The Dune Solo 4K is Dune HD’s latest high performance small form factor media player and its first foray into the 4K market segment.
Read on as we take a look at this pocket powerhouse.
In the past, having reviewed the beautifully designed Smart Series and most recently the 3D packing Dune Base 3D and TV303D so understandably, we were keen to get our hands on the new Dune Solo 4K.
While the previously reviewed TV-303D should have prepared us, we were again taken aback by the size of the Dune Solo 4K. At 130x132x37mm (including rubber feet and rear port protusions, the unit is positively tiny. The front and sides of the Solo 4K are made up of an elegant piano black plastic finish. While the sides are unadorned, the front has a neat Dune HD Solo 4K branding along with a USB 2.0 port. Hidden beneath the slick finish is both the IR receptor for the remote and also a bright blue/red LED indicating the unit’s power state.
The Solo 4K’s top features a moulded Dune logo which is surrounded by a relatively unobtrusive venting channel around its edge. The design is neat and while it isn’t as pretty as the Smart Series, the form factor and finish still makes for a nice looking bit of kit.
The rear of the unit is the business end, with the Solo 4K’s small rear surface area covered with neatly labelled ports and receptacles. Along with a second USB 2.0 port and the usual power, HDMI and (Gigabit) Ethernet connectors, the rear of the Solo 4K also has a female coaxial antenna in port, two wifi antenna connectors, an IR extender port and a 3.5mm output for composite video and audio. Like previous Dune media players, the Solo 4K also has a handy (but somewhat cramped) rear power switch.
On the bottom of the unit are four sturdy rubber feet which surround a metal 2.5” SATA HDD tray for housing an optional laptop (5-7mm) SATA SSD/HDD. The hard drive is quickly accessed via two thumbscrews located on either side of the tray.
Along with the unit itself, the Solo 4K comes with everything you need to get up and running immediately. Besides an all new remote control (more on this later), the package includes a HDMI cable, a composite cable, an IR extender, two wifi antennas and as always, two fresh AAA batteries. Also included is a bracket for wall mounting, a brief user manual, quick start guide and warranty card.
While the power supply included is universal and comes with three different connectors, it is worth noting that our package did not contain an Australian specific connector.
SETUP AND USAGE
Once unboxed and connected to our TV via the included HDMI cable, the Solo 4K came to life and after a short time, presented its new UI on our TV. While the new UI updates looked clear and neat, we were glad to see the old TV303D themes were still selectable.
Other than the attention to detail and slick design, we have mostly been impressed by previous Dune HD media players because of their ability to play almost any file format or codec available. The Solo 4K did not disappoint and in fact has returned a feature sorely missing from the previous Base 3D and TV303D models: Full Bluray menu support!
The remote control included with the Solo 4K has had a redesign since the TV303D/Base 3D and lost a considerable amount of weight! The new design is slightly shorter in both width and length and a lot thinner. While the back third of the remote control is approximately 20mm thick to house the battery, the rest of the remote control is a wafer thin 10mm thick. The buttons have less travel than the old remote controls and are non-light sensitive. The buttons are backed on an elegant brushed metal base and while the layout has changed (the number pad and playback functions have essentially swapped positions), the new layout doesn’t feel wrong.
As always, we played back a variety of files and as we have come to expect from Dune HD, had only minor problems – In fact, only one problem to be exact, which we will get to a little later. Where previous Dune models were unable to play a variety of x265 encoded content, the Solo 4K had no such problems. The Solo 4K played back all our usual AVI, MKV, DIVX and x264 encoded test files as well as the newer aforementioned x265 format which is a new addition to the Dune HD media player’s supported file formats.
In our testing, we saw crystal clear video presentation and through our receiver, perfect stereo and multiple channel digital audio, from vanilla Dolby Digital right through to Dolby TrueHD. All videos played back smoothly and clearly on both our Sony LED panel and our trusty Pioneer Kuro reference set. During our time with the Solo 4K, we had no playback quality issues and with known high quality content, saw no obvious video or artefacts or sound glitches. The Solo 4K is a high quality media playback device and while we re not audio/videophiles, as far as we can tell, the latest Dune media player presents audio and video with suitably high fidelity.
DVD ISOs and Bluray ISOs played back flawlessly and as mentioned earlier, the return of full Bluray menu access is an addition most users will be very happy with. Everything was slick and the UI functioned well both during playback and file navigation (irrespective of the theme selected). In our time with the Solo 4K it has had a number of firmware updates, once again demonstrating Dune HD’s commitment to improving and fixing bugs. In fact just as we published, Dune released yet another update further polishing the experience!
The player supports video playback up to 4K at 30 frames per second but does not support any higher frame rates. This is due to limitations set out by the Sigma Designs SMP8758 chip which is doing all the heavy lifting in the Solo 4K. For the most part, 4K is still in its infancy and while the 30 frames per second limitation may seem silly in a few years, such is the life at the cutting edge.
While we did not have much 4K test material on hand, the files we played did work smoothly up to the 30 frames per second limitation. Downsampling of 4K content looked sharp and smooth also which was good for the majority of people still utilising 1080p monitors. While playback was smooth both natively and when downsampling, we did notice a small bug where pressing the “info” button would crash down sampled 4K playback. For the record, this was the only genuine playback problem we encountered and on previous track record, we’re confident the bug squashers down at Dune Firmware HQ will get onto this one before the next update!
As with previous players, Over Under and Side By Side 3D content played without issue with our Sony 3D TV automatically detecting the 3D content and displaying it correctly. Similarly, the Solo 4K played back Dolby Digital and DTS without any problems and DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD streams played perfectly through our Pioneer receiver with our newly acquired Bowers and Wilkins reference speakers.
