Kaleidescape Strato C 4K and Terra Prime server review

After more than two decades in the movie server business, Kaleidescape has become an iconic part of premium cinema installs. Richard Stevenson assesses the brand’s Strato C 4K UHD player and new Terra Prime movie server solution.

Back in the early 2000s, when DVD was emerging as the big thing for home cinema, I wrote extensively about Kalediescape’s pioneering ‘DVD-ripper’ that created a local HDD-based library of movies. The interface was so much slicker and quicker than loading your DVD player and waiting long enough to make a cup of tea for the disc to play and it pioneered convenient multiroom AV. I really wanted one.

In today’s media-free era of home movie entertainment, with big suppliers like Netflix, Disney, Apple and Amazon offering mass content distribution over broadband, is there still room in the market for local content storage at all? Kaleidescape thinks so and has cleverly moved its prime message from convenience to quality. Having formed partnerships with over 30 movie houses and publishers, the system allows you to purchase and download near uncompressed versions of movies (up to four times the file sizes of Blu-ray) from a vast library and then play them as a local source when you like. A two-hour movie on Netflix will be around 15GB of data with a video throughput of around 10Mbps with sound running at a paltry 0.5Mbps, or MP3 quality across multiple channel sound. 

The same movie on Blu-ray will be approximately 45GB with a video throughput of 50Mbps and 6Mbps sound. Kaleidescape movies are typically 70 to 80GB, with some titles being over 100GB in size and run from the Strato C player to display at an average of 65Mbps video and 6Mbps audio. The result is a much better picture and sound quality.

If your customer is spending serious money on their home cinema installation, will they pay for the best quality movie source available? Quite likely, but is it good enough to justify Kaleidescape’s significant cost of entry?

Our review system comprised the Strato C player (£4485.00 retail) and the new Terra Prime Server in 8TB SSD spec (£9750.00 retail). While the Strato has been around a little while, the Terra Prime features an all-new board design with faster processing power and a faster network to make it the only dedicated movie server with 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet. The new servers are available with either high-capacity hard drives or fast solid-state drives from 8TB HDD (£4925.00 retail) to 88TB HDD (£24,240.00 retail).

Connection to the network is ideally straight to the router over Cat7/8 to achieve the 2.5 Gig ethernet speed, but the Kaleidescape worked just fine on my 1 Gig system and a switch. HDMIs need to be top-spec, particularly if you are running longer lengths. First attempts here with coupled 10m + 5m cables didn’t cut it, but an 8m 8K spec cable direct to the projector and a 5m cable from the Strato C’s ‘audio out’ HDMI port to the AVR proved ideal.

The set-up interface can be accessed by the IP address of each device directly or via a rather handy QR code on a set-up sheet in the box. This interface is neat and clean with a traffic-light based system (well, Red, Amber, Green plus Blue for ‘everything OK’) on the quality of the HDMI connection, Network and parameters of the image transfer to the display such as colour gamut, resolution and frame rate. This is a very slick way of identifying niggly little issues with the cabling or ancillary equipment set up, and can be accessed remotely via Kaleidescape support.

The Strato C comes with a neat remote control reminiscent of an Apple TV device and an app, both of which offer browsing, buying and playback controls. On-screen, you get a raft of display and interface options, but I had to go with Kaleidescape’s iconic home page featuring a full screen of movie covers.

For the second EI review in a row, I was absolutely blown away with the performance of our review sample to the point I am working out how to afford it! The picture and sound are off-the-charts better than anything from Netflix and significantly improve on Blu-ray. Video clarity, depth, image punch and detail are all frankly outstanding, and I seriously didn’t realise my Sony VPL-XW7000ES projector was capable of such a stunning output.

Kaleidescape

KEEP IT KALEIDESCAPE 

Playing the original Matrix in 4K from the Kaleidescape back-to-back with the Apple TV 4K stream is eye-opening, with the Kaleidescape lifting a veil from the lobby scene, revealing exceptional detailing in both Neo’s matt black coat and Trinity’s gloss black PVC suit. No artefacts, no colour banding, no noise even in the darkest areas and a notable increase in perceived contrast. The sound is perhaps an even more dramatic advert for the higher bitrate version of movies over streaming, with the soundstage scale becoming larger, effects clearer and more detailed and LFE getting significantly tighter and deeper.

Switching to Eric Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall in 4K HDR is jaw-dropping, with superb sound and black background levels that allowed my projector and screen combo to give an OLED a run for its money. All the meta-data and flags were fully intact on all movies and content I tried, triggering correct audio codecs and projector video modes, and this extends to automatic screen masking systems if the installation has them.

Having seen an image comparison slider on almost every TV manufacturer’s website comparing ‘our screen vs their screen’, I am more than sceptical about these marketing tools. There is one on Kalediescape’s site (https:// www.kaleidescape.com/compare/) comparing Kaleidescape vs Streaming, and I would urge you to take a look and show your customers. It is the first genuinely accurate comparison slider I have seen and shows just what is possible from having your movie source in the largest, least compressed format possible. Kalediescape’s UK movie store library is vast and purchasing new movies is very slick.

The download time is a function of broadband speed, but unless you are in a serious hurry, forward planning and overnight downloading are the way to go. Once the movie is purchased, it can be deleted from the Terra Prime server if you are running out of space and downloaded again for free at any time.

At roughly £20-£30 per movie purchase, it’s not cheap, though, and adding in the hardware cost, which could mount up if the user wants multiple players in different zones and a larger Terra Prime server, makes Kaleidescape a premium service. Yet, the Kaleidescape system we tested here is almost the same hardware price as the Sony projector and offers a simply staggering AV performance upgrade over streaming services. For customers who demand the best, Kaleidescape is an easy to demonstrate and extremely compelling proposition – and I still really want one.

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