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My experience with the Zotac Zbox AD04, openELEC and XBMC - Printable Version

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My experience with the Zotac Zbox AD04, openELEC and XBMC - Willy0275 - 05-15-2012

When I was looking for a HTPC I came across a few posts on this forum, which helped me make my decisions, so I thought I'd write a report/review of my adventures. Only a few weeks ago, I did not know what XBMC was, even less openELEC! After doing some research, I was hooked on the idea of having a small Linux distribution dedicated to what seemed to be (and IS!) this great XBMC software. I'm mainly watching video files (MKV, MP4) in 720p and 1080p. Before this I was using my PS3 to watch my movies. The problem with the PS3 is that it won't play .MKV natively, so I had to either convert the files with mkv2vob or stream with the great PS3 Media Server. But streaming 1080p (a 8GB movie for example) would overload the wifi network, and some files had issues with sound. I also was sometimes using the Blu-ray player that came with the TV kit to watch my files, but it would sometimes suddenly stop the movie and get out. It was not recovering from internal "exceptions" very nicely. Enough was enough, I wanted to have the real, ultimate couch experience!

I decided to buy the Zotac Zbox AD04 PLUS (with the 320GB hard drive and 2GB memory). I'm not a Linux guy, so my expectations were to simply have to install stuff and it would run by itself. I would consider any required command-line intervention like a weakness of the product. Here's the list of my components, hardware and software:
  • 55" LED TV
  • 5.1 Receiver
  • 5.1 speaker set
  • PS3 (nothing to do with this review!)
  • 3TB 3.5" hard drive inside an external USB 3.0 enclosure (NTFS)
  • openELEC 1.95.3 Fusion build

My receiver has 4 HDMI inputs and one HDMI output to the TV. So the Zbox is connected through HDMI to the receiver for audio and video, and the receiver is connected through HDMI to the TV for video. My external hard drive is connected through USB to the Zbox.

Installation was a breeze! I created the openELEC installation USB key using the provided little program. I booted my Zbox, and everything went fine. I plugged in the external 3TB drive, and it was recognized right away. I plugged in the USB for the Zbox remote control, and I could start using the remote control right away. I even tested the official XBMC Android application, and it worked quite nicely.

My first main challenge was wifi, but it's probably on my side. When I was connecting to the Zbox with my PC and transferring files to either the internal or external hard drive, my maximum speed was 2.5MB/s. I thought it was because of NTFS or this or that, but after many tests I found out I could not connect to more than 802.11g, which is about 56mbps and including average correction and signal, would end up being exactly my speed of 2.5MB/s. I even purchased an Intel mini PCIE card to replace the one with the Zbox, but it didn't improve the speed. It could be my router... I will never know! I decided to make my cable company (internet provider) help me connect the Zotac a cat6 cable... (had to have a hole drilled at the bottom of a wall...) and since my router is a gigabit router, I'm now connected with a gigabit network. My transfer speed is 80MB/s to the internal Zbox hard drive, and 20MB/s to the external hard drive (limited by USB 2).

My second challenge was a strange problem when I was booting the Zotac with my external hard drive being plugged in the USB 3 port. The Zotac would freeze! This is a known problem. I had to disable a few things in the BIOS to make it work. But the related problem, and the thing that I'm not happy about, is that USB 3 with the Zbox AD04 is ONLY supported in Windows! This is not specified in their product's description! The BIOS won't recognize the ports as USB 3. It has to do with the ports being virtual USB 3 blabla... (more info can be found on the internet about this). So for now I'm using USB 2.0 for my external hard drive. One day I'll have a NAS connected in gigabit and will bypass this limitation.

My third "issue" was trying to make the remote controller be able to turn on the Zbox. It's actually impossible unless you put the Zbox to sleep when "switching it off". I tried, but I had too many problems with the Zbox coming back in XBMC in an unstable state. So it's OK, I resigned myself to push the ON button when I want to use the Zbox. I actually don't mind.

