Kaleidescape Tag

Interface Faceoff, Pt. 2

Interface Faceoff, Pt. 2

Disneys new subscription-based streaming service Disney+ has given everyone plenty to talk about, from its fantastic original programming, to its war on binge-watching, to the surprise revelation that almost all of the Star Wars films are available for the first time in 4K with Dolby Atmos (and they look way, way better than the Blu-ray releases). But one of the service’s most compelling features—its user interface—isn’t getting much discussion at all.

I can only assume that some form of Stockholm Syndrome is at play here: We’ve grown so accustomed to fumbling around with the terrible onscreen menus for Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu, and other such services that when someone comes along and does it right, we’re almost blind to it.

 

I’m hoping, though, that the designers for these other services are taking notice.

 

 

What Other Subscription Streaming Services Could Learn from Disney+

One of the most obvious ways Disney+ sets itself apart is by having distinct domains —mini user interfaces nested within the main UI—for different types of content. There are separate screens for Disney-branded content, Pixar content, Marvel shows and movies, Star Wars shows and movies, and a wealth of documentaries and TV shows from National Geographic.

 

Within these domains, you’ll find expected sub-categories, like Movies, Series, and Specials, as well as a nifty section called “Through the Decades” that lets you navigate a body of work (like Star Wars or Pixar movies) chronologically.

 

Back out to the main menu, and there are even more ways of finding content to watch, including the usual search terms, as well as curated collections. Perhaps my favorite feature, though, is that Disney+ allows you to navigate a complete list of all available movies, A-Z.

Keeping in line with the praise I heaped on the Kaleidescape UI in Pt. 1, one thing I really dig about the Disney+ UI is its varied aesthetic. The Star Wars portal doesn’t look like the Pixar portal. And an overall search of all Disney+ content looks quite different from navigating a list of, say, all the Toy Story movies. These different visual modes encourage different modes of thinking, and complement the different ways you might arrive at figuring out what you want to watch for the evening.

 

Disney+ also doesn’t seem to rely too heavily on algorithms for feeding you new content. It makes its entire library pretty easy to search, and while there are the obligatory “Trending” and “Recommended for You” lists, these make up such a small part 

of the overall experience that you could be forgiven for overlooking them completely.

 

Contrast this with Netflix, inarguably the biggest direct competitor to Disney+, which relies so heavily on its flawed recommendation algorithms that finding a movie or TV show any other way can be a hair-pulling, fit-pitching

Interface Faceoff, Pt. 2

The Disney+ National Geographic portal

exercise in masochism. I covered this to a degree in my previous post about Disney+, where I suggested you try to find a comprehensive listing of all the Netflix-original Marvel TV series (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and The Defenders) without stumbling over all manner of unrelated garbage. It’s nearly impossible on Netflix, whereas Disney+ treats this level of ultra-specific sub-categorization as a given.

 

To be fair, Netflix has a wealth of amazing content that’s right up my alley and that Disney+ would never offer in a million years. Just this past weekend, I stumbled across a high-definition presentation of one of my favorite 1970s Hong Kong

Interface Faceoff, Pr. 2

action flicks, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, in its proper aspect ratio, complete with the original Mandarin soundtrack and subtitles. (Amazon, by contrast, only presents the film with an awful English dub.)

 

Here’s the thing, though: I never would have found this hidden treasure by searching Netflix alone, and the service never 

spoon-fed it to me even though I’m right in the movie’s target demographic. I happened upon it entirely by accident because I was using Roku’s ecellent universal search function to try to find the film for sale anywhere in the digital domain. Disney+ paves so many varied roads to its vault of films and TV shows that I can’t imagine something similar happening on the newer service. 

 

One other, seemingly minor thing about Disney+ that I absolutely adore and don’t want to leave unsaid is that the app doesn’t hold you hostage the way practically all other streaming apps do. Exiting Netflix, for example, requires you to navigate to the left, scroll all the way to the bottom of the screen, and select the tiny Exit button.

 

Netflix isn’t alone, though. Practically all of these services hit you with a massive guilt trip when you attempt to leave. “Are you absolutely sure? Are you really going? I’m just going to go ahead and select ‘No’ for you since I can’t imagine you have anything better to do.”

By contrast, the only thing required to exit Disney+ is a single press of the back button on your remote, which evokes an air of confidence. Disney+ knows it can’t be your only source of streaming content, doesn’t take offense when you leave, and seems pretty sure you’ll be back sooner than later.

 

Of course, that’s not to say

Interface Faceoff, Pt. 2

The Disney+ “Disney Through the Decades” section

there aren’t areas where Disney+ could improve. I would like to see another level of sub-interfaces beneath the existing ones, so you could, for example, click on the horizontal Movies listing under the Pixar UI and be taken to a tiled list of titles instead of having to scroll right forever. But in the three weeks Disney+ has been available, we’ve already seen some substantial improvements, like the addition of a “Continue Watching” category, so you don’t have to keep a mental tally of which series you’re consuming and how many episodes you’ve seen to date.

 

It stands to reason that the service will continue to improve in numerous ways. The important thing is that it’s starting off with a well-planned and intuitive foundation, whereas all the other subscription-based streaming services need to start their renovations with a complete demolition.

 

 

The Best of Both Worlds

When you get right down to it, the two UIs I’ve held up as paragons of their disparate domains don’t have a whole heck of a lot in common. Disney+ and Kaleidescape serve very different purposes and work for very different content distribution and consumption models.

 

But both seem to be built on the same fundamental premise: That movie-watching isn’t simply something that happens between the opening and closing credits. It’s an experience that starts from the time someone says, “Hey, wanna watch a movie?” and someone else answers, “Sure, whatcha in the mood for?” It’s about browsing a library—one you own or one you subscribe to—and figuring out what strikes your fancy with getting lost in the weeds. It’s as much about getting to the movie as it is watching it. And the entire industry could learn a lot from how Kaleidescape and Disney+ help you navigate that entire process.

Dennis Burger

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.

Interface Faceoff, Pt. 1

Interface Faceoff, Pt. 1

Let’s be honest about something for a minute: While many of us love Netflix as an alternative or supplement to cable or satellite TV, its user interface is awful.

 

To be fair. Netflix isn’t alone. In a previous (and now woefully outdated) post, where we dug deep into the various content providers of the day and stratified them according to quality of delivery and quality of content, we outright ignored user interfaces, simply because most of them are abysmal. That’s ironic, given that the screens you use to navigate your content 

libraries or search through the trove of on-demand shows and movies in an attempt to find something worth watching are an incredibly important part of the movie-watching experience.

