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Why Kaleidescape Could Own Day & Date, Pt. 1

Why Kaleidescape Could Own Day & Date, Pt. 1

After my last two posts—”Day & Date Finally Get Real, Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2“—where I explored the current and proposed options for viewing movies at home on the day and date they’re released in theaters, I thought I’d offer a bit of speculation on why I think the best approach to this might already exist with Kaleidescape.

 

When you consider the various boxes that need to be checked to make day & date a success—something I’ll do here by comparing Kaleidescape with the existing options—it can be argued that they already have enough of the pieces in place to be the strongest contender.

As a Kaleidescape owner, reviewer, and dealer, I feel I’m in a pretty strong position to make this claim. I’ve been following the company virtually since its inception, with my first review published in Sound & Vision magazine back in 2003. Since that time, I’ve lived with or reviewed virtually every product the company has produced, been involved in beta testing, and currently own a Strato 4K HDR player along with a Premiere system with players in two locations and with two disc storage vaults managing my collection of approximately 500 movies. 

 

So here are ten reasons why I feel Kaleidescape could own the day & date market.

 

1)  STUDIO AGREEMENTS

One of Prima Cinema’s biggest initial drawbacks was the lack of studio agreements—something that could hinder Red Carpet Home Cinema as well. The number of studios on board determines the movies you can watch. In short, no studios, no movies.

 

Prima launched with only three major studios. Red Carpet is coming to market with four majors and one minor, Annapurna Pictures. (The company lists 20th Century Fox as a licensee, but it currently offers no films from them. When I asked CEO Fred Rosen if the recent Disney acquisition of Fox would affect this relationship, he coyly responded, “Only the Shadow knows . . .”) This means there is often a real shortage of content to watch. For example, you won’t be watching the blockbuster Avengers: Endgame in any Prima or Red Carpet cinema.

 

Kaleidescape, on the other hand, has agreements with 38 studios. This includes all of the majors except MGM, as well as a host of minor, independent, and foreign companies. And, yes, it includes Disney and all its properties: Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Disney Animation.

 

These existing relationships put Kaleidescape in a strong position to negotiate for day & date terms, and to have an unmatched amount of content on hand for viewing.

2)  ROBUST COPY PROTECTION

Hollywood is (rightfully) very paranoid about protecting its content. I mean, if you invested $100-million-plus in something with a potential $1 billion return, you probably would be too. So any technology that will let you watch this precious content in the privacy of your home is going to require some pretty hefty safeguards to prevent piracy.

 

When it comes to security protocols, I don’t believe any consumer electronics device in history is more locked down than Prima. Since I described those protocols in detail in “Day & Date Finally Gets Real, Pt. 1,” I won’t recount them again here. 

But Prima does do everything imaginable to ensure that no piracy takes place on its watch. 

 

They also require every installed location to have a static IP address that’s registered and white-listed with them. (Red Carpet has the same requirement.) This ensures that the system is only being used at your home. While Kaleidescape doesn’t currently require this level of security, its system doesn’t have any hardware and technology limitations that would prevent it from being implemented if the studios required it.

 

Prima and Red Carpet also employ digital watermarking, which means every presentation is uniquely tagged and can be identified back to a specific viewing session if it’s illegally recorded and released. Kaleidescape is also ready to do this, having signed a deal with Nagra to implement its NexGuard technology, called “the world’s leading forensic watermarking technology.”

 

Of course, 100% piracy prevention is impossible, as shown by the fact that Avengers: Endgame was released to Chinese Torrent sites within hours of the film’s premiere in China. But Kaleidescape has been fanatical about protecting content, securely storing movies on its servers 

for years without a single report of the system being hacked or exploited, so its proprietary hardware and software should pass Hollywood muster.

 

3)  NOT A ONE-TRICK PONY

Perhaps the biggest differentiator between Kaleidescape and systems like Prima and Red Carpet is that the latter exist solely to provide day & date content while, with Kaleidescape, day & date would just be icing on an already fully-featured and delicious cake.

 

When Prima went dark back in 2016, system owners were left with a $35,000 paperweight. Movies stopped downloading, and the system effectively ceased to function. (The company expects to make an announcement in July following a round of funding in June, so hopefully this will bring existing systems back to operational status.) Should Red Carpet fail, or the studios decide to cease support, one would assume that its $15,000 hardware would also become just another expensive conversation piece.

 

But Kaleidescape has nearly 20 years of proven service. Even if studios decided that day & date was a horrible mistake (unlikely), Kaleidescape owners would still have a system that functions 100% the way it does today, and any movies already bought and downloaded would continue to play. And instead of being limited to a single (expensive) viewing of a film or a brief viewing window, Kaleidescape owners can accumulate a library of content they can watch at any time.

 

4) EXISTING INTERFACE FOR SECURE TRANSACTIONS

While Prima’s biometric fingerprint reader for authenticating purchases might seem extreme, it does prevent your 10-year-old from firing up the theater and ordering a bunch of movies at $500 a pop. But it also means nobody else in the family can use 

the system if the enrolled fingerprint member is away.

 

Red Carpet doesn’t need fingerprint authentication for purchases, but does require customers to have a credit card on file with a limit of “at least $50,000.”

 

Kaleidescape’s Movie Store already provides a secure way to handle 

Why Kaleidescape Could Own Day & Date, Pt. 1

transactions. Customers have been buying movies online and downloading them from the Store for years, so a system for shopping, billing, and delivery is already up and running, and works.

 

With its recently introduced iOS app, Kaleidescape customers can make purchases using an iPhone or iPad that can be authenticated by a fingerprint or Face ID. This system is fast, secure, and effective. Buying movies via the onscreen interface requires just a PIN code to complete the transaction.

 

If Hollywood required customers to have a registered fingerprint reader for added security, Kaleidescape could probably easily add this feature. Every Strato player has a currently unused USB connection. With a firmware update and a sub-$100 USB fingerprint scanner, this feature—like whitelisting an IP address—should be something that could be added.

 

5)  SUPPORTS HIGHEST-QUALITY AUDIO & VIDEO

While Prima’s video was considered stellar at the time the system was introduced, delivering better-than-Blu-ray quality 10-bit 4:2:2 images, it was limited to 1080p resolution, which trails behind the premium experience available on today’s 4K Blu-ray discs. The company had plans to release updated hardware (reportedly selling for $50,000, or a $15,000 upgrade to existing owners) that would support 4K HDR video and lossless audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, but that has yet to come to fruition.

 

Red Carpet will presumably be delivering films in 4K HDR with lossless audio via Vubiquity, a premium content distributor that supports this level of delivery.

 

Meanwhile, the Kaleidescape Movie Store features hundreds of titles in 4K HDR resolution, many with lossless Dolby Atmos soundtracks. And unlike streaming content, which requires heavy compression to get through a narrow network pipe, Kaleidescape’s content is 100% downloaded to a local server, similar to how both Prima and Red Carpet operate. This already exceeds the presentation found in most commercial cinemas, and also exceeds the very best experience offered by 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays—without the storage limitations of a physical disc—and would likely be the quality provided for day & date releases.

