Dune HD Goes 3D - BASE 3D, TV-303D and QWERTY Keyboard

Written by Paul Moons on . Posted in Video

dune base3d tv303d qwerty 02
It's been over a year since we brought you our review of the impeccably styled Dune Smart series Review. Dune's latest offerings take the new TV line of players - and more established Base product lines - into the realm of Blu-Ray 3D playback.

Read on as we take a look at these two units as well as test drive Dune's micro QWERTY Keyboard offering along the way.

 

UNBOXING

As with all the previous Dune media players we have reviewed in the past, both the BASE 3D and the TV303D come with just about everything you could reasonably expect to get the units connected and playing back media in no time.

 

dune base3d tv303d qwerty 01

 

Compared to the older Smart Series, both the BASE 3D and the TV-303D come with a slightly redesigned remote control and all the usual cables: HDMI (1.4), CAT5E, RCA and with the BASE 3D, even a blue USB 3.0 cable. The TV-303D also includes a multipurpose AV/Component dongle cable. Both units ship with multi-region power cables/adapters and two AAA batteries. A Wifi antenna is also included with both units.

 

dune base3d 01

 

dune tv303d 01

 

dune qwerty 01

 

Overall, the supplied equipment was good and while it would've been nice to see the IR extension device included with the BASE 3D, it would've been in vain since the BASE 3D has no suitable connector on its rear to utilise it.

Both the BASE 3D and the TV-303D are neat looking units following - but we have to say not quite matching - the sleek and understated Smart Series.

Like the previous Base model, the BASE 3D is hi-fi component width (420 x 230 x 550mm) and would look at home in any high end setup. The front fascia is split into three basic sections: The hard drive bay which is neatly hidden behind a faux brushed aluminium plate; a centrally located blue LCD screen and a buttons and ports section to the far right which gives access to basic navigation features and connectivity via headphones, USB and SD card ports. On the far left is a soft power button and LED which is complemented by a hard off power switch at the rear.

 

dune base3d 03

dune base3d 04

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The BASE 3D's rear panel has everything that you would expect, with Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 2.0 ports, both composite A/V and component ports, a TOSLINK Optical output and of course a (figure eight) power connection point. On the far left of the unit, a Wifi Antenna connector allows for the included antenna to be connected.

The TV-303D by comparison is a much smaller unit, measuring 170 x 390 x 135mm (including rubber feet). Its shape is roughly cuboid with curved vertical edges although its side faces are slightly trapezoidal, resulting in a slightly flared base. Unlike its larger counterpart, the TV-303D's front fascia has only a centrally located circular IR window, a small LED (red when in standby and blue when on) and its brand/model nomenclature.

On the left side is a flip out door which houses a 2.5" SATA hard disk drive while on the right is a USB 2.0 port along with a SD card slot.

 

dune tv303d 03

dune tv303d 04 left

dune tv303d 04 rear

 

Despite its smaller form factor, the rear of the TV-303D features a similar port layout to the BASE 3D with the exception of the omission of one USB 2.0 port and the additions of the IR Extender port and a USB 3.0 slave port. Also of note is that the standard A/V output and component output is handled by two all in one ports labelled AV Out and Y/Pb/Pr respectively.

SETUP AND QWERTY KEYBOARD

To enter the details of our network shares, we utilised the Dune's optional quirky QWERTY keyboard. At 165mm wide, 64mm high and 120mm high the keyboard is quite compact and really only slightly wider in than a regular remote control. The keyboard is covered with a multitude of buttons which surround a small centrally located touchpad. Also, on the top right of the keyboard face are four LED status/battery indicators.

 

dune qwerty 02

 

On the left side is a small on/off switch as well as a micro USB port to recharge the internal battery while on the right is a clever slot which stores the RF dongle when it's not in use. The USB dongle is tiny, being only marginally larger than a full size USB port and just 20mm long (most of which ends up in the port when in use).

For small data entry jobs like entering the network links or editing file names, the keyboard was easier than the more cumbersome on-screen input, however the QWERTY wasn't ideal. The QWERTY's button layout is extremely crowded with 103 buttons, making most buttons only 8 x 8mm square.

While we could almost get used to the button size and overcrowded layout the QWERTY had yet another layer of difficulty: Printed on each letter button was both an English (Latin) letter as well as a Cyrillic one, making finding the right key tricky.

