BG Pictures Photography | How-To: Building a Kaleidescape Like System for a Fraction of the Cost
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How-To: Building a Kaleidescape Like System for a Fraction of the Cost

29 Sep How-To: Building a Kaleidescape Like System for a Fraction of the Cost

Most that know me, know how much I love watching movies at home.  One day I’ll have the land to build my own theater room – for now I make do with the best living room system I can conveniently afford.  It’s nothing mind blowing, but dollar for dollar it blows most out of the water, and is indeed pretty high quality all around.

The highlight of the system in the last year has been the media storage.  For the last 5+ years I had been accumulating shelf units, and sticking 128 DVDs per unit all around the house.  After collecting over 1500 discs, I stopped buying shelf units, having no good place to put them, after they spilled in to the next room.  So I resorted to putting the discs on spools, or the cases in large tubs, etc.  At 2,500, it became very unpleasant to try and find anything.  It was impossible to keep the collection organized – you can’t simply shift a section down to add another disc.  So it got to the point where it would be 15-20 minutes of me and sometimes others, searching for a title when we wanted to see something in particular.  This would no longer do.

A friend of mine works at B&O in Tampa, and I became very familiar with the eccentric setups they have down there in the showroom, including the highest-end media storage system called Kaleidescape.  To those not familiar, it’s a big electronic jukebox for movies.  You put in your disc, it rips it to it’s bank of RAID drives to store internally, adds the title to the database and it then shows you your entire collection on the screen to simply click and start playing.

Great system, no flaws.  It’s entirely automated, so anyone can use it.  It’s redundant, so your data is secure and safe.  It even monitors and detects hard drive faults, send a message to the company and they send you a replacement automatically.  Really.

So what’s the problem you might ask?  I’ll give you 30,000+ guesses.  Yup, it’s THAT expensive, and there are plenty of add-ons and extras to push it beyond $50k.

OK, so that’s WAY too rich for my blood.  but DANG it’s sooo cool…ok, I can do this myself, it’s just a computer, and I AM a geek.

So step one – that way cool interface – where can I get something like that for the livingroom?  Some common options are to connect a computer directly to your TV.  These are called HTPC (Home Theater Personal Computers).  The major drawback?  Well, you have to build a whole new computer.  It’s in your livingroom.  I don’t want to see, hear or have to use a computer to see my movies.  Next.

There are media devices such as the Playstation 3 and Xbox360 that can stream content.  Drawbacks – they don’t have a slick interface, they are not made for cataloging thousands of movies.  They are also loud (fans), hot, cost hundreds of dollars for features I don’t want (games) and don’t do anything but turn a stream into a picture.  Next.

AppleTV.  Ah, now that’s more like it!  Slick very similar interface, made for big collections of movies.  It’s broken down into genres, shows coverart, blurbs about the movies, etc. – just like Kaledescape!  Only $220 – sold!

OK, now how to get content to the AppleTV.  Well there are two ways.  One, use the internal hard drive of the unit.  That works fine for a few dozen movies.  I have thousands.  OK, you can stream from iTunes running on your wireless network.  OK, I have my main computer on all the time, no problem there.

Storage?  Well there are several options here as well.  First and foremost, how to have enough space, period.  Then what about protection?  I have enough room inside my case, at 3TB for a lot of stuff.  The problem is, it’s not all meant to be protected.  Most of it is setup as RAID0 for maximum performance not reliability.  If I’m going to spend the time and money to convert my collection to digital, it HAS to be safe like Kaleidescape.

Hello, Drobo!  3TB of useable storage space with four 1TB drives…good, that’s more than enough.  RAID5 like protection against data and hardware corruption/failure…good, that’s perfect.  Works over USB2, firewire or LAN.  Any of them are more than enough to stream movies, sounds good.

OK now how to convert the DVDs.  After many, many hours of research and experimentation, here is the ideal solution for top content quality at the minimum size needed.  Rip the disc using DVDFAB, taking just the main movie file and the 5.1 DD sound track.  Using Handbrake, encode the ripped directory to AppleTV format, 55% constant quality, using AC3.  The average movie works out to 2.25GB when all is said and done.

Sit back, press your AppleTV remote and enjoy your new digital DVD collection!


Drobo $500
(4) 1TB WD Green HDs ($80 ea.)
iTunes FREE
Computer to stream (use existing)
AppleTV $230

Total $1070, a TINY fraction of kaleidescape.