 

 

In Part 2, I’ll talk about how, unlike services like Red Carpet and Prima, Kaleidescape already has a significant customer base with both the hardware and the financial means to support day & date in a big way right out of the gate.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Why “Game of Thrones” Looked Like Crap

Why "Game of Thrones" Looked Like Crap

If you spent any amount of time on social media this past Sunday night or Monday morning, you were probably inundated with tweets, grams, and posts about Game of Thrones. The episode, “The Long Night,” has been a long time coming. White Walkers and the people of Westeros met at Winterfell in a battle of epic proportions. After two episodes of everyone coming together to protect humanity, the viewing public was aching for a fight. But most of the online feedback wasn’t about the content of the episode. Sure, there was some bickering about who killed who—and for good reason. But the real issue was this:

 

It looked terrible.

 

Many lamented that the episode was too dark, and it was hard to see what was going on. It was a night battle that lasted 82 minutes, notoriously shot over 55 consecutive night shoots. The episode’s director of photography, Fabian Wagner, discussed his approach for the episode with the Vanity Fair podcast “Still Watching,” and that the series in general is shot using a lot of 

natural light. The idea was to be able to “evolve the lighting” and have the “storytelling of the lighting evolve with the storytelling of the characters.” Unfortunately, it led to an incredibly dark presentation that was difficult to follow. (If you remember, there were similar complaints when Solo was released, a dark film shot with natural light that looked awful when shown at improperly-calibrated theaters.)

 

In a way, the experience was heavily dependent on the quality of your display and calibration. If your display crushes black at all, you’re losing detail. If your display has a high black level, you’re also losing detail. And any ambient light in the room at all can make it hard to see.

 

But the most egregious issue of all didn’t have anything to do with the filmmaking. It was due to how the episode was delivered by HBO. Every single shot had banding artifacts caused by the compression. No one was safe from it. Not Jon Snow, or Daenerys Targaryen, not even the White Walkers. It consumed the entire episode.

 

Some articles point to the fact that everyone was streaming it at the same time, causing the system to overload. So far, I’ve watched the episode in three ways: A recorded version from DirecTV, a stream from the HBO Go app on an Xbox One X, and a stream from the HBO Go app on a Sony X950G. All three exhibited the banding and blocky blacks, although the stream from the app on the Sony looked the best.

 

There wasn’t one particular problem that led to the poor presentation of this long-awaited episode, but rather a snowball of issues. The way it was shot was already going to challenge displays—especially those with black-level 

issues (hello LCD!). That HBO didn’t seem to take that into account and used the same compression they use on everything only made it worse. Finally, most home displays aren’t calibrated (or have the aforementioned black-level problems) and had no chance.

 

The last remaining hope for “The Long Night” is that HBO will address this issue when it releases it on (hopefully) 4K Blu-ray. But at the rate they’re releasing the seasons on UHD, we might have a better chance of seeing George R.R. Martin actually finish writing the series.

 

John Higgins

John Higgins lives a life surrounded by audio. When he’s not writing for Cineluxe, IGN,
or 
Wirecutter, he’s a professional musician and sound editor for TV/film. During his down
time, he’s watching Star Wars or learning from his toddler son, Neil.

Alien

Alien (1979)

Forty years. That’s how old the seminal sci-fi, suspense, horror film Alien turns this year. And to celebrate the milestone, 20tth Century Fox has given the film a complete 4K HDR restoration, supervised by director Ridley Scott, with the transfer taken from a 4K Digital Intermediate.

 

At this point, what can be said about Alien that hasn’t been said in hundreds of other reviews, columns, blogs, and forums? Released in 1979, the movie has a different look, feel, and style than anything else that had come before it. And like throwing a boulder into a pond, it caused a ripple-effect through the filmmaking world that influenced the style and storytelling of virtually every sci-fi film that followed—principally Scott’s own Blade Runner, which came two years later. Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley—looking incredibly young and fresh-faced here—launched the idea of the female action hero, and Scott’s gritty, decaying Nostromo showed that the future didn’t need to be shiny and new.

 

I remember the first time I saw Alien. It was on a free Showtime weekend right after we had just moved to a new home in Bakersfield, California. I was in fifth grade, had the flu, and was couch-ridden and under-supervised. This was way pre-

onscreen guide days, so you basically just flipped around at the top of the hour hoping you would catch something good. 

 

When I saw that Alien was coming on—and that my parents were busy elsewhere—I settled in. All I really knew about the movie was the tagline, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” The original trailer had an incredibly 

slow build, almost a full-minute of a slow pan down to an egg, followed by a lot of dark scenes with people running and panicking. And not a single spoken word. Not. One.

 

Of course, as an 11-year-old, the infamous chest-burster scene was shocking, but not actually the nightmare fuel one might think. No, what lingered in my brain was nightmares of running through a darkened ship, klaxons blaring, strobes flashing, being chased by a monster, as a countdown timer steadily wound down towards destruction. Fun times.

 

Unfortunately, Alien has never really lived up to its potential on the home screen. DVD and LaserDisc versions were overly grainy and noisy, and the previous remastered Blu-ray version couldn’t do the shadow and black-level detail the justice it deserved. Rest assured, all of that is made right with this new 4K HDR version, which looks fantastic. Fortunately, the restoration is not overly heavy-handed, getting rid of the bad bits of noise and deterioration while keeping Scott’s look and stylistic feel solidly intact.

 

The film begins with the unrestored 20th Century Fox logo showing you just how grainy and noisy the source material was, but once we jump into the movie, the image is clean, clear, and beautifully solid. The blackness of space is deep, inky, and clean, with the stars as bright pinpoints of light. They definitely took a mild touch with HDR here, not overdriving the film but enhancing key scenes, punching up the appropriate highlights like the ship’s drive engines, spotlights, flames, and strobes. Much—and I mean much—of the film takes place in the dark, with many things hidden in shadows, and it is here where the cleaned-up transfer and HDR have the greatest impact.

Alien (1979)

Occasionally, there are scenes where the boosted brightness of a spotlight will highlight a bit of extra noise in the image, but these scenes are few and unobjectionable. There is a brutal video torture test at 24:30 into the film, where the crew is exploring LV-426, the moon that is the source of the spurious radio signal. Here we have myriad shades of grey illuminated by various lighting sources and swirling smoke that could be an absolute banding nightmare, but the image holds up wonderfully.

 

While Alien will never be accused of being a colorful film, 4K’s wider color gamut is used modestly to enhance the bright reds and oranges of the many indicator lights located around the Nostromo.

 

Alien isn’t your typical sci-fi, horror, space-exploration film, rather being an amalgam. It’s been years since I’ve watched the film, and I couldn’t entirely recall the storyline, so it was nice to go into it semi-fresh. What I really appreciated was the total lack of exposition. You’re thrown into the Nostromo with the crew as they’re awakened out of hyper-sleep, and you have to figure out things along with them. Several minutes pass in the film before a word is spoken. During that time, we’re treated to a slow, wandering journey through the empty Nostromo, and the depth of image is almost 3D. HDR is used nicely here, allowing us to see more shadow detail than ever before, letting you appreciate the lengths taken with the practical sets. The same can be said for The Derelict, the spacecraft the crew discovers on LV-426. Here you can marvel at H.R. Giger’s design style and really appreciate the look of the Space Jockey and leathery texture of the eggs in the egg farm. 