 

The original plan for this post was to rectify that by parsing all the major platforms and arranging them from best to worst on the design of their interfaces.

 

And then Disney+ happened.

 

Disney’s new subscription-based streaming service has been the talk of the entertainment industry for the past few weeks, for a number of reasons. For the purposes of this rant, though, Disney+ shines a very bright light on the fact that the user experiences for most other content delivery systems are so woefully lacking that a ranked list simply doesn’t make sense anymore. Because when you get right down to it, the home video industry currently has exactly two good examples of functional, attractive, and easily navigable UIs: Disney+ and Kaleidescape.

 

So instead of asking you to slog through a list of all the rest, complete with everything they do wrong, I thought I would instead focus on what Kaleidescape and Disney+ do right with their UIs in relation to the also-ran efforts from everyone else.

 

Before we get to a discussion about what makes these two UIs so good, I should point out that I don’t consider all of the digital video services to be in direct competition with one another in terms of their user experiences. That’s because there are two quite distinct ways in which we consume home video these days in the digital domain.

 

Disney+ and similar services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, and the upcoming HBO Max and Peacock, just to name a few, function as subscription-based on-demand libraries, where you don’t own anything but rather have access to a wealth of revolving-door content for anywhere between $4.99 and $16.99 per month.

 

On the other hand, services like Vudu, iTunes, and 

Kaleidescape offer à la carte sales of movies and TV episodes (along with bonus features) that are either added to an online library of streaming content you ostensibly own in perpetuity or downloaded to local hard disks or servers for viewing at any time.

 

There are, of course, services that offer a hybrid of these two approaches, like Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV+, both of which feature a library of on-demand content 

for a monthly subscription fee, as well as access to films and TV shows that can be purchased individually. This does muddy our discussion a bit. But for the most part, I’ll attempt to keep any comparisons apples to apples.

 

In this first post, I’ll be digging into Kaleidescape and what it does right compared with other buy-it-and-own-it services like Vudu, iTunes, and to a lesser degree Amazon Prime. In Part Two, I’ll take Disney+ for a spin and highlight all the reasons it stands out in the realm of subscription-based streaming UIs.

 

 

What Other Digital Movie Retailers Can Learn from Kaleidescape

I’ve long contended that Kaleidescape has the best user interface in the entire home video industry, and I stick by that. The thing is, though, I often focus on aesthetics when talking about what makes the Kaleidescape home screen so appealing, and that’s really only half the story. It’s true, the beautiful layout of cover artwork is slick and inviting, and the way titles flitter on 

Interface Faceoff, Pt. 1

and off the screen just never gets old in terms of wow factor. But none of this would really matter if the Kaleidescape UI wasn’t so well-organized and easy to navigate.

 

All of that animation is really in service of helping you figure out what you’re in the mood to watch. Gravitate toward something like Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope

and the onscreen layout of cover art rearranges to fill the screen with similar titles—other Star Wars movies, of course, but also other action/adventure fantasy films. Pick one of those titles instead, and suddenly it becomes the center of a new universe, with similar titles orbiting outward toward the edge of the screen.

 

And, hey, if you know exactly what you’re in the mood to watch, you can skip this animated wall of cover art and skip straight to an alphabetical list of movies you own. It’s a different-horses-for-different-courses approach to digital library management 

that none of the other collection-based services seem to understand.

 

Buying new movies is also as easy as navigating over to the Kaleidescape Movie Store, a wholly separate area of the UI that features yet another unique interface designed to suit its purposes. You can navigate the Store by genre, by collection (for example, Marvel 

Interface Faceoff, Pt 1

Cinematic Universe or 2019 Oscar Nominees) or jump straight to new releases or pre-orders. If nothing less than 4K HDR presentation will do, you can also easily filter the store to just show titles available as such.

 

Contrast this with something like Vudu, which is probably Kaleidescape’s best competition, at least in terms of how it functions. Like Kaleidescape, Vudu allows you to purchase films in the digital domain outright, rather than paying a subscription fee to access an ever-changing body of on-demand content. It also comes with bonus features like audio commentary, deleted scenes, and behind-the-scenes documentaries, when they’re available.

 

No matter the device, though, navigating Vudu is an absolute nightmare. In addition to its outdated look and feel, simply making your way to the library of content you own is unintuitive, to put it kindly.

 

A few weeks back, my wife was itching to re-watch a documentary we own about the history of Dungeons & Dragons art, so I told her to cue it up while I powdered my nose. I told her the name of the movie (Eye of the Beholder) and the service on 

Interface Faceoff, Pt. 1
Interface Faceoff, Pt. 1

Vudu’s home (top) and “My Vudu” (bottom) screens

which we owned it (Vudu), and walked out of the room. When I came back a few minutes later, she was still futzing around on the home screen simply trying to figure out how to get to our library of previously purchased content.

 

This is largely due to the fact that every screen in Vudu looks the same: A wall of static cover artwork against a bleh blue background. There’s no real indication that, to get to content you already own, you have to navigate all the way up to the top of the screen, scroll over to My Vudu, go down from there, and toggle to the right to find Movies. There aren’t multiple roads to the same destination the way there is with Kaleidescape. There’s no visual or navigational difference

between content you own and content Vudu is trying to sell you. And as for the latter, unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, Vudu’s organizational structure is an embarrassment.

 

You could say the same for services like Amazon Prime, too, especially when it comes to purchasing new films instead of waiting for them to hopefully show up on-demand. And Amazon makes it doubly difficult to find content in 4K HDR, especially in the way it treats the 4K release of a film as a wholly different title from the HD release.

 

There are things that could be better about the Kaleidescape user experience, to be sure. I grow aggravated that I often have to download both the 4K HDR and Blu-ray-quality versions of a film if I want to access all the bonus features, for example. But in its layout, navigation, operation, aesthetic design, and overall intuitiveness, Kaleidescape is so far ahead of all the other “build your own library” video services that it’s hard to knock it for the fact that there is a bit of room for improvement.

