Most of the products I review are designed for use with a third-party control solution, so I don't normally critique remote controls. But this is the first Kaleidescape system to include a remote, so it's worth mentioning. The button layout is clean and provides quick, intuitive access to all of the system's functions. There are individual buttons for selecting movie or music libraries, and each button press delivers a different view, including movie or music cover art, List, and Collections. My sole critique is that only the top half is backlit - a real oversight. Fortunately, Kaleidescape provides a huge library of discreet IR and RS-232 codes for users with more advanced control systems.
By now I've reviewed almost every available movie server, and Kaleidescape's interface is the one that still impresses me the most. I honestly can't think of a movie-related feature it's lacking. Whether sorting titles by rating, running time, director, or actor - or by the cool cover-art shuffle mode that groups together movies with a similar style (animation, spy flicks, concerts - you get the picture), Kaleidescape continually amazes. Other great features include an ability to bookmark favorite scenes, keep track of paused movies (to resume instantly at a later date), and skip directly to the film by bypassing menus and warnings, as well as a comprehensive, user-adjustable parental control system.
Like many other people, I collect multiple seasons' worth of TV shows on DVD. I really appreciated the way Kaleidescape automatically sorted out these collections. Most servers just list each disc generically - 24: Season 1, Disc 1, for example. But whether you're watching The Twilight Zone, Seinfeld, Friends, or Lost, you don't want to have to sort through a long list of discs to find a specific episode. Kaleidescape automatically groups each series together into collections sorted by season and then presents each episode by name. This is just another example of an extra step Kaleidescape has taken to improve the overall experience.
The system's video deinterlacing and upscaling performance was top-notch. The high-quality processing was apparent even when viewing cover art screens, which just had more pop as compared with other servers and even the older, non-VXP-based Kaleidescape players. The system sailed flawlessly through all of the HQV Benchmark DVD's test patterns. Beyond these, it also produced terrific- looking movie images. Making Pixar animations and pristine Hollywood film transfers look great is no mean feat, but I was even more struck by the level of detail that the system pulled out of TV series like AMC's Mad Men. The texture and detail in backgrounds, wallpaper, and clothing - specifically, the patterns in the ad execs' suits and ties and the dresses of the dames - had a near-high-def look.
Kaleidescape also offers some cool features for listening to music CDs stored on the system. Beyond sorting by album, artist, and genre, the system also delivers album reviews, artist bios, and genre descriptions via AMG (All Music Guide), along with multiple artist images that cycle while music is playing.
While the Kaleidescape is a terrific music server, it is bested in this respect by systems from Sooloos and Qsonix. (Check out soundandvisionmag.com for my reviews of both.) These products offer browsing and playlist-generating features that go beyond what Kaleidescape currently offers. Also, I'd love to see a "play more like this" option like Apple's Genius or AMG's Tapestry. I don't think it is too much to ask of an $8,500+ server to offer a music feature that's available in a $200 iPod. I'd also like to have a way to send a music queue from one zone to a second one - if I start a listening session in the theater and then want to move to the living room, for example.
For years, A/V receiver manufacturers have included second- and third-zone outputs on their systems, but the lack of a good interface and control scheme to access them has rendered these outputs largely useless. Kaleidescape offers three ways to access its two additional music zones: the main zone's on-screen GUI; a Web interface; or Kaleidescape's amazing iPhone/iPod Touch app. I totally loved the Remotescape app ($70; available at the iTunes store) so much that I could dedicate a full review to it! In short, Remotescape brilliantly leverages both the Apple portable's touchscreen and the Kaleidescape interface to deliver a natural extension for multizone control. Kaleidescape owners who wish to enjoy music throughout their home should consider this app a must.
You can't talk about movie servers nowadays without mentioning the Blu-ray Disc format. And while Kaleidescape's CEO promises a Blu-ray solution by the end of the year, the Mini System isn't it. So if managing a Blu-ray collection is your sole criterion, this isn't the system for you.
This is my fourth go-round with Kaleidescape, so I am by now intimately familiar with how its systems operate - and how well they stack up against the competition. Hands down, Kaleidescape handles movie server tasks better than any other similar product. Period. The picture quality is terrific, and there really isn't any browsing feature that it's lacking. The Mini System is also a great music server, but it's missing some key features that could make it the best, including a "smart" playlist-generating feature and the ability to import music files over a home network. Even so, perhaps the only reason not to seriously consider Kaleidescape is price, and with the Mini System, even that hurdle has been significantly lowered.
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