 

The film’s first act really plays more like a documentary of the life of space miners, hearing the crew grouse about bonuses, and wanting to get home. The film is equally slow about revealing Ripley as the hero, keeping you guessing as to who will and won’t die. And whether by design or technical limitation, the glimpses of the Xenomorph are kept few, and are often just snatches or in shadows. This reminded me of Jaws, where Spielberg keeps the huge great white a visual mystery for much of the film, proving that the dangers we can’t see are often the most terrifying.

For a film that’s celebrating 40 years, I was amazed how well the story and effects held up. The only things that really date the film’s look are the ancient displays and computer tech located around the Nostromo. Some of the graphics on these screens look a bit of a mess, while others—namely the text on Mother’s (MU-TH-UR 6000) screen—are razor-sharp. The alien looks just as terrifying as ever, with the inner-workings of its glistening, goo-filled inner jaws clearly visible.

 

Part of the danger of making a 40-year-old film look so good and visible are that some things best left unseen are revealed. There were a couple of moments where it was too obvious that the alien’s movements were a tad too human-in-a-costume or that we were looking at models instead of full-sized crafts. Fortunately, these were minor, and certainly didn’t detract from enjoying the film. (One thing my wife and I both commented on was the bizarre choice for Ripley to be wearing underwear during the finale that appears to be about five sizes too small for her. Perhaps that was the style of the day—or will be the trend in 2122 . . .)

 

One thing not changed from the previous Blu-ray release was the audio, with the 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio being retained here. Would I have loved a new Dolby Atmos or DTS:X mix? Absolutely. There are many scenes where an immersive track could have been used to great effect, but this mix plays well in a luxury cinema, and my processor’s upmixer did a great job of putting blaring alarm klaxons up into the overheads.

 

Both the 4K disc and the Kaleidescape download include the original theatrical cut and the director’s cut (which actually plays a minute shorter) along with two commentary tracks and two isolated soundtrack scores.

 

Alien is a must-have for any movie fan, and I dare say it will never look better than what we have here.

John Sciacca

Alien (1979)

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Creating Rayva: Vin Bruno

Creating Rayva: Vin Bruno
Theo's Corner

Rayva CEO Vin Bruno has been key in taking my desire to stem the decline in home theater and
help turn it into a viable company offering turnkey entertainment-room solutions. I recently talked
with Vin and Cineluxe editor-in-chief Michael Gaughn about the factors that led to Vin joining the
company and about what we’ve been able to accomplish since he came on board.

—T.K.

 

 

Michael Gaughn  My understanding, Vin, is that Theo recruited you to be Rayva’s CEO. How did that come about?

 

Vin Bruno  When I was the CEO of CEDIA, I was two weeks into the job, giving a presentation at our awards banquet, and amongst the 300 attendees, I spotted Theo. After the banquet was over, I went to find him and say hello, and he expressed his concern about the decline of home theater. The very next week, I went to Theo’s apartment in Brooklyn to see what we could do, as CEDIA and as an industry, to reverse that decline. And that was when Theo presented his vision for Rayva to me. And I thought, wow, this is the right thing to do. This is a great initiative. It will drive lots and lots of business and profitability to CEDIA’s members if they help implement Theo’s vision.

MG  Theo, how well did you know Vin before you approached him about Rayva?

 

Theo Kalomirakis  Vin and I have been friends forever, and he had me work with him to develop the theater experience for Crestron. To me, Vin represented a very, very fresh perspective in how you reach out with an idea. When we met after that CEDIA event he described, he impressed me with a story he told. He was in Dallas, and he found out that there are about 800 integrators in that city, and only about 10 of them were CEDIA members. So Vin recognized the opportunity for reaching out to these people to educate them and make them our partners in selling home theaters. I love that approach because it thinks outside the box and sees the potential that exists beyond what is easily within our reach.

 

I wanted everybody in Rayva to have that kind of vision. Vin is so important to the company because he has the trust of everybody. And they may not buy into my vision because I’m very passionate and sometimes I don’t communicate properly or people are threatened by me. But Vin does it methodically from a business perspective without losing his vision that the world out there is much bigger than what we can get by working hand-in-hand with just the integrators at CEDIA. That’s a finite effort that’s not going to get us far.

 

Vin is my partner and ally in this venture because he embraces the same values and the same bigger vision that will eventually allow us to reach out to the people who are specifying theaters—designers and architects—and eventually to the end user. That’s our biggest goal, to reach the end user directly and teach them what the benefit of a home theater is and how it can enrich their lives.

Creating Rayva: Vin Bruno

ABOUT VIN BRUNO

A veteran of the custom integration industry, Vin Bruno joined Rayva’s board of directors in 2017. He is now the company’s CEO, leading promotions and marketing initiatives meant to educate architects, builders, and technology integrators about Rayva’s turnkey home theater solutions.

 

Vin has had a number of leadership positions in the AV industry throughout his career. He helped Crestron double its sales revenue during his tenure as Director of Marketing, and his marketing efforts helped rejuvenate CEDIA during his time there as CEO.

 

He has also served on the advisory council for the Harvard Business Review and on the Consumer Electronics Association’s TechHome Division board.

MG  Theo, tell me if I’m wrong, but it seems like Rayva really hit its stride within the past year, right around the time Vin came on board.

 

TK  Yes, that’s true.

 

MG  I know the company went through a lot of struggles early on, and there was a lot you needed to figure out. What did both of you need to do to get on the same page? How much did rethinking the whole engineering process and the effort to productize theaters have to do with that?

 

TK  Realizing the need to rethink the engineering happened organically about a year ago when we realized that the way I had defined the product was not repeatable and was not productized enough to create a consistent offering that could be deployed successfully every time a client wanted a theater. Essentially, I woke up one day and said, “We missed it.” That was a rude awakening when I saw things being installed, and they were not consistent with my vision. I saw face-to-face what other people couldn’t see, that this product needed severe attention to detail that it didn’t have.

I was trained as a custom designer. My eyes aren’t trained to go beyond the surface and see what it takes to make that surface stand and work. So that was the evolutionary change that began a year ago when the first theaters were being installed. That realization put us in overdrive to develop an efficient way to deploy the theaters that would guarantee our success and our repeatability as we reached out to designers and architects, and expanded to other countries.

 

VB  As for the first theaters we deployed, I think you’re absolutely right. We took a product and we delivered it as if it were a custom job. And we then stepped back and said, “Well, this isn’t scalable and it’s a lot of work.” We wanted to minimize the effort for our technology integrators in installing a Rayva theater. So the work Theo and the engineering team he put together has created is patentable—and we are going to pursue patents on these products and these methods. He’s made delivering a Rayva theater as consistent as buying pencils at Staples. It’s that simple to take delivery of a theater and take the elements out of the box and install them on the wall.

