First Looks: HDI Dune HD Max Hybrid Media Player

Launch SRP: S$659

First Looks: HDI Dune HD Max Hybrid Media Player

Everything But the Kitchen Sink Hybrid Media Player

The HDI Dune HD Max is a premium media player and comes with an incredibly long list of feature set, including support for an internal 3.5-inch SATA hard drive (hot-swappable no less), three USB 2.0 ports, an SD card slot, and a 10/100Mbit Ethernet connection for over-the-network playback. It’s also a Blu-ray player and a high definition music player (up to 192KHz/24-bit playback).

The HDI Dune HD Max is a full-featured media player and Blu-ray Disc player.

The SoC (system-on-a-chip) used in the Dune HD Max is the Sigma Designs SMP8642, a member of the SMP8640 family. This SoC is a logical choice since it’s optimized for mainstream Blu-ray players (which the Dune HD Max has). It’s also equipped with 512MB of RAM and 256MB of flash memory. While it doesn’t come with built-in Wi-Fi, you can use a USB Wi-Fi module based on the RALink RT2870/2880 or RT3070/3071/3072 chipset. According to HDI, the D-Link DWA-140 rev.B1 (RT2880-based) is the most frequently tested and should work fine. Gigabit Ethernet support is listed as “experimental”, because that’s not part of the official SMP8642 spec. It worked okay during our testing, though your mileage may vary depending on network configuration.

Need to change the internal hard drive? Just swap it out from the front!

Aesthetics-wise, the Dune HD Max is very home-theater-gear-like; while the front plate is made of plastic (but made to look like brushed metal), the rest of the chassis uses aluminum. In terms of layout, the left side accommodates the Blu-ray drive, the center has the single-line VFD screen and on the right is the hard drive rack (behind a flip-down door). There’s no shortage of A/V connections round the back: for video, you‘ve HDMI, component, S-Video and composite outputs; for audio, you’ve both coaxial and optical (S/PDIF) for digital output, as well as analog stereo and 7.1-channel outputs. There’s even space reserved for future expansion boards. The bundled infrared remote has a matte finish that’s smooth to touch and sports clearly labeled, rubberized buttons. We were delighted to discover that the number buttons can be used to jump to different playback positions quickly. Unfortunately, the buttons aren’t backlit. An HDMI cable also came in the box.

It’s A/V inputs and outputs galore at the back of the player.

 

Bulldozing Its Way Through

Regardless of video format we threw at it, the Dune HD Max handled each of them with aplomb. With the exception of RMVB, our stash of MKV, M2TS, VOB, AVI, MOV and WMV files all played without a hitch. The player is definitely capable of some serious heavy lifting, as attested by its smooth playback of our Blu-ray and DVD ISOs (including menu structures) and 40Mbps MKV/H.264 files from a NAS server. MKV chapters are supported too. By the way, the player supports BD-J, Bonus View (Profile 1.1) and BD-Live (Profile 2.0).

Here's how the icon-based graphical user interface looks like. Alternatively, you can have items shown in a list format.

In addition to media playback, you can surf the web, listen to Internet radio, manage BitTorrent downloads, view photos, access the network via SMB, and more.

Our Dune HD Max came with firmware version 110225_1222. Upgrading to the recently released stable version 110606_1315 reveals a revamped interface. You can now install custom skins.

When it came to physical Blu-ray and DVD discs, menu reading and playback were fast and relatively quiet. In some cases, you may need to setup a System Storage partition; it’s mainly used as a cache for advanced BD features. Up-scaling of standard-definition content was noted to be very good too. There isn’t much to fault on the audio front either; besides the common home theater formats, it handles decoding and pass-through of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. While not the best in class, the built-in BitTorrent client, Web radio and Internet browser further illustrate the versatility of the device.

Image quality from HD sources is excellent; for SD sources, the upscaling does a pretty good job too. (Screenshot from Monsters vs. Aliens.)

 

Final Thoughts

Enthusiasts will love the HDI Dune HD Max for its strong list of features and advanced playback settings; beginners too will appreciate its ease of use and solid CODEC and file format support. If price isn’t a concern (S$659 for its suggested retail price), as far as media players go, you can’t go wrong with the Dune HD Max. It's not a fancy product in visual form, but it's a very versatile and functional media player for all needs.

At S$659, it's not small change. But if you're serious about media playback, the Dune HD Max should be within your radar.