First Look Review Kaleidescape Strato S – Theater Quality Movie Download System and Home Server!

The Kaleidescape Strato S is their “entry level”  newest movie player.  Plug this server it into your display (or AV system), log it into your WiFi, and you are ready to start downloading and watching all kinds of high quality content. Kaleidescape has been serving up premium movie delivery (and more recently, TV series) into people’s homes now for more than 15 years.

Strato S player
The Strato S lets you download and view movies and other content, with even higher quality than disc! It supports 4K with HDR, as well as lower resolutions. And it is simple to use.

With the Kaleidescape, you are offered the highest picture quality content for the home. Because the quality is so high, the file sizes of the movies are many times that of even disc, to preserve the slightest details and dynamic range. That means it takes a while to download a movie – you’ll just have to do that in advance, not just stream at the last moment. Depending on your internet connection and the length of a movie, most folks should be able to download a 4K HDR movie in under one hour.

My first download took a bit over 2 hours, but then I was watching a movie at the same time.  Kaleidescape warns you that watching while downloading does slow things down.

When I talk about the highest quality, and 4K, HDR, etc., please understand, like disc, streaming, cable and satellite – not everything is available in the highest quality (4K/HDR).  Some content is 4K but not HDR, you’ll also find some 1080p content with HDR, and more without.  You won’t find old classic movies like To Catch a Thief, in 4K with HDR, and many other movies have never been released in 4K (not even in the theaters).  There are currently 930 4K titles available and growing!

Strato S
Shot of the Strato S, right after I unboxed it
Kaleidescape at CEDIA
Kaleidescape 4K Strato S, C players (at CEDIA) provide a movie theater quality experience at home
Strato S4K HDR movie and content player
Storage6 or 12 Terrabytes
Size17" (W) x 10" (D) x 1.6" (H)
NetworkingWireless, Wired
HDMI2.0 with HDCP 2.2
Max Resolution3840×2160 x 60fps Chroma 4:2:2 10/12 bit
Projector Reviews Hot Product Award

I’m not saying that the Strato S is inexpensive, But if you’ve got a really nice display, and care to feed it the best content, or you just want the convenience of the Movie Library with ease of use.  Now those of us who work for living, we can have a single room Strato S system from $5495, about 1/10th of the original price. A two room system can be done for less than $10,000. Even that sounds like a lot – until you come to realize what this product brings to your “party!”

Here’s one way to view (Covers) the content on your Strato S. Or you can look at a list or search, or Collections (such as “Golden Globe Nominees”.)

The 12TB version I am reviewing can hold roughly 160 4K HDR movies, far more HD or SD movies, of course. Even for those buy a lot of discs, shouldn’t worry, you won’t want to keep all of the first 180 4K movies you watch. You’ll replace the older, less interesting movies with newer ones, keeping all of your favorites.

Background: Long ago…
I recall that the first Kaleidescapes were something like $50,000. The company goes back to 2001, which was almost to the dawn of HDTV.  FYI:  The first commercial HDTV broadcast in the US was a baseball game in 1998. Way back around 2001, I thought these Kaleidescape folks were on to something big…

…But, I also recall thinking: To bad this stuff is only for the really rich, the kind of folks who think little of spending $100,000 – $500,000+ on a home theater. People, that’s not the case anymore!

A single Strato S is probably all most people want and need, as their most important viewing will probably be on their best system.

Expand that one room system to two rooms by adding a Strato C.

Want “a whole house” solution? Not a problem either. Their Terra Movie Server system is built for just that, and is still a very small fraction of the original cost. It comes in 24 and 40 Terrabyte versions. We’ll get into more details in the full review, to be published early April (2020).  That review will focus not just on the features, performance (including picture quality comparisons with streaming…) but also the experience of living with the Strato S system for an extended period of time, from someone who owns tons of discs, and also streams a lot.  Will I be able to give it up?  BTW, I lobbied to have use of a review unit for six months, but had to settle for three – alas.

