Bottom line: Kaleidescape - not surprisingly - met all challenges with flying colors (literally, in the case of that flag).
Test patterns don't always tell the whole story, though, so I moved on to some movie clips to test real-world performance. Again, the images coming from the player were sharp and detailed. The opening Baku village scene of Star Trek: Insurrection has long been used by reviewers to test video performance. Where other players can turn the stacks of hay into amorphous lumps, the 1080p Player revealed tons of detail, clearly displaying that the pile was comprised of thousands of individual strands. Close-ups of faces revealed the minutest of details often lost: fine wrinkles, stubble or dirt smudges that deliver the nth degree of viewing experience. The 1080p Player's upscaling magic was limited with old or poor transfers, but when working with pristine source material, the results approached true HD quality. Direct digital transfers of recent Pixar films or Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, had a depth and dimensionality that exceeded my expectations of what a DVD could look like.
Beyond the improved video performance are some changes involving that new button I mentioned earlier. Previously, playing a disc from the drive without importing it to the server resulted in a very blah experience. Also, it wasn't possible to play music CDs at all without importing them first. Now, when a disc is dropped into the tray, the system looks up all the information and displays it with the same slick OSD as imported movies. Also, selecting "Play Movie" starts the movie instantly, jumping past all trailers and warnings. Even cooler, pause a movie on one player, eject it, and carry the disc to another player, and you can restart exactly where you left off! This means owners will receive the same consistent experience whether they're watching a movie they own or rent. To import a disc, simply open the drive and press the new button.
Kaleidescape also unveiled another player in a brand new form factor and lower price point, the 1080p Mini Player. Measuring a svelte 8.4" wide x 10.6" deep x 1.7" high, this player is perfect for discreet in-room installations where it can be mounted on a wall, inside cabinetry, and behind furniture or a flat panel display. Designed as a client only, the Mini Player doesn't have it's own drive, but relies on streaming content from the server. The MiniPlayer uses a bearing-less, MagLev fan design for near silent operation, making it perfect for in-room installation. Despite its size, the player includes the same excellent video processing of the larger 1080p Player. For large systems, an optional rack-mount kit will hold two Mini Players in a single 1U rack space.
Sadly, the new player won't handle Blu-ray. For fun, I dropped a BD into the drive thinking maybe, just maybe . . . but the player spit out the disc after a few seconds. Until Kaleidescape offers a Blu-ray solution - which they've promised to do sometime in 2009 - these new movie players offer performance that will make the wait less painful.
The new 1080p Player is available now at a suggested price of $4,295, and will replace the Movie Player 2 as the de facto Kaleidescape player. The 1080p Mini Player will be available at the end of July for $2,995.
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