Overall, I'm very, very happy with my current setup. The Zbox, openELEC and XBMC are great products. The important thing is that it PLAYS EVERYTHING. I tried many type of video files, and also tested the CPUs. The most CPU usage I got when watching a 720p movie was around 12%, and I think 30% for a high bitrate 1080p movie. Did I say it plays everything? Yes! This is the most important part. Sometimes the voice of actors won't come out, but the sounds does. I'm not an expert but I'm sure it has to do with the way the different layers of sound are encoded in the movie. When it happens I switch from HDMI sound to Coaxial/Digital output sound and it works so far. Don't ask me why. XBMC is awesome because you can create bookmarks, something the darn PS3 or VLC can't do. I always wondered why. Well, now, I can create bookmarks. Too late to watch the end of the movie? Create a bookmark, and go to sleep. I also renamed the directories on my hard drive to make it possible for the IMDB plugin to find all movies and import to database. I had to change a couple of names to make it be able to match. But the library system is very sweet.

So, this review is too long already, I'd like to finish with a list of pros and cons for each of the three items.

openELEC

Pros
  • Easy to install
  • FAST to boot
  • Works right away

Cons
  • NO support for bluetooth. I think it's possible with command-line, but not with the GUI. As far as I'm concerned, if my sister can't set it up, it's unsupported. SSH to the box to start the detection program? What?

Zbox AD04

Pros
  • Small factor
  • Not expensive
  • Hardware is strong enough to play anything (using hardware acceleration)
  • Beside a few small bugs, works great!

Cons
  • NO support for UBS 3.0 outside of Windows. This is bad and false representation. I would not mind if they actually were upfront about it.
  • Buggy USB 3.0 port that will freeze the boot process. What did their tech support tell me? That I should plug my external hard drive only AFTER it did boot. Wow, thanks!
  • No built-in infrared for the remote control. It would be great if we could power up the device using the remote, but I think it would require a built-in, internal infrared and BIOS support.


XBMC

Pros
  • Played all the files I tried to far flawlessly!
  • Looks gorgeous!
  • So many options, skinning, etc makes it the best audio/video experience ever!
  • Bookmark creation, yeah!
  • Plugins system is very cool, allows you to run many third-party gadgets

Cons
  • XBC froze a few times when I was listening to music. It made my Zbox freeze and I had to reboot twice. I will assume it's a problem with XBMC but it could be many other things. I don't really care because listening to music is not why I'm mainly using the software for
  • You can't empty your whole library through the menu. You need to delete a .db file on the hard drive (or remove movies and shows one by one)

Well, that's it, I hope this can help some people with their decision-making process in the future.


Sv: My experience with the Zotac Zbox AD04, openELEC and XBMC - k1322 - 05-16-2012

Nice review and congratulations to migrating from your early year 2000 media solution Smile


Re: My experience with the Zotac Zbox AD04, openELEC and XBMC - lrusak - 05-16-2012

Willy0275 post=34196 Wrote:
  • You can't empty your whole library through the menu. You need to delete a .db file on the hard drive (or remove movies and shows one by one)
how about removing your video sources then running clean library? :pinch:


Re: My experience with the Zotac Zbox AD04, openELEC and XBMC - ack006 - 05-16-2012

Wow, thanks for the really nice review :-)

May I ask which version of OpenELEC you are using?
Latest devel builds should have USB 3.0 support right from boot, so if you're adventurous, you could try updating to one of those. Or you can wait for the official 2.0 version which is right around the corner.


Re: My experience with the Zotac Zbox AD04, openELEC and XBMC - Willy0275 - 05-16-2012

lrusak post=34240 Wrote:
Willy0275 post=34196 Wrote:
  • You can't empty your whole library through the menu. You need to delete a .db file on the hard drive (or remove movies and shows one by one)
how about removing your video sources then running clean library? :pinch:

Yeah but my "source" is always there because it's a mounted hard disk, so you're actually telling me I'd have to unplug my external hard disk and run "cleanup". Even if it worked, it would be a con because it's not very clean. They should definitely have a clear library option, and they don't


Re: My experience with the Zotac Zbox AD04, openELEC and XBMC - Willy0275 - 05-16-2012

ack006 post=34244 Wrote:Wow, thanks for the really nice review :-)

May I ask which version of OpenELEC you are using?
Latest devel builds should have USB 3.0 support right from boot, so if you're adventurous, you could try updating to one of those. Or you can wait for the official 2.0 version which is right around the corner.