 

MG  Now that you’ve worked out the product, what do you think it’s going to take to create a renewed demand for dedicated home theater rooms?

 

VB  We need to inform both integrators and potential customers. People don’t know what they don’t know. There are technology integrators that don’t know they can be in the business of deploying home theaters. Homeowners don’t know they can have a home theater in their house. Most people think that it’s over the top, expensive, complicated, and lots of changes need to happen. They don’t realize we can take any spare room they have and turn it into their relaxation space where they can sit and listen to music or watch movies or have their kids or grandkids play video games, and keep those lovely sounds of the video games in that room. So that will be the service 

we can provide—to let people know that this business, and the profitability of this business, is within their grasp. It’s accessible to all technology integrators and it’s accessible to homeowners who think a theater is out of reach.

 

MG  It seems like any resurgence in home theaters would have to be spurred not so much by a love of movie theaters or watching movies on discs, but by the popularity of online movie services.

 

TK  I agree, and I’ll use myself as an example. I used to use my own home theater much more rarely than I do now because it required an effort to go and find a disc and put it in. I found that cumbersome. Only making the time to watch the latest release on disc made it a unique, singular, one-off experience. But streaming has revolutionized the way I watch movies, and I’m pretty sure it’s the same for other people. I watch movies every day because no more discs. I turn on the TV, and I look at 

Creating Rayva: Vin Bruno

my Kaleidescape screen, my Netflix screen, my Amazon screen. The fact that there’s such an abundance of content—such an abundance of good content—has made the use of my theater not so archaic and so kind of specific. Online content has really opened up the flexibility of a dedicated room to a degree that wasn’t available before.

 

VB  We can see that same phenomenon as a company, which is why we as an industry are so important to the ISPs. We’re providing a way for people to enjoy streaming content in the best way possible. Instead of viewing it on tablets or phones, we actually now deliver it to big screens.

 

Ultimately, home theaters are in the best interest of technology integrators and their businesses, and home theaters are in the best interest of families and their homes. Enjoying entertainment in a dedicated room is an enjoyable and valuable way to spend time together. And, to bring our conversation full circle, that’s what inspired me to join Theo in his efforts at Rayva.

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is also an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,000 discs. Theo
is the Executive Director of Rayva.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

The Lego Movie 2

It’s been five years since The Lego Movie hit the big screen. That film’s near $500 MM box office take all but guaranteed a sequel, which arrives with a very on-the-nose, Emmet-esque title The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, available on 4K HDR download from Kaleidescape a full three weeks before the disc release.

 

The first film is a popular one in our household, with an incredibly original story that brings together multiple disparate aspects of the Lego universe and features some wonderful cameos and voice acting that make it very rewatchable. I was skeptical a sequel wouldn’t be able recapture the brilliance of the original, but the 2017 spinoff, The Lego Batman Movie, proved the writers could keep it fresh and clever, thus keeping me hopeful.

 

The Lego Movie 2 does what a sequel needs to do, picking up where the story left off and bringing the original gang of beloved characters back and throwing them into new adventures. Returning from the original are the main characters of 

Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), Wyldstyle/Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie), Spaceman Benny (Charlie Day), and MetalBeard (Nick Offerman).

 

The benefit of a sequel is that you can jump right into the story, which The Second Part does. While viewers of the first movie will definitely get more 

of the jokes, watching the original isn’t a prerequisite. (But if you haven’t seen it, you definitely should.) The sequel picks up immediately after the events of the first film, when President Business/Dad (Will Ferrell) decided to open up his basement Lego sanctuary to his son, Finn (Jadon Sand). Of course, now that Finn can play, that means younger daughter, Bianca (Brooklynn Prince), also gets in on the fun as well.

 

The film then jumps five years forward, keeping both real time and movie time in sync. The kids have grown and have radically different playing—errr, building—styles. Bianca’s Duplo characters come in and wreak havoc on Finn’s Bricksburg, destroying everything new he builds. (For the uninformed, Duplo is the Lego product designed for kids under 5, being larger than traditional bricks, making them easier for little hands to handle and less likely to be swallowed. And, yes, I had to look 

that up.)  This causes the characters to live in a new town, Apocalypseburg—a dusty, unfinished, Mad Max-esque world where everyone has to be cynical and tough to live. Except, of course, Emmet, who remains as optimistic and happy as ever.

 

Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) soon attacks, capturing our main band of heroes and taking them to the Systar System, where Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi—“Whatever I want to be”—wants to throw a wedding ceremony that will either stop or summon the world-ending event, Armamageddon. 

The Lego Movie 2

Emmet goes off to rescue them, traveling through a portal called The Stairgate to dimensions unknown, where he runs into Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Pratt), a tougher, “Galaxy-defending archaeologist, cowboy, and raptor trainer” who has “chiseled features previously hidden under baby fat!”—a much cooler, braver, alter-ego version of himself.

 

The trick for animated titles is to have jokes, dialogue, and a storyline that plays across a wide range of ages, letting adults and kids enjoy the film equally on separate levels. And The Second Part succeeded here, keeping myself, my 3-year-old, and my 12-year-old engaged throughout. One huge difference between this and the first film is that The Second Part has so many song breaks, it almost plays like a musical. (The ever-aware characters even make jokes about this.) Where the first film had one big song moment, here there are seven. Fortunately, the lyrics are pretty hilarious and the tunes catchy, and as one character advises, “Just listen to the music and let your mind go.” 

 

Sometimes, the film seems to be trying too hard to recapture the formula of the first one. For example, Lego Movie 2 is clearly trying to repeat the earworm success of the first film’s ultra-catchy hit “Everything is Awesome!” This time around the song is literally called “Catchy Song,” with the repeating chorus of, “This song’s gonna get stuck inside your head.” And yes, it does.

 

We also get a ton of call backs, cameos, and pop culture references, one wonderfully played by Bruce Willis.

The Lego Movie 2

The Second Part also has Beck’s “Super Cool”—one of the best end-credits songs ever. Featuring Robyn and The Lonely Island, it has brilliant lyrics like, “It’s the credits, yeah that’s the best part / When the movie ends and the reading starts / You can keep your adventure and all that action / ‘cause the credits of the film are the main attraction.”

 

Modern computer animation nearly always looks fantastic on home video, and the 4K HDR video here just looks stellar. Every closeup reveals remarkable detail from the mini-figs or bricks being played with, showing minute scratches, fingerprints, wear, and pebbly or plastic texture. The lighting is also amazingly well done, revealing subtly different features and details in the bricks and characters as they move and rotate. As a result, nearly every frame is a feast for the eyes. The colors also really pop, especially the deep, vibrant reds, with HDR highlights used throughout.

 

Sonically, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack is not the most aggressive ever, but it does a good job serving the onscreen action and offers a lot of directional audio placing sounds all around the room. The overhead height speakers are called into action in key scenes, further adding to the immersive experience and expanding the sonic space or environment of the scenes. Dialogue also remains clear and intelligible throughout. 

