As a standalone product, the idea of a player for optical discs such as Blu-ray is beginning to seem outdated – after all, you can stream pretty much all the content you need. That’s why the Dune HD Max takes a Blu-ray disc drive and combines it with advanced media streaming skills – enough, perhaps, to convince those who have so far put-off buying a hi-def disc player.
Not that this hulking black box – measuring 429x299xx65mm (wdh) – will have universal appeal. It goes way beyond the toe-in-the-water streaming of digital files that’s often included on Blu-ray players from the big Japanese brands, using the DLNA home networking standard. What it doesn’t offer, though, is much in the way of online content.
Granted, the Dune HD Max does build in access to some web radio, but it’s the digital file handling that provides the niche appeal for this powerful (thanks to a Sigma Designs SMP8642 video processor and 512MB RAM) machine.
Ins and outs
Hardware-wise, the Dune HD Max doesn’t leave much to chance. As well as the Blu-ray disc drive, the front panel sports an easy-access 3.5in SATA HDD rack, SD/SDHC slot, and a USB port – along with more logo badges than a Formula 1 driver’s sleeves.
A central one-line screen is surrounded by five buttons that control basic functions, including disc eject. The back is an electrifying sight for anyone who’s keen on home entertainment; a further couple of USB slots are joined by an Ethernet LAN port, and video outputs for S-video, component video, composite and, of course, HDMI.
What really amazed us, though, were the audio outputs. Alongside both digital optical and coaxial, and some stereo audio jacks, is a full suite of analogue audio surround sound outputs. This means that lossless 7.1 for a home cinema is on the menu (most likely from Blu-ray discs’ Dolby True HD or DTS HD Master Audio, soundtracks). That’s a rare feature on mass market Blu-ray players.
Other audio formats supported by the device include MP3, MPA, M4A, WMA, FLAC, APE, Ogg/Vorbis, WAV, DTS-WAV, DTS, AC3, AAC and M3U and PLS playlists. Exhaustive indeed.
Video support is almost as impressive, with one caveat. AVI, MOV, MP4, MKV, MPEG, M2TS, VOB, ASF, WMV, Blu-Ray-ISO, BDMV, DVD-ISO, VIDEO_TS all work from USB, though the box failed to pick up some MKV files stored on a networked iMac using UPnP (they worked fine from a USB stick, though).
You won’t find a haul of file compatibility types quite so big on a mainstream Blu-ray player or, indeed, a PlayStation3 – though that MKV issue does slightly lessen this machine’s appeal. That said, we’re wondering where the DVB-T or T2 tuners (for Freeview or Freeview HD) are – they’re merely optional (extension boards can be slid into two rear compartments), though even that is a step further than other media streamers or Blu-ray players on the market.
Where the Dune HD Max does fall over, however, is in its lack of built-in WiFi, which for an otherwise advanced media streamer is a bit of an oversight; the manufacturer recommends using a D-Link DWA-140 Wi-Fi USB adapter, which sells for a touch over £20. At least there’s a bevy of cables provided in the box, including HDMI and composite video/stereo audio.
There’s another low point to the hardware; the Dune HD Max’s remote control. A player such as this needs an illuminated remote at the very least, though there are other problems – the soft rubber buttons, cluttered design and uniform shape and weighting are far from cutting edge.
A good thing, then, that there’s a Dune Remote Control app available for Apple devices – though it’s basic stuff. Its main screen is a virtual representation of the physical remote, as is the much easier to use ‘gesture’ screen.
There’s an ‘other’ screen that’s a repository for dedicated Blu-ray commands, a simple digit screen, and a settings menu, though in use the app picked-up our review sample automatically.
Upon upgrading of the firmware, the Dune HD Max’s user interface changed from an icon-led design to a bushed metallic, more 3D look; it’s simple and good-looking, with graphics that befit a hi-def machine.
The home screen is divided into tabs for sources (a network browser – SMB and UPnP – and that Blu-ray drive), TV (empty unless if there’s DVB-T brains are installed), favourites, applications (web browser, RadioTime and SHOUTcast radio, and torrents), and setup – with the latter including myriad tweaks for audio and video, with reams of customisation options.
Accessing and playing back files either from USB or a networked computer is easy, quick and stable, while files can be transferred to the Dune HD Max’s internal storage using the ‘fastext’ keys.
The web browser is poor; not only is it a pain to enter text on a virtual keyboard and navigate pages in chunks from the remote, but the system is too slow to be of much use – and things aren’t improved by the app.
The Dune HD Max is well named. Pictures from a Blu-ray disc and couple of hi-def MKV files we chucked its way were rendered superbly, with plenty of detail and accurate colour saturations.
Fast pans caused few issues with blur – even from MKV files – while DVD upscaling is a jot more polished than most dedicated Blu-ray players, and certainly better than games consoles.
Contact: Advanced MP3 Players on 0131 443 8545
- Blu-ray; upgradeable; simple user interface; HD pictures; MKV support from USB; lossless audio support.
- Remote control; lacks built-in WiFi; MKV streaming; VOD and 3D Blu-ray.
There are few rivals in the ‘Blu-ray media player' sector, and the unique Dune HD Max will suit anyone with an MKV habit, though we did find a bit of an issue over its streaming of MKV across a network.
Various additions and customisations are required to make it the all-in-one home cinema hub it's clearly desperate to be, and with the PlayStation3 sporting both a 3D Blu-ray player and BBC iPlayer, this machine's foibles and lack of VOD leaves it in a file marked ‘niche'.