The majority of our media playback testing was undertaken on a live CAT6 Gigabit network (utilising both SMB and NFS shares) which the Solo 4K handled flawlessly. Even full Bluray ISOs played (now with full menus) without a care in the world which was a welcome change from the previous generation of Dune players which could only playback Bluray streams without menu content. Worth noting is that the Bluray lite menu playback method previously employed is still available for those who want it.
Weattempted some playback of Dolby Atoms audio content but despite some reports that the Solo 4K can manage this, we were unable to make our borrowed equipment cooperate. As our reference Pioneer receiver did not support Dolby Atmos, our extended testing was limited to surround sound on one plane.
While network playback is the headline act, the two USB 2.0 ports can be connected to external media formatted to FAT, exFAT, EXT2/3/4 and HFS+. As per usual, the Mac HFS+ format is read only. All USB storage media we tried worked without issue as did the internal SATA bay located beneath the Solo 4K. This bay is designed to house a 5-7mm laptop drive. We managed to cram in a slightly larger (approximately 10mm drive) although we won’t recommend you doing that. While the HDD worked fine unmolested, with the larger drive installed, any – and we mean any pressure on the top of the Solo 4K resulted in a hideous unhappy fan brushing against plastic noise. Not recommended!
New to Dune’s fully fledged media player line is a built in tuner. We found the tuner to work perfectly in our Melbourne, Australia location and its automatic scan picked up all the channels we expected to see. With our sightly oversized do not try this at home hard drive installed, we found recording from live television was as simple as hitting the button marked REC on the remote. Recorded videos were saved to a folder named, “DVB_recordings” and playback of course, was as easy as navigating to the save folder and pressing play.
Our Solo 4K shipped with the optional Z-Wave chip which allows the Solo 4K to be used as a controller for home automation applications. The Z-Wave home automation system is developed by Sigma Designs and allows up to 232 devices to work in concert. We have had little exposure to Z-Wave products but according to Sigma Designs, popular Z-Wave products include indoor/outdoor lights, thermostats, door locks, and security devices like motion detectors. For more information on Z-Wave, please visit the Sigma Design’s Z-Wave website. As we had no access to Z-wave compatible devices, we were unable to test this functionality.
With its advanced processor, Dune has implemented a neat My Collection feature which scours the Internet looking for data about your available videos, allowing it to be presented graphically along with related information such as posters, summaries and lists of actors. Using the new My Collection feature was as easy as selecting a folder to index and giving the Solo 4K time to work out what it was looking at. To test this feature, we setup a folder on a Synology NAS with movies and set the Solo 4K to scrape for details.
266 files (consisting of 172 movie files and associated sundry files – subtitles, etc.) of various file types took just under 40 minutes to index with the Solo 4K reporting a video identification success rate of over 80%. Once the indexing was completed, we had the opportunity to check the results and edit them as required. In reality the success rate was nearer 70% but still quite acceptable for an automated system by our reckoning. There were some obscure titles that stumped the My Collections scraping but this was easily fixed by manually editing the results. We particularly liked that way you could either search for an alternate title from the My Collections user interface or alternatively assign a file to its IMDB number directly.
Navigating the completed My Collections library was relatively smooth – We’d describe it as speedy more than silky but at any rate was far removed from more clunky third party implementations we have seen in the past.
CPU: Dual Core ARM Sigma Designs SMP8758
Storage: 4GB Flash Memory Onboard with Internal 2.5” SATA HDD Bay
Connectivity: 2x USB 2.0 (1x rear, 1x front), HDMI 1.4b, composite video and analog stereo audio (via 3.5mm A/V connector with 3xRCA adapter included), coaxial S/PDIF (on A/V connector via software switch), IR extender port with IR eye cable included, Ethernet 10/100/1000 Mbit/s, two external Wi-Fi antennas, DVB-T/T2 RF IN, 12V DC IN power connector with on/off switch
Video Codecs: MPEG2, MPEG4, XVID, WMV9, VC1, H.264, H.265, H.265 Hi10p; support for very high bitrate video (up to 100 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 Formats: MVC, Side-by-side, Top/Bottom
Blu-ray: Full Menu and BD-Lite Playback.
Audio codecs: MPEG-1/2 layer I/II/III, AAC, LPCM, WMA, WMAPro, FLAC, multichannel FLAC, Vorbis, WavPack, APE (Monkey’s Audio), ALAC (Apple lossless), AC3 (Dolby Digital), DTS; support for very high quality audio (up to 192 kHz / 24-bit); HD audio bitstream passthrough
Audio file formats: MP3, MPA, M4A, AAC, WAV, WMA, FLAC, Ogg/Vorbis, WavPack, APE (Monkey’s Audio), ALAC (Apple lossless), AC3, DTS, DTS-WAV
Subtitle formats: SRT (external), SUB (MicroDVD) (external), text (MKV), SSA/ASS (MKV, external), VobSub (MP4, MKV, external SUB/IDX), PGS (Blu-ray, TS, MKV)
Home Integration: Control4 and optional Z-Wave Controller.
TV: DVB-T/T2 tuner Built in.
The Dune Solo 4K is paradoxically a large and yet small upgrade from the previous generation. Overall the Solo 4K maintains Dune’s “plays everything” reputation with welcome 4K updates and x265 and 10bit colour space decoding which by today’s standards would appear as glaring omissions in current hardware. Beyond this, the My Collections feature and the ability to access and navigate full Bluray menus breathes new life into the already highly regarded Dune media player line.
And if this isn’t enough, there is the promise of more. Not only does Dune have an Android feature under development for the Solo 4K but their commitment to regular big fixes and firmware updates gives the confidence that the best of the Solo 4K is yet to come.
The Solo 4K retails for $349USD and is available now. For more details about this product and where to purchase, please visit Dune HD’s Solo 4K product page.