 

The Blu-ray-quality download (included at no charge with the 4K HDR version) includes a variety of extras and features, including some making-of docs, deleted scenes, the short “Emmet’s Holiday Party,” and the full-length “Everything Is Awesome Sing-Along Version” that makes for a fun second (or third) viewing, with a lot of trivia and extras littered throughout.

 

While the jury is out on whether The Lego Movie 2 will have the replay value of the first film, one thing that isn’t in question is how well this movie looks on a quality 4K HDR display. This makes a fantastic option for gathering the family together for a fun movie night.

John Sciacca

The Lego Movie 2

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Day & Date Finally Gets Real, Pt. 2

In Part 1, I talked about companies that either currently offer or are about to offer the ability to watch movies at home the day they’re released in theaters. Here, I’m going to look towards “things that are coming,” and discuss a service on the horizon called Xcinex (pronounced See-nex).

 

I’ve already written a couple of posts about this company—you can read Part 1 and Part 2 here—but here’s a quick look at what they’re up to. Xcinex is a Silicon Valley startup that, unlike Red Carpet Home Cinema, is definitely looking to disrupt and change the whole movie delivery model. While Red Carpet requires a hefty $15,000 buy-in, Xcinex wants to sell you its Venue hardware for an almost unbelievable $29.95. (That’s not a typo.) And instead of paying thousands per movie, Xcinex expects its pricing to be similar to what you pay now when you go to a movie theater.

 

It’s been over a year since I wrote my original post on Xcinex, so I reached out to Founder and CEO Cihan Fuat Atkin, to see if they’re still on track for launch. According to Atkin, they expect to begin selling Venue by the end of 2019 at $29.95, and to have content available for purchase at that time.

Day & Date Finally Gets Real, Pt. 2

One of the biggest differences between Xcinex and the other options—short of hardware costing fractions less—is its per-viewer pricing model. For example, while you pay $500 to watch a movie with Prima Cinema whether you’re watching alone or with a houseful of guests, Xcinex will follow the movie theater model of charging per each set of eyeballs. This also enables studios to have a more accurate count of how many people are actually watching a film.

 

How does Xcinex do this? The Venue set-top box has a sensor that monitors the room while a movie is playing to see how many people are watching. It also keeps piracy at bay by looking for any devices that could be recording the film.

 

This obviously raises some privacy concerns, since most people aren’t keen on having a sensor keep tabs on them while they watch movies. Atkin said Xcinex has redesigned its hardware since my last conversation to address this. Venue is now 100%

Bluetooth, which means it no longer has a network connection and can no longer be remotely accessed or send any images. All image analyzation is now done locally, in real time, without being stored or submitted.

 

Xcinex is proposing a 95% revenue payback to studios, which can then distribute a share of the money back to the local theater, cutting them into the sale just as if someone had gone there and bought a ticket. Viewers can select a theater if they’re part of its loyalty program or Xcinex can send the revenue to the nearest cinema. 

 

Atkin said Xcinex is looking to “bring the 1% experience to the masses,” and that his company will be applying for app approval on all major services, including Apple, Roku, and Android; smart TVs; and game consoles like PlayStation and Xbox.

 

While he expects to have content available at launch, Atkin couldn’t name any studios that had signed on to support Xcinex. He did say he fully expects to have a mix of independents, foreign, and live content, and that while day-and-date availability will be up to individual studios, that is his company’s ultimate goal. “We wouldn’t have spent the past five years working on this if we didn’t expect it to be a reality,” Atkin said.

 

Over the past year, Xcinex has been busy streamlining the process for using its product, simplifying operation and the movie selection and purchase process, which will now all be completed via the onscreen app instead of requiring a separate phone or tablet.

 

Atkin did share some information that some might find more than just a bit invasive. Xcinex plans to be able to supply data to content providers on viewer behavior during films. To help studios know how content is performing, the sensor would be able to analyze audiences and share whether viewers laughed, cried, or got up during a scene. And while it wouldn’t be sharing specific information such as “John laughed, at 2 minutes 10 seconds in,” it could share information like “two out of four viewers laughed.” He said this feature won’t be active at launch, and users could opt out of sharing this data when it becomes available.

At its bargain-basement pricing, Xcinex could find itself successful even if it never gets a single studio to sign on for early-release windows. In fact, it might ultimately find more success in selling access to live events like concerts, sports, or plays. Imagine being able to buy a ticket to watch Hamilton or see Taylor Swift when the event is happening hundreds of miles away or sold out? Or being able to view indy or foreign films that don’t get a wide release?

 

Finally, you can’t have an article on day-and-date services without mentioning The Screening Room. This was the brainchild of Sean Parker of Napster and Facebook fame announced back in 2016 that created a wildfire of buzz in the industry for about two months.

 

Parker’s idea was that hardware would cost $150, and viewers would buy films for $50, giving them access to a 48-hour window. Of that $50, an equal share would go to both the studios and the local theater chain, cutting everyone in on the action.

 

Adding to the buzz, the service had vocal support of some pretty big Hollywood influencers like J.J. Abrams, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Peter Jackson, and Ron Howard. But it had an equal if not greater number of people—including Cristopher Nolan, James Cameron, M. Night Shyamalan, and Kevin Tsujihara CEO of Warner Bros.—speaking out against it, not to mention theater chain owners

 

But just like a shooting star that shines bright and burns out quickly, as fast as The Screening Room came to attention, it seems to have completely disappeared into the ether. Since June 2016, there has been almost no news or information on the company. One small update from The Wrap in March 2017 said the company was working on developing new security protocols to address piracy concerns and that The Screening Room planned on attending CinemaCon. There has been nothing about the company since.

 

With companies like Netflix and Amazon pushing release windows and creating Oscar-worthy content directly for streaming, it seems that day-and-date releases are inevitable, and at this point it seems more a question of when and who rather than if.

 

—John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Day & Date Finally Gets Real, Pt. 1

Day & Date Finally Gets Real

Ever since the home video market was effectively born in 1977 with the launch of the VHS player and the release of The Sound of Music, M*A*S*H, and Patton, people have been eager to watch movies at home as soon after they appear in movie theaters as possible. While it used to take months or even years for a film to see a home release, the theatrical window has been increasingly shrinking.

Movies now typically play exclusively in the theater for a month or so before going to premium video-on-demand (PVOD) services such as pay-per-view or airlines, then to an online digital release such as Kaleidescape or Vudu, then a disc release about 14 weeks after the theatrical run, then to home video services like HBO a couple of months later, and then finally to non-pay TV services. For example, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part was released theatrically on February 8 2019, and was released for digital download on April 16, with the disc release scheduled to arrive on May 7.

 

But these shrinking release windows still haven’t been enough to satisfy the desire to see movies soon after they’re released in theaters. The biggest thing keeping windows from getting even shorter is the delicate relationship between the movie studios and the theater owners. Studios make millions—sometimes billions—from the main commercial release, and they don’t want to do anything that might hurt the goose that lays their biggest golden egg. Regardless, a few companies have been working hard to have movies available at home the day they’re released.