The mousepad - used when connecting the QWERTY with a computer - worked relatively well, although its recessed nature made it difficult to navigate towards the edge of the pad. Also, while the inclusion of a backlight is admirable, the design choice of placing the button to engage it in very close proximity of the (controlled device's) power button served only to increase frustration in dimly lit rooms.

 

dune qwerty 04

 

Other than with the Dune media players, we tested the QWERTY on numerous devices and found most happily accepted its input: Our MacBook Pro running OS X 10.8.3 and our ancient BenQ Joybook running Windows XP both worked straight off the bat, as did our XBOX 360. The only device we tried that didn't play ball was our Sony TV.

Despite occasionally hitting the wrong button, using the QWERTY to set up both the BASE 3D and the TV-303D was relatively easy. For testing, we alternated between our Pioneer Kuro reference monitor and our 3D Sony HX850 (active 3D) TV. When not connected directly to one of our monitor, audio was handled by our Pioneer (Elite) VSX-LX52.

While our network sharing setup was as easy as entering an NFS network server address, we hasten to point out that your mileage may vary depending on your devices and particular network settings. For the record, all playback tests were done either with local removable media or via our CAT6 Gigabit network.

USAGE

Turning the units on for the first time brought up a familiar yet new home screen. Both the BASE 3D and the TV-303D come preconfigured with a new theme which despite having a similar feel to previous incarnations, has a more polished and neat appearance to it. The older standard themes are still accessible through the setup menus but after using the new "black" skin for only a few minutes, had little reason to switch back. The new Sigma Designs 8672/8673 processor handled the GUI effortlessly, with snappy navigation of menus and file lists.

It is worth noting that despite having never dabbled with the functionality, all Dune HD media players are able to use custom skins. For more information on this feature, please visit Dune's skinning page for details.

Both units were shipped with 130114_1511_b3 firmware but within moments, our players requested us to upgrade to 130221_1050_b4. After a reboot, we were asked to install 130222_1831_b5 which was the basis of our initial testing.

Unfortunately, after a few days, we found some bugs. The first thing we noticed was that the weather widget in the top right hand corner of the GUI did not work. Also, while it only occurred when connected you our pioneer monitor, both units caused our TV to flash repeated HDMI-CEC (HDMI Control) errors on start up. Despite these two issues, as we tested more and more video files, another more pressing problem became apparent.

 

dune remotes

 

Upon playback, both players would intermittently drop audio completely, and when connected to our Pioneer Receiver, would even occasionally spew bitstream directly to our speakers! While we found that stopping the file and playing it again often recovered the audio, this wasn't something we expected from a Dune HD player, so we contacted Dune HD and sought some information.

The boys down at a Dune HD got straight onto it and within a few days passed along a developer beta of an upcoming firmware which seemed to do the trick.

After the firmware, all HDMI Control errors ceased and audio drop outs were history. The weather was still not updating but Dune HD informed us that this was due to a problem with the weather service being used and was a fix was slated for an upcoming firmware release.

With this new firmware we went back and retested both units, putting them through their paces both with 2D and 3D content. This time, all files played flawlessly with both audio passthrough and stereo down-mixing proving to be no problem. Dolby Digital, DTS (including Master Audio) and plain stereo all played back without issue.

We tried numerous forms of 3D content, namely full Blu-Ray ISOs and both over/under and side by side MKV encodes: All three flavours played back flawlessly on our SONY 3D TV. A nice touch was that when invoking the player's GUI while watching full Blu-Ray 3D content, the GUI matched, in that it was also in 3D. During Blu-Ray playback, our 3D monitor instantly recognised the content and automatically switched to 3D mode. MKV content on the other hand required us to manually switch. Also, when invoking the player's GUI during 3D MKV playback, the standard GUI appeared wrong and decidedly un3D as opposed to the seamless Blu-Ray implementation.

While we aren't sold on 3D playback as a medium, the units produced crystal clear images and coupled with our SONY active 3D TV, a good colourful 3D picture. 2D playback was - as expected - perfect. The breadth of file playback was excellent and the only files that we came across that the units could not play were those of the FLV variety along with the odd AVI which caused the players to display "Format support is incomplete, distortions are possible." on screen whilst said distortions ensued.

Importantly, we had zero freezing, stuttering or audio delay issues, even when playing back full Blu-Ray ISOs via the network.

In our testing, subtitle support was on par with previous generation Dune HD media players. External SRT subtitles and subtitles within MKV files played back perfectly but of the few files we tried, we couldn't get external SUB/IDX subtitles to display.

