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Zotac ZBOX Blu-ray HD-ID34 review

Ardjuna Seghers

By

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

8

£399.99 with 2GB RAM, 250GB HDD/ £349.00 barebones.

No, the Zbox is not a sequel to the Xbox. Instead, it's Zotac's miniscule home theatre PC (HTPC) based on Intel's Atom platform, in its latest iteration offering highlights such as Blu-ray and USB 3.0 in a chassis that's quite simply the sleekest and most attractive we've yet come across. Let's find out if the overall package can match its looks.

Starting off with that class-leading design, at only 40mm (1.5in) tall it's easily the slimmest machine with an integrated optical drive we've seen. This makes it ideal for wall-mounting, and a great clip-on VESA bracket is included for mounting on a monitor or television. Though the Acer Aspire Revo is actually slimmer, the Zbox's two-tone tapered edges and curves make it look like the more diminutive PC. In fact, the Zotac makes its power brick look positively gargantuan.

The machine's base is textured black plastic with four broad rubber feet giving a secure grip. Its top is a stylish combination of silver plastic, brushed aluminium and lacquered piano black, which features a large blue-backlit ring that doubles as a power status indicator (constant when the PC is turned on and lighting up at intervals when it's in standby).

Admittedly the glossy black half of the Zbox does pick up fingerprints easily, but Zotac has cleverly chosen the section above the Blu-ray drive for the metal finish so that the part you're most likely to touch doesn't require any cleaning. The optical drive is also of the slot-loading variety, which is far more attractive than a tray-loading solution. Overall, this is one HTPC you won't need to hide away in your high-end home cinema setup!

Build quality doesn't match its looks but is nonetheless adequate. Aside from the occasional flex or creak the machine feels fairly solid, and the power and drive eject buttons offer a positive click.

The Zbox comes well packaged, with a driver CD, Cyberlink's PowerDVD software, full-colour quick-start, contents and specifications guide, flexible VESA mount and DVI-VGA adapter. You'll have to get your own OS, as one isn't pre-installed or provided on disc.

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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