 

Bel Air Circuit

At the top of the pyramid is the Bel Air Circuit—an invitation-only group of individuals consisting mainly of Hollywood A-list actors, directors, producers, and studio executives who receive just-released movies to enjoy in their personal screening rooms. While this used to require delivering film reels via courier and having a projectionist on site to handle 

the reel-changing chores, members now receive the same digital files sent to commercial theaters. The upside is that most studios make their films available for viewing to Circuit members at no charge. The downside is that unless your name is Spielberg, Tarantino, Stallone, or Cruise, you won’t ever be invited to join.

 

Bel Air Cinema

Very similar in concept to the Bel Air Circuit is Bel Air Cinema. The biggest difference is that unlike an invitation-only, private club comprised of a Hollywood who’s who, anyone with a big enough checkbook can inquire about becoming a customer.

Bel Air Cinema requires the kind of commercial cinema
projection equipment shown here

But your regular home theater need not apply. In fact, even high-end, luxury home theaters aren’t compatible, because Bel Air Cinema is less about home theater and more about creating a commercial theater in your home. That requires a Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI)-compliant projector and movie server costing $100,000 or more. (Feel free to read the latest Digital Cinema System Specification, Version 1.3—it’s only 155 pages.) And expect to shell out $5,000 or more for the privilege of watching a film, plus annual fees.

Prima Cinema

The first company to make a real go of the day-and-date concept was Prima Cinema. Launched in 2012, with financial backing from companies including Universal Pictures, Best Buy, and IMAX, Prima lets you watch movies at home the day they hit the theaters.

 

Unlike the Bel Air systems, Prima’s hardware works with any home theater technology, providing an HDMI output that can be connected to any brand of AV receiver or processor and any TV or projector. The system includes a massive array of security features, including accelerometers to prevent moving the hardware, unique watermarking for every viewing, and a fingerprint scanner with “liveness” detector. 

Day & Date Finally Gets Real

CLICK THE CHART TO ENLARGE

Prima initially had agreements with just Universal, Lionsgate, Focus Features, Cinedigm, and Magnolia. But after a couple of years in operation, this list expanded to include Paramount, The Weinstein Company, Relativity EuropaCorp, Roadside Attractions, Gravitas Ventures, Samuel Goldwyn Films, IFC Films, and Open Road, meaning a far larger number of titles was available for viewing. 

 

But Prima isn’t cheap. The hardware alone costs $35,000, with movies running $500 per viewing. I have the unique experience of having been the only reviewer to live with Prima—not once, but twice—so I was able to experience the system 

firsthand. And I can confirm it has a wonderful interface for browsing and choosing movies, and delivers pictures in beautiful, better-than-Blu-ray 4:2:2, 10-bit quality.

 

Unfortunately, around 2016, Prima seemed to fall off the map. Movies stopped downloading, and dealers couldn’t get a hold of the company. Prior to this post, I reached out to a new contact listed on the company’s redesigned webpage: Richard Jenkins, Head of Content. According to Jenkins, “We are still operating and hoping to close our current

Day & Date Finally Get Real

investment round by the end of June; once new funding is in place we will then be making an announcement in early July, so please standby—we will update you as soon as we can.”

 

Red Carpet Home Cinema

Earlier this month, the New York Times ran a story heralding the launch of a brand new company in this space: Red Carpet Home Cinema—the brainchild of Fred Rosen, the man behind Ticketmaster, and Dan Fellman, past president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. Red Carpet is more Prima Cinema (of which Rosen sat on the board of advisors) than Bel Air Cinema since it will work with any traditional AV system but requires a $15,000 piece of proprietary hardware (loaded with security provisions to keep Hollywood content safe from piracy). According to the site’s FAQ, “Movies will be variably priced with the most current films in the low thousands—no movie will be priced below $500.” The Times article mentioned that films will cost $1,500 to $3,000, which will include two viewings within a 36-hour period.

 

I recently spoke to Mr. Rosen, and found him incredibly forthcoming and straightforward about his new company’s plans. He repeatedly said Red Carpet isn’t looking to disrupt the current cinema model, but rather wants to provide a luxury option for

Day & Date Finally Gets Real

Red Carpet Home Cinema co-founder Fred Rosen

home viewing to people willing to pay for it.

 

Rosen said: “We asked the studios, ‘What will it take to make this happen? You set the price and terms.’ The studios said I was the first guy to come in and not try to tell them what they could charge, not tell them how it was going to be.”

 

Red Carpet lists studio support from 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Warner Bros., Lionsgate, and Annapurna, with five titles currently available for viewing: Pet Sematary, Missing

Link, Hellboy, The Curse of La Llorona, and Shazam! But Rosen says he feels pretty comfortable they’ll be able to add more studio partners.

 

“This is a luxury product, of something that is very limited and difficult to get,” he said, “and our customers are willing to pay for the convenience and privilege.” The company isn’t looking for mass sales, but would like to sign up a limited number of affluent clients, saying it would be happy to have hundreds of members in New York and LA, and about a hundred more in each of the largest cities throughout the US.

 

Rosen said there are luxury options available for virtually every other kind of product or service, and Red Carpet wants to provide athletes, movie stars, and just “regular” wealthy people with the freedom to consume content when and how they want. “If a kid can watch a movie on their phone 90 days after it is released for $.99, why can’t there be an early option for the luxury market that is willing to pay for it?”

 

According to Rosen, people last year spent $70 billion on private planes and $60 billion on private yachts. “I’m not saying that’s good or bad, it just is what it is. And if those people want to spend $3,000 to watch a movie in the privacy of their own home, why shouldn’t they have that as an option like any other luxury purchase?”

 

Red Carpet is currently in beta, with several systems installed in both New York and California. When I asked Rosen when the service would come out of beta, he said, “As soon as we make a sale! It’s ready to go now.” For those with the means, Red Carpet Home Cinema is available now throughout the country.

 

In Part 2, I’ll talk about the current status of the much-hyped day-and-date startup The Screening Room, and provide an update on Xcinex, which plans to sell its hardware for a mass-market-friendly $30 and charge for viewings based on the number of people in the room, like at a movie theater.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront isn’t Elia Kazan’s best film. I’ll get crucified for admitting that opinion, I know, but compare this effort to Kazan’s next feature, James Dean’s East of Eden, and the uneven performances of Waterfront start to become a little more distracting.

 

But only a little. On the balance sheet, On the Waterfront is a powerful and at times shocking work that, while a product of its time—as any good work of art is—remains vibrant and accessible today. Only Leonard Bernstein’s score, which is often heralded as a masterwork but in truth runs a bit too maudlin and sappy in some of the film’s most poignant scenes, really anchors the film in the past. But that was true when it was released in 1954. Simply put, the score is too often a throwback to the melodramatic orchestrations of the late 1930s, and while I love it as a work in and of itself, sometimes it just conflicts too much with the imagery to which it’s attached. (Incidentally, this is another thing that makes East of Eden work better overall. In the year between, Kazan seemed to have learned when to leave music on the cutting-room floor.)