 

To be clear, I don’t expect other digital cinema retailers to mimic Kaleidescape’s flowing animations or speed-of-thought responsiveness. We’re talking about a dedicated media server with tons of processing power versus apps meant to be installed on sub-$200 devices. But Vudu and others could learn a lot from the way Kaleidescape uses varied graphics and navigation, along with an intuitive layout, to make the process of buying, organizing, selecting, and navigating a growing movie library such a slick experience.

 

In the next post, I’ll be digging deeper into Disney+ and all the things it does well compared to similar subscription-based on-demand streaming services.

 

Dennis Burger

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.

Who Does Content Delivery Right?

Earlier this year, we did a quick guide to all the various sources of video entertainment, prioritized by the quality of presentation from worst to best. In light of recent developments, though—the Game of Thrones debacle, the discovery that not all steaming devices deliver the same quality, and the emergence of services like YouTube as providers of exceptional content—we thought it would be a good time to revisit the most common methods of accessing movies and TV shows with an eye toward not just the quality of presentation but also the quality of content they provide. Because those two criteria don’t always align. As the general public recently found out (the hard way, unfortunately), some of the most enticing content is being delivered in less-than-enticing ways.

 

 

Cable & Satellite

DELIVERY  Really starting to show their age

CONTENT  Offer some cutting-edge programming, but without being able to show it to its best advantage

You could argue we’re living in a golden age of television, at least in terms of writing, directing, acting, and cinematography. Game of Thrones (minus the last season or two), ChernobylBillions, and American Gods are all beautifully-crafted fare. But the creators of these shows tend to suffer from “Cable Channel Syndrome,” often biting off more than their delivery platforms can chew. As such their efforts can look downright terrible.

 

Unfortunately, that poor presentation can follow these shows from broadcast to streaming, since so many premium cable networks offer online apps based on technology that’s not quite as outdated as cable and satellite, but close enough. At the very least, they all seem to be stuck in the cable-delivery mentality, mostly broadcasting their shows in HD, not Ultra HD (aka 4K), aside from the rare (and much later) release on UHD Blu-ray and/or Kaleidescape. Simply put, a lot of what’s being created for cable these days deserves a much better presentation than what it’s getting.

 

 

Internet TV

DELIVERY Slightly better than satellite or cable

CONTENT  Virtually identical to cable or satellite

Services like PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, and DirecTV Now, which attempt to replicate the experience of cable and satellite via the internet, and use cloud servers instead of hard drives for DVR storage, also tend to have the same content as satellite and cable. The delivery quality is generally a little better, although not always, since most of these services rely on outdated compression codecs and generally offer little or no 4K programming.

 

As for the quality of the content, it’s basically what you’d find on cable or satellite, with the same advantages and disadvantages. Most of these services provide the basics, like TNT, TBS, FX, USA, etc., but also let you add a subscription for HBO, Showtime, and other premium offerings for about the same upcharge you’d see on your monthly cable bill.

 

 

Over-the-Air Broadcast TV

DELIVERY  Pretty darn good—but we’re talking HD, not 4K

CONTENT  What you’d expect from broadcast networks

The tried-and-true TV antenna is making a comeback, especially with cord cutters, and in some markets it gives you access to potentially dozens of free channels offering programming from the major broadcast networks as well as some local shows you can’t get anywhere else.

 

These broadcasts almost always look better than cable, satellite, or internet TV because they’re less compressed. The quality of content, though, really depends on where you live. But chances are good that no matter your locale, you can access The Good Place—one of the most innovative and intelligent shows you can findvia an antenna of one sort or another.

 

 

Standalone Studio Streaming Apps

DELIVERY  Good enough HD for now—but the Disney+ service could help change that for the better

CONTENT  All over the place—but that should improve, too

The streaming marketplace is growing at an unsustainable rate, with new services popping up on a regular basis, dangling the promise of exclusive content in front of potential viewers for an extra however-many bucks per month. Some of these shows are actually quite good, like Doom Patrol from DC Universe and Star Trek: Discovery from CBS All Access. Unfortunately, for now, such services are mostly limited to HD, with outdated video codecs, and many offer stereo sound at best.

Who Does Content Delivery Right?

That will change quite a bit when Disney+ launches later this year. With a movie library including Disney Classics, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and more, this will likely be the No. 1 must-have streaming service for most families. Disney is also developing a ton of new app-exclusive shows for the platform, like The Mandalorian (Star Wars—shown above) and Loki (Marvel), and the company has promised to deliver applicable content in 4K with HDR.

 

 

Hulu

DELIVERY  HD at the moment—although they might decide to offer 4K again

CONTENT  Some standout original shows like The Handmaid’s Tale

In addition to providing on-demand access to a good number of broadcast and cable TV shows, Hulu actually has some excellent original programming, headlined by The Handmaid’s Tale. But the quality of presentation doesn’t stack up against bigger streaming services like Netflix and Amazon. For about two years, Hulu quietly offered some of their shows (including The Handmaid’s Tale) in 4K, but just as quietly removed all support for 4K last year. There have been some hints they might offer 4K again, but as of now there’s no official timeline for that to happen.

 

In other words, if you ignore the handful of compelling originals, most people should probably look at Hulu as a replacement for cable or satellite (unless you’re a sports fan). The good news is, the picture and sound are vastly better than what you’re likely to get from Comcast or Dish Network. But that’s a pretty low bar, to be honest.

 

 

YouTube

DELIVERY  Can be first-rate—but how many vloggers do you really want to see in 4K HDR?

CONTENT  Only as good as the people producing & posting it—but a lot of it is innovative & excellent

Once the bastion of cat videos and puerile vlogs, these days YouTube sort of breaks all molds of content creation and delivery. Yes, you can buy or rent major studio movies and TV shows there, but the real appeal is that anyone can create 

content for the site. In any form. At any quality. And as such, it’s a wild and wonderful mixed bag.

 

You’ll find innovative programming like Critical Role, alongside goofy (but utterly watchable) larks like Jelle’s Marble Runsstuff the likes of which you just won’t find anywhere else. There’s also wholly entertaining but undeniably educational programming like Smarter Every Day and Physics Girl. And while it’s true that some amateur content creators still upload videos that look like they were shot on a potato, many of the best of them have adopted high-quality prosumer gear that makes their clips look as good as anything you’ll see anywhere else.

 

Really, only the top-tier streaming platforms like Vudu, Netflix, and Amazon look better than what YouTube is capable of at its best, mostly because the service’s owner, Google, is blazing trails in terms of compression codecs. YouTube is also one of the very few providers already offering up content in 8K-and-greater resolutions. And it’s home to some of the most stunning 4K/HDR AV demos you’ll find anywhere.

