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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  • ganeshts - Sunday, October 3, 2010 - link

    Thanks, fixed :)
  • nitrousoxide - Sunday, October 3, 2010 - link

    A Seagate Barracuda Momentus XT 500GB would do much better job than WD Scorpio Black.
  • LtGoonRush - Sunday, October 3, 2010 - link

    A Seagate Momentus XT 500GB would cost nearly twice as much as the WD Scorpio Black 500GB ($130 vs $75 at retail), and the performance difference is rather unimpressive. In the tests where the Seagate can make use of its SLC cache it can take the lead, but in most tests the Scorpio Black is faster, especially when seek times or write performance come into play, since those are Seagate's major weaknesses.
  • BansheeX - Sunday, October 3, 2010 - link

    Cool box but LOL at the THX logo being slapped on it. They used to put that on heavily compressed DVD mixes, not all of them good either. Consumers don't care anymore.
  • ganeshts - Sunday, October 3, 2010 - link

    Personally, I don't care too much about the THX either :) If you are using HDMI for audio, it doesn't even appear in the picture.

    The internal audio codec is advertised with THX, so the HTPC using it gets the additional marketing point too :)
  • tobrien - Sunday, October 3, 2010 - link

    you guys did such an excellent job with this review! thanks for all the hard work and effort you guys put in!
  • Shiitaki - Sunday, October 3, 2010 - link

    I'm not seeing the value here. A thousand dollars to stream content, and play blurays? One of the previous replies you stated that there was no native bluray support for the mac mini, true. And there is for a machine running windows? Tacking on Cyberlink is not native support.

    That is way too much hardware for what it does, which illustrates how badly Windows is for a platform. You could do much better with less hardware. Which is the real problem with a htpc, the software, the operating system, and various codecs, and getting it to all work together. Too much complexity. Most of the processor is wasted on layers of software instead of doing actual work. Most of the effort is expended to compensate for lazy and inadequate programming, as well as DRM.

    I understand the concept, I had a htpc for a couple of years, but after the frustration of trying to get surround sound to work in Cyberlink for Blurays, and the tech support to keep Windows working, I gave up. In fact it was specifically windows deciding to rebuild my music library from scratch every time I opened media center to play music. I want an appliance on the other end of the remote, having to search forums and break out a mouse and keyboard to trouble shoot something that worked the day before just fine should not be step two after pressing the power button.

    In the the article, there is no details as to how much or little work it took to make the software environment to work. Did settings hold, did you have to do reconfigurations, update drivers, load codecs? I seriously doubt it worked out of the box. Working out of the box is the great failure of the pc industry. On the video quality you are hedging, saying that video quality will get better with driver updates? So it's not finished eh? That's the sad reality with the computer industry in general, nothing ships as a finished product.

    The only thing this device seems to offer are endless possibilities to reward owners with a sense of accomplishment having solved issues preventing operations promised by the vendor. You can buy a nice bluray player, wd live, and still have 700 dollars for something else.

    The real news is if you took it out of the box, plugged everything in, did a setup once, and spent the rest of the time using it. No drivers, patches, settings that reset themselves, or promises of a future update for something to work So what did it take to make it work like it's supposed to, what issues does it have? Did you listen to two channel, or full surround? How many error messages did you have to deal with?
  • ganeshts - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    What you are looking for is a player like the upcoming Netgear NTV550. That would put it in the media streamer section. That would be like $700 cheaper than the Vision 3D, but, with the NTV choice, you are at the mercy of Netgear for firmware updates in case something you want doesn't work, and it also doesn't support 3D -- which is what this product is targeted towards.. For the Vision 3D running Windows, you have a number of open source developers who can enable core features like HD audio bitstreaming etc. -- Try getting open source devs to get those sort of features working on a SoC based device.

    The fact with the HTPC scene is that you do have to do some setup of sorts and deal with error messages and what no. However, sometimes, slapping on the latest XBMC build solves most problems. Our test suite is designed to give problems to various softwares, so deriding drivers / softwares on the basis of the difficulty in getting it to work is not the purpose of the review.
  • ggathagan - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    Everything you state is true but, unfortunately, that can be said of computers in general. It's not limited to HTPC.

    You're also missing one of the major points of the HTPC: Its ability as a computer.
    You don't get that from a standalone device.

    You don't specify what version of MCE you were using, but if you weren't using the Windows 7 version it's not really a valid arguement.
    I never tried the Vista version, but the Win 7 version has certainly come a looong way from the XP version.
    And if you happen to be someone on a budget that wants to do it all with a single device, the price of the ASRock system is pretty attractive, even after adding the cost of the OS, monitor and BD software.
  • Hrel - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    Pretty sure the hybrid Seagate Momentus XT is the fastest 2.5" drive they could have chosen. To all the other people talking about this egregious error, WD and Seagate are the only mechanical disk hard drive manufacturer's even worth looking at.

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