 

If all of the above sounds overly critical, it isn’t intended to be. I absolutely adore this Marlon Brando vehicle, warts and all. In fact, I may love it all the more for its flaws, since the film is ultimately about flawed humans. It’s also a film about honesty and fairness, themes that also ring through in its presentation, especially in Brando’s intense portrayal of former boxer Terry Malloy, who testifies against a mobbed-up union boss at great personal cost.

It’s a film that I return to frequently, but what drew me in for my most recent viewing is Kaleidescape’s Ultra HD presentation. Unsurprisingly, On the Waterfront only seems to be making the jump from high-def to 4K purely in the digital domain (maybe because the Criterion Collection hasn’t kept up with modern AV standards), which means Kaleidescape is the film’s only opportunity, for now, to shine in all its high-

On the Waterfront

bandwidth 4K glory. Frankly, it’s such a grainy and gritty film that I’m skeptical as to whether or not streaming could do it justice without becoming too noisy—even with high-quality streaming formats like Vudu, which often excel with the hyper-slick, digitally assembled output of today’s Hollywood but struggle with the organic nature of old celluloid stock.

 

At any rate, it takes but a few moments of comparison between the Kaleidescape 4K download and the excellent Criterion Blu-ray release from 2013 to see what a difference UHD makes. In the famous “I coulda been a contender!” scene in particular, the 4K really brings out the subtlest, but most important of details, like the sheen of sweat on Rod Steiger’s face, as well as Brando’s, as the scene ramps up in intensity. It’s true, the 4K resolution also brings with it an enhancement of the film’s prominent grain (which was overly sanitized in the streaming version presented on the now-defunct Filmstruck streaming service), but that’s part of Waterfront’s visual charm, and it’s nice to see it maintained here.

 

Speaking of the visuals, the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release was noteworthy for its inclusion of three versions of the film, all identical in terms of content, but differing in their aspect ratio. On the Waterfront was shot at a time when movie theaters were transitioning from 1.33:1 (the shape of your old standard-definition CRT TV) to wider aspect ratios like 1.85:1 (similar to 

the shape of your new UHD TV). As such, director of photography Boris Kaufman shot the film so it would work on screens of either shape. But he chose to compose the action for the less-common 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The Blu-ray release included all three compositions: 1.66:1 on one disc, and 1.85:1 and 1.33:1 on another.

 

The Kaleidescape download is solely 1.66:1, and if a choice had to be made to include only one version of the film, this was the right call. The

tighter framing enhances the intimacy—and indeed the intensity—of the film, without cutting out key visual details, and the black bars along the left and right of the image are so slight you’ll forget they’re there within minutes.

 

Unfortunately, you’ll still need to download the film twice if you want to see the included bonus features—a short documentary, an interview with Elia Kazan, and a photo gallery—since these are available only with the DVD-quality download. Honestly, though, you’re probably better off skipping these and saving space on your hard drive. Most of the compelling bonus features for the film remain with the Criterion Collection, including the excellent audio commentary by authors Richard Schickel and Jeff Young, as well as a number of wonderful interviews.

 

The goods news is, you don’t even really need those, either. On the Waterfront stands on its own two legs, and forced to choose between the superior presentation on Kaleidescape and the superior historical perspective afforded by the Criterion release, I would opt for the former any day.

Dennis Burger

On the Waterfront

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

A Star is Born

A Star is Born (2018)

In one sense, the 2018 version of A Star Is Born is nothing new. This is the fourth version of the film, after all—and countless other movies have borrowed heavily from the basic premise: An aging, addiction-stricken star takes a young, talented woman under his wings, falls in love, and watches her star soar while his comes crashing brutally to the ground.

 

Generation Xers like myself probably have a strong tie to the 1976 version starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. It’s one of those “soundtrack to my childhood” kind of movies that I just remember being on my TV all the time. Then there’s the classic 1954 version with Judy Garland and James Mason. The original version dates all the way back to 1937. When I first heard that Bradley Cooper was going to direct and star in a new version, my reaction was, “Eh, just another unnecessary remake.”

 

But I have to give credit where credit is due. There’s an in-the-moment newness to Cooper’s version, due in large part to a script and a director that seem like they left a lot of room for improvisation. Everything about the film—from its pacing to its performances to its cinematography—makes you feel like you’ve been dropped in the middle of these people’s lives, right now. And that’s not always a comfortable place to be. In a film era defined by witty repartee and slick editing, you might find yourself growing frustrated as you watch people sometimes struggle to find or at least speak the right words. It’s awkward, but it works.

A Star is Born (2018)

The chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga is undeniable, and the decision to cast a musician and not an actress in the role of Ally just reinforces that sense of authenticity.

 

All that being said, the glue that really holds this film together is the music. Everything else takes a backseat to the fantastic musical performances, which means there’s some great demo material available in the Dolby Atmos soundtrack to show off your surround sound system. The concert sequences are mixed to sound like you’re listening to a concert, with lots of space and ambience in the surrounds.

A Star is Born (2018)

The 4K HDR image in the iTunes version I watched (it’s available in Dolby Vision if your system supports the format) looked excellent, with rich color and a high level of detail. This isn’t a super-stylistic movie, so the HDR is employed subtly to just flesh out that you-are-there sense of contrast. I didn’t see a lot of noise or compression artifacts in the iTunes version.

 

If you’ve decided that you don’t need to see A Star Is Born because you’ve already seen it, trust me, you haven’t. You haven’t heard it like this, and you haven’t felt it like this. You may know where the story ends up, but this is definitely one of those movies that’s more about the journey than the destination.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer than she’s
willing to admit. She is currently the 
AV editor at Wirecutter (but her opinions here do not
represent those of Wirecutter or its parent company, The New York Times). Adrienne lives in
Colorado, where she spends far too much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough
time being in them.

How Kaleidescape Makes Movies Look Amazing

How Kaleidescape Makes Movies Look Amazing

Like most of you, I’ve never put a tremendous amount of thought into the work involved in bringing a film from movie theaters to the home. Sure, I know the video needs to be compressed—more so for streaming-video services than for discs or high-bandwidth downloads, the likes of which you’d buy from the Kaleidescape store. But beyond that basic understanding, the process was a bit of a mystery to me.

 

Never one to let an interesting mystery go unsolved, I sat down with Kaleidescape’s Luke O’Brien, Director of Content Operations, and Mike Kobb, Principal Engineer, User Experience, to pick their brains about the process. I discovered that, in many ways, it’s a far more complicated undertaking than I could have imagined—mainly because there isn’t really

How Kaleidescape Makes Movies Look Amazing

Luke O’Brien and Mike Kobb

a consistent pipeline from big screen to home screens. Much of that could probably be attributed to the fact that the home video market is ever-evolving, and that what Kaleidescape is doing—delivering high-bandwidth, pixel-perfect presentations of movies, TV shows, and documentaries—is unique in this era of highly compressed streaming.