 

 

Amazon Prime Video

DELIVERY  Has a ways to go to catch up with Netflix

CONTENT  Has a ways to go to catch up with Netflix

Amazon is, in many ways, playing catch-up to the streaming leader, Netflix. But you could argue that, at least with the quality of their original shows, they’re not far behind. The past couple years have seen an influx of stellar content like The Marvelous Mrs. MaiselTransparent, and HomecomingAnd with a billion-dollar-plus Lord of the Rings-inspired TV series in the works, the company’s commitment to being taken seriously as a major content creator is undeniable.

 

Unfortunately, Amazon’s support for Dolby Vision and Atmos for its own content is extremely limited, and the Prime Video search engine is atrocious via any device other than Amazon’s own Fire TV. Somebody (who has hopefully been fired) decided it was a good idea to list 4K versions separately from HD, and oftentimes the 4K versions don’t even show up in searches within the app.

 

In other words, at its best Amazon Prime may look as good as what you’re getting from the average Netflix original these days. But finding new content to watch can be a struggle, and finding it in the best available quality can be a snipe hunt.

 

 

Netflix

DELIVERY  Unmatched for a provider of original content

CONTENT  Nobody does it better when it comes to fresh takes on existing genres

Netflix is really leading the way when it comes to delivering top-notch video programming with high-quality picture and sound. The service is spending gobs of money to produce some of the most critically-acclaimed movies and series, most of which can’t be viewed anywhere else, like Roma, Our Planet, and Stranger Things, just to name a few. And as we discussed in a recent episode of the Cineluxe Hour podcast, Netflix has also developed a reputation for taking more creative risks than other content creators, which likely plays some role in the buzz that surrounds so many of its originals.

 

What many people may not realize is that, although Netflix is known for giving writers and directors a long creative leash, the service has some of the most stringent audio and video quality standards around. 4K and HDR (including Dolby Vision) are the norm for any new movies and shows, and the service even offers a decent smattering of titles in Dolby Atmos. What’s more, it recently introduced adaptive studio-quality sound that’s only available to viewers with surround sound or Atmos systems—just one example of the company’s commitment to audiovisual excellence. Granted, the quality of presentation can depend on how you’re accessing the app. But apart from UHD Blu-ray discs or Kaleidescape, Netflix is at the top of the quality mountain for presentation, and arguably for content.

 

 

Vudu & iTunes

DELIVERY  Consistently excellent

CONTENT  No original programming—traditional Hollywood fare instead

Vudu and iTunes don’t create original content—at least not 

yet—but they do offer access to a gigantic catalog of movies and TV shows from most of the major studios. Also, unlike most streaming services, they work primarily on an à la carte purchase model, meaning you don’t pay a monthly fee, but rather pick and choose what you buy or rent (an option Amazon also dabbles in).

 

Both Vudu and iTunes give you the option of downloading movies, but most people simply stream them in real time. If you have a decent-enough internet connection, they can deliver quality on par with Netflix (meaning nearly as good as discs), and both offer tons of movies in 4K/HDR with Dolby Atmos sound.

 

These services do have a very Hollywood-driven mindset, though, so expect to see very traditional offerings, with the latest Hollywood blockbusters put in front of you on a regular basis. Whether or not that floats your boat is entirely subjective, of course.

 

 

UHD Blu-ray & Kaleidescape

DELIVERY  Unrivaled

CONTENT  No original programming, but extremely deep catalogs

While the very best streaming services like Netflix and Vudu may be pushing audio and video quality to the point of diminishing returns, UHD Blu-ray discs (if you have a lot of free shelf space) and Kaleidescape downloads (if you’re done with discs) are still the only way to ensure the absolute best in compromise-free audio and video presentation. Streaming at its best gets close, but for some, “close” just isn’t good enough.

 

Both Blu-ray and Kaleidescape mostly serve to deliver major-studio content. But Kaleidescape in particular makes it very easy to find the best of this content thanks to its curated collections. Want to buy all of 2019’s Golden Globe nominees? They’re just a single click-and-a-download away. The Kaleidescape store also has nearly 80 of AFI’s Top 100 Movies of all time, and nearly 75 years’ worth of Best Picture Oscar winners. Frankly, none of the streaming services comes anywhere close to that. What’s more, Kaleidescape’s innovative user interface makes it easier than ever to find exactly the right movie to scratch your current itch, even if you’re not sure what that itch is.

John Higgins & Dennis Burger

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.

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.

How Much Would You Pay for Day & Date? Pt. 2

In Part 1 of this post, I referenced comments from users of the Kaleidescape Owners Forum who answered my question, “How much would you be willing to pay for Day and Date?” I expected these luxury system owners to have no problem with paying a substantial amount for the ability to see a movie at home the day it opens in theaters. But even among this group, not a single person was willing to pay even the minimum amount—$500—Prima Cinema charged and Red Carpet Home Cinema expects to charge for day & date viewing.

 

Casting the net to a wider audience, I ran a poll on the Sound & Vision website, which caters to enthusiasts of all income levels, where I again asked what they would be willing to pay for day & date. After nearly 350 responses, it’s clear that the

How Much Would You Pay for Day & Date, Pt. 2

Table 1

How Much Would You Pay for Day & Date?, Pt. 2

Table 2

How Much Would You Pay for Day &was Date, Pt. 2

Table 3

How Much Would You Pay for Day & Date?, Pt. 2

Table 4

click on the tables to enlarge them

vast majority of people aren’t willing to pay a very high premium at all.

 

In fact, the enthusiast responses from Sound & Vision far more support the likely pricing for movies available at home a week or two after they premiere in theaters than the $500 low end of the current day & date pricing schemes (see Table 1).

 

As you can see, out of 348 answers, only 43 people (roughly 12.6%) were willing to pay $100 or more. But when you go down to the $50 to $99 range, the group jumps to over 32%. This is a pretty large crowd, and a price that might be realistic three to four weeks after a movie hits the cinema. When you get to $25 to $49, more than half the responders would bite.

 

Is this an unrealistic price? Perhaps. But consider this: The current state of the art for home video viewing is 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, most of which sell for around $20 to $35. Since this is what you now pay to own a movie and watch it as many times as you’d like, would it be so unreasonable that the movie studios would let you watch it once for $49 at some point later in the movie’s theatrical window? Maybe not . . .

