Hands On With ZvBox

At a (work) event in NYC last week, I managed to sneak in a few minutes with the ZvBox. The device essentially broadcasts all PC output over existing coaxial cable to a television in your home. Unlike a typical media extender or something like the D-Link PC-on-TV device, the ZvBox sits at the computer and supports multiple televisions – which they’re hoping helps consumers justify the steep $500 price tag. (ZvBox can currently be pre-ordered via Amazon, with shipments expected to begin in the next week or so.)

The box itself is solidly constructed and looks sharp, though it runs quite hot – the result of forgoing a fan and using the case as a giant heatsink. The typical current usage scenario is controlling a web browser or media player, as you would from a computer, using the 2-way remote with integrated touchpad – to playback Hulu, YouTube, downloaded shows, etc. Select web video content will ultimately be presented directly within their interface and played at full screen – in many cases indexing shows via RSS. Quality looks good (as good as the source, anyway) with the ZvBox supporting up to 1080i and 5.1 audio – essentially streaming nearly anything the PC can throw at it. One feature I’d like to see them integrate into their software/experience, and something that the forthcoming SlingCatcher offers, is the ability to selectively isolate a video window and present that content fullscreen – assuming of course that the box or PC can do a better job scaling than Flash.

As more primary STBs and network-connected televisions offer the ability to access Internet video (YouTube on TiVo, Veoh on Verizon) and/or act as media extenders (HP MediaSmart HDTVs), the desire for stand-alone devices such as these may dwindle… In fact, the Yankee Group predicts the demise of the DMA product category.

21 thoughts on “Hands On With ZvBox”

  1. Looks pretty cool. Not in my price range for that kind of a device but still I can see how it would be very useful for those that have the cash.

  2. Dave,
    That is not a DMA, in fact I’d argue it is the opposite of a DMA.

    A DMA IP enabled your TV to access PC content and thus you need one on every TV.

    The ZvBox converts PC output to standard QAM output, so one will work on every TV in the house.

    Sure, the end game is the same, I don’t’ see them as in the same category.

    I think this box will get more interesting when they move into the custom integrators market, but we’ve talked about that before and I know you don’t agree.

  3. This is the equivalent of the iPod FM transmitters only they work with your TV. The simplicity of this solution is also its downfall; if you live in a apartment in any big city, chances are your nieghbours will be able to pick up your broadcast too. That means that anything private displayed on your computer screen (pictures or pron) will be there for all to see…
    I really like the concept but I would rather the Zvbox transmit over Cat5 or wifi to a small receiver like the roku netflix box. That way we’d have IP data with some form of basic security rather than public broadcast.

  4. The only reason for this device is the fact that no media extender/streamer/whatever has as good of a codec/format support as a properly configured PC (which could be a major pain although for me CCCP+CoreAVC works wonders under VMC).

    I also don’t understand what’s the big deal about supporting multiple TVs if — as it appears — all of the TV will show the same video stream. And even if they somehow managed to overcome that, then the host PC will be the bottleneck (e.g. playing multiple HD streams at once).

  5. @Ben I use “media extender” and “DMA” liberally/broadly to cover any sort of device that gets computer-based media to a TV. This one is obviously somewhat unique in that the “box” resides at the computer instead of television. It’s essentially the same functionality and essentially the same target audience, so yes I’ll lump them all together.

    @Ivan Instead of buying two (or more) boxes, say Apple TVs or SlingCathcers, you buy one ZvBox and can access it from any TV in the house. But yes, it’d the same stream at any given moment. But there’s probably a group of folks who want to watch Hulu in more than one room, or allowing the kids to watch YouTube from the basement and later you watch ABC.com or whatever from the bedroom. However, I’m not sure if it’s enough to overcome the $500 entrance fee.

  6. @Dave — I understand how it works, but I just don’t see a huge appeal if you have a multi-TV household. The solution that I’d want for my situation is ability to view two+ streams at once. Plus, as you mention $500 is pretty pricey — that’s enough for 2-3 media devices (Sage HD, PCH, etc.).

  7. 1) I think this is a very cool idea.

    2) Yes its too expensive. But I could handle it if there were some positive reviews from people who’d really used it. I get the impression you didn’t even get to play with it, since the picture of the remote has the LCD off…

    3) DCR TVs only… I wouldn’t really say that’s “every TV in your house”. In my house it would only work with the primary HDTV. The others aren’t DCR ready. Don’t think I care though…

    4) Its not just the codec support, its all the navigation stuff etc that assumes you can type, scroll around with the mouse, click, etc. I assume the permanently delayed SlingCatcher is trying to deal with that issue. When/if it ever comes out we’ll see how well it works with that. Most of the other DMA boxes simply don’t try and deal with this.

    But imagine… anything you can do on your PC you can do on your TV. Would you read email and browse the web? Maybe not, would have to see how readable the text is from 12 feet away. But Hulu and DrHorrible and the Daily Show and all of the network web sites and … that would be cool.

  8. @Glenn I did get to play with it, a decent amount actually. The SlingCatcher doesn’t have a two-way remote, so the “Sling Projector” screen scraping feature is always initiated at the computer. The D-Link unit I mentioned above includes a two-way remote like the ZvBox but opted for a trackball versus the touchpad – however the D-Link video resolution and audio output is limited and not on par with ZvBox. The touchpad was a little challenging to use, though I was on pre-release software and I’m told the control/accuracy will improve by launch. The ZvBox remote has those two dedicated mouse buttons and you can “type” via triple-tap using the number keys, though you’d probably want to use their Dashboard and/or rely on shortcuts when possible. Their website indicates a wireless keyboard is also on the way.

