ASRock started introducing small form factor (SFF) HTPCs last year. Their first play in the market was an ION based Atom nettop, and it could best be termed as an entry-level machine. While being a good fit as a secondary HTPC, it failed to satisfy the power users. Absence of HD audio bitstreaming and lack of processing power for many common HTPC tasks were important reasons. In an effort towards alleviating these concerns, ASRock introduced a mainstream SFF HTPC a couple of months back, namely, the Core 100. With a Core i3 mobile processor combined with the integrated Arrandale IGP, things started to look good for the SFF HTPC space. We had unreserved praise for the Core 100, but the Intel HD Graphics did have some shortcomings for the purists in terms of support for the latest Blu-Ray features and potential for gaming.

The Vision 3D was announced at the 2010 Computex show in the first week of June. The aim of this product was to make a foray into the high end HTPC space by offering cutting edge technology such as 3D movie playback and 3D gaming to the consumers. The initial plan was to use a GeForce 3xxM or 4xxM as the GPU inside the Vision 3D. Had ASRock rushed the release of the HTPC and gone with the 3xxM card, the unit would have been DOA due to the lack of HD audio bitstreaming. Instead of rushing to the market with a half-baked product, ASRock wisely decided to wait for nVidia to get its HTPC game straight. What we have on our hands now is a HTPC very similar to the Core 100, with the additional power of the GeForce 425M replacing the Intel IGP for the graphics duties.

What makes the Vision 3D a high end unit? For starters, it is the first pre-built HTPC to support HD audio passthrough as well as Blu-Ray 3D playback with HDMI 1.4a support. It is evident that this HTPC will remain future proof for quite some time to come. 3D technology is yet to become mainstream, with displays still being priced out of reach of the average consumer. ATI and Intel are yet to bring HDMI 1.4a support in their GPUs. These facts combine to make ASRock a pioneer of sorts in the SFF HTPC field. The closest competition to the ASRock Vision 3D comes in the form of the Dell Zino HD. However, even the highest end configuration of the Zino HD doesn't support 3D Blu-Ray playback. Based plainly on the specs, it looks like all the bases are covered for the consumer on the leading edge who doesn't want to mess around with building his own HTPC. Does the Vision 3D deliver on its promise? That is what we are set to find out in the course of this review.

Unboxing Impressions
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  • firewall597 - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    Thats not very fair to say "to me its only worth $---"

    The product was built with 3D and high end in mind, if this isnt what you need then you shouldn't buy it. Doesnt make it worth any less. There was a fairly accurate breakdown of costs early in the article that laid out how narrow their profit margins could actually be. I would assign this much more value then, say, anything from apple with a similar price tag. If you know what I mean.

    If you're only going to need $599's worth of the parts, then buy a lesser box for $599.
  • andygallo - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    Everyone has a different experience with drive manufacturers. For me WD has always been reliable. I still run the original 36GB Raptor that I got 5 or 6 years ago and it's still fast as hell and have no issues at all. I have a couple of other WD's that are older than that running great in my storage server. If I were to blanket generalize my experience, however, I would say Seagate and Maxtor are crap.

    CUDA is NOT CPU+GPU in parallel, CUDA is simply an API that allows GPU computing. The "parallel" in CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture) is simply referring to the fact that a GPU is a massively parallel processing unit. What that means is, for certain specific tasks (like HD video encoding/decoding or fluid dynamic models), you can just dump to the GPU for the processing since it is far and away better at running these types of tasks than a traditional CPU. The CPU pretty much does nothing if CUDA is being called.

    Also CUDA is NOT supported on AMD/ATI cards, CUDA is specifically for Nvidia. Last I heard, AMD/ATI's solution was called Stream, but I dunno if that's still the case.