 

A common theme among the Kaleidescape owners was that they want this premium rental to also come with the right to own/download the movie when it goes into mass release on home video. When asked if they’d be willing to pay more for this right, the responders were almost split in thirds (see Table 2).

 

Almost 39% said they would actually pay more. So, maybe at $125 to $150, you would get to watch the movie once while it’s still in the theater and would then be able to download it as soon as it’s in wide release. That seems like a pretty palatable choice that also wouldn’t erode the studios’ profits from traditional home releases.

 

Finally, I asked how often they would actually rent a movie if it were priced at just $50 (see Table 3). I was surprised to find that most enthusiast owners wouldn’t do it very often.

 

Slightly more than 5% would do it once a week, with about half saying they would rent a $50 movie once or more per month. Shockingly, more than 45% said they’d only do it a few times per year. And remember, these are audio/video enthusiasts responding to a hypothetical day & date price of just $50.

 

As for the necessary hardware, with Prima at $35,000, Red Carpet at $15,00, and Kaleidescape starting at $4,500, the systems required to play these movies aren’t cheap, which was another huge barrier for entry for many.

 

When asked how much they would pay for the hardware needed for day & date playback (see Table 4), more than 50% said they would only pay less than $500. Again, that seems highly unrealistic, especially when you consider the security measures that need to be employed, but it does bode well for Xcinex, which says its Venue will come to market for less than $30.

Also, these prices address the per-viewing model, which means it’s the same cost whether there are 1 or 50 people watching. The other option is the same per-viewer or per-ticket model theaters use, which is how Xcinex plans to operate. Other than the potential issues and privacy concerns with a sensor monitoring and counting viewers, it again seems difficult to believe Xcinex could come to market and offer day & date viewing at literally fractions of what the other companies are charging. But the company says it’s firmly committed to launching by the end of this year, and that it will have content and deals in place, so time will tell.

 

What impact will day & date have on your movie watching habits? And how much would you be willing to pay for the privilege?

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.

How Much Would You Pay for Day & Date? Pt. 1

How Much Would You Pay for Day & Date?, Pt. 1

Wrapping up my recent series of posts on day & date, I thought I’d cut right to the heart of it: How much is day & date worth? In other words, how much would you pay for the privilege of watching a first-run film in the comfort of your own home, either on opening night or some short time later?

 

As I wrote in “Why Kaleidescape Could Own Day & Date, Pt. 2,” at the moment it appears Red Carpet Home Cinema has set the benchmark for what it will cost, at somewhere between $500 and $3,000. This is up from Prima Cinema’s $500 for each 

viewing. It could be that the Prima folks were better negotiators than Red Carpet, or that Hollywood has decided day & date is worth more now that it was a few years ago. We won’t know for sure until we see if Prima is able to return to operation.

 

But the simple truth is that, as much as we might want to be able to watch movies at home instead of going to the theater, most of us can’t afford these prices.

 

This is where I see a sliding scale coming into play. If you want to watch the movie on opening night, you’re gonna have to pay the ultra-premium price Red Carpet is demanding. But, if you’re willing to wait a week . . . or two
. . . or four, as theater audiences have slacked off to nearly nothing, the studios might allow for more affordable pricing.

 

This is why some kind of premium window for early theatrical release might be a more realistic hope for luxury home viewing than actual day & date. At least at first.

 

That conclusion was echoed by several commenters on the Kaleidescape Owners Forum when I posed the question:

 

“How much would you be willing to pay for Day and Date?” Here were some of the responses:

 

• I would like to see a sliding scale based on timing:

Week 1: $300

Week 2 to 4: $150

Week 5 to 8: $75

• I for one would also be willing to pay a premium for the privilege of watching movies at home
while they’re still out in the theater. That would be an awesome feature if it could be incorporated
into existing hardware.

 

• As for how much, it would depend upon the movie. [Star Wars]—maybe $300, other blockbusters,
maybe $150, comedies and “chick flicks” $75-100.

 

• I would pay maximum $75-$100 to watch with just my wife or kids, and maybe $200 once or twice
a year and invite friends over.

 

• With 4-8 $25 seats and a $100 fee for download etc then $200-300 on day one, week one is a
good no loss to the studio price point.

 

• I’ve said it before, I will say it again–I would pay $500 to watch any theatrical movie in my home
on opening day, even without the ability to stop/pause/rewind or be given a digital copy. Watching
Star Wars opening night on my couch is cooler than a sports car IMO.

 

• $500 for one viewing at midnight the release date. Watching [Star Wars] in my living room would
be incredible.

 

Remember, these answers all came from people who already own luxury entertainment systems, and have shown their willingness to invest in premium-price hardware like a Kaleidescape. (An entry-level Strato system—the unit most likely to support day & date—currently costs $4,500.) And none of them said they’d be willing to pay more than $500. That is why

I wonder if Red Carpet’s exorbitant pricing will be able to find traction even among the ultra-wealthy.

 

I first started thinking about what I’d be willing to pay for this experience six years ago, when I had the chance to live with the Prima Cinema system.

 

When I see a movie, it’s almost always with my wife and frequently with my 12-year-old as well. So, figure we’re in for around $30 in movie tickets. (I realize this is at the low end of the market, with many parts of the country paying upwards of twice that.) Then factor in popcorn, drinks, and snacks for another $20 to $30. Since we have a 3-year-old, figure another $20 to $30 for a babysitter. I don’t have to deal with parking (or hiring a car service), but for many this is another cost of movie-going. So, for me, a $100 movie purchase is something I would consider for many films.

 

And after my recent lackluster experience seeing Avengers: Endgame at my local cinema—where I didn’t eat or drink anything for 8 hours prior to showtime to ensure I could make it through without a bathroom break—with all of

the popcorn rustling, drink slurping, side conversations, an infant watching YouTube videos on an iPad (not kidding), and a very noticeably blown subwoofer that totally took me out of every bass-heavy moment, being able to watch at my own home almost sounds worth any price.

 

In Pt. 2, I’ll give you the surprising results of an extensive survey I conducted to find out how much home theater enthusiasts would be willing to pay for day & date.

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 Kaleidescape Could Own Day & Date, Pt. 2

How Kaleidescape Could Own Day & Date, Pt. 2

In Part 1, I gave some of the technical reasons why I think Kaleidescape is better positioned than companies like Prima Cinema and Red Carpet Home Cinema to make day & date—the ability to watch movies at home the day they debut in movie theaters—a success. Here, I’ll focus more on the logistical and strategic reasons for why I think it has the potential to be the most viable day & date provider.

