Zotac ZBox TV Media Player Review
I’ve grown tired of yearly increases in my cable bill, so I’ve been keeping an eye out for alternatives to cable where I can still access the programming I like. Thanks to various family members, friends and co-workers, I’ve been introduced to TV media players. I was researching the topic over the past few months to find the best device for my media streaming and storage needs when I stumbled across a growing trend in home theater PC (HTPC) devices. These media center computers are sold barebones, so you can add in components to create a customized personal computer to go along with the media player software application that allows for video, audio and photo playback.
Since I’m fairly comfortable configuring electronics, I thought I would start researching this area of TV media player options. One device that caught my interest is the Zotac ZBox Intel Atom D525 1.8 GHz dual core barebones mini-PC ZBox-ID41-U, or Zotac ZBox ID41-U for short. It provides the technologies for personal computing and media playing, streaming and Internet browsing
Customize Your ZBox
When you receive the Zotac ZBox, you have to decide whether you want to use it as a personal computer, a media player, or both. Your decision will determine whether you need to purchase additional components before setting up the box. If you want to use it as a mini PC, then you need to install a hard disk drive, memory, an optical drive and an operating system, none of which are included and need to be purchased separately.
If you want to use the ZBox as a TV media player, then simply plug the device into your television and electrical outlet and begin transferring your files from your computer, external storage devices, mobile devices, or wherever you have your media files stored. The ZBox ID41-U gives you one organized spot for all your media files.
You have the option of running software like XBMC to turn your media player into a complete home theater PC (HTPC). The software enables you to view media files stored on your PC on your big screen TV. Unfortunately, the box does not have a built-in tuner, but the included next generation NVIDIA ION GPU with 512 MB DDR3 memory and Intel NM10 Express chipset allows for adequate playing of HD videos. In addition to media playback, the barebones mini-PC ZBox-ID41-U is ideal for surfing the Web, however it’s not the best for gaming.
Just a suggestion, check the Zotac website (http://www.zotacusa.com/products/mini-pcs/zbox) for any updated drivers and BIOS upgrades once you’ve powered up the device. Also take advantage of the included VESA mount because this Zotac ZBox attaches nicely to the back of a flat screen TV or a computer monitor to save space.
Using the TV Media Player
Thanks to its onboard capabilities, there are many ways in which you can use the Zotac ZBox barebones mini PC and media player. In addition, the ID41-U is one of the fastest ZBox models available, so you’re going to get fast processing for whatever task you’re doing.
I’m using my Zotac as a TV media player and a media storage device for my movies, music and photos. But I also know people who installed add-ons and are using the Zotac ID41-U as a primary XBMC box so they can play videos, podcasts and music from the Internet on their HDTVs, as well as digital media files from their local and network storage devices. Using the Zotac as an XBMC also enables you to access online content service providers, such as Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Spotify and Pandora Radio.
It’s also possible to use the Zotac box to set up a Myth TV frontend so your computer or TV can perform network streaming, digital video recording, home theater personal computing, or digital multimedia home entertainment system activities.
The Zotac ZBox barebones mini-PC ZBox-ID41-U is manufactured by Zotac International, a global producer of NVIDIA VGA and motherboard solutions. The ZBox measures 11 inches long, 7.4 inches wide and 1.73 inches in depth, and weighs four pounds.
The ZBox-ID41-U is a barebones model, which means it has no RAM, HDD and OS. However, it is equipped with many top-end components. It is CPU integrated with an Intel Atom D525 1.8 GHz dual core, with an Intel NM10 Express chipset. Its memory size is 4GB, with two 204-pin SO-DIMM memory slots, 6-in-1 memory card reader and a DDR3 800 SO-DIMM memory type.
Onboard video is provided by Next Generation NVIDIA ION with 512MB DDR3 memory, onboard audio is a digital S/PDIF audio output and onboard LAN is 10/100/1000Mbps, WiFi 802.11n/g/b. There is one 3.0 Gbps SATA, and one each HDMI (1080p with eight-channel audio) and dual-link DVI video ports. USB ports include two USB 3.0s on the back panel and four USB 2.0s, with two on the back panel, one on the front panel and one on the top panel. The device runs on a DC19V power connector.
