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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  • ajlueke - Wednesday, October 20, 2010 - link

    It really was a good experience using the system. Of course, my main dual purpose machine runs a Phenom II 965 @ 3.8 GHz with an Intel X25-M 160Gb boot drive, so things will of course not measure up to that. But standard web browsing was responsive as was loading into PowerDVD or Media Center. I haven't tried gaming on this machine, so I am unsure how it would fair there. Reply
  • tukkas - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    can this be resolved via a future firmware update or is it wired into the chip. if so, which one? thank y oui Reply
  • Mumrik - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    "Most users need DTS-HD MA and Dobly TrueHD bitstreaming from their primary HTPC for their AV receiver to decode. "

    That's just a hilarious quote :-D
    Reply
  • numberoneoppa - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    I suppose it is. :P Reply
  • blarfmarfle - Wednesday, October 20, 2010 - link

    I bought one of these to use as an HTPC in my living room. I needed a tiny computer that could play back all my kids' ripped DVDs through Media Center + My Movies, and this fit the bill. I swapped out the HD with a Vertex 60GB SSD so it would sleep/wake quickly, which it does (~2sec). It is near silent, and it is slim enough to tuck away on top of the XBox in my entertainment center. Playback for both Netflix HD and ripped DVDs is good, and the few MP4 files I have tried playing (720p from my Flip HD) look great. Bluray playback is acceptable, although I generally use my PS3 for Bluray. Build quality seems pretty high, and it is easy to open and work inside.

    The complaints about a missing remote are valid- I bought an IR receiver so I could use my Harmony remote. I can't really comment on the HD audio codec problem, since I'm running this into a Samsung Soundbar with simulated 5.1 which is nothing to scream about.

    All told, for my limited requirements, this is a neat little computer that works well.
    Reply
  • ET - Thursday, October 21, 2010 - link

    The second sentence on page 3 is "I also can the system through our media streaming test suite." I assume it should be "ran" and not "can".

    As for the Zotac, first of all I like it that it's possible to get a PC with Blu-ray for $500. That's a lot less than I remember such devices costing. I like the device of the Zotac, and since I use the TV's speakers it would have been enough for me. However, I'm not really sold on an HTPC as a media solution. I tend to get along better with devices geared for the task. Now if I could get a PC that could also do gaming on the TV that might be good, but then it couldn't have such a streamlined design.
    Reply
  • ajlueke - Wednesday, November 10, 2010 - link

    No, building dual purpose media/gaming systems tend to require larger less stylish case as some hi end video cards are nearly as big and heavy as this entire PC. I myself use a larger machine as a gaming/media system, that also has enough room for harddrives to store all my media and serve it to the rest of the house. But using this unit to stream media to another TV where less gaming is goign on works quite well. Reply
  • Milleman - Monday, October 25, 2010 - link

    As I use XBMC myself, I would like to know if this product is able run XBMC as well. Reply
  • ajlueke - Wednesday, November 10, 2010 - link

    I did install XBMC on the Zotac Zbox, cand in ran acceptably, without much slowdown at all. I think you'll be pleased with the XBMC performance on the Zbox. I know I was, given the performance of past Atom systems. Reply
  • angelor - Thursday, April 5, 2012 - link

    I have hdmi cable passing both video and audio can that the reason that I do not get any HD to play properly on my system? I also have set as 1080 screen rate of 60. I will check display to 720p. I am using Windows 7 ultimate 64 bit and have installed shark codecs on it. Aero is currently disabled on my system. Reply

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