DescriptionMSRP ($)
Strato S 4K Ultra HD Movie Player - 6TB5,495.00
Strato S 4K Ultra HD Movie Player - 12TB7,995.00
Strato C 4K Ultra HD Movie Player4,295.00
Terra Movie Server - 24TB9,995.00
Terra Movie Server - 40TB14,995.00

I’m really impressed, so far. I’m seriously considering in getting one for my new theater/testing room. The Strato S server arrived, pre-loaded with 49 movies to review. That was mostly a small bundle they provided to me as a reviewer, along with eight additional titles I requested of movies I use a lot for my comparisons. (ie. Passengers, Ghostbusters 2016, Ready Player One…)

Folks: What it is not! Kaleidescape is not about streaming! It is not Netflix, Prime, Hulu, Roku, Apple TV or Disney+ or anything else around these days that you might be using.

Kaleidescape has content deals with the major studios including Disney, Universal and others that are launching their own streaming services. Thing is, what Kaleidescape offers us, the consumer, isn’t in competition with the studios, but rather serves a niche that no one else is doing. So while Netflix just lost rights to Disney’s content, Kaleidescape offers the Disney classics, Marvel, and far, far more.

HT9060 Passengers
It is in dark scenes such as this one from Passengers, where the higher compression used on cable, and streaming, can add visible noise compared to disc

You might think of it this way. A Kaleidescape – hooked up to a great display – be it a projector (or a really large OLED display), provides the content cleaner and better than any other option, although I’m told that some 4K content may not be better quality than the equivalent 4K Blu-ray disc, merely being just as good!

movie description
This is a typical example of the info that comes up when you select a movie info. Check out the upper right corner: Kaleidescape provides Rotten Tomatoes movie review scores! There can be multiple pages of info.
Kaleidescape Strato SComparable to:
4K UHD content (best)4K HDR in Movie Theater, better than 4K UHD Blu-ray
4K UHD content (other)4K UHD Blu-ray
4K Content no HDR (best)Better than 4K, no HDR Blu-ray
4K Content no HDR (other)4K, no HDR Blu-ray
1080p contentBetter than 1080p Blu-ray Disc.
Etc.
Ready Player One!
This 4K UHD image from Ready Player One, projected by BenQ HT9060. Strato S, Clean! Click to enlarge.

Audiophiles – I’m beginning to think that the best quality 4K UHD I’ve seen on this Strato S, is the moral equivalent of a top quality record album – perhaps a half speed master (I own a few of those).

By comparison 4K UHD Blu-ray, would be something between a regular quality record and a CD (in most cases closer to the CD). Some compromise on noise very dark scenes due to compression, also dynamic range?.
HDTV – even more compression, worse on very dark scenes – Sort of something between CD audio and MP3.
Streaming movies? Well that’s like streaming audio – in that it is the lowest quality available, unless you want to break out low resolution DVDs and VHS or Betamax tapes from the last century!

Don’t forget, though. Great quality content, calls for quality equipment to present you with the best viewing experience! You sure don’t need a Kaleidescape Strato to send content to watch a movie on your iPhone 6. There are, btw, premium audio services like Tidal that offer CD quality audio (way better than MP3), but those better quality would be wasted if you listen to your music on the usual $15 ear buds.

So far all I’ve been listening to, are soundtracks from movies, going through my audio system.  I have downloaded some concerts, though, I’m going to start with some Clapton.  I’ll report on the audio quality vs CD, iTunes, etc., in the full review.

4K/HDR – Ready Player One – clean as can be, from Strato S, projected using the BenQ HT9060

Sounds Incredible!

Audio for Kaleidescape, isn’t compressed at all.  To be more precise, Kaleidescape, does compress, but losslessly.  The end result is the same exact quality as with no compression, but downloads a bit faster.

 

There is one thing to contend with:  You have to wait a bit to enjoy all the great content available!

“Wait?”
To quote Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Don’t Panic!”

It doesn’t take long to download (but it takes a good bit longer if you are watching other content from your Strato S, at the same time). Most often, I’m told, 4K / HDR should download in under 1 hour, if not watching other content. So, it’s not like you have to plan your movie night days in advance.

4K/HDR movies: These take the longest, but on a good fast (not super-duper fast) internet connection, those will typically download in a range that won’t exceed 90 minutes. With a pretty top of the line home internet connection even those 4K’s can get down to about 30-45 minutes, the folks at Kaleidescape tell me.  I expect to download a number of movies before the final review posts, so I will post on my download times.

Dinner and a movie? Great. Pick a movie, start your download, cook up some dinner, your movie will likely be ready to view before the dishes have found their way to the sink.

scenes
Content is not just provided in the standard chapters, but usually includes labeled scenes.

