the physical content they owned before, using their special Disc-To-Digital upgrade program. Kaleidescape’s exclusive upgrade program helps facilitate the conversion of your physical movie discs to the reference quality copy for sale on the Kaleidescape store for an exclusive discounted price. If you want to know more about how the Kaleidescape Disc-To-Digital upgrade program works, feel free to reach out to Audio Advice and we’ll be happy to help you out.

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 purchase a movie, you can decide where to send it.

What happens when you run out of space? Well, you have two options. No matter which Kaleidescape product you start with, you can always add more storage. For those with a large collection that want instant access to their content, there is likely a Terra or Compact Terra size that will fit your collection. You also have the ability to remove movies from the hard drive, but you still own them in the Kaleidescape cloud, allowing you to purchase new movies and manage a collection that is larger than your existing storage space. Also, when you purchase a movie, you can download that title on up to five different devices, and that content can be added or deleted from the server remotely. 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 search by owned but not downloaded) and click on it to start the download.

Once you get a library built up, that’s when the fun really begins! You can sort your library by every category you can possibly imagine, even playing time if you have, for example, only 90 minutes before heading out.  You can even set up your own collections! In our case, we love to watch live performances, so we have a collection set up with dozens of concerts. The Kaleidescape content team even takes the time to bookmark the top scenes from movies and the songs from concerts. This allows you to jump straight to a song or a scene 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 easy-to-use menu shows 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 we mean immediately.

If you are having a movie night or entertaining a big crowd, you should test out the very cool script feature. Not only does the movie start instantly when you hit play, but as we mentioned above, the Kaleidescape team has already figured out what the really great scenes are from your movie. With scripts, you can tie these scenes together to make your own collection of favorite scenes! You can even have the cover for the movie show up on the screen for any length of time you choose before the next part of your script starts. This can be especially fun since you can set up a couple of your own “previews,” and then, after they end, immediately have the script play the entire movie your guests came over to watch. 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!

kaleidescape on theater screen

As you can probably tell, we really like the features found in the Kaleidescape movie store. They are reason enough for anyone who has a great home theater to want a Kaleidescape, but those features are only half of the story. The other half is the technology that provides an experience like no other.

When deciding on what hardware will work best for you, the first question we typically ask a potential Kaleidescape customer is simply how many movies do they currently own? Depending on how you prefer to manage your movie collection, Kaleidescape offers a few different hardware options.

The best value and the system that will likely fit the majority of Kaleidescape owners is one of the Compact Terra servers paired with the Strato C player. When combined with their fantastic video store, this is where the latest and greatest hardware tech from Kaleidescape really comes alive.

Kaleidescape Compact Terra Movie Server & Strato C 4K Movie Player

The Compact Terra is a media server that is available in two sizes, 12TB and 18TB. The Compact Terra packs all of the awesome features and tech Kaleidescape pioneered with their original Terra servers but in a more compact package. The unit we tested was the 18TB model paired with the Strato C player. They fit together in a very cool rack mount kit that places them side by side and only takes up one rack unit space, making it very easy to find a home in your rack. We like how they also come with feet for applications where you might need to place them on a shelf.

kaleidescape on theater screen

The 18TB model has storage for approximately 300 4K movies while the 12TB will hold up to 200. And keep in mind that this is all 4K content! The 18TB model can store 500+ movies with a typical mix of 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD quality movies. If you have the budget and consume lots of movies, we would highly recommend going with the 18TB model as the price increase is relatively modest, and the 6TB of extra storage will allow you much more space and flexibility as you continue to grow and expand your Kaleidescape library over the years.

When we picked up the Compact Terra & Strato C combo we were immediately struck with how well they are built and how heavy they are! The brushed aluminum cases are very well machined like you would expect for a product in this price range. The only thing on each of the front panels you will see is the Kaleidescape logo, which is backlit when the unit is powered on. 