    From my experience with HTPC builds, Nvidia is definately the way to go. HD video acceleration (DXVA/DXVA2 for Windows or VDPAU for Linux) has MUCH better support on Nvidia cards (VDPAU doesn't even support ATI cards, so if you wanna use XBMC, use a Nvidia card). I've had quite a few h.264 encoded HD videos that couldn't be accelerated on an ATI card that worked flawlessly on an Nvidia. I have yet to see the opposite (and don't get me started on Intel's X4500 "video acceleration"... what a joke). From what I understand that stems from how the video was encoded and that ATI is far less forgiving than Nvidia. Could be a driver issue, but I've seen this disparity since I started playing with h.264 and even today am still able to reproduce the issue (at least 3 years).
  • humba - Sunday, October 3, 2010 - link

    I believe there's one bit missing from the article - a comparison to some of the competing models that could server as a HTCP. I've been using a mini with Win7 and external Blu-ray and I'm very much interested in the Vision 3D. But I'd like to know how it compares in terms of upgrading (Macs are a PITA in that department - especially the 2010 variety - and I'd much rather have a 240GB SSD than a 500GB slow noisemaker), and noise (even under significant load the device stays very quiet).
    Also.. since this is HDMI 1.4 - can you now drive 2560x1600 over HDMI? Dell claims their 2008 30" model does that resolution over HDMI.. and it sorta works (movies are fine... windows look messed up but I suspect the supposedly dual link capable DVI to HDMI adapter may be at fault)?
  • Tros - Sunday, October 3, 2010 - link

    I am also interested in a comparison. Especially with that kind of price-tag.

    Also: Is that a newer mac-mini, or and older one? I'd understand the newer one being hard to upgrade, but the older ones not much harder ( than this Vision3d model.
  • humba - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    I have the older mini. I agree, it's not that hard to upgrade - however, it's not something for the faint of heart.
  • ganeshts - Sunday, October 3, 2010 - link

    As we review more SFF HTPCs, we will present what you want :) We will have the Zino 410 reviewed soon.

    From HTPC viewpoint, a Mac Mini simply doesn't make sense even though a lot of people use it. There is no HD audio bitstreaming, no native BR drive support. I don't think we ever will reivew a Mac Mini in this space (although Anand reviews them from the general PC perspective, with a section for HTPC).

    These PCs from ASRock are primarily targeted towards the DIY market (slowly moving to the layman consumer). As such, they are very easy to upgrade. The HTPC comes with a brochure outlining steps to replace anything and everything you want inside (Even the MXM card!).

    Yes, HDMI 1.4a and DVI dual link port can both drive 2560x1600 according to nVidia. We didn't test it out personally, but we have no reason to doubt nV's or ASRock's claims in that department.
  • humba - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    Couldn't you just have the software player decode TrueHD / DTS MA to PCM and stream that over the DP / HDMI port? And there's an aftermarket BR upgrade - again not for the faint of heart, but until not so long ago, there weren't any viable alternatives.
  • Aikouka - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    I didn't even realize that Dell released a new SFF PC for media purposes until I read this article, so naturally, I was curious enough to check it out. I saw the initial price of $299 and was intrigued... is a non-streaming HTPC for a decent price possible? Well, it seems Dell brought my hopes up and subsequently squashed them like a bug. The biggest problem I found with the Zino HD410 is that if you want something decent, it's going to cost you....

    When I customized the HD410 to an acceptable level, it cost $699. The biggest problems seem to be my need for Windows 7 Professional and the Radeon 5450. I use Windows 7 Professional, because I prefer being able to remote into my HTPCs rather than having to turn the TV on just to make a simple change. Home Premium does not allow incoming RD connections, but does allow outgoing. The issue is that Dell charges $100 to upgrade from Home Premium to Professional... the same "upgrade" on NewEgg is around $40. You also need the 5450 to support bitstreaming, but the only way to get the 5450 is through the higher-end models which start at $499. I also find the requirement of a 500GB HDD in the higher-end models fairly useless... I don't need that much space on the drives and would rather reduce the size to save money.

    For that price, I'd probably just consider building a PC using Thermaltake's ElementQ case. It's about the same width (~8" vs ~8.5"), but the Thermaltake case has 5" more depth to it, which shouldn't be an issue in an entertainment center.
  • Aikouka - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    Clarification, the customized price on the Dell Zino HD410 is $599, not $699. My bad!
  • Zap - Sunday, October 3, 2010 - link

    That "thick copper bar" on the MXM copper plate is a heatpipe. If it really were a "thick copper bar" then it would probably overheat before you finished booting into Windows. Heatpipes do not have to be round.

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