 

6) CONTROLLED ROLLOUT

Sure, there are bigger companies than Kaleidescape out there—like, say, Apple or Vudu—that have a lot of studio agreements in place and are set up to handle secure transactions, but day & date isn’t going to be rolled out wide to a mass-market audience.

 

The movie studios want to release this in a very controlled manner so if there’s a problem, they can shove the genie back into the bottle as easily as possible. That just wouldn’t be possible with a $149 mass-market device like an Apple TV.

 

Even if Kaleidescape made day & date available to every one of its customers worldwide on Day One, we’re still talking thousands of systems, or a very small percentage of the movie-watching population. But day & date will probably begin in the US, which would cut the number down considerably. And, it probably wouldn’t be rolled out as a firmware update for all 

Kaleidescape users, but would likely be offered to a very select beta of 50 to 100 power users, whose systems would be updated with new firmware and then monitored during the beta period.

 

Another possibility would be for Kaleidescape to approach existing Bel Air Circuit members to become system owners (or be loaned beta-enabled systems). What group to better give day & date access to than one that already has it?

 

And, while the company won’t publicly comment on system owners, it’s pretty well known that Kaleidescape systems are already owned by many Hollywood A-listers. This 

would be another avenue for a controlled rollout, targeting a select group of influencers who could experience the system in action and become more comfortable with supporting day & date releases.

 

7) ALREADY OWNED BY MANY CINEPHILES

You know who’s going to be the most interested in buying day & date content for viewing at home at premium pricing? Luxury cinema owners who love movies. And you know what system many luxury cinema owners and movie lovers already own? Yup. Kaleidescape.

Why Kaleidescape Could Own Day & Date, Pt. 2

And for those who currently aren’t system owners but who love the idea of enjoying first-run content at home, the price of entry is far more obtainable with Kaleidescape than with Prima or Red Carpet. For under $4,500, someone could buy a Strato S 4K Ultra HD movie player (shown above) with 6 Terabytes of storage, enough to hold about 90 4K Ultra HD movies. This would be affordable for far more people than the .1% targeted by Prima and Red Carpet, and not an unreasonable amount to spend in a luxury media room costing $25,000 or more.

 

8) INTEGRATION PARTNER CHANNEL

End users aren’t going to be able to just stroll into a Best Buy, pick up a day & date system, take it home, and install and activate it themselves. Something this sophisticated and bulletproof requires professional integration and handholding.

 

While I’ve no doubt Red Carpet will be able to find a dealer base—though Prima might have a harder row to hoe should they return to operation—Kaleidescape already has an established and reputable dealer network.

 

Since its inception, Kaleidescape has worked hand-in-hand with the custom installation channel, having some of the best CEDIA and HTA-certified members in its ranks, ensuring that its hardware is properly installed and configured. Realizing that its systems are only as good and stable as their installation, Kaleidescape only sells through a network of custom installers that can handle complete installation and system integration. This also ensures that the system works with the customer’s control system and is calibrated with their video and audio system, and that the network is configured for a stable experience.

 

9) PROVEN LUXURY TECHNOLOGY

When Kaleidescape hit the market in the early 2000s, the first system sold for more than $30,000, which obviously meant only a small subset of home theater owners could afford it. Almost 20 years later, the luxury market remains Kaleidescape’s core demographic.

Kaleidescape systems also have a phenomenal reputation for bulletproof operation. Every system includes dealer tools like remote system health monitoring and automatic notifications should a system have an issue such as loss of network connectivity, overheating, or hard disc trouble. This allows dealers to address problems proactively before there’s a loss of operation.

 

Unlike other companies, which are outsourcing their hardware or software, Kaleidescape has end-to-end control over every aspect of its system. It runs its own Movie Store and handles all movie encodes (see “How Kaleidescape Makes Movies Look Amazing”), and has 

dedicated engineering and tech support teams. In short, if there’s ever a problem with any aspect of a Kaleidescape system, there’s one clear route to getting it resolved.   

 

10) COULD CO-EXIST WITH OTHER PREMIUM OFFERINGS

In my conversation with Red Carpet’s Fred Rosen, he said they asked the studios, “What will it take to make this happen? You set the price and terms.” So presumably the studios feel day & date content is worth somewhere in the $500 to $3,000 range.

 

Frankly, these prices seem untenable for most Kaleidescape customers, and I question how many among even the ultra-wealthy are willing to buy a movie for viewing at such a massive premium. Or how often they would choose to do so beyond a once- or twice-a-year novelty. (Honestly, for $3,000, you could just call up a theater, buy every seat, and have your own private screening.)

 

But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume Red Carpet—and even Prima, upon return—establishes this as the price for day & date viewing. Kaleidescape could then decide to establish itself as a premium video-on-demand solution for early theatrical release, offering movies just after that first week or two when most films bring in about 90% of their box-office take.

Let Red Carpet and Prima charge $500 to $3,000 for the privilege of being able to see a movie at home on opening day. Kaleidescape could then make it available after the first week for, say, $300, then maybe $200 after the second week, dropping to $100 after the first month. At these tiered prices, Kaleidescape owners could regularly consume premium theatrical content without having a significant impact of the theater owners’ bottom line.

 

Think of this as being akin to air travel. You have the money-no-object group of private jet owners who think nothing of dropping millions on the plane itself and then thousands in operational costs for each flight. That is the Bel Air Circuit crowd. Then you have those who prefer fractional jet ownership via companies like NetJets. While by no means inexpensive, this has far lower buy-in and pay-by-hour operation costs. This would be the Red Carpet and Prima customer. Then there are people who still want a luxury travel experience but don’t care to shell out the ultra-premium costs for private travel, opting to fly First Class instead. This would be the Kaleidescape customer.

 

 

When I asked Kaleidescape about possible day & date plans, the company’s official response was, “We won’t comment on any speculation or rumors.” But it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to connect the dots and realize that the company would be keenly interested in pursuing this potentially game-changing feature. In fact, one need only read the comments CEO Cheena Srinivasan gave in an interview a couple of years ago. When asked about Kaleidescape’s possible involvement with day & date, he said:

 

I believe in the concept of offering new-release movies still playing in the neighborhood theaters to luxury home cinema customers. It will become a reality.

