Zotac has made quite a name for itself with its mini-PC products.  The ZBOX offering aims at bringing an affordable Blu-Ray equipped HTPC option to the masses for some time now. Look no further than our review of the Zotac ZBOX HD-ID11 to see what the fuss has been about.

Over the last 12 months, however, the relevance of the Atom/ION combination has been steadily diminishing.  The release of Clarkdale and Arrandale based systems have bared many of the shortcomings of the ION platform. It is extremely surprising to find a product refresh this late into 2010 willing to still utilize the Atom/ION2 combination.  Zotac has released two versions of this box, the HD-ID33BR-U and the HD-ID34BR-U.  The units are identical in terms of the system platform and specifications although the HD-ID34BR-U comes with a few extras, which I will touch upon further on in the review.    

On a technical level, the Intel Atom, paired with Nvidia’s Ion, falls short of some of the other solutions out there. However, the Zotac ZBOX HD-ID34, makes a different kind of statement., realized as soon as one pulls it out of the box. With a slim form factor and light weight, but solid feel, the HD-ID34BR-U has more of a resemblance to other elegant home theater components than the more utilitarian media streaming boxes and HTPCs released in the past.  What Zotac has done here, is take a page out of Apple’s book and designed a HTPC with a styling that may draw in consumers regardless of the hardware found within.  Most of the visitors I’ve had over since receiving the review unit did not realize that this thing was a PC. Instead they thought it was an impressive blu-ray player, which in many ways, it is.

Specification and Design
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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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