 

dune tv303d 02

 

Another downside that (as far as we can tell) all new media players are trying to deal with is the complete lack of Blu-Ray menus. Unlike the Smart Series, both the BASE 3D and the TV-303D are unable to play any form of menu when working with Blu-Ray images. Instead, when selecting a Blu-Ray ISO for playback, the players list all available streams and ask the user to choose which stream they want played. This system isn't ideal and can be frustrating at times but appears to be here to stay. Note that from what we understand, this has become a universal problem in that all current and next generation media players will be unable to utilise these menus.

Like all media players, the BASE 3D and the TV-303D are only as good as their firmwares and with Dune's proven track record of strong firmware support. While we don't have an ETA for when the fixes from our developer firmware will be applied to the publicly released firmware, we anticipate it will be soon rather than later.

Beyond media playback, both players have a number of pre-installed "apps" that allow users to access Facebook and Twitter. There is even a built in web browser, the ability to listen to radio stations and in some locations, access live media streams. We gave the web browser a brief spin and while it is functional, along with the other "apps," we didn't really feel it was a necessary or very relevant inclusion, considering these devices are primarily designed, built and purchased for video file playback.

Also, while it may not be obvious, both the BASE 3D and TV-303D use the same firmware and for all intents and purposes, behaved identically in our testing. In our testing we found the unit played everything the BASE 3D could.

SPECIFICATIONS

BASE 3D

Processor: Sigma Designs 8672/8673
RAM: 512 MB
Flash memory: 256 MB
Connectors: HDMI 1.4, 3x USB 2.0 (2x rear, 1x front), composite, component, analog stereo outputs, optical S/PDIF, coaxial SPDIF, Ethernet 10/100/1000 Mb/s, SD card slot (front), power input, power switch (back), LED indicator (front)
Internal storage: Internal HDD rack with hot swap function for SATA HDD 3.5".
Media sources: 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)
Web Browser: Opera, WebKit
DLNA: DLNA (1.5 or 2.0) client support
Adobe Flash: 3.1 (Lite, standalone) supported
DRM options: PlayReady, Verimatrix, Secure Media. Other DRM can be added by request
Video codecs: MPEG2, MPEG4, XVID, WMV9, VC1, H.264; support for very high bitrate video (up to 50 MBit/s and higher)
Video file formats: MKV, MPEG-TS, MPEG-PS, M2TS, VOB, AVI, MOV, MP4, QT, ASF, WMV, BDMV, DVD-ISO, VIDEO_TS
3D Video Support: MVC, Side-by-side, Top/Bottom
Video output modes: wide range of supported output resolutions (up to 1080p) and framerates (including 23.976p, 24p, PAL, NTSC)
Video output framerate: automatic (according to the played content) and manual
Audio codecs: AC3 (Dolby Digital), DTS, MPEG, AAC, LPCM, WMA, WMAPro, FLAC, multichannel FLAC, Ogg/Vorbis; support for very high quality audio (up to 192 kHz / 24-bit)
Audio file formats: MP3, MPA, M4A, WMA, FLAC, APE (Monkey's Audio), WV Pack, Ogg/Vorbis, WAV, 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, TS, MKV), pass-through (up to 7.1 channels) of multichannel LPCM audiotracks (Blu-ray, TS, MKV), decoding (up to 7.1 channels) of FLAC audiotracks (MKV, external)
Subtitle formats: SRT (external), SUB (MicroDVD) (external), text (MKV), SSA/ASS (MKV, external), VobSub (MP4, MKV, external SUB/IDX), PGS (Blu-ray, TS, MKV)
Hardware 3D Graphics Acceleration: OpenGL support
Picture file formats: JPEG, PNG, BMP, GIF
Playlist file formats: M3U, PLS
Photo viewer functions: slideshow, transition effects, picture rotation, zoom, browse playlist, repeat, shuffle
Audio playback functions: browse playlist, repeat, shuffle, ID3 tags, plasma TV burn-in prevention
Filesystems: FAT16/FAT32 (read-write), EXT2/EXT3/EXT4 (read-write), NTFS (read-write)
Ethernet: 10/100/1000 Mb/s
Wi-Fi: Internal Wi-Fi (b/g/n) module
Dune Network Playback Accelerator: special optimizations ensuring best-in-class network playback performance for the Sigma Designs 864x-865x-867x 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.

