HDTV

Dune HD - Base3D and TV-303D High Definition Media Streamers

ARTICLE INDEX

Dune HD - Base3D and TV-303D In Use

Both units worked perfectly with NFS and SMB networks. UP&P (DLNA) is also supported, but high bit rate content had issues with it. SMB was benchmarked as going as fast as 14MBps (well past the maximum Blu-ray data rate).

To switch audio languages or to audio commentaries, the audio channels can be selected using the audio button, just as subtitles can be switched with the subtitle key. For subtitles, you also get additional settings, such as font size, position as well as a delay offset that lets you sync up subtitles if they don't quite match the actual source.

"Trickplay" options are really robust on the Dune players. You can fast forward or rewind in about 4 different speeds (The speeds can change depending on content type). You can jump forward or back by either 10 seconds using the horizontal D-Pad arrows, by minutes using the up/down arrows, or 10 minutes using the P+ or P- buttons. Number buttons let you jump to % of the content - so that pressing 0 will get you to the beginning of a movie, 1 to 10% of the movie, 2 to 20%, etc. Finally, you can also use the go to button to go to a particular point in time. You can also set up automatic bookmarks so that when you stop a movie it will automatically resume from the very same position when you play it again.

As far as videophiles go, these units are pretty amazing. They will keep the content's original frame rate (50Hz, 60Hz or 24FPS although I did see occasional missed frames in that configuration) and play the content back without ruining it in any way. Of course, you will still need a good display or projector to make good use of them.

Both units are very stable and do not exhibit the usual "beta quality" issues we see from similar devices. During my testing, the units did not crash. Bugs I did see included occasional frame loss (switching off 24FPS frame rate matching helps with that issue), and some audio glitches on occasion. There is also small lags when playing Branched Blu-ray releases (these are special Blu-ray releases that hold many different files and create playlists based on the version of the movie you want to watch) which are still pretty rare. As these are considered network streamers (DMP = Digital Media Players) they do not contain the awful Cinavia audio watermark protection. However, this also means that Blu-ray movies will play without showing menus or "upcoming releases" and trailers.

In the past, this was a showstopper for me. I really liked Blu-ray menus and watching trailers. However, Blu-rays are so dense these days with mandatory videos prior to watching the actual movies, that it can take 10 minutes from the time you put the disk in the player until you actually watch the first frame of the movie you purchased or rented out. So, this "BD-Lite" solution is a good workaround for that issue as well. Since movies can have several titles in them, you can set the unit up to either automatically play back the first title, or ask you which title to play before playing it.

In terms of User Interface, Dune-HD spruced up the user interface from its previous generation. It still has a very "plastic" and rigid feel to it - it is a bit similar to the Roku interface. I think this interface can really be improved and bring out the "inner beauty" of these devices. There are simply an endless barrage of settings on how the player should behave - what it should do if you select a DVD movie, what code page the subtitles are, what screen it should enter after it starts up, etc. It can be a bit daunting at first, but most settings really don't need to be touched and it is very convenient to have the player tuned to how the user wants things done, rather than vice versa.

In terms of video quality, the Oppo players remain kings of the hill, but not by much anymore. The real benefit of the Dune HD units, is the convenience of having a potentially endless movie catalog from multiple rooms in your house, without losing much audio & video quality. As firmware improves - many of the glitches in the first will be resolved as in previous Dune-HD models.

The main menu is organized into a few simple categories such as TV, favorites, sources, setup and applications. Favorites organize a list of specific content directories, while sources contains root directories for computers or storage devices around your house. This is a pretty simple concept and a pretty easy one to get a grip on. I ultimately like this, although unification of the "sources" and "favorites" into one list might be more usable.

The remote is well designed and comfortable, but it is not backlit. All functions are easily accessible and the "popup menu" feature lets you tweak anything you need with little effort.

For example, it will let me copy and paste movies between the local drive and the network, or even let me copy photos and movies from a camcorder SD card to the local drive or to the network. If you know how copy/paste works - you can figure this out very easily.

Dune-HD also has a Webkit (Soon to be changed to Opera) browser. This means that you can hook up a keyboard and mouse and use the unit as a browser. This works quite well, but is almost impossible to use with just the remote.

There are a few add-on software packages that do things like facebook and twitter. These use Flash applications and are quite rich in look and feel. There are also applications for SHOUTcast and IP radio, as well as various solutions for viewing IPTV on these units. However, ultimately there are note a lot of applications for the platform at this time. Dune is working an solution for this, which is likely to be ready in a few months.

One major drawback for me was the exclusion of an on-board Jukebox solution. Dune-HD units will work with external Jukebox software. However, what this means is that you will need to occasionally run software that goes through your catalog and ask you to clarify what movie a particular file is. This manual process can be done with software packages like Zappiti and Movienizer.

It works, but it's a tedious manual operation and it requires you to manually go over the movies to see what it detected. I would much rather have an automatic, albeit not 100% accurate, built-in method for doing this, like in the Popcorn Hour series of streamers.

the jukebox outputs are pretty similar - they will produce a grid of movie images. Once selected, you can see the movie details, images from it and the actors. Zappiti was the most attractive option, but it was also buggy and simply refused to work on one of my computers. Movienizer required a sharp learning curve - it was far from intuitive and has way too many options, buttons and settings. Ultimately it proved stabile and reliable, if not very attractive or intuitive, but it continually nagged me to buy a license (nagware) and unless I used the original movie background the movie description was bright against the background and was virtually unreadable.