The first thing you notice when you turn on any product is its GUI, and the Smart B1’s onscreen interface is fairly dated compared with other Blu-ray players. It’s serviceable, but as you drill down into folders to find what you are looking for, it looks and feels like a My Computer menu tree on a Windows PC. However, it does display the current time — and temperature — in the upper-right-hand corner, which is, well, something.
I began my testing by viewing a bunch of test discs and movies on DVD and Blu-ray. After dropping the new Blu-ray of Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back into the player, it took 1 minute, 25 seconds to get to the FBI warning screen. The Blu-ray of The Dark Knight took 1 minute, 45 seconds. Those times are pretty slow compared with other recent players. I could not get Hanna, a relatively recent Bluray, to play at all. (My Kaleidescape played the same disc without a problem.)
The player’s upscaling of DVDs was good but not great. I didn’t see any “tearing,” but it also didn’t completely eliminate jaggies or resolve detail as well as the better Blu-ray players I’ve handled. Performance on test patterns confirmed what I saw when watching DVDs, with the player stumbling on most of the HQV disc’s deinterlacing workouts. The Smart B1 player’s handling of interlaced high-def material on Blu-ray test discs revealed similar issues, but this is really a non-issue since most Blu-rays are encoded in 1080p format. In real-world viewing, the player produced images on par with most Blu-ray players, which is to say, terrific.
The Smart B1 touts RealD for watching 3D video, but it will not play Blu-ray 3D discs. (This spec apparently refers to downloaded or user-created 3D video files encoded in a RealD format.) It also has a built-in Web browser, but when I connected a USB mouse and keyboard to check it out, the experience was awful. Both YouTube and MSN indicated that the browser was out of date and needed to be upgraded. FunnyorDie.com totally locked the machine, which then required a hard power reboot. Dune HD didn’t give a timeline for updating its Web browser via firmware. Bottom line: Do not buy this player to use as a Web browser.
RadioTime and Shoutcast apps are onboard to let you stream Internet radio stations. And with my USB drive connected, I had thousands of songs and photos at my disposal. Unfortunately, the player’s music-browsing feature is incredibly limited, sorting files only by artist, with each of their albums tucked in a folder. And while you could create a playlist from the Smart B1’s onscreen GUI using a cut-and-paste-type method, it would be incredibly cumbersome to do so.
Where the Smart B1 excels is in being able to play back a massive array of different file types, including high-resolution audio. It handles WAV, PCM, and up to 192/24 FLAC, along with music file formats like Monkey Audio and Ogg Vorbis. And it can play back a huge host of video formats, including DVD and Blu-ray ISO disc image files. We’re now entering a legal slippery slope here, as getting those file types requires breaking copy protection. For the sake of this review, I downloaded some decrypting software and made copies of several of my DVDs and Blu-rays. Once they were ripped and transferred to my drive, the player recognized the files and played them back just as if the disc were in the machine. That is an incredibly powerful tool.
When used on a Control4 system with the Extra Vegetables driver, the Dune HD was transformed into a fully functional movie server: I could browse my ripped collection by cover art and see a movie’s rating and synopsis. Super cool.
I experienced a number of random video, audio, and photo playback glitches that appeared to be the result of the Dune not liking my Western Digital drive. Sometimes only half of a photo would load, or a song or video would stop after playing a bit, or I’d get the message “unsupported file.” Dune sent me a separate hard disk to test, and it didn’t exhibit any of these issues. I also spoke with another integrator who has installed several Dune players, and he recommended avoiding USB drives and instead using enterprise-grade NAS for the most reliable streaming.
The Smart B1 also features a BitTorrent client, but I didn’t test it. (I am not at all familiar with Torrenting, and fear the “getting virused” aspect.) Also, there was this Dune HD comment: “We do not condone piracy and would prefer that people not buy the unit if they are looking solely for a Torrent player.”
Dune HD’s non-backlit remote control is filled with small buttons in non-ergonomic locations, which caused me to frequently press the wrong button. However, its IR codes can easily be taught to a universal remote control. Beyond supplying movie cover art, the Dune HD Extra Vegetables driver on the Control4 system produced a more enjoyable experience overall and definitely gets my recommendation.
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