There aren't many things we love more than when a new gadget comes along that is nothing like anything we've ever seen, so when we first heard about a box that streams HD around the house on the existing coax that is in just about every abode in America, we got pretty excited. Lucky for us, we were able to pull a ZeeVee ZvBox in for review, and after a few setbacks during setup, we were left playing with something pretty unique. The problem of course is that unique isn't really a compliment, but it can be if it just happens to be the solution you're looking for. So if you've been scouting a way to get web content on your HDTV without running any wires and without being forced to deal with a STB or the headaches that come with a wireless device, click on through to see what all the fuss is about.
Hands-on and unboxing: ZeeVee'z ZvBox
The Get Going Guide and packaging show that ZeeVee has put a lot of thought into this device and are doing everything they can to make it live up to the premium price, but like any new technology, it isn't flawless. We wish we could say that we had the ZvBox working right out of the box, but we didn't. Part of the problem was that our environment didn't meet the requirements, but part of it was that the device was just plain buggy. At first, we were ready to give ZeeVee a hard time, but then we remembered that this box just came to market, and more importantly, it does something we've never seen done before. Don't kid yourself, there is nothing trivial about creating your own HD QAM channel, which is what you're doing. Believe it or not, this is the first QAM / ATSC RF modulator ever available to consumers and something that wasn't even possible for less than the price of some cars only a year ago -- just think for a second, this little box is a real time HD encoder that at the same time is like a mini cable company head-end. So while we had to run setup a few times to get things up and running, after we did, there is no doubt in our mind that this box does just what ZeeVee set out to do.
- Sends high quality HD via coax to any TV with a QAM tuner in the house -- obviously, garbage in, garbage out still applies.
- Useful software that looks good and makes it easy to navigate tons of web content effortlessly.
- Nice packaging
- Good documentation
- No CD to install (device shows up as USB drive with the install files)
- Mouse pad on the RF remote -- you can use up to 8 remotes
- No STB required
- Complicated setup -- coax splitters, RF remotes, oh my!
- PC Only -- Mac support in the works
- QAM tuner requried
- Box runs hot! -- which we'll take over loud fans, ten to one.
- VGA only -- damn HDCP
- 720p only -- 1080i in the works
- Your PC's video card must be capable of 1,280 x 720
- Audio via USB only
- Stereo only -- 5.1 in the works
- Remote lag -- ZeeVee is working on this.
- Blue light is too bright, should be adjustable
- Cost: $500
Revolutionary instead of evolutionary?
In the HD industry (gadgets in general) things are very evolutionary, so when a new device comes along that is nothing like anything else, it is common for it to be misunderstood. The HDHomeRun was a great example of this, as when it first came out, no one "got it," but now it's hard to go to any HTPC forum without seeing it recommended. We're not sure the ZvBox will ever be as popular as the HDHomeRun, but one thing is for sure: what it does is pretty unique. Sure, there are plenty of ways to get web content on your TV, from simply buying a PC and hooking it on up, to more set-top streaming devices than you can shake a stick out. What makes the ZvBox different is that it isn't a set-top-box, but a PC-top-box instead. The distinction is important because while there are some who would never consider hooking up a set-top-box to their beautiful 60-inch plasma, who cares if there is yet another box next to the PC. So while the ZvBox does something we've never seen done before -- although the results are similar to many other devices -- it is directed at a very niche market: it is focused on people who want to bring web content to their HDTV without the need of a STB, and at the same time use the existing coax in the house.
So with the disclaimer out of the way, although the ZvBox does a great job on what it sets out to do, we wonder how many will actually be interested in what it has to offer. The way we see it, is that for $500, you could almost as easily connect a dedicated PC to your HDTV, but again you'd have a another box in your living room. So the question really comes down to how much are you willing to spend to eliminate the box next to your TV,without running extra wires through your house -- we suspect, not much? We are, however, really impressed with ZeeVee's technology and can imagine many similar devices that we would easily pay $500 for. Personally, we'd rather have a ZvBox with component and toslink input and a built in IR repeater so we could easily hide any STB we wanted in a remote closet, without running any wires in our house, but that's us. So the bottom line is that if the ZvBox is just what you've been looking for to watch Hulu on your HDTV, and you wouldn't even blink an eye at spending $500 to do it, then it's perfect, but the rest of us can keep waiting.