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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  • ProDigit - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    1- you get 2.0 channels just like most stereo's. The audio plays back just like your laptop or home pc.

    2- It's easy to install an OS. Worst case you get Ubuntu or another Linux on it, which costs you nothing next to a 30 minutes install!
    Besides there are EeePc versions of WinXP available on the black market for free.

    3- you can get a bluetooth remote, or get a USB-IR receiver and install that; though there's little use for IR when you are planning on mounting this behind the TV.
    Bluetooth works even in a couple of rooms next to the TV room, and is much better!

    4- pics say enough, it's a laptop mobo with a desktop cpu and an nvidia graphics card crammed into a DVD-player sized box.

    I wished they did some gaming on this system though!
    Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    erm... who even has a receiver with an hdmi input? Not many would be my guess. I have toslink and that is better than hdmi anyway. (No ground loops.)

    So the question is, how does this thing work if you are not getting your audio from hdmi?
    Reply
  • ajlueke - Wednesday, October 20, 2010 - link

    The optical out port works just fine. I really had to dig in my basment to find a Toslink cable and give it a whirl. If that is your preference I don't think you'll have any issues other than hiding another cable. ;) Reply
  • numberoneoppa - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    holy smokes, that thing is ugly. Reply
  • garrun - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    Does anyone know how this works streaming HD from Netflix and Hulu? If it was in the review, I didn't see it, but I remember other Ion devices had a problem with that in the past. Reply
  • ajlueke - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    I'll give it a try and post back here. For everyday web browsing the unit does fine. I noticed that Windows Media Center, as well as the PowerDVD plugin for blu-rays loaded a bit slower than on my main HTPC. My main system has a sizeable hardware advantage however, so that was to be expected. Reply
  • ajlueke - Thursday, October 21, 2010 - link

    Both appear to work fine, I had no lag or choppiness in the hulu videos I tried or using Netflix with Microsoft silverlight. Reply
  • angelor - Thursday, April 5, 2012 - link

    Is the Netflix HD still working for you on the zotac system? I have the barebone model and installed 500gig and 4gigs of memory on it. It is running windows 7 ultimate 64 bit. All drives updated and installed shark codec. I do have display at 1080P and have both video and audio passing through it. Reply
  • ProDigit - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    Nice design, nice project, I had just hoped the integrated audio card would be able to channel 2 channels to the stereo system.
    4 USB ports is not much, seeing that a keyboard and mouse take up 2 already.

    A USB3 port is pretty ridiculous for such a machine, most USB2 ports are fast enough to copy files upto ~50MB/s perfectly fine!
    Besides USB 3 bandwidth will probably take so much of the already taxed machine, that it would stutter or interrupt any movie playing.

    But the price is just too much!
    You're basically trading mousepad, keyboard,preinstalled OS and LCD screen for a bluray drive and a second memory slot; other than that it is nearly identical to a netbook.
    Reply
  • mindbomb - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    I'm still a little wary of atom based htpc's. I know it can totally offload video processing, but is the atom powerful enough to render pgs subtitles and decode lossless audio comfortably?
    i would feel much better if it had a low voltage core 2 cpu or something of that sort.
    Reply

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