Kaleidescape media servers

Since 2001, Kaleidescape has been the leader in home media servers, delivering high-quality DVD content to distributed locations throughout the home via ethernet network. Many other companies have sprung up to challenge the entertainment server market offering myriad features, but every one of them has had to follow in the steps of Kaleidescape – often borrowing ideas. The elegance and ease of use Kaleidescape offers with their user interface is one thing every company emulates.

Aside from the hardware and software offerings, Kaleidescape has been watched by the entire A/V convergence industry for their court battles with the DVD-CCA. This is a complicated story, so I’ll try to make it brief. Kaleidescape is the only company to have obtained a license from the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD-CCA) to remove the Content Scramble System (CSS) from the DVD to rip and play back from the hard drive. This license requires Kaleidescape to use a closed system with proprietary software and hardware to limit the content’s output to mirror CSS specifications. This includes limiting analog video outputs at 480p, and the protection keys and unscrambled data cannot be on “user-accessible buses,” like the PCI slot. There is even a separate license obtained from Macrovision required for the analog outputs.


However, in spite of all the licenses Kalidescape has received, the DVD-CCA continues to claim the system does not stand up to the CSS requirements. The DVD-CCA has repeatedly sued Kalidescape over this claim and has lost every case. Most recently was a March ruling where the judge found in favor of Kalidescape. Since this ruling, the DVD-CCA is attempting to amend the license making it so the DVD must be physically present for the video to play back and that the CSS codes cannot be moved to a hard drive. This is ridiculous, of course, as it completely voids any advantage a hard drive based storage system yields. The good news is that the courts and appeals courts have all agreed with Kaleidescape in several court decisions. The amendment reads as follows:

6.4. Certain Requirements for DVD Products, shall not be designed to descramble scrambled CSS Data when the DVD Disc containing such CSS Data and associated CSS Keys is not physically present in the DVD Player or DVD Drive (as applicable), and a DVD Product shall not be designed to make or direct the making of a persistent copy of CSS Data that has be descrambled from such DVD Disc by such DVD Product.

Founder and CEO Michael Malcolm wrote a scathing letter to the Content Protection Advisory Council (CPAC) claiming the group is attempting to put his company out of business. The CPAC is made up of several electronics manufacturers Malcolm claims are using their position to stifle competition. None of the CPAC companies make a media server system. Malcolm wrote that the amendment violates antitrust regulations.

The purpose of this proposed amendment is to put Kalidescape out of business by excluding the Kalidescape system from the DVD playback devices authorized by the CSS License Agreement.”

I asked Malcolm if his company was seeking legal action against the DVD-CCA and he denied that in no uncertain terms. However he has previously stated they were looking at it.

Looking to the future

Like another product innovator, Apple, Kaleidescape doesn’t usually talk about future products and features. When I spoke to Michael Malcolm, founder and CEO of Kaleidescape, he would not comment on any plans to bring Blu-ray or HD DVD to the Kaleidescape platform. On August 16, Mercury News reported Malcolm believes the quality of DVD upscaling is so good that you cannot tell the difference between the new formats and regular DVD. This might hint at no future adoption of the formats. Another hint is Kaleidescape is looking to a future of delivering high-def content over the internet, something Microsoft is pushing as well.

In fact, their initial goal was to create an internet delivery system and even filed a number of patents on that technology. Malcolm told Engadget in a 2005 interview that the hurdle that has yet to be overcome is getting studios to agree to digital delivery. “To do Internet delivery of movies, you need to convince the content owners to license their movies to you, and you need a large enough installed base that it’s economically interesting to them,” he said. “But you need people to buy the platform, and you can’t get there without the movies.”

With studios like Universal, Disney and Lions Gate bowing high-def content on such services like VUDU and Xbox LIVE over the internet, I wonder if Kaleidescape will revisit digital delivery. In the meantime, they offer pre-loaded movie collections including categories such as “Academy Award Winners Best Picture,” and “The Criterion Collection Catalog.” This is a quick and easy way to fill up your hard drives with quality films cataloged properly with no work from yourself, and the best part is many of these films are hard-to-find.

About Steven Kippel

Steven Kippel has worked as a systems designer for a leading high-end audio/video custom integrator in Southern California since 2003. He is responsible for researching new technologies and integrating them into existing systems and new construction projects. He has designed several high-profile systems for discriminating clients on the cutting-edge of technology. When he is not hard at work, Steven is spending time with his wife, playing with his band or promoting concerts and bands in the Inland Empire. His favorite bands include The Cure, U2, Eisley, Living Sacrifice and DragonForce.

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