More than just the slim form factor that I mentioned earlier, the Zbox HD-ID34 comes with a few additional upgrades over the previously reviewed HD-ID11. The unit includes only 4 USB ports now compared to the 6 found in the earlier unit. However, two of the ports (one in the front and one at the back) are now USB 3.0 capable. The third port is a dual eSATA (3.0 Gbps) / USB 2.0 port.  Only one is a standalone USB 2.0 port. DVI and HDMI ports have been included for video output. Stereo analog audio ports and an optical SPDIF port round up the audio connections.

There is an internal SATA (3.0 Gbps) connector as well for an internal HDD or SSD, as well as two DIMM slots that support up to 4 GB of DDR2-800 memory.  The unit also includes built in Wi-Fi with b/g/n support as well as a GbE port. The 802.11n card inside the unit uses dual stream technology (2T2R) to achieve 300 Mbps data rate. A slot loading slim blu-ray drive is also part of the system for those consumers who still playback media from optical discs. The unit also ships with the Zotac VESA mount, which allows the unit to be mounted on the back of your display, or wall mounted next to a likewise wall mounted display.  An OEM copy of PowerDVD 9 is included for Blu-Ray playback despite the fact that the unit ships without an OS.  Finally, the system also includes a media card reader to complete the connectivity options.

All of these included features really allow the Zotac Zbox to be used in a lot of different scenarios. Unfortunately, one I didn’t find the unit all that useful for was the role of the primary HTPC in the house. Most users need DTS-HD MA and Dobly TrueHD bitstreaming from their primary HTPC for their AV receiver to decode. The HD-ID34 is not capable of bitstreaming HD audio codecs, and thus, may not please many audiophiles.  To further compound the problem, the included PowerDVD 9 only comes with a limited 2ch+2Ch license.  So, even though the hardware can at least output down sampled 8 channel LPCM, the software included does not support that many channels.

However, away from the main home theater, the perks of the Zotac Zbox HD-ID34 begin to shine. It results in an elegant media solution when paired with a wall mounted bedroom or recreation room TV. The Zbox can be mounted on the wall next to a wall mounted television and connected via a single HDMI cable.  Add a remote and IR receiver and you have a beautiful streaming solution with limited wire mess. The bitstreaming and software limitations in these scenarios are lessened, as many televisions outside of the home theater do not have much beyond stereo setups. The connectivity options allow for the use of high speed external storage devices, and the included blu-ray drive allow the Zbox to be used as a media hub.  Discs can be ripped and stored on the external drives for playback over other networked devices including a main HTPC which then doesn’t need to have a Blu-Ray drive of its own.

Introduction Testing
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  • cjs150 - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    It looks pretty.

    As you said most people thought it was a high class AV component.

    And then it drops the ball big time:

    1. HD audio codec: how simple do we have to make this? With my AV receiver I expect sound and video through the HDMI cable in full glorious HD - any HTPC has to do the same. Really what are manufacturers thinking of, my requirements are exactly the same as everyone else with an AV receiver

    2. No OS so I have to add my own (extra cost) which brings me onto next problem

    3. What about a remote? This is in the living room it has to be controllable from a logitech remote

    4. Any room for a TV tuner - I guess limited to USB stick tuner which are not the best
    Reply
  • Golgatha - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    I totally agree with point #1. If it can't do HD audio + video output via HDMI, I am completely not interested. Yes it takes more horsepower than what this device has, but it is a necessity. My HTPC has an ASUS Slim1.3 sound card and a Q9400 for a reason. Reply
  • ajlueke - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    1. As I said in the review, the lack of bitstreaming support in the hardware really will keep this machine from functioning as a living room HTPC. However, in my bedroom the display setup features a wall mounted TV alone, using only the TV speakers. In this situation the Zbox is an elegant solution for expanding my HD movies and videos music etc into the bedroom over the wired connection I have in the house.

    2. It is interesting the the unit includes windows software to playback blu-ray's (PowerDVD 9) but no windows. There is some extra cost associated with supplying some OS's, but you can get an upgrade version of Windows 7 professional for relatively cheap, ($64.95 is the lowest I have seen with a .edu email address.) But added cost is added cost.

    3. I'll agree with this limitation. Having to try and add an IR receiver to a slim wall mounted device does detract from some of the asthetic.

    4. There are two PCI-e mini ports within the device, one is occupied by the dual channel wireless card, while the other is open. Othereise USB is always an option.
    Reply
  • Golgatha - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    This is true. I do wonder if they included GbE or just 10/100 though. GbE is pretty much required for streaming Bluray rips. Reply
  • Golgatha - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    I suppose the inclusion of USB 3.0 would be fine though for GbE if it doesn't come standard. Would be nice if you didn't have one more needless dongle coming out the back of this device though. Reply
  • mindbomb - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    it probably does have gbe, but bluray discs tend to have bitrates of like 30-40 megabit, so 100 megabit can handle it comfortably. Reply
  • ajlueke - Wednesday, October 20, 2010 - link

    GbE is included standard. All the tests I ran I streamed the media off my main HTPC to the Zotac via wired gigabit connections in my home. Reply
  • mindbomb - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    just a reminder, it can bitstream DTS and DD and LPCM.
    It can't bitstream TrueHD and DTS-HD. FFdshow can convert truehd to pcm, and dts-hd has a dts core, so on both fronts, you are set.
    so, do you want to qualify your statement?
    Reply
  • mindbomb - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    oh wait, you're the guy that wrote the review.
    i want to take my comment back lol.

    just wanted to say i can imagine it as a living room htpc, it just wouldnt be ideal.
    Reply
  • ajlueke - Wednesday, October 20, 2010 - link

    True enough. It can bitstream core DTS and Dobly digital, as well as decode and output 5.1 or 7.1 LPCM, but the lack of HD audio codec bitstreaming will keep it out of the living room for mnay users. I also feel than some of the aesthetic apeal is lost mounted on a wall by a TV that already has a sizeable A/V rack for a receiver, STB etc. Reply

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