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CR Talks To... Michael Malcolm, founder, chairman & CEO of Kaleidescape : Next-Gen Movie Players & Their Users

All about Kaleidescape’s new M-Class Blu-ray-supporting products—and their child-friendly user interface

August 2010 By Interview By Nancy Klosek

CustomRetailer: Kaleidescape recently announced the introduction of its new M-Class architecture, along with two new products—M500 and M300—that work with the architecture. The players enable Blu-ray content to be played in multiple zones—a first. Can you talk about how you achieved this innovation?

Michael Malcolm: With the M500 and M300, we followed a similar model to the way the Kaleidescape system was designed before. These two players will work with any existing Kaleidescape servers. However, if you want to play Blu-ray, you can only do that with one of the new players. They have been built with more power for decoding video and audio.

Also, our interface has been substantially improved to take advantage of this more powerful hardware. We have a new, custom-designed typeface and a number of animations, shadings and different color schemes. Operationally, it's much like the earlier user interface, but it looks quite different—it's got a lot of visual changes and details that make it more enjoyable to use.

For starters, it's all native 1080p HD—it really pops. While cover art has always been in high definition, you hadn't been able to see that because in the previous players we couldn't display it in HD. Now, you get to really enjoy that a lot more. In the music sections, we've added photographs of artists. This was all enabled by the more powerful hardware in these players. The M-Class architecture is enabling both Blu-ray and this new user interface—and it's going to enable other things in the future. It has better computer graphics capability and quite a bit more powerful computing capability, in addition to the codecs for supporting the newer formats for video and audio, which, of course, are required for playing Blu-ray.

CR: By requiring the presence of a Blu-ray disc in one of the new players even though the content has been copied to a Kaleidescape server, you're satisfying studio concerns—is that correct?

Malcolm: The presence of the Blu-ray disc enables us to comply with the copy protection agreements that are required by Blu-ray. There is a whole new set of agreements for copy protection in order to do Blu-ray. This is something we've done in order to comply with it. It's not specifically required, but we believe that this enables us to comply with it.

CR: What are the advantages, then, of copying the content over to the server, since you still need the physical presence of the disc?

Malcolm: Starting the movie is much faster. You can create bookmarks and favorite scenes in the movie, and it can start them very quickly. It also allows you to play content in any zone—one of the most important things. You can stop the movie in one zone and start it again in another. In fact, you can play it in multiple zones simultaneously, if you wish.

CR: Can you talk in detail about the disc loader addition that you are planning to make available in the first half of 2011?

Malcolm: We don't have a model number or price yet, but are hoping to announce particulars in the near future. It will be a rack-mounted unit that's going to hold a few hundred discs and it will serve as a bulk loader, so that when you put discs in, it will automatically read them one at a time and copy them onto the servers, and then it will know they're there. It won't actually read a disc when you play it; in fact, it will probably spend most of its life just holding the discs and knowing they're there. We call it a 'disc vault,' because the only way you can get discs out of it is to ask that they be ejected, through the user interface. One of the benefits is that it makes it easy to find your discs—if you want a particular movie, you can find it through the user interface and just ask for it to be ejected from the vault, so you don't have to look through a binder or boxes of discs. If you have many movies, it can be quite a job to find a particular one that way.

CR: Aside from the new products, can you speak about your overall go-to-market strategies? What are you doing in your marketing approach to respond to installer and consumer needs?

Malcolm: We have become a lot more focused on marketing, and have gotten better at building our brand with consumers and installers. We think a lot of our sales are caused by end-user demand, and there's quite a bit of brand recognition among them, so the more we can increase that, then our sales will also increase. We decided to focus, as far as branding goes, on the fact that it's a movie server.

Another thing is that many of our customers are families with young children, so our marketing is becoming more focused on that particular target audience. In fact, some of our product development work is in that direction, too—or is at least more sensitive to the fact that many of our users are children.

In some of the user interface decisions we made, we thought about what they would mean for children. One improvement we made in the M-Class players was that in the movie list, we added a small version of the cover art. For young children who can't read, it enables them to recognize a movie, even in the movie list—so it's a lot more usable for them.

The movie server is such a convenience for families with young children, because they can operate it by themselves and they don't have to touch the discs. Most child-oriented content is still on DVDs, and it will stay that way for quite a while. A great benefit for children is they can find what they want to watch, get it to operate automatically and get the movie to play immediately without having to go through 20 minutes of advertisements and notices. They also don't run into a DVD menu—which really frustrates small children because they don't know what to do with it.

As far as what's influencing content buyers, I think that a lot of drive comes from the children. Our customers buy content for themselves and their children, but the content that is watched the most is the children's content.

CR: Talk a bit about the support you offer your dealer and installer network.

Malcolm: We've always had an excellent support group that is readily available by phone or e-mail. So when our dealers install a system or try to figure out the answer to a question, they always have someone they can talk to. Most of the support is done right here in Sunnyvale, but we have a worldwide dealer network that we support locally. We do dealer training both in classrooms—at our headquarters and at shows—and in Webinars, and have a pretty extensive knowledge base with hundreds of online questions and answers.

As far as marketing support goes, we have some e-mail generation tools so dealers can create e-mails to their customers for things like announcing upgrades and other offers. We have an extensive extranet for the dealers. We have configuration tools and tools for automatically generating quotations and orders. It's fairly extensive.

We also recently introduced a pretty powerful tool for them that's been very well received: Kaleidescape Alerts. We automatically send e-mails to the dealers when there's a significant problem with any customer's system. This includes if a disc fails, or if the temperature gets too high or too low. We have temperature monitoring in all our products, so the e-mail alerts the dealer that some action needs to be taken at the customer's home.

We also have a dashboard in the extranet where the dealer can dig deeper, and see what the temperature history is for each of the components, find out how much storage space is available on the servers, and really be proactive about preventing problems or knowing when it's time to install a new disc drive. When a disc drive fails, we're very proactive, making sure the dealer replaces it. The servers are all protected with RAID protection; a disc can fail and you don't lose any content. But it's very important to get the failed disc replaced as soon as possible.

We've discovered systems that were too hot in the field with this, and most of those were then fixed by the dealers. They've been very responsive; they love the feature because if some component of the Kaleidescape system is too hot or too cold, it usually means there are other components in the rack that are too hot or cold. So dealers find out they've got a rack that just isn't cooled right and can then pre-emptively cut off a potential problem with anything that's in the rack.

Clients are always impressed when the dealer shows up to fix a problem they didn't even know they had.

CR: What will your focus be at CEDIA EXPO in September?

Malcolm: We'll be doing training and exhibiting there, as we do every year. We will be showing the M-Class architecture. We want as many people as possible to see the new user interface and experience it—you really need to see it to understand it. CR


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