[color=#336699;]Dune-HD Smart D1 & HD Duo Network Media Player Review[/color]
In this age of Netflix, VUDU and UltraViolet – consuming a movie collection via streaming is something even the luddites among us accept and even embrace as a part of our new collective digital lifestyle. For those of us who are concerned about quality however; there is a very serious downside to streaming our HD content over the internet. We lose our lossless HD audio, and we lose a substantial degree of video quality due to compression.
Companies like Dune-HD aim to solve this problem by giving us the ability to store our purchased physical or downloaded media and stream it over a home network. Native support for Blu-Ray images, matroska video (mkv) and pretty much every codec under the sun allows us to consume our media in a way we never thought possible outside expensive boutique solutions from vendors like Kaleidescape. With devices like the Dune HD Smart D1 and HD Duo – it’s really as simple as 1-2-3.
[color=#336699;]Step 1 - Buy storage. Lots of it![/color]
It’s no secret that Blu-Ray discs house massive amounts of data – usually between 35 and 45GB. To store an uncompressed iso (think of it as a snapshot of the disc) of your movie, you’ll need that much space per film. If you have a bit more time on your hands and some software – you can compress that Blu-Ray down to a very high quality mkv (Matroska video file) with lossless audio for about 15-20GB on average. To extrapolate that math slightly – you’re going to need approximately 3 terabytes for every 100 movies you want to store if you refuse to compromise on quality, while you can double that number of films if you're willing to give up a little quality.
The good news is that storage is relatively cheap. Your up-front costs to buy a small home server are about $350 for the server itself, and $140 per 3TB drive right now on Amazon. That’s enough room for 300 uncompressed movies, or about 600 compressed movies all with lossless audio!
[color=#336699;]Step 2 – Buy a Networked Media Player (NMP)[/color]
Dune and its competitors manufacture NMP’s in a variety of form factors. The HD Smart series measure about 5.5” wide by 2” tall and 10.5” deep - small enough to fit even the most claustrophobic equipment rack or media center. The Smart series is available in a variety of configurations: the B1 which has a Blu-ray drive, the H1 which has a SATA hard drive slot, and the D1 which has a digital LCD display. The Smart series can be expanded to have internal storage via SD card, or by USB stick with a port hidden inside. This will enable extra features that require local storage for caching. Keep in mind that even the Smart D1 has room inside for a hard drive. The slightly larger HD Duo and HD Max are 20” wide and 12” deep while still about 2” tall, with the Duo featuring two hard drive slots and the Max featuring one hard drive slot and a Blu-ray drive.
[color=#336699;]Step 3 – Build Your Collection[/color]
Disclaimer: HomeTheaterForum and its agents in no way endorse or encourage defeating copy protection methods on commercial Blu-Ray and DVD media. While the letter of the law classifies this practice as illegal, we encourage you to make your own informed judgement on whether a judge will look unkindly on someone who chooses to rip his/her personal collection. Often technology advances faster than legislation and this is sure to be a hot topic in the coming years.
Ripping your Blu-ray films can easily be accomplished using the standard tool AnyDVD HD, or for the lazy and automation inclined, there is MyMovies – a software tool that manages the metadata for your films including cover art, synopses, and presenting a nice front end. While free to use if you rip your films elsewhere (AnyDVD HD), MyMovies charges $100 to enable all the extra features such as Copy Disc which does ripping, copies the file to your server, and downloads the metadata. While MyMovies is very functional in its free version, I suggest most serious pursuers of this endeavor pay the $50 for the mid-level package and save a lot of time and energy as they digitize their collection.
[color=#336699;]Packaging, Fit & Finish[/color]
Like most consumer electronics, Dune’s products ship in a box protected by closed cell foam and plastic bags. The box is well laid out and includes the player, power cord, remote with batteries and an HDMI cable.
I received both an HD Smart D1 and an HD Duo for review – and both had a very hefty quality feel to them. The aluminum faceplate on the units is attractive with a fine brushed finish and the included feet have a solid rubber base to prevent slipping and damage to furniture.