  9. Dave – I feel like there is some meat still missing from your review if you did get to play with it a decent amount of time. I don’t see anywhere, would you buy it, would you recommend it, how was the non video experience (i.e. web browsing, using PC applications, etc…), how was hi def video content, does it mess up your cable signal, etc… I have been swaying back and forth about whether to purchase one. One interesting note, I have a Blu Ray/HD DVD drive on my PC, so essentially with the ZvBox I can watch Blu Ray/HD DVD on any tv in my house via my computer without having an actual player hooked up to a tv (curious if the ZvBox can really broadcast 1080i)

  10. @Damian A “decent amount of time” at a press event is nowhere near a full-on review after living with a product. Having said that, I thought video looked decent, though we were streaming mostly lower resolution video off an average looking laptop. I’d also be interested in seeing streaming Blu-ray or HD Xvid from a decent computer at home.

    As far as basic web surfing, I wouldn’t recommend using any device (Zv, D-Link, Catcher, etc) given most television viewing distances. You’re normally very close to a computer screen and can consume all the text and smaller elements – at 8′ or whatever, it’s not ideal. Basic web browsing to find content via ZvBox was OK. And as you can see from the interface in the top picture, they’ve also tried to provide more of the lean-back couch interaction.

    Would I buy it? Probably not. At least not at this price. I have two primary televisions, and only one has a tuner. So the multiple television argument doesn’t help me. I also haven’t found a lot of compelling web content to stream… If Hulu offered full seasons of everything, I’d feel differently. I can already send local video files to my Xbox and my TiVo(s) – they’re not codec independent like the ZvBox is, but it’s mostly sufficient for my needs. I also have the Roku Netflix box, which has a decent quantity of television content – it’s low-def but higher resolution than the Hulu stuff I’d be scraping. For folks without all the devices I have, with multiple compatible televisions, working with other containers (like mkv), etc it could very well be worthwhile – I especially like that dashboard aggregater they’ve built and the remote seemed to have great range through some serious concrete and metal construction.

  11. I wanted to know if you tried playing video games using the system, or if there is too much lag time.

    Also were you able to try it with the keyboard that is comming out for it?

  12. Did you try playing back a Bluray from Powerdvd etc .. ? if not please try it out and let us know if the ZeeBox can handle it , a CS rep from them wrote me back and said they have not tried it (?) but said it should work fine


  13. Dave – thanks for the response. I got a little excited when I finally saw someone that had posted a review, but understandably so you just didn’t have that much time with it. I am just surprised that with only a week to go until shipment, the folks at ZeeVee have not made this product more available to people like you to review. For the price they are asking that is quite steep for someone to go out and purchase as a leap of faith (I have preordered and canceled my order of the ZvBox at least twice now on Amazon!!!!). In my discussions back and forth with the folks at ZeeVee they seem to think you would not had to sit up close to your tv to web browse, but as you said, I find that hard to believe. Given the price of their product and the hurting economy, ZeeVee should be going out of their way to get this product in the public’s hands to prove it is worth the price. I am going to “re” cancel my “re” preorder for the 3rd time, just don’t get a comfortable feeling quite yet that so few people have gotten their hands on t his product with only a week left until release…

  14. @spencer I didn’t try games and I didn’t see the keyboard.

    @Damian I expect you’ll see formal reviews right around launch or shortly thereafter.

    One thing I forgot to mention, and I’m not sure how many people this would be an issue for but the ZvBox is VGA pass-thru only – no DVI. On my Vista Media Center I have both DVI and VGA out – wonder if I’d have enough horsepower to simultaneously go digital to my LCD and VGA to a ZvBox.

  15. I forgot to ask are you able to use vista tablet controls to control the screen such as using the remote mouse for handwriting or the vista tablet keyboard for text entry?


    and thanks for the quick reply to my earlier questions

  16. Hi guys. This is Brian from ZeeVee. A few answers:

    * Just like any other channel you watch on TV (CBS, ABC), Zv is a channel that all can watch at the same time from different HDTVs in the home. The value is no clutter in the living room and one box (at the computer) driving multiple HDTVs. Yes, if you are happy with a direct PC-to-TV connection you probably would not get ZvBox (but I think you might want to buy just the ZvRemote, which would be a better experience than having a computer on your lap).
    * Web surfing LOOKS GREAT with ZvBox. Is is very possible now (finally). ZvRemote touchpad helps you get around and there is an on-screen keyboard to enter URLs, etc.
    * The current chip platform will support up to 1080i in an upcoming software release. Currently our HDTV channel localcasts in 720P. There really is no noticable loss in resolution from Internet TV sites that play HD content like Hulu and ABC.com.
    * Real-time video games are not recommended, since there is a slight delay, but many online, strategic, quizz, children’s games work fine.
    * Also, remember that if you were to buy a STB-device (AppleTV, Roku/Netflix, etc.) you will be limited as to what content you can watch. ZvBox gives you everything (including iTunes and Netflix, Unbox, local media, computer’s DVD players, browsing, email, etc.) so it really is a “super box” that combines all these other devices. Gentlemen, it is time to get rid of all that clutter in your living room and get the one device you need- ZvBox. :-)

  17. BTW, the Review units have gone out. Dave, our PR firm has been trying to contact you to know where to send yours. Please let us know and I will send you your very own ZvBox for evaluation.

  18. Dave – did you finally get a ZvBox to play with? Curious to hear your thoughts, do you still agree with what you posted previously “At $500, I’d rather buy a small, dedicated computer to watch Netflix, Hulu, etc on my television.”


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