While the Kaleidescape Encore series might, at first glance, look like a fancy replacement for your Blu-ray player, it is a much more comprehensive solution than that. It is a complete whole-house entertainment system – tailored to your needs by your connected home installer – which allows you to manage and watch a variety of content in its native resolution or upscaled to 4K. With a clean interface and easy-to-use navigation, it makes keeping your library of movies and TV shows in order a complete doddle.
There are four key components of the Encore series – the Alto and Strato players, the Terra server unit, and the Disc Server. The Terra allows you to store either 12GB or 24GB of downloaded content, while the Disc Server accommodates up to 320 physical DVD or Blu-ray discs. The Alto and Strato are available either as stand-alone units with internal storage or simply as a player for content held on a Kaleidescape content server.
The major difference between the Alto and the Strato comes in the types of content they can handle. The Strato supports Ultra HD content with 10-bit colour, making it HDR-ready (you can read more about what HDR means here). While the Alto is limited to 1080p resolution, it does come with a disc slot, allowing a Blu-ray or DVD to be inserted and played from the user’s location without it having to be fed into the Disc Server.
It can also function as a stand-alone Blu-ray player without the need for an external server. Both players are compatible with multiple 3D audio codecs, making them suitable for use in fully-fledged home cinema environments, while they also allow films to be paused in one room and resumed in another.
There are several different combinations of the above units so that, depending on where and when you prefer to watch television, you can have a Kaleidescape set-up to suit your family’s needs. The models are also available with a special kids’ remote, which uses a different IR code to the generic remote and changes the interface to display only content that you have previously decided is suitable for them. This must be done manually with an opt-in approach to content, rather than letting you simply allow access to all content up to a certain age rating.
Pick and mix
Anyone who has previously used a video streaming service will find Kaleidescape’s tile-based interface a familiar experience. A particularly neat function is the ability to pause on a certain title and see the covers rearrange themselves to show similar content to the highlighted film. Content can also be viewed alphabetically, which allows you sort it by genre, year, length or director – ideal if you’re not sure which Scorcese film you want to watch one evening. This also translates across to the app, which allows you to peruse your collection and see detailed information on titles in your library while watching a film.
Kaleidescape allows you to create collections for quick access – although this isn’t necessarily the most immediately intuitive area of the platform to access, it is a reasonably convenient way to store your favourite films in a single list.
You cannot buy films directly from the television interface; instead, you need to visit the Kaleidescape store online and download your purchases onto your server or player from there. This can be accessed remotely, so you can log into your account from anywhere, choose your film or TV series and set it to download for when you get home.
King of content?
One small yet notable differentiator between Kaleidescape and its rivals is the size of the file downloaded after purchase. One of the criticisms of movie download platforms such as iTunes is that it falls short of the same image quality as a Blu-ray disc will provide. A Blu-ray disc will generally fit up to 50GB of data (including trailers and other media); the iTunes HD download of Mad Max, for example, will take up 5.03GB of space.
The same film in high definition from Kaleidescape, meanwhile, will take up 43.8GB on the server, which means that the original information is preserved as no file compression is taking place compared to Blu-ray. A Kaleidescape HD film will therefore faithfully match Blu-ray quality, rather than blowing out details or introducing banding issues as tends to be the case with iTunes downloads.
Of course, users that have a Disc Server will not experience any loss in quality when it comes to playing their Blu-ray discs, as this behaves in exactly the same way that a Blu-ray player would. The difference between Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray and Kaleidescape HD and UHD in terms of picture quality will be minimal.
The Kaleidescape content library is particularly strong when it comes to Ultra HD content. At the time of writing, it offers 99 films in both the UK and US stores, which the company suggests is the largest such repository currently on the market. As it is still early days for this format – the first UHD Blu-Ray players are still only just hitting the market – Kaleidescape has stolen a march on its rivals in the home movie-watching stakes. Granted, there are online streaming rivals such as Netflix that have begun to focus more on 4K content but streamed video will inevitably struggle to match the picture quality and playback of a film hosted on a Kaleidescape player.
It won’t be useful for all homeowners, but those who have signed up to the UltraViolet film service are able to download this content onto their Kaleidescape servers for free – provided that the movie in question is available on the Kaleidescape store.
Rethinking home entertainment
The Encore series is not without its minor flaws: the Strato player has no UHD Blu-ray drive and the files can take a significant amount of time to download if you live in an area with poor internet signal, which means you have to plan ahead if you want to buy and download a 4K film to watch. In terms of the amount of HD and SD content on offer, the UK store lags behind the US one by a reasonable margin, although this content gap is continually receding.
It is also important to recognise that you cannot simply buy a Kaleidescape unit off the shelves – due to the complexity of the initial set-up and the possible configuration permutations, it is only available through a custom install expert. They will be able to advise you about the different options, and come up with a solution that best mirrors the way that you wish to consume films and TV series in the home.
Despite this, Kaleidescape Encore is one of the most comprehensive options available to viewers today, particularly when it comes to HDR and Ultra HD content. For anyone looking for a future-ready solution to their home entertainment needs, it should definitely be on the shortlist.