Interview: Kaleidescape embraces UltraViolet

posted on Wednesday, 2nd January 2013 by Steve May

Media Server  Streaming 

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The home media server market is evolving. That's the view of leading exponent Kaleidescape, a long time advocate of digital movie collecting. The brand has led the way in the high-end home media server space for years, with a family of networked players designed to rip, store and deliver digital files. But now the brand has is expanding in an altogether different direction, with an online download service that offers movies in the same quality as Blu-ray or DVD, and it hopes to bring Hollywood along for the ride. This spring the store will also introduce UltraViolet support for streaming to mobile devices.

The move should end years of acrimony between the media server community and movie studios. Kaleidescape recently signed a far reaching agreement with Warner Digital Distribution which allows Kaleidescape owners to download Warner movies and TV shows direct to their Kaleidescape systems, add UltraViolet rights to Warner titles previously imported to their server, as well as upgrade SD titles to HD.

Embracing UV is an interesting addition. The UltraViolet digital locker concept has been in development for a number of years, and effectively allows multiple devices to access an online locker of titles. However, it has yet to enjoy unqualified support within the home entertainment industry. Sam Andrews, editor of software industry trade bible Cue Entertainment told Inside CI: "The problem is the studios haven't made a convincing case for UV; they just haven't explained why you need UltraViolet. All they really said is 'We've just invented something which isn't Apple - and we'll think of why you need it soon.'"

Robert Price, UK managing director of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, is predictably more optimistic: 'I don't think the idea behind UV is such a huge leap" he says. "People aren't interested in formats any more, they're interested in confidence. And I think UV will be seen as a stamp of confidence. It's all about universal access, a guarantee."

To learn more, Inside CI sat down with Tom Barnett (pictured above), Senior marketing director for Kaleidescape, to talk about the new store and UV in general.

So why back UltraViolet, and why do it now?

Barnett: In the long view, we think the UltraViolet system is a good fit for us. It's all about digital movie collecting. It's a very flexible framework to work within. Our long term strategy is to make it easy for consumers to have a collection of movies. Thus far that means having movies on a server in your house, alongside a Blu-ray copy. With the introduction of the Kaleidescape store, we can offer the quality of disc (using a proprietary format) with the benefits of internet delivery. Titles purchased from the Kaleidescape store can be downloaded to up to five Kaleidescape systems. (NB. a UV digital copy can be watched on up to 12 devices and shared by six members of a household account. Files can be streamed from the internet or downloaded to a compatible device.)

But are you confident people still want the convenience of a media server solution?

Barnett: Friction drives consumer behaviour. People always want to do what's easiest. It's always been like that. Originally if you wanted to see a movie you went to a theatre. Then the arrival of TV removed some of the friction. Today, if people are going to buy a movie, they're going to go buy a Blu-ray disc. But you can't organise a collection like you can music on an iPod. The new lowest friction thing is to fire up a Video on Demand system. We've run into a lot of people who stopped buying DVDs after they reached a collection size of about 100 because the bookshelf became unruly and they couldn't find what they wanted to watch.

So why do people still buy physical discs?

Barnett: Well for one thing, people care about having the best quality, and there's extra content; but there hasn't been a way to combine downloaded movies with films imported from Blu-ray and DVD in one manageable library; a bridging product. Movies purchased from the Kaliedescape store will contain all the bonus content, and have the same UI, as an imported disc. We want to provide consumers with ways to extend their collection.

What can Kaleidescape bring to the digital download party that's unique?

Barnett: We have a database of 200,000 movies that's completely proprietary to us. We have teams in the US, UK, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy adding movies to the database every single day. This has the power to change the way you enjoy movies. We're marking the most memorable moments in a scene in a consistent way across all movies from all studios. We're also tagging the songs in all musicals and concerts, that's over 50,000 songs. Those things make using a movie collection very intuitive. It also enriches your ability to go find things which are related to one another in a fun way.

One of the early US initiatives for UltraViolet was the Disc to Digital programe. Is that still relevant?

Barnett: It's one of the nice things about the format. You can take a movie and pay for an upgrade. There's no need to re-buy everything. I took 15 discs up to Walmart, and paid around $30 dollars to add digital copies to those movies, rather than $300 to buy them all again digitally. But it's a hassle to wait in line.

How does the streaming infrastructure behind UltraViolet work?

Barnett: The obligation is to provide free streaming for the first year after a purchase, and streaming facilities for five years - but that does not have to be free to the consumer.

Isn't that like renting your own movies?

Barnett: It's not that you're renting the movie that you already own from yourself, more that you're paying a surcharge for the streaming facility and the bandwidth required. The right to an UltraViolet movie is perpetual and remains in your digital collection. If you're a retailer, you have to set up your own locker access server or contract it out. Retailers have to decide if it's worth paying somebody's streaming bill, which is probably pennies, in order to have consumers repeatedly coming back to their environment. For example, Vudu will pay the streaming bill for films I've bought on the Paramount site, because they don't want me to go and play the movie there, in case I decide to add another $20 movie to my account while I'm there.

UltraViolet hasn't exactly taken off yet, and awareness outside the US is close to zero with consumers. Is it the format to save the media server business?

Barnett: To get a critical mass, the system needs around 10 million registered users with ten or more movies in their lockers. It's too soon to tell if this is the way things will go. If it doesn't work the risk is that electronic movie rental remains fragmented. Imagine if you needed a different DVD player for specific retailers and specific studios. That's the problem UV is trying to solve.

So are we likely to see the Kaleidescape store open for business on this side of the Atlantic? Just how important is Europe to Kaleidescape?

Barnett: Very! We've exhibited at ISE for nine years. Europe represents roughly a third of our overall trade. 15 per cent of our revenues come from the UK, with 60 per cent from North America. Watch this space…

For more visit Kaleidescape's official online site.
Also read:
Media server business under fire at UltraViolet confab
Kaleidescape goes 'Scope, adds iPad app

Steve May

Steve is a veteran of the UK consumer electronics industry, having covered it for
various media outlets for more than 20 years.

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