The rear of the Strato C is pretty simple. On the back of the unit, there is a connection for the external power supply, an HDMI output, another audio-only HDMI output, a Toslink and a coax digital audio output, a USB port for servicing the unit, an ethernet connection, and a rear IR input to keep the front panel clean when using an IR control system. You get the additional HDMI audio output with this model since the Strato system is a fully 4K HDR10 capable system. An older system may not be able to handle 4K HDR, so this allows you to run the main output to your TV or projector for standard HD/HDR video and the second HDMI for digital output to your audio system. The Compact Terra has even less with just a connection for power, network, and a USB service port. The unit comes with a very user-friendly remote control, although many Stratos will wind up in a system with some sort of home automation remote. In this case, Kaleidescape has an IP driver for all major brands of control systems providing even more functionality by offering the user the ability to automatically dim and brighten lights with the intro and outro credits, and can even use the aspect ratio of the movie to automatically trigger an electric masking screen or anamorphic lens, again something that no other platform can do. 

Speaking of remotes, this is where the Kaleidescape app will really come in handy. While the app doesn’t provide quite the same ease of hunting for movies that you would experience on your computer, one feature we found very helpful during our testing was when we used the phone/iPad app as a remote to control any of the players in our system. It works very similarly to the remote control feature found on most iOS devices. When we first got our test unit hooked up we were so excited to start watching the reference quality content that we did not immediately go through the process of adding the Kaleidescape driver to our control system. The app allowed us to simply make the HDMI and network connections, power up the unit, and start watching content immediately. Even with our rack located in another room, we were easily able to navigate through the Kaleidescape interface and start watching our favorite movie clips immediately without having to be within IR range, instead of relying on the home’s local network to control the Strato through walls and floors. We have installed many Kaleidescape systems with major control systems like Control4 and can attest that it works flawlessly and is incredibly easy to use.

kaleidescape interface on iphone and ipad

The phone and tablet app is a great feature to use in zones where you may not have a control system in place. Maybe your primary viewing area has a nice Control4 remote to navigate through all of the different menus, but what about if you have one or more Strato C players set up as additional zones in your kid’s bedroom or your home office? Nobody likes to fuss with multiple remotes for their TV and different sources, but almost everyone keeps their phone at their fingertips these days. The app’s remote control feature gives you a touchpad that can control any player in your system from your phone or tablet. If you move from one room to another, you can simply select the new room from the drop-down menu at the top and now you are controlling the player in that room. Very cool!

One of the major advantages to the Compact Terra server is that it has significantly faster download speeds compared to the Strato S. While the Strato S can download a lossless copy of a 4K movie in about 35-45 minutes at 200 Mbps, the new Compact Terra will download the same 4K movie in as little as 10 minutes at up to 800 Mbps! Talk about fast! This completely changes the experience. With the Strato S, you will need to take some time to plan ahead for what you want to watch. At Audio Advice, we usually see users who pick out their movie first, and then start the download ahead of when they plan to watch the movie. If you are the kind of person who likes to browse for a movie and watch it almost immediately, the Compact Terra will be the best fit. You can browse the 13,000+ titles available in the Kaleidescape store, pick out your movie, click download, and by the time you have your popcorn made you are ready to watch your new movie!

This leads to another great feature upgrade as the Compact Terra has the ability to simultaneously download and playback content. With the Strato S, priority is always given to playback, so if you are watching something on either zone in your system, any downloads will be temporarily paused until playback stops. With the Compact Terra, you can continue to download content in the background even while you watch other titles in your collection. The Compact Terra also supports simultaneous 4K quality playback on up to 5 Strato C players. This allows you to add multiple Strato C players in different rooms of your house so multiple people can access the content stored on the Compact Terra all at the same time. With the capability to download and playback at the same time, anyone in your house can use a Strato C in one room to watch the content already stored on your Compact Terra while you download a movie to watch in your theater all at the same time!

Kaleidescape Terra Movie Server

The beauty of the Kaleidescape ecosystem is the ability to scale the system to grow with you. If more space is needed in the future, you can always add additional Compact Terra or full-sized Terra servers to the network, and whichever server the movie happens to be on, they all show up on one menu system so the user never needs to know which drives the content is located on. For the true movie buff that needs even more storage capacity, Kaleidescape offers their Terra servers with 24TB, 48TB, or even 72TB of storage. These Terra servers have a larger footprint than the Compact Terra, but for those individuals with a massive movie collection who want all of their movies on demand at all times, the Terra offers an abundance of space for even the biggest movie collections.

Kaleidescape Strato S Movie Player + Server

For the movie buff who wants a Kaleidescape but is budget constrained, or if you do not own a lot of movies and prefer to rent instead of own, or if you are just looking to dip your toes into the great Kaleidescape ecosystem, then the Strato S will be the best fit. This unit combines the player and storage into a single chassis.

