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Zotac ZBOX Blu-ray HD-ID34 - Connectivity, Value and Verdict

Ardjuna Seghers

By Ardjuna Seghers

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

8

Getting back onto the positive side of the Zotac Zbox Blu-ray, connectivity on this slim HTPC is quite simply excellent: many of the latest and fastest standards are supported and all ports optimally positioned. At the PC's front we have a memory card reader that will accept SD/HC, MMC, xD and Sony's MS Pro/Duo. There are two well-spaced USB ports, one USB 2.0 and the other up to the USB 3.0 standard, followed by 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks.

Around the back you'll find a second USB 3.0 port, a combined eSATA and USB 2.0 connector, HDMI 1.3a and dual-link DVI (for outputting resolutions above HDMI's 1,920 x 1,200 maximum) and an optical digital audio output for eight-channel surround sound. Finally for networking there's Gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi N.

That's pretty much every option we could want on an HTPC, with one obvious exception. Considering that most televisions these days come with a good set of tuners we don't mind their lack here, but we would really like to have seen an integrated IR receiver and accompanying remote. Admittedly you can buy a USB-based IR dongle, but this should have been an integral requirement for a machine mooted to sit under your TV.

Overall then, the Zbox Blu-ray is not quite the winner we had hoped it would be, but it makes a valiant attempt. Aside from the Apple Mac Mini and Tranquil PC ixL – both of which demand considerably higher prices yet lack Blu-ray – it's probably the most attractive small form factor (SFF) system we've come across, even if its build doesn't quite match its looks. Compared with other Atom-based machines, the pre-assembled HD-ID34 version offers superb value if Blu-ray playback is something you're interested in.

Its only serious competitor at an anywhere near similar price point is the Award-winning ASRock Core 100HT BD. For an extra £100-odd, you get a far more powerful Core i3 CPU, double the RAM and hard drive capacity, THX certification and an inbuilt IR receiver plus remote. Also, while the Core might be a little bulkier and not look as swish, its build quality is superior and it stays quieter under load. In other words, for those who prefer substance over style and can afford the extra, it's the better choice.

Verdict

Sleek, slim and very attractive, Zotac's Zbox Blu-ray is an admirable design achievement and offers nearly everything you could want from a HTCP. Unfortunately its audible operation when stressed and the omission of an integrated IR receiver plus remote prevent it from being the ultimate affordable home theatre addition, but overall it's still a very strong contender.

Petrov

October 12, 2010, 1:10 pm

Thanks for the review. I recently purchased the comparable (ex Blu Ray) Asus 1501P in the UK (ION 2, 1.8ghz Atom 525, 2GB, IR, slot DVD, win 7, etc). I have found watching HD content a mixed bag - watching 1080p content through, say, VLC is a joy as the player is able to take advantage of the ION 2.





However, watching HD (720p) through iTunes (TV rental, movies, etc) has been extremely sub-par - I've found the video performance jittery and stuttering whenever there is any action or material camera panning on screen. iTunes is notorious for this, but to be fair, they do say you need a 2+ghz dual core processor to watch their HD content - and iTunes doesn't use GPU acceleration. Given iTunes is the dominant legal content delivery mechanism in the UK for movies/TV shows, could you please comment on the Zotac's ability to watch HD content (full screen) through iTunes? All in all, I would struggle to recommend an Atom (D525 or worse) system for anyone that relies heavily on iTunes for their HD video content.





Also, can you please provide 3dmark06 scores (Asus 1501P scores c 2,700 pts)?

pimlicosound

October 12, 2010, 2:53 pm

Thanks for the review. Sounds like it's not quite the ideal HTPC I'd like. Is there any chance you could review the Asrock Vision 3D? Anandtech and Bit-tech have given it good reviews, so I'd like to know what you guys think of it.

Wildkard

October 12, 2010, 6:42 pm

Could you install, say, a PCIe DVB-S tuner card in this? It's not clear from the review.

TechVegan

October 12, 2010, 7:11 pm

@Petrov:


Thanks for your comment.


You're right: unfortunately iTunes (unlike YouTube HD and most media playback software) doesn't support graphics acceleration. Nor does it look like Apple will remedy this in the near future.


We only run PCMark on PCs, relying on game benchmarks to indicate real-world 3D performance.





@pimlicosound:


You're welcome. Though the http://www.trustedreviews.com/... is probably the better (or at least cheaper) bet if you're not after 3D capabilities, ASRock's Vision 3D does look like a great little machine and we should be getting one in soon. :)

pimlicosound

October 12, 2010, 7:46 pm

@Ardjuna:


I'd considered the Core-100HT-BD, but I prefer the Vision 3D not for its 3D capabilities but because it looks a lot nicer, the build quality is supposedly even better, it has a slot-loading drive and the GPU allows for some basic gaming - hopefully just enough for me to play SW: The Old Republic when it comes out!





If you do review it, the thing I'm most interested in is the noise it makes. I'm also very interested in the Tranquil PC iXL, which you reviewed a while ago, because I really want something I can't hear, even when no sound is playing. I have a very quiet living room, so a silent HTPC is important to me (currently, my PS3 is just too loud). If the Vision 3D can come close to the utter silence of the iXL while being cheaper, I'd be very interested in it.

TechVegan

October 12, 2010, 8:20 pm

@Wildkard:


Nope, as there are no card backplates in the chassis you're limited to an external USB tuner.





@pimlicosound:


I see, good reasons, though personally I wouldn't consider playing games on anything less than the http://www.trustedreviews.com/... :)





Yes, you can't beat passive cooling for a noise-free solution and the http://www.trustedreviews.com/... is a great little machine, just a pity it comes at such a premium.

Manni

October 13, 2010, 5:42 pm

Could you please comment on the ability of this HTPC to bitstream HD Audio (using either TMT3 or PowerDVD9/10)? As it's based on a Ion, I assume it's unable to do so (as far as I know only the Radeon HD5xxx family is supported to bitstream HD Audio, which means that you can't get the full audio quality from blurays).


Unless I've missed it, it's quite an important element that very often buyers will only realise when it's too late. I don't understand why this is never mentioned in any review or comparative test when it's such an important factor for HTPC.


Sure, you should be able to get PCM, but that's not bitstreaming and I prefer my Denon to do this part of the job rather than my PC (especially regarding levels)...


It would be great if TR could report on this feature in future reviews, as for some it's more important than 2 more fps in Crysis...


It's a shame nVidia doesn't seem to care for the HTPC market, I've left them for an HD5850 (in my HTPC / Gaming rig) and never looked back. I won't even consider coming back to nVidia until they provide proper HD Audio support.

Manni

October 14, 2010, 2:28 am

@pimlicosound:


Thanks for the heads up re the Vision 3D, I hadn't heard about it. It does look like a great machine, and apparently there is now at least one nVidia card that can bitstream HD Audio!





This may well be my next HTPC (it's the first SFF I see that ticks all the boxes for a proper Home Cinema setup), so looking forward for a test here.

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