- On September 4, 2018
This is the first in a series of interviews with customers where they will talk about how they discovered Kaleidescape and their experiences with their systems.
Michael Lawder—who has his primary residence in New Jersey and a second home in central California—has a very technical background, and works in the consumer electronics industry, at Samsung.
His career in tech began in the late ‘90s when he started at Apple working as a call center agent. “This was around the time when Jobs returned to Apple and was before iTunes or iPod. I worked with Steve on the iPhone project, which we knew was going to be a gamechanger—which obviously turned out to be the case.”
After Apple, he worked for gaming giant Electronic Arts. He joined Samsung three years ago as Senior VP of Customer Care and now runs operations and after-sales service for the U.S. market, handling everything from mobile phones, tablets, wearables, and smart things to TVs.
Do you consider yourself a movie buff?
Absolutely. I’ve loved movies since 1977 when Star Wars came out. I was seven and it was $1 to watch at the theater during the day, and I went and saw it every day that summer. That really cemented my love for movies. Fast forward to the late ‘80s when Top Gun came out on video, and that was the first movie I saw in a home theater environment. The planes were flying over my head and I thought that was incredible, that I could someday get this same movie watching experience at home.
Tell me about your home theater
We installed our first home theater when our daughter was born. We tried to take her to a movie and were just stressed out the whole time that she was going to cry and disturb the other viewers, so we decided to bring this experience into our home.
We’re completing the construction of our new theater right now, which should be done in about a month. It will feature a Sony 4K projector, a 140-inch Seymour AV acoustically transparent screen with motorized masking for different aspect ratios, and a Marantz SR8012 11-channel surround receiver, with a mix of Bronze and Silver Triad speaker in a 7.2.4 Atmos array. All of the lighting, HVAC, and media room control is done by Crestron.
We wanted to set up the theater but not like a theater—we wanted it to be more comfortable than the typical rows of seating. There will be an island bar in the back where you can sit and watch and eat, and the main seating area is more lounge-y.
How did you hear about Kaleidescape?
I watched Kaleidescape from afar and envied everything it had going for it, like the amazing user experience and enterprise hardware, but I wasn’t in a position where I could afford it. I wanted to have all of my content in one place, so I tried a few of the DIY solutions. They’d work for a while and then, inevitably, when I’d be out of town, I’d get a call from my wife saying the system crashed again. As I progressed in my career, I finally made the big investment in Kaleidescape in 2011.
My system started out with a 1U server, an M500 player, and three M300 players to distribute content around the house. As Blu-ray came around and my collection expanded, we added the M700 disc vault to our Premiere system. When we moved to New Jersey, I added two Stratos—one 6TB and one 10TB—along with two Co-Star solutions paired with the M500 and M700 so we had all of our libraries and content merged. We found that with the Crestron DM system, we didn’t need more than two zones of Kaleidescape, so we eliminated the M300s.
As our collection grew, we added two more 1U servers to accommodate everything, and we now have about 1,500 movies. I’m pretty obsessed with Blu-ray quality or better, so I’ve been gradually upgrading our content to Blu-ray or 4K quality.
Would you say you are a “high-ender”?
My general philosophy on AV gear is that I’m not going to buy the most expensive thing. The difference between a $200 and a $2,000 preamp or receiver is really meaningful, but the difference between a $2,000 and $20,000 unit is often much harder to justify. I find more value in the convenience and the design and the experience, which I why I made the investment in Kaleidescape.
Kaleidescape is the most expensive solution of its kind, but it is really the only solution of its kind, and the experience is so good, I just wanted it. For me, it has been one of those rare expensive purchases that I felt totally good about, even months after using it.
There is nothing in my A/V rack I love more. I mean my Marantz receiver is cool, but I don’t love it like I do my Kaleidescape.
What are some of your favorite Kaleidescape features?
I love how the system continues to improve over time. Whether it is supporting HDR, or Dolby Atmos, or adding the onscreen store, the system just keeps getting better. And these are all free upgrades to owners.
I love the iPad app, and also really love the speed at which I can access the content. Kaleidescape solves the problem of browsing 1,000-plus pieces of content and finding exactly what you want in under five seconds. Even in the list or collections view where I spend most of my time browsing, I can quickly find and access what I want.
The system is also very robust. With streaming, they are heavily compressing content, especially on the audio side, but Kaleidescape always delivers movies in the highest quality, and never fails. Also, the Kaleidescape interface is better than anything Apple has.