 

According to a recent survey by MGM Resorts, watching movies in a movie theater was cited as the most popular way to be entertained, followed closely by watching movies at home. People who own a luxury home cinema have little need to go to a theater. They would rather wait until the movie is released for home viewing.

 

Since theater owners lose no revenue from people in this category, a premium-priced rental for this audience during the theatrical window won’t cannibalize the exhibitors’ revenues. For the content owners, monetizing content from this audience makes good business sense. We’re well positioned to offer such a service—it is not a technological barrier, as Kaleidescape is already regarded as a respected supplier of both products and content designed with the highest content-protection safeguards available in the market today.

 

Again, all of my comments here are just speculation and conjecture, but movies are being made available at home sooner and sooner after they’re in theaters, and premium day & date services already exist. So the big question isn’t whether day & date is going to happen, but who’s in the best position to offer it securely and reliably over the long run.

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 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.

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.

Bumblebee

Bumblebee

For many viewers, myself included, the Transformers franchise jumped the shark with its fifth film, Transformers: The Last Knight, where it tried to combine robots, dinosaurs, and Arthurian lore into a mess of a film that included Sir Anthony Hopkins delivering lines that were frequently cringeworthy at best. That film was panned by critics and received the lowest audience rating of any film in the series—a meager 16% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Due to this, my expectations for Bumblebee were basically non-existent.

But the Bumblebee team decided to do some transforming of its own. This film broke the tradition of having Michael Bay at the directorial helm (though he does retain a producer credit), instead going with relative newcomer Travis Knight, whose previous directorial credit included the critically acclaimed Kubo and the Two Strings. They also went with an up-and-coming writers, Christina Hodson, for the script and story.

Those two changes made all the difference, with Bumblebee scoring big at the box office, bringing in a 93% Rotten Tomatoes rating—the highest of any film in the franchise—and resulting in a movie that has far more heart and story, and far less near-constant frenetic smash-em-up-blow-em-up action scenes. And guess what? When every scene isn’t filled with action, there is more room for story and character development, and more opportunity for the action pieces to stand out.

Also, by primarily focusing on a single robot character instead of virtually every Autobot and Decepticon still in existence, you have a chance to care more about them. Kudos to the design team that did a great job with Bumblebee’s eyes, giving him the ability to express emotion and feeling, further humanizing him.

Bumblebee

The film begins on the planet Cybertron, with the Autobots on the verge of being completely overthrown. As a last-ditch effort, Autobot leader, Optimus Prime, sends his lead fighter and scout, B-127, to the planet Earth in an escape pod to prepare a new base of operations for the Autobots to regroup. B-127 smashes into Earth right next to an Army Special Forces training exercise, and in a skirmish while attempting to escape and battling a Decepticon that followed him, B-127 is damaged, losing his ability to speak, as well as his memory of who he is and his mission. Low

on power and heavily injured, B-127 scans a nearby yellow ’67 Beetle and transforms, where he somehow ends up at a salvage yard before being discovered by Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld). Charlie christens B-127 “Bumblebee” because of the sound his electronic mumblings make.

There are many similarities between the storylines of Bumblebee and the original 2007 Transformers film. In both movies, the human star is an outcast, nerdy high school student. That role was played by Shia LaBeouf in 2007, but this time it’s a female played by Steinfeld. Both kids encounter the discarded and barely functional Autobot, Bumblebee, while searching for their first car, taking him home and then discovering he’s “more than meets the eye.” They both rely on friends of the opposite sex to help them survive and keep Bumblebee’s secret; the bombshell Megan Fox in the original, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. in Bumblebee. We’ve also got a strong military presence trying to track down and stop the alien invasion in the form of Agent Burns (John Cena), who is given one of the best lines with, “They literally call themselves Decepticons. That doesn’t set off any red flags?!”

Set in the late ‘80s, Bumblebee has a great soundtrack featuring many classics from bands like The Smiths, Duran Duran, Tears For Fears, and A-HA, along with several band shirts worn by Steinfeld that would have been perfectly at home on any student at my high school. Also, without the ability to speak, Bumblebee plays snippets of audio from the radio to communicate, a device that works well.

Bumblebee

Shot on ARRIRAW at 3.4K, Bumblebee is taken from a 2K digital intermediate, not uncommon for heavily effects-driven films. But the image has no shortage of detail, especially in closeups where you can see tons of detail like texture, imperfections, and scratches in Bumblebee’s paint, or individual strands of hair in Steinfeld’s eyelashes. HDR is used to good effect during the night scenes, particularly with explosions and erupting fireballs, or the vibrant green of the Decepticon transmitter near the finale.

My favorite aspect of the video was that the camera style is far more steady and stable, moving away from the near seizure-inducing, rapid blur and jerk favored by the previous Transformer films. The action scenes here are stable and in focus, letting you appreciate all of the robot’s movements and motions.

By far the standout here is Bumblebee’s reference-grade Dolby Atmos soundtrack. This movie sounds fantastic in a well-calibrated home theater, featuring an active mix that fully engages all Atmos speakers, immersing you in the action. Dialogue remains clear and intelligible throughout, no matter how many things are exploding onscreen. Home theater owners will especially love the massive amount of low-frequency impact. When heavy objects or bots crash, smash, collide, or explode, the bass is appropriately weighty, producing frequencies that will rattle your floor and slam into your chest. But far more than just one repetitive bass note, bass here is richly textured and layered, with different amounts of impact and detail according to  the scene. Excellent demo material for sure!

Bumblebee is available for download now at the Kaleidescape store, two weeks before the disc release on April 2.

John Sciacca

Bumblebee

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.

Home Theaters are Better Than Movie Theaters

Home Theaters are Better than Movie Theaters

Photo by JESHOOTS.com from Pexels

As John Sciacca points out in his recent article, “Are Home Theaters Making Movie Theaters Better?” home entertainment spent more than half a century playing a catchup game with commercial cinemas, at least in terms of technological innovation and quality of presentation. But Wabbit Season has now pretty much undeniably become Duck Season, and home entertainment reigns supreme. Yes, commercial cinemas are making some interesting technological innovations, as John points out. But most of these are limited to a handful of theaters in major metropolitan areas.