You're welcome... and read more carefully! ;-) I'm stating in my review that I'm using openELEC 1.95.3 Fusion build. It's in system setup list.

As I said in my review, the problem is not with openELEC. The problem is that the Zbox AD04 doesn't have BIOS support for their USB 3.0 ports. They're not recognized by the machine as being USB 3.0 ports. Have a look at this thread:

http://openelec.tv/forum/65-storage/30306-usb3-hard-drive-does-not-mount-on-zotac-ad04


Re: My experience with the Zotac Zbox AD04, openELEC and XBMC - lrusak - 05-16-2012

Willy0275 post=34250 Wrote:Yeah but my "source" is always there because it's a mounted hard disk, so you're actually telling me I'd have to unplug my external hard disk and run "cleanup". Even if it worked, it would be a con because it's not very clean. They should definitely have a clear library option, and they don't

ok, well how about setting the content on your video source to "none" then cleaning library. It should remove everything from the database unless you have multiple source folders setup in which you would have to do that for each source :ohmy:


Re: My experience with the Zotac Zbox AD04, openELEC and XBMC - brando56894 - 06-01-2012

I just got a Zotac AD02 with an external 3TB and a OCZ Agility 60GB and it works pretty damn well, it plays high bitrate 1080P flawlessly, Avatar took up like 70% CPU with the Fusion E-350.

I just got everything setup yesterday, but the thing is IDK how I feel about OpenELEC in comparison to XBMCbuntu. I'm a huge Linux geek and I love to tweak things, install additional things and edit files directly. I'm finding this very hard (if not impossible) to do with OpenELEC, which is why I'm leaning towards XBMCbuntu. I have about 57GB free so I may just compromise and dual-boot both of them Big Grin


Re: My experience with the Zotac Zbox AD04, openELEC and XBMC - gabbott - 06-03-2012

Willy0275 post=34250 Wrote:
lrusak post=34240 Wrote:
Willy0275 post=34196 Wrote:
  • You can't empty your whole library through the menu. You need to delete a .db file on the hard drive (or remove movies and shows one by one)
how about removing your video sources then running clean library? :pinch:

Yeah but my "source" is always there because it's a mounted hard disk, so you're actually telling me I'd have to unplug my external hard disk and run "cleanup". Even if it worked, it would be a con because it's not very clean. They should definitely have a clear library option, and they don't

Sure they do... Go to that source and go to update content from the context menu. Set the content type to none and XBMC will ask if you want to remove all items from the library that are in that source.

This is a better option because it allows one to selectively remove items per source and if say one wants to wipe movies while keeping tv shows.


Re: My experience with the Zotac Zbox AD04, openELEC and XBMC - Willy0275 - 06-03-2012

gabbott post=36027 Wrote:
Willy0275 post=34250 Wrote:
lrusak post=34240 Wrote:
Willy0275 post=34196 Wrote:
  • You can't empty your whole library through the menu. You need to delete a .db file on the hard drive (or remove movies and shows one by one)
how about removing your video sources then running clean library? :pinch:

Yeah but my "source" is always there because it's a mounted hard disk, so you're actually telling me I'd have to unplug my external hard disk and run "cleanup". Even if it worked, it would be a con because it's not very clean. They should definitely have a clear library option, and they don't

Sure they do... Go to that source and go to update content from the context menu. Set the content type to none and XBMC will ask if you want to remove all items from the library that are in that source.

This is a better option because it allows one to selectively remove items per source and if say one wants to wipe movies while keeping tv shows.

Ah, thanks for the tip, I'll try that next time I need it. They could have made it a little easier by simply allowing "Update library" to remove undetected media directly, no? The update will add new movies, I don't understand why it won't clean it up (with some confirmation, you don't want to erase your whole library if you simply forgot to plug in your USB drive for example).