[color= rgb(51, 102, 153);]Specifications[/color]
|[color=#808080;]Processor[/color]||[color=#808080;]Sigma Designs 8642[/color]|
|[color=#808080;]Flash memory:[/color]||[color=#808080;]256 MB, expandable with a HDD partition, USB flash drive, or SD card (2GB recommended) [/color]|
|[color=#808080;]Video codecs:[/color]|| [color=#808080;]MPEG2, MPEG4, XVID, WMV9, VC1, H.264; support for very high bitrate video (up to 50 MBit/s and higher)[/color] |
|[color=#808080;]Video file formats:[/color]|| [color=#808080;]KV, MPEG-TS, MPEG-PS, M2TS, VOB, AVI, MOV, MP4, QT, ASF, WMV, Blu-ray-ISO, BDMV, DVD-ISO, VIDEO_TS[/color] |
|[color=#808080;]Blu-ray playback[/color]|| [color=#808080;]Blu-ray menu, BD-J, BonusView, BD-Live – for full Blu-ray structures (Blu-ray-ISO, BDMV) played from HDD and network[/color] |
|[color=#808080;]Media sources:[/color]|| |
[*] internal HDD (SATA 3.5”)
[*] external HDD (USB)
[*] external optical drive (USB)
[*] USB devices (USB flash drive, USB card reader, etc)
[*] built-in SD card reader (SD/SDHC),
[*] PC and NAS in local network (SMB, NFS, UPnP, HTTP)
[*] other Internet and local network media sources (HTTP, multicast UDP/RTP)
|[color=#808080;]Audio codecs:[/color]||[color=#808080;]AC3 (Dolby Digital), DTS, MPEG, AAC, LPCM, WMA, WMAPro, EAC3 (Dolby Digital Plus), Dolby True HD, DTS HD High Resolution Audio, DTS HD Master Audio, FLAC, multichannel FLAC, Ogg/Vorbis; support for very high quality audio (up to 192 kHz / 24-bit)[/color]|
|[color=#808080;]Audio file formats:[/color]|| [color=#808080;]MP3, MPA, M4A, WMA, FLAC, APE (Monkey’s Audio), Ogg/Vorbis, WAV, DTS-WAV, DTS, AC3, AAC HD audio support: pass-through (up to 7.1 channels) and decoding (up to 7.1 channels) of Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD MA audiotracks (Blu-ray structure, TS, MKV)[/color] |
[color=#808080;]Pass-through (up to 7.1 channels) of multichannel LPCM audiotracks (Blu-ray structure, TS, MKV), decoding (up to 7.1 channels) of FLAC audiotracks (MKV, external)[/color]
|[color=#808080;]Subtitle formats:[/color]||[color=#808080;]SRT (external), SUB (MicroDVD) (external), text (MKV), SSA/ASS (MKV, external), VobSub (MP4, MKV, external SUB/IDX), PGS (Blu-ray structure, TS, MKV)[/color]|
|[color=#808080;]Picture file formats:[/color]||[color=#808080;]JPEG, PNG, BMP, GIF[/color]|
|[color=#808080;]Photo viewer functions:[/color]||[color=#808080;]slideshow, transition effects, picture rotation, zoom, browse playlist, repeat, shuffle, plasma TV burn-in prevention[/color]|
|[color=#808080;]Audio playback functions:[/color]||[color=#808080;]browse playlist, repeat, shuffle, ID3 tags[/color]|
|[color=#808080;]Filesystems[/color]||[color=#808080;]FAT16/FAT32 (read-write), EXT2/EXT3 (read-write), NTFS (read-write)[/color]|
|[color=#808080;]Ethernet[/color]||[color=#808080;]10/100 Mbit (with 1000 Mbit/s experimental support) *[/color]|
|[color=#808080;]WiFI[/color]|| [color=#808080;]Optional 802.11n WiFi (via an external USB WiFi stick, not included, Dune HD Air recommended) [/color] |
[color=#808080;]Dune Network Playback Accelerator: special optimizations ensuring best-in-class network playback performance for the Sigma Designs 864x platform and enabling smooth playback of any supported kind of media content via any network protocol (including NFS and SMB) even in 100 Mbit/s Ethernet networks.[/color]
|[color=#808080;]Dimensions:[/color]|| [color=#808080;]Player itself without legs: 429 mm (width) x 299 mm (depth) x 56 mm (height)[/color] |
[color=#808080;]Player itself with legs: 429 mm (width) x 299 mm (depth) x 65 mm (height)[/color]
About as difficult as your average Blu-Ray player to connect – the Dune HD boxes require power, an HDMI cable and an Ethernet cable (unless you’re using the optional USB WiFi adapter). Once connected, you’ll be presented with a few quick questions about date, time and resolution and can then proceed to using the unit.
[color=#336699;]Interface & Functionality[/color]
The below video gives a fairly comprehensive picture of the way the unit works. Category based navigation is on the top bar; while the larger menu below gives access to your media or the app you happen to be running. The Network Browser app is the way you will initially discover content shares on the network, however most users will probably create shortcuts to the shares on the home screen. This process can be slightly annoying as you must type with the remote, but it’s a set and forget feature, so after the initial configuration most owners won’t touch this again.
The video here, though not taken by yours truly, does a good job of showing the base user interface:
Once a main category is selected, you can select the individual covers which MyMovies downloads for you, as shown in the image below.
For the film lover who suffers from a large library taking up too much shelf space, the Dune HD solution is extremely compelling. For a total investment of as little as $600 ranging up to about $1200, you can have a massive storage server, the Dune player, and the MyMovies software. If you consider what Kaleidescape or other solutions that do this cost (Approx. 30X) – it’s obvious this is a tremendous value. The system becomes scalable by simply adding additional players in other rooms of your home. Each of these additional players will get the same library and be able to stream your collection as well, great if you want the kids to watch a different movie upstairs (you can even apply parental controls to the list!). Perhaps best of all, Dune’s product is very easy to use. Any non-technical family member or friend who can use Netflix will easily be able to make use of MyMovies.
On the down side, there is an element of legal concern and a certain amount of manual labor involved in ripping each one of your movies to this new archive. Thankfully, once you’re done you’ll never have to fuss with the collection again and there are some rather creative ways to get your collection ripped with minimal effort. One of Dune’s employees told me anecdotally that he has his son ripping his movies for him now as a means to earn his allowance, an idea I have to admit makes a lot of sense! Whether you farm this task out to a family member, a minimum wage worker - or attack it yourself, it's a very minimal amount of labor for a substantial convenience reward later on.
Perhaps the best compliment I can pay to this product, is that after using the Dune players for a couple of months and ripping a good portion of my own sizeable collection – it’s hard to imagine ever going back to shuffling shiny discs. Highly Recommended.