 

For most people, a well-built, well-calibrated, well-programmed home cinema system (be it in a dedicated screening room or multi-use home entertainment space), has the potential to vastly outshine the movie-watching experience at the average local cineplex. And while much of this has to do with incredible advancements in the quality of consumer electronics in the

past few years, that’s not the whole story. There’s also a story to be told here about comfort, convenience, and customization.

 

In short, here are 10 reasons why home theaters are now better than movies theaters.

 

 

1) BETTER PICTURE

These days, even a mid-level Ultra HD (or “4K”) display, when properly calibrated and positioned, can give 

you a better and more immersive image than you’re likely to find in your local movie theater. Sure, your neighborhood megaplex has bigger screens working to its advantage, but depending on how far away you sit, a 75- to 120-inch screen at home can fill up just as much of your field of view. And displays this large are pretty close to becoming the norm for better home entertainment spaces. What’s more, you’d have to look pretty far and wide to find a movie theater screen that delivers anything close to the black levels and high dynamic range delivered by a good modern home display.

 

 

2) BETTER SOUND

At least in theory. While commercial cinemas still have the advantage in terms of channel count, let’s face it—you really don’t need 128 speakers in your living room to deliver an audio experience that’s every bit as engrossing as that of a movie theater. What’s more, theater sound has to be balanced for potentially hundreds of viewers. At home, you can tune the sound for the handful of seats that matter most. And today’s advanced room correction systems can make even a somewhat compromised space sound positively cinematic.

 

 

3) BETTER QUALITY CONTROL

Have you ever been to a commercial cinema and complained about an image that was too dim or stretched, or a screen that was soda-stained, or speakers that were blown, only to be greeted with that deer-in-headlights look? The fact is that most movie theater managers don’t care about (or even understand) quality of presentation. At home, you can either

address problems when they arise or, at worst, call your local integrator for assistance.

 

 

4) THE AV EXPERIENCE CAN BE
TWEAKED TO YOUR TASTE

Whether you like your movie sound to be played at reference listening levels, or just a bit louder or quieter than industry standards would dictate, chances are slim that you’ll ever be happy with where the volume knob is set at your local movie theater. At home, you can adjust the loudness to your liking, and even tweak it based on your mood.

 

 

5) THE “WOW” FACTOR CAN BE EVEN BETTER

Back in the day, there was an undeniable theatrical element involved in going to the movies. And yes, most of that boiled down to that highly anticipated moment when the curtains opened or widened to accommodate a Cinemascope film, but still. They used to call it “going to see a show” for a reason. The movie itself was simply the centerpiece of a larger event.

 

These days? Not so much. But home theaters can make movie-watching special in a way that commercial cinemas have long since abandoned. If you have a home automation system, you can dim the lights and draw the shades and maybe even cause the screen to drop down from the ceiling at the press of a button. If you have a Kaleidescape movie server system, these automated events can even be tied to the opening and closing credits of the movie itself—or even intermission. And you can program an entire evening’s worth of entertainment—trailers, cartoons, movies, and more—that can be launched with a single click. Simply put, movie night at home can be special in a way that bopping down to the local movie theater long ago ceased to be.

 

 

6) YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN TIMETABLE

Speaking of intermission, how many times have you missed a few minutes of a movie due to a necessary potty break? That’s not a problem when you’re watching at home. Perhaps more importantly, unless you’re itching to watch

the latest Marvel movie, which is likely to be playing on half the screens at your local multiplex, you’ll likely find that your choice of viewing times is limited to 4:25 or 9:45. At home, you can start the movie when you want.

 

 

7) THE VARIETY OF ENTERTAINMENT IS SO MUCH BETTER

As I alluded to in that last point, even at a megaplex with 16 screens, half of them are likely to be playing the same movie, which greatly limits your viewing options. These days, the rise of streaming services creating their own award-winning movies means that your options are wide open for home viewing.

Want to check out something like Bird Box or Roma? Outside of a few film festivals and a limited theatrical release aimed only at Oscar contention, the only way you’d ever see these films is at home. You could easily argue that Netflix and Amazon are the most innovative and important film studios in existence today, and their works are only available in the home for most people.

8) TWO WORDS: GOURMET POPCORN

OK, it’s entirely possible that my wife and I are weirdos in this respect, but we’re total popcorn snobs. We have our own oil popper, and when it’s time to sit down for a movie we’re likely to spend five minutes simply deciding what kind of kernels to pop. On the rare occasions when we do go to the cinema, the grease-covered cardboard they sell by the bucket is an unappetizing letdown.

 

And hey, maybe gourmet popcorn isn’t your thing. Substitute your own snack of choice and you get the point. Movie theaters have done a decent job of offering more variety in their snacks in recent years, but let’s be honest here: They’re all kinda gross unless you live in a major metropolis. At home, you can snack better, snack cheaper, and snack healthier to boot.

9) YOU GET TO DEFINE “COMFORT”

My wife recently returned from a road trip, during which she went to the movies with a friend of ours who lives up north. She came home raving about the recliners in the cinema they visited, to which I replied, “Were they as comfortable as your seat on the sofa?” The answer, of course, was a resounding, “no.” Still, it’s humorous to me that the notion of comfortable seating in a movie theater is a novelty in and of itself. What’s more, these seats have to accommodate a broad range of opinions as to what constitutes “comfortable.”


Personally, I like a firm memory foam sofa that conforms to my posterior, but isn’t so cushy that I drift off during our annual 12-hour Lord of the Rings Extended Edition marathon. Maybe your tastes lean even firmer, or maybe you’d prefer to sink into the accoutering equivalent of a marshmallow. Either way, in your home theater or multi-use entertainment space, you get to pick the seats.

 

 

10) YOU GET TO PICK THE AUDIENCE

There may yet come a day when commercial cinemas once again reclaim their technological superiority over home cinema systems en masse, but even if they do, I can’t imagine going back to the movies on the regular. And that mostly boils down to the fact that the moviegoing masses are loud, obnoxious, obtrusive, self-centered jerks. When we went to see Captain Marvel a few weeks back, I nearly sprained my shushing muscles. And outside of chains like Alamo Drafthouse, most cinema operators generally couldn’t care less if kids are swinging from the rafters.


Anyone who comes to my house to watch a movie knows they’re there to watch a movie, not gab for two hours straight or check their phones every ten minutes. And you could argue that my rules for movie-watching at home are a little strict, but you know what? Friends and family who join me on my couch for a show always come to appreciate the specialness of the experience.

Dennis Burger

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.