This Kaleidescape is more than just a basic movie server, it has been designed for both ease of use, and convenience (in addition to picture quality, of course.) There are many ways to search your own library of downloaded movies or the humongous collection found on their Movie Store.

BTW Downloadable 4K content tends to cost similarly to 4K UHD disc, often a bit more, but not “out of control.” Lower resolution content 1080p – is usually also in the same general range price-wise, as regular Blu-ray disc, about the same, or not a whole lot more.  Just like with disc prices, prices vary from movie to movie, TV series to TV series.

You’ll find tons of TV series available as well, including old and new: i.e., Downton Abbey, Mad Men, House of Cards to name a few, or even “old” stuff like West Wing, Gossip Girl, and House. (I’m still waiting, though, for Boston Legal!)

Since movie prices are typically not out of line with buying the same resolution content on the disc, the primary cost difference is really just the upfront cost of the Strato server itself, and for that, you can typically expect excellent picture quality and a great user experience.  Certainly 150 movies on a Strato S, that can be located with searches, or by genre’s etc. is far easier to manage, than a large disc collection.

Parental controls menu
Kaleidescape has parental controls. Easy to set up, review, use.

That is because Kaleidescape is not just about delivering the highest quality content – all those great movies (and TV, etc.) where appropriate – but delivering it with the best picture quality possible today available to consumers.

That means in some cases, picture quality should be every bit as good as your local high quality Cineplex. So if you have a really large OLED TV or a quality projector, and a properly dark room, your experience should blow away the local cinema experience, and at least at home, if someone’s messing with their cell phones, it’s within your ability to control.

Editor’s note: If only Netflix was anywhere near as easy to navigate as this Kaleidescape I’m using! Great search function!

Kaleidescape supports 4K content, it supports DCI-P3 color with HDR – the same as the movie theaters. . Very little streaming content is currently supporting HDR, even if a lot of 4K is available. And, very little streaming even attempts the higher quality P3 color. (These things will change over time, of course).

Flash: Kaleidescape gets lots of movies before they are available on cable/satellite, or even Blu-ray, 4K UHD. A good example is the Joker, which has been available since I hooked up this Strato S before Christmas. (Blu-ray ships Jan 7). Will Smith in Gemini Man – also available for weeks, doesn’t ship until Jan 14th. Looks like in some cases movies will be available on Kaleidescape a month or more before other options!

Kaleidescape serves you new content first (well, 2nd after the theaters). That makes my wife very happy, since she hates waiting many months to see a movie we didn’t catch in the theaters!

Design and Use of the Kaleidescape system

Hardware – HDMI – networking, requirements for using the S

Setting up a Strato S is easy. It works wirelessly with your router. You do need to set up your account so you can buy content from the extensive Movie Store. The primary output is HDMI 2.0.

The Strato S can be rack mounted with a kit.

connectors
Back of the Strato S. Wireless and wired networking is built in. Also HDMI, USB, Digital Audio out...

As to the Strato S, itself, It took only a couple of minutes to configure it to my WiFi, the longest part, of course, is typing in a really long password on an onscreen keyboard, something we’re all used to doing from time to time.

In summary, this Strato S is a single display system, with $5495 and $7995 versions. Kaleidescape let’s you turn it into a two room system with the addition of the Strato C which lacks its own storage and sells for $4295 list price. They sent me one of those as well, and I will get to it, in the full review. Important to note, however, if you want to run an S and a C, currently will need to hook them both up to a wired network. The single Strato S works great on my WiFi!

finding content
My Movie list on this Strato S. I can show alpha or sort by genre, cast, director...

Is this the very best solution out there today?  It isn’t if what you want is first run movies  showing in your home while they are in the theaters.  Folks, there’s a system for that, you can buy, but I’m told each movie is at least $1500.  Ouch.  I’ll be happy watching 4K/HDR content, hopefully right after the movies leave the theaters and before disc, HDTV, etc.

I’m done for now. Too many good movies and dozens and dozens of TV series is available on this Strato S. I need to spend more time enjoying the Strato S, viewing content on my projectors (or OLED TV), and less time writing about it.

Expect my full review, including with photo comparisons of picture quality – showing the Strato S vs 4K UHD, vs streaming the same content. To publish in April, after extended use.

Check back for more info before that, however, I expect to publish additional info before then.

Too cool!

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