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ZAGGbox Media Server Preview




  • Product Name: ZAGGbox
  • Manufacturer: ZAGG
  • Review Date: February 01, 2010 06:35
  • MSRP: $999 ($799 preorder price)
  • First Impression: Mildly Interesting
Hard Disk
100 Base-T
802.11b/g/n; Ad-Hoc Open with WEP or Infrastructure Open with WEP, WPA-PSK with TKIP or AES
SMB (Microsoft Windows share) or UPnP
Audio ADC
Video Decoder
MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4.2, WMV9, VC-1, MPEG4.10(H.264)/AVC, DivX®, Xvid
HD Encoder
10X compression for HD .mov files; 50X-100X compression for iPhone platform
3 component, 2 composite video/S-Video, 5 USB 2.0, 8-1 Multi ready (SD, Xd, MMC) SD card reader

There are a few devices that have really captured the public's attention before they are released. Most of those from the AV or techie camps have a fruit stamped on them somewhere. But occasionally something is released that also gets some press. This is the case with the ZAGGbox. Anyone that has used a universal remote can tell you how much easier it can make your life. Similarly, DVR and TiVo users will often claim that they don't know how they got along without digital recording. Take the two and slap them in the same box and you've got a device that is of interest to a lot of people.

Let's look first at the connections of the ZAGGbox. On the front you have a 8-1 Multi ready SD card reader, a USB port, and an SD input (analogue stereo, composite, and s-video). On the back you'll see three high definition inputs consisting of component video and a choice of digital audio (coax or TOSLink) and a second standard definition input. The three HD inputs (component video only) can also be connected to SD sources by composite video and analogue stereo audio inputs. On the output side there are component video, composite video, both types of digital audio, stereo analogue, and HDMI 1.1. The HDMI output is, of course, both audio and video.


In addition, there are a number of other connections back there. First you'll notice at least one and possibly up to three WiFi antenna connection points (no pictures with antenna could be found and the units running in at CES didn't have any installed). There is also a connection point labeled "Z-wave" which is a wireless RF standard for controlling home automation devices like lights, appliances, and home automation. Home automation control will not be available at launch but will be a feature released at a later time. There is a line of IR blaster inputs flanked by four USB inputs. Above the USB ports there are two Ethernet connections for networking.

The real question you should have at this point is, "What does the the ZAGGbox do?" Well, we're not entirely sure but from what we've seen it is looking to become an almost all in one switching/recording/streaming solution. According to reports and the demos at CES 2010, the ZAGGbox has its own interface which allows you to switch between inputs extremely quickly (not a big deal, since everything is analogue and we didn't really run into input switching delays until HDMI graced us with HDCP copy protection), record anything you see, and stream it to your display or your mobile device. That's right, the ZAGGbox will ship (estimated around March or April) with a iPhone app with ones for Blackberry and Droid platforms to follow. The iPhone app allows you not only to view stored content but also to control the ZAGGbox.

The question that doesn't seem to be answered as of yet is how exactly that works. While the streaming is fairly obvious, recording is not. Files, when ripped from an input to the 1 terabyte hard drive, will be stored in two formats. The first will be a 10x compressed version for playback on high definition sources like your display in your home theater. This compression codec allows for a greater amount of data to be stored in a smaller space. With the four rear USB ports used to expand the storage capacity of the ZAGGbox, the storage potential is effectively limitless. The same recording will also be stored in a more compressed version (50x-100x compression) for playback over the iPhone and other mobile devices. This will limit the amount of data that will be streamed and also, according to ZAGG, provide a clear and stutter-free picture. The question remains is whether or not the ZAGGbox can be "set" like a DVR with a programming guide for future recording or if you can only record what you see. We are guessing it is the latter.


This is not a huge check in the Cons column for the ZAGGbox but it may just change people's perception of the device. Basically, you are looking at a glorified (and way more powerful) VCR. You can record what goes in but only in real time. This will actually give a few users some functionality they really want. For example, if you are looking for backup copies of some of your programs (or maybe you want to be able to stream a program you watch regularly on your iPhone), you can take it from your DVR to you ZAGGbox where it can be stored and streamed. Video games can be recorded as can any other input that is run through the ZAGGbox. Right now, with current DVR technology, only TV content can be stored on the DVR hard drive.

But that's not all the ZAGGbox can do. With its three IR blaster outputs it can control multiple devices (with a double IR flasher plugged into each blaster, upt to six). The ZAGGbox remote modifies the functions of its buttons based on what device you are controlling. If all of this sounds very familar - it should. All universal remote controls do the same and Yamaha's neoHD Media Controller came with many of the same functions. The difference is while the Yamaha was a receiver with streaming and universal remote, the ZAGGbox is a recording device with universal remote and streaming capabilities.

The streaming doesn't stop with the content stored on the hard drive however (all reports, by the way, indicate that the ZAGGbox MUST have the content stored on the drive to stream - no real time streaming), it is also networked. This means that you can stream from any computer that is on the network. You can also transfer those networked files from a computer to the ZAGGbox for backup or streaming to a mobile device. There was an indication that you could share these files with friends and family but it is unclear if they will need to have their own ZAGGbox (we presume so) and if this will be automatic or if they will need to access a web interface (we believe that streaming from a web interface will be available from launch with the Blackberry followed by a dedicated app later). Regardless of how it works, it looks like ZAGG is pulling out all the stops with this box.


The detractors are already lined up with their, "But I can do all this for cheaper with an HTPC solution," posts - and they are right. With a pretty basic HTPC, a Slingbox, a universal remote, and a decent receiver you can do all this and more. But the fact is that ZAGG has put it all in their ZAGGbox for you with a nifty interface. For us the real problem is the complete lack of HDMI inputs - likely due to the limitations of HDCP copy protection. Without them, the ZAGGbox can never receive HD audio and most Blu-ray players don't upconvert over component. If the ZAGGbox doesn't have a guide (and we don't think it will), then how interested is the public going to be in having both a DVR and a ZAGGbox? We're not sure. At $800, the streaming to an iPhone is cool but without replacing or TiVo or DVR, we don't have a lot of confidence that this one will take off.

Unless otherwise indicated, this is a preview article for the featured product. A formal review may or may not follow in the future.

About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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