We’ve written a good deal about media managers and the trend toward streaming movies and music rather than storing them, but there are still a lot of good reasons for owning your Blu-ray and DVD movies rather than borrowing them from a web site. A media server should be a staple in a home theater system. In this review I take a look at a Vidabox LiivNAS that, when paired with a Dune HD Base 3D, makes a very effective system for storing and playing your disc-based movies.
If you buy a lot of DVDs and Blu-rays the discs themselves can eat up shelf space quickly. Invariably you’ll misplace some movies or not be able to find the one you want when you want it. That’s where video servers (sometimes we call them media managers) come in.
Video servers can be expensive and sometimes complicated. Usually the cheaper they are (such as a DIY home theater PCs with movie server software) the more complicated they are to use or set up. The easiest to use, on the other hand, are also the most expensive. The biggest name in high-end media managers, or servers, for the home theater market is Kaleidescape. Kaleidescape’s servers, players and disc vaults can be found in many of the most extreme home theaters and luxury media rooms (such as this yacht), but Kaleidescape is a pretty pricy proposition. The starter system, the Cinema One, is $4,000 and it can’t copy your Blu-ray discs without an additional Disc Vault, which is another few thousand dollars (Kaleidescape Cinema One is reviewed here).
That’s not the only solution out there though. There are in fact several high definition media servers on the market that will store your DVDs, Blu-rays and CDs and let you play them on your home theater system. This Vidabox LiivNAS and Dune HD media player together cost under $2,000 and gets you a couple terabytes of storage and the ability to network the media around the house.
The Vidabox LiivNAS is a networked-attached storage system—it’s basically a case that holds hard drives with a Windows OS whose sole purpose is to rip and store media. It comes with 2 terabytes of storage and contains no cooling fans, so it’s relatively quiet. Stick any unencrypted, non-copy protected CD, DVD or Blu-ray into the drive tray and the LiiVNAS will copy and archive it without you having to do anything else. The Dune HD is the player (it’s also a 3D Blu-ray player); it connects to the LiivNAS via over your network, provides a snazzy onscreen interface for navigating your content and allows playback on your home theater system. A neat thing about this system is once you have the LiivNAS on your network you can add multiple Dune HDs (they only cost $300) to your home and access the LiiVNAS from them.
You probably noted the small detail about non-copy protected. The system will not, out of the box, copy your copy-protected Hollywood movies, so the product is completely legal. That’s the way the system ships. If you want to load LiivNAS with copy-protected Blu-ray movies and DVDs, and of course you do, you need to load a software application onto the system which allows you to copy Blu-rays. This is one of the things that makes it different from Kaleidescape, and one of the things that makes it cheaper. I used the vary popular AnyDVD HD which makes an ISO image of the disc. Any DVD HD loads right onto the LiivNAS and together they team up to get the job done.
Setting up the LiivNAS and Dune HD is not particularly complicated. It was made even more pleasant by the fact that the Dune player is easily controlled by many home automation systems, including Control4, which I use in my theater. After I connected both the LiivNAS and Dune HD to my network switch I then connected the HDMI from the Dune HD to a Sony receiver. I made the connections virtually in Control4’s composer software and loaded the correct Dune driver. The system showed up on my Control4 iPhone app and the HC-250 remote, and I was ready to go.
The system is easy to use, though not as elegant as the Kaleidescape Cinema One. I started out by loading up a Blu-ray disc to record, then left to do something else for a while. An hour later I came back to see the disc tray was open. I swapped in another disc and did it again. By the end of the day I had several DVDs and Blu-rays loaded up.
When you sit down to watch a movie on Vida/Dune system, the first screen you see is a selection of sources. Since Dune HD can access a variety of sources including its own Blu-ray drive, SD card, USB drive or a networked source, such as the LiivNAS, you have the option to pick the one you want. In the setup process either you or your installer will likely change the name of the LiivNAS to something like My Movies, which is what I did, and place an icon for it under the Favorites tab.
Using the remote I selected the My Movies icon and was brought to another navigation screen that offers multiple ways to find the movies on the system. You can search by decade, genre, parental rating, etc. Because this system didn’t have a lot of movies on it, was easier to just view all titles at once.
When you select a movie, you get an attractive full-screen graphic with technical details about the film. How complete a menu you get depends on the type of media, and sometimes on the movie itself. With DVDs you get access to the full disc menu including all the special features. It’s essentially like having the disc in your player. For Blu-ray movies you more often get a list of files which correspond to the move’s chapters, but there’s no smart navigation such as you’d find if you place the disc in a Blu-ray player. You can skip chapters and fast forward, but you can’t see neat little thumbnails of the chapters or chapter names. If the special features were copied, they’ll be buried at the end with basic file numbers, making them almost impossible to use.
Playback was simple and basically flawless. I watched several DVD and Blu-ray copies. The movies looked essentially identical to the originals, except that the Dune box doesn’t appear to do nearly the good job of video processing at the Oppo 103DE Blu-ray player I use.
One thing the Vida/Dune system can do that some other servers can’t is play 3D Blu-rays. If you load both the 2D and 3D title of a movie onto the system they’ll show up on the navigation screen as two different movies, but that’s a quirk that’s easy to figure out.
This Vida/Dune setup wasn’t exactly perfect. A couple discs took more than one attempt before the system would copy and archive them, and a few discs simply refused to be copies. That was probably the fault of AnyDVD HD, rather than Vidabox, but the result for the user is the same anyway. You need to make sure your system downloads any updates from AnyDVD.
The system also makes a nice music server. Your 2 TBs will hold a ton and a half of CDs.
One of the especially nice things about the LiivNAS system is that it’s ready for multiroom distribution. With on LiiVNAS you can connect as many Dune units as you want through your network and get 5 or more simultaneous (depending on the size of the stream) streams of video or music. If you have several TVs in your house, this system will give you a distributed video system for not a lot of money.
Whether this solution is the movie server for your home theater system depends on a number of factors. While it’s a lot cheaper than the most well-known competition, it also takes a bit more work, and work always comes with risk. You need to install the cracking software yourself, and if that doesn’t work, you can’t complain to Vidabox or Dune about it. The interface isn’t quite as elegant as others, but then, how elegant does it need to be?
Dune HD Base 3D
More home theater articles:
DVR+ Is the Best Thing for Cable Cord Cutters
7 Most Important Features in a Media Manager for Music and Movies
Hands On: IOGEAR Wireless 5 X 2 Matrix Switch
Maximizing Your Network for Streaming Media