The venerable digital video disc is almost twenty years old. Blu-ray (and HD-DVD, may it rest in peace) is already a precocious seven years old. There’s no successor on the horizon, though — it looks like the future of video storage is going to be online, cloud-based, streamable and downloadable.
- Excellent support for a huge range of media formats
- Support for Blu-ray and DVD movie ISOs
- Low retail price, includes cables
- Interface needs customising to shine
- Build quality and remote could be better
Dune HD’s Base 3D is made for anyone with a large digital media library. It can play back ripped DVDs and Blu-ray movies, as well as downloaded video and audio files. If you want a powerful, bare-bones media player, the Base 3D is hard not to recommend.
All this means that if you’re thinking with the future in mind, investing in a DVD player or Blu-ray player that can’t play downloaded or compressed media files is a big mistake. Taiwainese electronics manufacturer Dune HD makes a variety of digital media players and streamers, ranging from the simple network- and USB-connected TV-102, the 3D-capable TV-303D, and the all-in-one Base 3D.
The AU$399 Base 3D is notable because it’ll handle just about any video or audio format you throw at it, through any source — it has a front-mounted USB port that’ll work with a flash drive or portable hard drive, and a front access door to a hot-swappable 3.5-inch internal hard drive bay. You can take the hard drive out of your computer, slide it into the Base 3D, and watch whatever you want.
Dune HD Base 3D: Design, setup, and specifications
The Dune HD is vaguely reminiscent of the Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player — it’s finished in a dark grey, and is wide and low-slung like a high-end home theatre component should be. The front panel is relatively busy, but easy to understand — from left to right you’ll see the power button and status light, the flip-down door for the internal 3.5-inch hard drive, a glossy single-line information display, and buttons for eject/play/stop/skip. Below those are a SD card slot, 3.5mm headphone jack, and a USB host port.
We installed a 1TB Western Digital RE4 internal hard drive for our testing — it's an extremely simple process, and can be done with the player powered on. This means hot-swapping drives, if you should ever want to, is possible.
Around the back is a small panel of input and output connectors; if you’ve got a modern TV and sound system you should only need one or two of the A/V connectors, and we chose to use HDMI for the entirety of our time with the Base 3D. There are two USB ports for connecting more permanent USB storage, or an optional DVB-T digital TV dongle, and an Ethernet port for hooking the Base 3D up to a wired home network (although we chose the integrated 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi for convenience’s sake). If you don’t have HDMI on your TV, you can connect the Dune HD Base 3D over component or composite video, and digital and analog audio outputs are available.
The Base 3D is generally reasonably well built, but it's missing that extra touch of class that an equally expensive component from Pioneer or Sony or Samsung might have. It's a case of function over form, not that we're complaining too much. There’s a small exhaust fan at the back of the player, which runs silently. Apart from that, the only other noise you’ll hear is the whirring of the internal hard drive (presuming you’ve installed one).
The remote control that’s bundled with every Dune HD player is a candybar design, quite similar to the one that we loved on the Oppo BDP-103. You’ll most often be using the five-way navigational pad, and the four menu buttons clustered around it. Everything else is acceptably clearly labeled, and although there’s no backlight for the buttons, they’re made from a vaguely glow-in-the-dark material which might come in handy.
And, to top it off, you'll get a HDMI cable and network cable included in the box.
Dune HD Base 3D: Performance, picture quality and video playback
The Base 3D's menu structure is simple. It's a horizontally-scrolling, icon-based menu structure that is slightly too cartoony for our liking. In the latest firmware there's a rudimentary application store, although there's nothing in it beyond a basic (but functional) Web browser — Dune says plenty more apps are on their way soon.
Dune makes it possible for enterprising developers to create skins for its menu system — a popular variant is called YaDis, which indexes your movies and adds a beautiful full-screen interface with movie database info on artists, directors, genres and so on. It's fantastic that this expandability is available, but the default interface certainly isn't anything special.
The Dune HD Base 3D’s trump card is its ability to play basically any media file format that you might have your movies stored in. This is the reason you'd want the Base 3D — no more worrying about your stored media files not working.
To test out Dune HD’s claims, we format-shifted some Blu-ray movies — Red Bull’s The Art Of Flight, Avatar 3D and Looper — into a wide variety of formats and in a range of resolutions from Youtube-esque 360p to DVD to full-quality 1080p Blu-ray video. We also directly copied those Blu-ray movies, using AnyDVD HD to store an ISO image of the disc — this is a particularly attractive feature of the Dune HD Base 3D, because it’s able to play back ISO files and maintain the movie’s original chapter structure (although the movie’s menu system isn’t available).
The Base 3D handled absolutely everything we threw at it, and played every file format without complaint. The formats we tried successfully included FLAC lossless audio, MKV and AVI video, BDMV and DVD ISO images, and MVC MKV 3D Blu-ray video — all the most demanding and highest quality files we could create, and the Base 3D didn’t skip a beat.
The Dune HD Base 3D supports extremely high bit-rate video, too — if you happen to have a saved Blu-ray that exceeds 50Mb/s (and there are a few), the Base 3D will play it where lesser media streamers struggle. All the latest high definition audio codecs are supported, too, which means owners of high-res Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio discs can enjoy appropriately crystal clear multi-channel surround sound audio.
We did have one minor issue playing back one particular Blu-ray ISO — The Art Of Flight — where the Dolby TrueHD multi-channel audio wasn’t correctly output to the connected TV. Plugging in headphones showed us that the Dune HD player was not the sole source of the problem — it was able to decode the audio, but not output it — but the entire problem was easily addressed by updating the player’s firmware to a beta version (easily done through the settings menu). An official and stable fix should be forthcoming soon.
Dune HD Base 3D: Conclusion
The Dune HD Base 3D is hard to beat when it comes to its ability to play anything and everything under the sun. If you've got a poorly organised video or media library, or you want some extra future-proofing, we can definitely see the appeal of the Base 3D.
We sourced our Dune HD Base 3D from JayVee Technologies, although you’ll be able to find it in resellers around Australia and New Zealand.