I have a love/hate relationship with Hollywood. I love watching movies, but I hate so many things about how they’re presented. After popping in my legally purchased DVD or Blu-ray, I have to sit through piracy warnings, copy warnings, ads, trailers, and menus. Only then can I watch my movie. Why should I be subjected to all of these warnings when I’m obeying the law? Why should I be forced to pay for the right to be force-fed advertisements? And the worst part is that many of these warnings and ads can’t be skipped.
In a perfect world, I’d download an application like Handbrake and strip all of the crap I don’t want to be subjected to and just watch the movie. But the MPAA would argue that the moment you break the DRM on that movie you own, this is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. So your choice is to sit there through illegible and intimidating warnings from the Department of Homeland Security in 8 point type or knowingly breaking an arguably silly law.
There’s also a third choice, one which solves the annoying problem of ads and warnings, while keeping you on the good side of the law. For the past month, I’ve been testing an entertainment server from Kaleidescape called Cinema One. The device, about the size of a Tivo, presents movies, television shows, and music, with all the fluff stripped out. Want to watch a movie? Press play and it begins. Easy peasy.
But the Cinema One is far more than just a movie player — and it better be. The server comes with a pretty hefty price tag: $4,000. That’s a big chunk of change for what amounts to a 4 terabyte drive that you can pick up at an electronics retailer for about two hundred bucks. I was highly skeptical that the Cinema One could be worth this money, so I asked the company how they justified that price. They answered “The cost is not just for the 4TB drive. We deliver value through our movie guide and our special bookmarked scenes as well as our renowned lifetime support, and long-standing heritage of performance and quality.”
Honestly, I wasn’t moved: that’s a pretty big markup for software. But then I began playing around with the Cinema One. The device came preloaded with about 50 movies, a fraction of its 600 DVD capacity (or 100 Blu-rays). What’s more, there were dozens of music albums on the entertainment server as well. Music and movies were browsable either in a text list or by covers. Each selection you stop on generates a popup with data points relevant to that title. In the case of the movie list, you’ll find genre, actors, director, rating, year and running time. The cover view just offers a short synopsis, but hitting the enter button brings up the movie’s interface, which offers the list information, along with more information like aspect ratio, picture format, and play options.
In the Kaleidescape database, more than 300,000 titles have already been processed, so you get right into the movie and don’t have to mess with ads or menus. (You can still access menus and trailers if you want, so special features aren’t lost.) For many of these titles, Kaleidescape has already gone through and bookmarked special scenes. For example, select The Empire Strikes Back and you can instantly jump to the Vader/Skywalker fight scene or a half dozen other important moments in the film. Thanks to this bookmarking feature, you could spend the evening just watching your favorite space battles or using the collections feature to watch a marathon of kaiju films.
There are excellent parental controls too. You can limit movies by rating and the user will only see selections that fall within your guidelines. (A passcode allows you to quickly bypass the limits.) Additionally, you can pick up a children’s remote that is unique in a couple of ways. When the Cinema One is accessed with the children’s remote, a simple, cover interface is presented and only movies from the children’s collection (which parents can add and subtract from) are available for play.
One of the downsides is with Blu-rays. Thanks to the AACS, when you upload a Blu-ray, you still have to keep the disc in the drive to play it. Kaleidescape points to their workaround for this problem with a “Disc-to-Digital” upgrade that gives you a digital and Ultraviolet copy for $1.99. If you want to get some new movies, the Kaleidescape store has 5,250 movies and another 8,000 episodic titles available for download. Looking at the store, the available titles leave a little to be desired, but Kaleidescape says that, in addition to their licensing deals with Warner Brothers and Lionsgate, they have plans to significantly expand their store’s offering in the coming year.
You can also upload your own DVDs and Blu-rays to the device. I tried this out with two titles, first with Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The 91-minute film took right around 15 minutes to upload and when I looked at the interface, Kaleidescape’s memorable scenes were already there so I could jump immediately to see the Black Knight or the Knights who say Ni. Next, I uploaded Faster, a MotoGP documentary narrated by Ewan McGregor. The hour and 43 minute film took a little over 25 minutes to upload and, when it was complete, there were no scenes bookmarked, possibly due to the documentary’s fringe status.
The system provides you with all the information you’d want to know, estimating how many movies you can add, last connection with the network, and status of uploading discs or downloading movies. On the surface, the system seems pretty simple, but after using it for a month, it’s pretty much everything I want in a movie server. With a network connection, it would be nice for the Cinema One to tie in to the Internet Movie Database or offer ways to dive deeper into cast, crews, and movies, like Google Fiber television does.
The Cinema One isn’t for everyone, especially with its big price tag. But it’s wonderfully luxurious and incredibly simple to use. It’s easy to get spoiled by its quick access to content and simple interface. If you’re a huge cinephile, have an empty spot in your man cave, or have some cash burning a hole in your pocket, you should check it out. Me? I’m just sorry I had to send it back.