The box also features NVIDIA nView multi-display technology, NVIDIA PureVideo HD technology, Adobe Flash Player 10.1 acceleration and DirectX 10.1. It is also compatible with OpenGL, OpenGL 3.2, and Integrated 802.11n WiFi, and is DirectCompute ready. The Zotac ZBox 41-U also has a headphone/audio out jack and a microphone jack on its front panel.
Customized Functionality as a PC or Media Player
The ZBox-ID41-U is considered a mini PC because it provides the backbone for the necessary components to turn it into a computing machine. It is also powered with leading architectures to ensure high performance and an energy efficient computer. You’ll find it very easy to install the hard drive into the compartment provided by just unscrewing two screws on the ZBox and to access the dual in-line memory module to expand computing capabilities.
But the ZBox 41-U also serves a dual purpose as a media player, with video and audio technologies that provide high quality graphics and sound. I like the customized functionality this device provides because it gives you the option of creating a home theater PC system that suits your specific needs. The Zotac ZBox is ideal for those looking for an alternative to expensive cable bills. You can access broadcast TV using Windows Media Center, or if you subscribe to an online content provider, such as Netflix, you can view movies and other offerings as well.
Of course, the Zotac media player is perfect for media storage, playing your own media, web surfing, checking email and word processing. For very little investment, you can customize a nice media center for yourself and a pretty decent computer as well.
Since this is a barebones system that allows you to customize the device to your needs, the Zotac ZBox ID41-U only comes with the essentials. When you purchase the media player, you’ll receive inside the box:
- The Zotac ZBox ID41-U Intel Atom D525 1.8 GHz dual core barebones mini computer media box,
- Power brick and cable,
- VESA monitor mount with four screws,
- Vertical stand,
- DVI to VGA adapter.
You can install, by purchasing separately, a hard drive, memory and operating system to create a home theater PC. But sorely missing from the included components is a remote control.
The price range on the Zotac ZBox ID41 is so vast, it’s worth the time to shop around. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $249.99, but online prices range from $229.99 to $450. Sears has it for $220.64, while the Walmart price is $235.97. Some prices includes shipping, others do not.
What Others Are Saying
When it comes to the Zotac ZBox ID41, there are those who love it and those who hate it. It appears that most of the people who are not pleased with the device either received a defective unit or were unaware of its functionality and capabilities. Those who did not like the mini PC media player found issues with certain components, such as the Intel Atom CPU, USB 3.0 ports and 4G limitations. Others did not find it useful for media streaming, 1080 video, or wireless capabilities. But there were many others who found the Zotac ZBox ideal as a mini PC, a home entertainment media center, or a media storage device. Here are some of the positive and negative comments others are saying about the Zotac media device:
- “I use this box as a living room media center connected to a remote media server. I successfully set it up using both Linux and Windows 7 64, though for 3D compatibility with my TV I was forced to use Windows 7 for now.”
- “A surprisingly featureful mini PC that uses only 25W fully loaded out. I selected this mini-PC for its small footprint and dual-core 64-bit-capable processor, to run lightweight Linux-based services. I’m using Ubuntu 11.04 (Server, 64-bit), which runs fine, supporting the Zbox’s AHCI SATA and Realtek-based gig-ethernet without any additional config. The unit opens easily, the inside looks solid, neat, and well-designed, with no cables in the way. The glossy case and bright power LED are a touch of pleasing bling. There’s a ton of external connectors/connection-types considering how small this thing is. It uses AmiBIOS and boots very rapidly at default settings. Loaded out with a 7200rpm 320GB drive, and 4GB of Crucial DDR3-1333, keyboard, and using the DVI output, my KillAWatt shows only 25W power draw. Adding a USB-powered external DVD-ROM drives that up to a still-miserly 33W during software installation. The only quibble I have is that the air intake is on the side of the unit that sits nearly flush to the included stand; the air coming out of the top vent is pretty warm, it would be nice to have some way to increase airflow. But pleasing to see the common-sense top-placement of the exhaust. No complaints so far. Recommended.”