The Kaleidescape Strato S is a component-sized piece of gear that has an internal hard drive with 6TB of storage. The basic Strato S will hold more than 100 Ultra 4K HDR movies, or over 600 DVD quality movies.  There is also the option to add Compact Terra or Terra servers later that will increase the storage capacity that the Strato S can access. 

The connections for the Strato S are the same as what you find on the Strato C. On the back of the unit, there are connections for power, HDMI, the secondary audio only HDMI output, toslink and coax digital audio outputs, USB, ethernet, a service port, and the rear IR input. 

While a hardwired internet connection is highly recommended for all Strato models, it is not required for the Strato S. While the Strato S can connect to your network through WiFi, the Strato C and Compact Terra must be hardwired into your network to allow the most efficient transfer of the lossless data between the player and the server. The hardwired connection also ensures you are getting the fastest possible download speeds. If you own a Strato S and decide to add additional storage using a Terra or Compact Terra server later, then it will be necessary to add a hardwired connection to the Strato S to allow it to access all of the additional content stored on the external drive.

The Strato S by itself is an amazing piece of gear, but when you step up to the Compact Terra & Strato C coupled with 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!

Performance

We’ve lived with Kaleidescape systems for over a decade and spent the last few weeks playing with the Kaleidescape Strato C and Compact Terra Server. We can say without question, the picture and sound it puts out is the best you can get--period! This is because that download you purchase is a lossless quality copy of the movie curated straight from the original studio master. Unlike BluRays, it does not have to skip information when it hits a small scratch or something similar on a spinning disc. Kaleidescape puts the best quality video player on the market inside the Strato. On the audio side, the file is always lossless, giving you the best possible audio source. When you compare a 4K movie on the Kaleidescape to streaming 4K from Apple, VUDU, Netflix, or Amazon, the comparison is almost laughable. It completely blows streaming out of the water! As a matter of fact, we felt the HD version of a movie played on the Kaleidescape looked better than the supposed 4K stream from any of the streaming services. This is partly due to the fact that the Strato upscales all HD 2K content to 4K and does an amazing job with it.

The biggest thing that stands out to us on the video side is the total lack of any additional noise outside of what the director intended. Movies just look like super high-resolution still pictures. You never see any trace of artifacts or motion noise. Every detail is super clear and the colors are amazingly rich, but it is really the clarity that sets it apart.

If you are into audio, when you compare the Strato to a streaming service on the audio side, it is like comparing a high-end steak dinner to a hamburger! If you happen to be lucky enough to have a home theater speaker system that is able to reveal all the finer details hiding in the audio tracks of your movies, then the Kaleidescape system will really make the high-performance equipment in your home theater come alive. There is just no comparison!

Overall Recommendation

To sum it all up, the Kaleidescape is the best-looking and sounding movie player we have ever encountered. It truly is the best platform for watching lossless 4K, HD, Dolby Atmos, and DTS-X encoded movies! 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 in your system, period! We feel the bigger your screen is, the greater the advantage you will see with the Kaleidescape. It is easily visible on a 75” or larger panel, but when you get into 150” and up, the difference is just huge.

Something that not everyone realizes when they initially look at the price, or just focus on the picture and sound quality, is the total value of the Kaleidescape experience. It’s the simple but elegant on-screen display, the rock-solid reliability, and the ease of accessing new and existing content that puts this platform leaps and bounds above anything else on the market. Plus, service and support from the company are best-in-class, with both their factory and support team based in the US. This is a passionate company that treats its clients with a sense of community, a benefit often overlooked when people are deciding which brands and components to buy.

It used to cost $20K+ to get into a Kaleidescape system. Now you can get into one of these systems for a fraction of that price, and when coupled with their great movie store, we feel that 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!

At Audio Advice, we've been designing and installing high-performance home theaters & smart home systems for our customers in North Carolina and the surrounding areas for decades. In fact, we've delivered more custom theaters than anyone in the Southeast! We are now offering Home Theater Design no matter where you live in the United States! If you are interested in a custom home theater or upgrading your current system, give us a call, chat with us at AudioAdvice.com, or stop by our award-winning showrooms. We can't wait to help you build your ultimate home theater!