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.

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  • kake - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    Why don't these essentially hyper blu-ray players come with IR receivers built into the front of the device? Make adding a remote so much more intuitive for the impulsive buyer.
  • CZroe - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Probably because there is no one IR receiver that can work with everything. For example, MCE remotes require an RC6 receiver and will not work with a standard IR receiver.
  • ckryan - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    Imagine if this Zotac wasn't just BD, could be your digital cable box and DVR solution. THAT would be something. As impressive as this system may be, Zotac could add true two way cable-card support and have a (IMO) all around awesome device. Not just a BluRay player that went to finishing school, but something I've been craving for a hot minute.
  • iSmug - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    It could be when the HDHomerun Prime comes out. Just hide the network attached tuner somewhere.
  • IceDread - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    "The Zotac ZBOX obtained 308 out of a maximum possible 358 points (86%) in our media streaming test suite. Most of the points were lost in files containing a bitstreaming test for an HD audio codec, which the Zotac Zbox is simply incapable of doing due to the limitations of the hardware. Also, points were lost due to stuttering in high definition Real Media video streams. These decode for Real Media is not accelerated by the GPU and the Atom D525, without the aid of the ION, is not able to playback HD content stutter free."

    So streaming is not a good idea? Sound quality is not good ether? Then what's the point?
  • therealnickdanger - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    "stuttering in high definition Real Media video streams"

    "Real Media" being the point. I haven't seen, streamed, or downloaded a Real Media file since 2001, and even then I avoided them the best I could. That sentence doesn't apply to any other tested HD media, so I don't think you have to worry.

    That being said, I'll wait for the Core i3 model - if it comes. No bitstreaming, no sale.
  • ajlueke - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    Correct, a handful of media types do not support hardware acceleration from the ION. The Atom dual core is not capable of streaming playback stutter free in 1080p on its own in these scenarios.
  • IceDread - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    True, Real Media is not something I use normally. Bitsteaming however, as you pointed out, must work.

    When you say i3, which one's do you think about then?

    Personally I'm very interested in the coming cpu's with integrated gpu. Thou it's some time left before they come.
  • ProDigit - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    the core i5 is one of them.
  • therealnickdanger - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    I have personally used a Core i3-330UM laptop (Acer Timeline X) for bitstreaming lossless to my receiver. It handled Blu-ray flawlessly as well as every other file type I tried *except* it didn't handle 1080p Youtube quite as well, there were very mild frame skips depending on content. A higher speed i3M or an entry-level i5M would probably do the trick. Without the need for Ion, hopefully such a platform could fit into the same chassis. They draw similar power (~18W) and would possibly generate less heat than the Atom/Ion combo.

    I wish Newegg sold more notebook components. I would just build one myself.

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