- “I am very impressed with this little box. I have a 60BG SSD installed with 4GB of RAM running XBMC. No complaints at all. I have a wired connection to my server to stream videos/TV Episodes. No issues with streaming Blu Ray quality content.”
- “Well I like the size. It can be a pain to load an OS onto it if you’re not familiar with or have an operating system to load from a flash drive or eSata drive. It doesn’t recognize any external USB DVD-ROM drive. That in itself is real deal killer for me, since I prefer to have the option to use one with my device. I found it to run okay when just browsing and the ports do function okay, decent enough speeds and transfer rates. So if you’re not going to do any serious work and want to use Linux, it may be for you. Otherwise, pre-load Windows 7 or 8 on the hard-drive before placing in the unit and then install the drivers via USB.”
- “I did a lot of research before choosing this for my HTPC solution, and it’s exceeded my expectations.”
- “This thing RULES. The Atom processor can only handle opening 1 process at a time, to be expected, however the processor is substantially supported by the 750gb SSD Hybrid and 4GB DDR3 RAM I threw in it. The onboard wifi card ain’t too bad either. I use the LAN, but wifi still works regardless. 6 USB ports with the addition of a 4port USB hub doesn’t have me worried about USB availability, the SD slot is an added huge bonus, as is HDMI. This thing seriously rules. Everything worked flawlessly, no power supply=less noise and better cooling, speaking of cooling, if you use the upward stand and leave the unit standing upright you decrease CPU temps by 10C easily. Would, will, buy again. Solid product.”
- “The hardware sounds formidable: gig E-net, Nvidia Video, but the non starter is the Atom processor! What a DAWG! And the fact that 4GB is the max you can load it with rules out the x64 operating systems (Windows in particular). It may be great for Ubuntu or other non-Windows OS’s, but there are better deals out there for a HTPC!”
- “This pretty much hit exactly what I was looking for. A front-end HTPC to stream my library from my storage back-end. If I had it to do over again, I would buy something with a beefier CPU, there seems to be some stuttering from time to time and I think it just barely meets the needs for decoding video on the fly.”
- “I bought this to be a Media center PC to stream music/videos from my server. Also to do Netflix. Paired with a 32GB Kingston SSD and 1333 speed Memory. It will not stream Netflix in HD it’s jumpy. I tried both Windows7 Prof 32bit and 64 bit. The 64bit is far worse. Turning video quality down from best to better in account settings fixes the jumpiness. BUT COME ON! I WANT HD!!! No issues streaming music or videos from my server via integrated WiFi. It does get rather warm and it does have one internal fan on the cpu that ducts out the side (When mounted on the stand the duct points conveniently up). The glowy blue circle looks cool when it is on.”
- “I would really give this device a 3.5 star. It’s not a powerhouse and you should not expect that from it, but it does what I need it to do. I am using this as a HTPC and it works and plays all my video formats with XBMC, Windows Media Center works fine as well but it does not natively play all video formats, most but not all. Do not populate this system with less than 2Gb ram, (performance might not be great). The system populated with 4gb performs smoothly. It will not run as fast as an I3 but you just have to expect that. This is also a great little PC for the parents to surf the web and do their little things :). No need to waste a nice powerhouse machine and video card on the parents. Low cost for a lot of ports…and mid-range graphics. I would rate the graphics as a 4.5 scale out of 10. 10 being a super fast gaming machine.”
Where Can I Buy the TV Media Player?
The Zotac ZBox barebones media center computer is available from two sellers on Amazon. It can also be purchased from online electronic stores and various brick-and-mortar retailers, among them Sears and Walmart. Although Zotac has an online store, it only features three products with the prices and add to cart capability. It appears you have to open an account to see all the prices of its ZBoxes.
Where Can I Read More Reviews for the TV Media Player?
Amazon has the most reviews for the Zotac ZBox Intel Atom D525 1.8 GHz dual core barebones mini-PC ZBox-ID41-U. Very few online electronics and computer websites have reviews available and of those that do, the number of reviews is under 10. Amazon, on the other hand, has over 50 unbiased reviews written by actual consumers who purchased the product, as opposed to professional reviewers who received the product for free in exchange for a review.