The past year + has been interesting for Dune HD, or more importantly for the consumers as we try to decipher exactly what the future holds. Most recent was the announcement of the new line of Dune Media Players back in September, but details were scarce. One of the biggest issues was Cinavia. One thing the Dune players have been known for is their ability to play back BluRay discs/rips with full menu support. With the implementation of Cinavia it is nearly impossible to offer full support on many of the platforms, including Sigma, going forward (at least in terms of playing back content stored on a drive). There has been development to provide a software based solution for full menu support (you can see this in the DVDFab media player which I believe is based on an XBMC project), and it appears that Dune has decided to go that route with their flagship player (Max3D and Pro). Instead of Sigma, Dune has decided to move ahead with an Intel based player using the BerryVille CE5315 chipset (rumored, but nothing official) and running XBMC as the front end. At this point there is still very little information regarding, but if indeed true this could offer the ultimate solution many of us have been looking for in the media player market (a truly plug n play media player with a dynamic front end and all the bells & whistles). Right now the expected release date is sometime in the summer with a price tag projected to be in the $500-$700 range.
Dune Base 3D or Zappiti Player, Which Do I Get?
The Dune HD Base 3D has been officially listed on the main Dune HD home page. As confirmed earlier, it will be running on the Sigma SMP8672 SoC
Dune HD Base 3D is the most affordable universal solution for Full HD video and audio playback as well as IPTV and VOD streams via the new Dune HD Portal. Supporting most all digital audio and video formats, codecs and file containers, including all modern 3D video standards such as MVC, SBS and Top/Bottom, audiophile uncompressed HD audio with high resolutions up to 24 bit /192 kHz, the Dune HD Base 3D sets an entirely new standard. Like previous models in the Dune HD Base range, the all new Base 3D is equipped with an internal 3.5” SATA HDD bay with hot swap function.
I believe both the Zappiti Player and the Dune Base 3D are expected to be released in the next month or so, and essentially the Zappiti is a Dune Base 3D rebranded by Zappiti. So naturally this brings the question of why get one over the other. The Zappiti player comes with the Zappiti UI, but what does that really mean since you can launch Zappiti on a Dune (and an upcoming firmware update should support launching directly into a jukebox)? The Zappiti player was initially supposed to be only sold in the European markets, but it appears they are looking to expand in to the US markets and beyond. The price appears to be the same for both players (EUR 299 / USD 299). Without truly knowing what it under the hood of the Zappiti player it is really hard to gauge which direction to go. When the specs for the Zappiti player were first released if I recall the audio support was a little vague, with reference to DTSHD being left out. It appears this may have been corrected, and the current specs list support for DTSHD. Below is the current audio specs for the Zappiti player
- Audio codecs: AC3, Dolby Digital (bitstream, PCM), DTS (bitstream, PCM), Dolby Digital Plus (bitstream, PCM), DTS-HD (bitstream, PCM)*, Dolby TrueHD (bitstream, PCM), 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), Ogg/Vorbis, WAV, AC3, AAC
For the Dune HD Base 3D, the following is listed:
- Audio codecs: AC3 (Dolby Digital), DTS, MPEG, AAC, LPCM, WMA, WMAPro, EAC3 (Dolby Digital Plus), Dolby True HD, DTS HD High Resolution Audio, DTS HD Master Audio, 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)
One thing of interest to note with both sets of specs, it would appear that there will be the ability to decode the HD Audio to multi channel PCM (at leas the Base 3D specs seem to imply this, the Zappiti specs just say PCM which could just mean 2ch stereo). I bring this up because this is something that many media players no longer support, only downmixing HD audio to 2ch stereo via HDMI (my guess to avoid licensing costs). Even the current Dune lineup which used to support this had this removed in a recent firmware update.
I think until an official release date is announced for both players with confirmed pricing, availability, and feature sets, it is hard to say which player is the better choice. However, I would like to point out something very important. Many current Dune users are accustomed to the stability of the Dunes when it comes to playback (including full BR menu support, forced subtitle support, seamless branch, etc…). The Base 3D and Zappiti will rely on BD lite. What this means is there will be no full BR menu support. More importantly, there are some shortcomings with BD lite that currently affect all players that use (lack of forced subtitle support and lack of seamless branch support being the two notables). This is something to keep in mind if you are a current Dune user looking to make the leap, in particular if your library consists of full disc BR rips.
Speaking of Dune I decided to add another Dune to my setup, this time going with the Dune Smart B1.
I wanted to set my Dad up with a media player, and initially gave him my PCH A-300. However, after having him deal with bugs I decided instead to give him my Dune Smart D1 which had been serving me well since I originally got. I decided to go with a B1 to replace it, and although I rarely use physical discs anymore I like having the option (One thing worth nothing with any of the players that have an optical drive, they may run into issues with playing new discs that have new protection schemes as it requires Dune to push through firmware updates to support . This is common for Blu ray players but as you can imagine Sony, Panasonic, etc.. have the resources to handle this relatively quick). Since the Dunes are heavily used in my house, stability is top priority so I didn’t even think twice about what player would be the replacement. As always, I purchased the Dune B1 from DunePlayer. I spoke with the owner Mike and he stated that he has the remaining stock of the current Dune players, so if you are interested now would be the time to pick up before the stock is gone.
Hopefully in the coming weeks we will be able to answer some of the questions about the Dune HD Base 3D, Zappiti player, and the mysterious Intel based Dune Max3D and Pro.