TV-303D

Processor: Sigma Designs 8672/8673
RAM: 512 MB
Flash memory: 256 MB
Connectors: HDMI 1.4, 2x USB 2.0 (1x rear, 1x side), composite, component, analog stereo outputs, USB 3.0 slave, Ethernet 10/100/1000 Mb/s, Wi-Fi 802.11n, SD card slot (side), power input, power switch (back), LED indicator (front)
Internal storage: Internal HDD rack with hot swap function for SATA HDD 2.5". USB 3.0 slave interface and provided USB 3.0 (slave-host) cable allow fastest possible way of transferring data between PC and player
Media sources: 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)
Web Browser: Opera, WebKit
DLNA: DLNA (1.5 or 2.0) client support
Adobe Flash: 3.1 (Lite, standalone) supported
DRM options: PlayReady, Verimatrix, Secure Media. Other DRM can be added by request
Video codecs: MPEG2, MPEG4, XVID, WMV9, VC1, H.264; support for very high bitrate video (up to 50 MBit/s and higher)
Video file formats: MKV, MPEG-TS, MPEG-PS, M2TS, VOB, AVI, MOV, MP4, QT, ASF, WMV, BDMV, DVD-ISO, VIDEO_TS
3D Video Support: MVC, Side-by-side, Top/Bottom
Video output modes: wide range of supported output resolutions (up to 1080p) and framerates (including 23.976p, 24p, PAL, NTSC)
Video output framerate: automatic (according to the played content) and manual
Audio codecs: AC3 (Dolby Digital), DTS, MPEG, AAC, LPCM, WMA, WMAPro, FLAC, multichannel FLAC, Ogg/Vorbis; support for very high quality audio (up to 192 kHz / 24-bit)
Audio file formats: MP3, MPA, M4A, WMA, FLAC, APE (Monkey's Audio), WV Pack, Ogg/Vorbis, WAV, AC3, AAC
Subtitle formats: SRT (external), SUB (MicroDVD) (external), text (MKV), SSA/ASS (MKV, external), VobSub (MP4, MKV, external SUB/IDX), PGS (Blu-ray, TS, MKV)
Hardware 3D Graphics Acceleration: OpenGL support
Picture file formats: JPEG, PNG, BMP, GIF
Playlist file formats: M3U, PLS
Photo viewer functions: slideshow, transition effects, picture rotation, zoom, browse playlist, repeat, shuffle Audio playback functions: browse playlist, repeat, shuffle, ID3 tags, plasma TV burn-in prevention
Filesystems: FAT16/FAT32 (read-write), EXT2/EXT3/EXT4 (read-write), NTFS (read-write)
Ethernet: 10/100/1000 Mb/s
Wi-Fi: Internal Wi-Fi (b/g/n) module
Dune Network Playback Accelerator: special optimizations ensuring best-in-class network playback performance for the Sigma Designs 864x-865x-867x 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.

QWERTY

2.4G Mini Wireless Keyboard with Touchpad
Wireless receiver integrated design
Innovative design of the Navigation keys
Dune HD players full control
Windows Multimedia Control
Built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery
Built-in Touchpad
QWERTY full-function mini keyboard
International keyboard layout suitable for almost all EU countries and USA

CONCLUSION

In summing up our view of the BASE 3D and the TV-303D we are presented with a dilemma. We like the physical hardware and we like the new GUI. Both the BASE 3D and TV-303D provide a good choice for 3D playback but for people who predominantly want to play back 2D full Blu-Ray ISOs, we find it hard to recommend these units over the previous generation Dune Smart Series.

If you want 3D Blu-Ray playback along with a wide range of 2D file format support, these new players do what the Smart Series could not with a snappier GUI to boot.

 

dune base3d 02

 

Finally, we have to reiterate that the units we tested were running a developer build of the firmware that as of today, is still unavailable to the public. From our experience with Dune HD, this will change sooner rather than later but this is worth keeping in your calculations.

So, do we recommend the BASE 3D and TV-303D? Yes, unless you really want to playback 2D Blu-Ray ISO files and use the menus therein. If that is of no import to you, and Dune HD can get a new firmware out pronto, both these units should be on your shortlist.

Update: Dune has indeed released an updated public firmware (130429_1605_b6) and while it is a beta, after a brief test, it seems this firmware update brings all the fixes our developer firmware contained to the general public.

The QWERTY keyboard on the other hand was a great idea with nice features but ultimately let down by design choices in favour of universality as opposed to usability.

For more information, visit the Dune HD website. The recommended retail price of the BASE 3D is listed at $299US, the TV-303D at $199US and the QWERTY Keyboard at $69US.

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