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The HTPC Experience

Does Size Matter? Four Very Small Nettops Get Reviewed
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First, let’s use PCMark 7 to gauge whether these systems can handle high-def video. The following benchmark reflects each platform's ability to play back a 1080p H.264-encoded video file at 24 FPS:

According to this metric, you might think that each machine handles video similarly. In reality, though, it only really indicates that they all achieve the same baseline capability.

Blu-ray 3D Playback

We had no trouble playing back standard DVDs and Blu-ray discs on all four machines, taking us to Blu-ray 3D testing. This format yielded vastly different results, depending on the platform. 

ASRock's Vision HT 321B played back Blu-ray 3D content without any issues. We were impressed to see Intel's HD Graphics 4000 engine handle stereoscopic content in hardware.

Jetway's Mini-Top JBC700C9JG wouldn't work at all with Blu-ray 3D content. It didn't seem to be a matter of performance, but rather a driver issue. We weren't able to install Nvidia's newest GeForce driver build, and the 275.84 version that came bundled wasn't able to detect a 3D Vision dongle, inhibiting playback. We also tried using Nvidia’s Synergy (Optimus) software to divert playback duties, but Intel's HD Graphics 3000 engine wouldn't cooperate either.

Lenovo's Q180 came with promotional material that called out Blu-ray 3D support, and we almost got playback working perfectly. Almost. We noticed occasional skipping when we played Green Lantern in stereoscopic 3D. We tried alleviating the workload by disabling the video enhancement options, but they didn't make a difference. Unfortunately, we're unable to recommend the Q180 if you intend to watch movies in 3D.

Zotac's Zbox Nano XS AD11 Plus doesn't official support Blu-ray 3D. And while the feature technically works, playback is far too choppy to consider viable.

At the end of the day, then, the only system able to handle stereoscopic playback is ASRock’s Vision HT. Perhaps Jetway's other model (the one without GeForce GT 520M graphics) would fare better armed with Intel's HD Graphics engine on its own.

YouTube 1080p Playback

While all of the systems played back 1080p content from YouTube, Lenovo's Q180 suffered occasional skipped frame. Video was certainly watchable, but it wasn't ideal. The Zbox Nano XS appeared smoother, but we suspect it was dropping frames on occasion, too. The Jetway Mini-Top and ASRock Vision HT both handle this workload without a problem.

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