 

In short, the files Kaleidescape receives from the various studios vary quite a bit. But they all fall under the umbrella of “mezzanine files”—and if you’ve never heard that term before, you’re probably not alone. To put it simply, mezzanine files are lightly compressed video files that 

are usually indistinguishable from fully uncompressed video. And by “lightly compressed,” I mean that your average movie might arrive in a file that’s ten times the size of a normal UHD Blu-ray disc.

 

So, how does Kaleidescape shrink that amount of data to a file small enough to be downloaded to your hard drive, but not so small that it compromises the viewing experience? How do they ensure that the image you see on your screen looks just as good as—if not better than—the master files delivered by the movie studios? That was my first question.

—Dennis Burger

 

 

Mike Kobb  I think one of the things that is a huge asset to Kaleidescape is the human element that goes into preparing this content. This is done by people who take a lot of pride and put a lot of effort into making stuff look really good and ensuring that everything is right. They sweat the details. It’s not, and I doubt that it will ever be, an operation where a digital file shows up from a studio and gets tossed into the hopper and completely automated machines grind it up and out comes the end product.

 

Dennis Burger  How long does that process take? I mean, let’s take a recent mainstream theatrical movie as an example. Let’s say, Captain Marvel, which I think it’s safe to say is being prepped for home video as we speak. How long does it take you, from the time you’re given whatever files you receive from the studio, to the point where it’s prepared and ready to be released once that digital release date hits?

 

Luke O’Brien  Well, we’re constantly doing things to try and make that process tighter and cleaner and quicker, to shorten the windows. And we have a whole toolset we’re working to go wide with this quarter, which I think will speed up this process significantly. But as it stands right now, the average title takes several business days.

 

MK  Yeah, it takes us about two business weeks to prepare a movie.

 

LO  And we’ve done it faster, in cases where we’ve needed to. And we’ve done it much slower in cases where we’ve run into problems that needed to be addressed. But if we don’t think it’s good enough, we just won’t release it. There’s a quality line we have to defend with our products. And mind you, I don’t consider anything in that state forever. There are files that we haven’t been happy where we landed with them, and I consider them to be still works in progress. And no, I’m not going to tell you what they are. But it will be a happy surprise when they show up on the service looking as great as they should when they’re on the Kaleidescape System.

 

DB  This was honestly a bit of a surprise for me, and I think it would be for many people who just assumed that in this era of 4K, Kaleidescape simply got a copy of the UHD Blu-ray disc, ripped it to your hard drives, put it on your servers, and delivered exactly the same bits that are on the disc via the internet. It’s nothing like that, though, is it?

 

LO  No. The files we get from the studios are raw files in a variety of formats, depending on the studio. Some of them are going to be ProRes files, some of them are going to be MOV files, some of them are going to be IMFs (Interoperable Mastering Format). There’s a variety of base container files they use to send those over, mostly because these files are 

How Kaleidescape Makes Movies Look Amazing

ready wildly in advance of when disc files are ready and we’re really aggressive about making sure we’re always hitting the first possible date a digital release can be made available to our customers. So, we need to receive these files in a manner that a lot of the other places in the digital market do take them.

 

But we’re handling them differently, because obviously our delivery method isn’t to create something designed to be pumped out and compressed and uncompressed to varying degrees for streaming. We actually had to create a way to take the base files they give us and to create a Kaleidescape Container File: Something that is a beautiful package that will serve as

the movie on the customer’s system, that they would then download and have locally to watch and enjoy.

 

DB  The process obviously still involves some careful compression, though. Do you also do your own HDR grading? I ask because I’ve noticed that your HDR sometimes looks more cinematic, more subtle than what I’ve seen on other home video releases.

 

LO  We don’t do our own HDR grade. We don’t do that level of file detail correction.

 

MK  We’re not looking to make any changes to the way the filmmakers intended that movie to look. We always strive to get it to be as proper a representation of that as possible.

 

DB  So, what would account for the subtle differences I saw in, say, Incredibles 2, where other HDR home video releases seemed to focus more on stark contrasts, but the Kaleidescape HDR presentation seemed to err on the side of subtlety and richness of shadow detail?

 

LO  Well, we do have a transcode process that we take the files and run them through. And that will not be identical to what will come through when any other person puts their files together. One thing I can say is that you’re talking about a studio that’s very protective of their property, and between us and the studio there’s often an elaborate process to getting our titles qualified.

 

DB  One of the things that prompted me to want to have this conversation was the Kaleidescape presentation of Blue

Planet II. I thought your HDR presentation of that series was just utterly stunning. Does a series like that—a mini-series that was created for broadcast on BBC, rather than a theatrical presentation—go through a different process than your typical movie release?

 

LO  Oof. That one’s a little bit different, because there are a lot more pieces in the supply chain on that particular title, because it was created for UK television presentation. That was really the intended final target. So, we worked with BBC and BBC worked with some external processing houses to have a regraded, transformed file. But they work with them to make sure they’re happy with all the color corrections as everything goes through to get it to a file format that we can take and transcode and deliver to our customers. But on this end, it just goes through our normal process.

 

I love the way that particular title looks as well, and I want to give Kaleidescape credit for absolutely everything I can. But really, you have to give BBC credit for making such a beautiful, spectacular original source file. I don’t know what process it went through elsewhere, but I do think it looks stunning on our service.

 

DB  Would you say the process of something like that, which was intended for TV broadcast, ends up being more complicated or less so than your typical blockbuster movie?

 

LO  I think the important thing to consider here is that we have a human review process. So, it’s certainly more time-intensive. I don’t know if it’s more complicated, but that series is, like, the equivalent of eight movies. It’s 400 minutes of someone’s time 

How Kaleidescape Makes Movies Look Amazing

Examples of video flaws that can appear during the transcoding process.

and a lot of Visine. 800 minutes, actually, because every episode requires two passes—because it will get an initial pass through our tools, and anything we see that we’re not happy with triggers a second pass, so it can be finalized and we can deliver it to our customers.

 

DB  What kinds of things might trigger a second pass?

 

LO  It’s all the stuff that you might imagine could conceivably bother you if you were watching this program on a reference-quality screen: Is there any sense that the black levels aren’t staying true? Is there any banding in the transitions of colors? Is the brightness fading properly when it should? Is there any macroblocking that 

shows up? And if any of that shows up, we work with proprietary tools to make sure we’re filtering out anything that’s not in the source file, that was introduced in the process of preparing it for public consumption.

 

MK  One other thing to consider, getting back to our earlier discussion about Kaleidescape versus discs: One area where we have some latitude is that the optical disc has whatever capacity it has, so when the disc is authored, they’re working with that limitation. We don’t have that limitation. We don’t have to conform our releases to something that could fit on an optical disc. We don’t have to worry about adding a second disc for bonus features. So, if a particular movie or TV series benefits from having higher-bandwidth encoding than a disc would allow, we can do that.

 

LO  Yeah, the result is that our files are big. They’re big because there’s all of that delicious, juicy information stacked up and stored in each one of those files.

 

MK  Exactly. But you know when you’re watching one of our premium movies that someone actually took the time to go over it with a fine-tooth comb and make sure that it’s right.

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.