Kaleidescape: Consumer Video Networking

By Loyd Case  |  Posted 2004-01-10 Print this article Print

Kaleidescape takes enterprise-class server technology and repurposes it for the home. It's not cheap, but is a precursor for the future.

Imagine an enterprise-class server. Such a system would typically have a fairly beefy server—but more importantly, would have robust, reliable storage. These servers typically have an array of hot-swappable hard drives, as well as technology to improve data integrity (parity drives, for example). A server like this would be ideal for delivering multiple video streams across a network. In fact, video-on-demand applications use sophisticated storage server technology to deliver video in real-time, as customers want it. Kaleidescape, out of Mountain View, Calif., is aiming to bring this level of technology to the home. The company, started by Network Appliance founder Michael Malcolm, aims to bring robust content server technology in the home. The goal is to create a system to essentially cache and deliver DVD movies to any room in the house.
The Kaleidescape system consists of several parts. The key component is the server itself. Inside the server are twelve hot-swappable, 300GB hard drivers. Each hard drive can hold 40 complete DVD movies, for a total of 440 DVDs. (The last drive is the parity drive, for error correction and recovery). The server can deliver content to any room in the house via 100-Mbit Ethernet.
The second part of the system is the DVD reader. This can copy the content of a DVD to the server. DVDs are "imported" (copied) to the system as bit-accurate images; no compression is performed beyond that already inherent in the DVD itself. The system is connected to the Internet, and will download DVD data (cover art, key movie information) to the Kaleidescape server. The final part is a network-connected DVD player. The user can view the cover art, sort their DVD list by a variety different parameters, and create lists of favorite DVDs or even DVD scenes. When the user presses "play," the movie plays instantly – no menu, no up-front advertising. Users can view the menu and select DVD menu entries, if desired. The player is a progressive scan player, with component video support, using Faroudjas DCDi progressive scan technology. Kaleidescape is working on a version of the player that will support DVI and HDMI. To address content-protection issues, the system uses proprietary operating systems. DVDs can get copied to the system, but the data can never leave. While its theoretically possible to make copies through the component video outputs, those copies would not be "pure digital" copies, and would lack additional features (eg, menus). Users must manually agree to the license agreement every time a DVD is imported, which specifically requires that the user own the DVD. Parental controls are also built into the system, and can be enabled on a per-player basis. The current Kaleidescape system is not cheap, starting at $27,000 for a system with capacity for 160 movies. Players are $3,995 apiece. A full blown system with 440-movie capacity and four different players would set a customer back a cool $45,000. However, the company is examining the possibility of lower-capacity systems at lower cost, but plans havent been firmed up. The system is shipping now. For more from CES 2004, check out CES.PCMag.Com.
Loyd Case came to computing by way of physical chemistry. He began modestly on a DEC PDP-11 by learning the intricacies of the TROFF text formatter while working on his master's thesis. After a brief, painful stint as an analytical chemist, he took over a laboratory network at Lockheed in the early 80's and never looked back. His first 'real' computer was an HP 1000 RTE-6/VM system.

In 1988, he figured out that building his own PC was vastly more interesting than buying off-the-shelf systems ad he ditched his aging Compaq portable. The Sony 3.5-inch floppy drive from his first homebrew rig is still running today. Since then, he's done some programming, been a systems engineer for Hewlett-Packard, worked in technical marketing in the workstation biz, and even dabbled in 3-D modeling and Web design during the Web's early years.

Loyd was also bitten by the writing bug at a very early age, and even has dim memories of reading his creative efforts to his third grade class. Later, he wrote for various user group magazines, culminating in a near-career ending incident at his employer when a humor-impaired senior manager took exception at one of his more flippant efforts. In 1994, Loyd took on the task of writing the first roundup of PC graphics cards for Computer Gaming World -- the first ever written specifically for computer gamers. A year later, Mike Weksler, then tech editor at Computer Gaming World, twisted his arm and forced him to start writing CGW's tech column. The gaming world -- and Loyd -- has never quite recovered despite repeated efforts to find a normal job. Now he's busy with the whole fatherhood thing, working hard to turn his two daughters into avid gamers. When he doesn't have his head buried inside a PC, he dabbles in downhill skiing, military history and home theater.

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