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 - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    Momentus XT is a hybrid and not a pure hard drive. In any case, I have already linked to a comparison of the 500 GB WD Scorpio Black and the Momentus XT. There are benchmarks in which the Scorpio Black turns out better.
  • troystarr - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    I'm curious how fast it can load blu-ray discs, such as the time from blu-ray disc insertion to the BD-Java main menu, speed of interacting with BD-Java menus, etc. I have a Blu-ray Profile 2.0 player that's about 2 years old now, and while it plays blu-ray discs great, it's pretty slow to load them and navigate their menus. If I try to use any Internet-based content via BD Live, it's downright painful. I would love to see comparisons in load time between this device, a typical consumer Blu-ray player, and a Sony PS3.

    Thanks for the review!
  • michael.gulde - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    Was there a cable card for cable tv hd encrypted channels?
  • ganeshts - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    The ASRock Vision 3D is high end from the viewpoint of supporting the latest standards such as 3D which are yet to go mainstream.

    Also, the system has been designed taking the world market into consideration, and people outside the US just don't use CableCard.

    You can always use the upcoming SiliconDust HD Tuners with CableCard functionality if this is something essential :)
  • cknobman - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    this is just too expensive to justify for most consumers.

    I dont do alot of actual computing from my media room so therefore when I think HTPC I want something that can access my network and stream content and play games.

    Those things can be done by already existing equipment in my house or even other new equipment for much cheaper.

    PS3 - $299
    Xbox 360 - $299
    Blu Ray player - > $200
    Media Streamer - $50 - $150

    True this impressive little unit is also a full blown computer but as someone with 4 other pc's in the house already I dont really need a full blown computer as part of my media room.

    I think this would be perfect for someone who dosnt really own a gaming system and/or blue ray player already and would like an all-in-one solution.

    Otherwise I think that is really is priced too high to be of any real value to most consumers.
  • vlado08 - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    Hi Ganesh, thanks for the good article. I have several questions.

    1 What was the HDD tems when the GPU was under load? Because the HDD is sitting above the GPU I have some concerns.

    2 What does the DPC Latency Checker shows? Are there any latency problems? In the sreen shot of the MPC-HT there are some spikes in the green line?

    3 Do we need to disable Intel speed step for latensy free playback?

    4 Is it possible to put a HDD vertically mounted to the side wall of the Vision 3D? This way you can have 3 HDD inside - two on the side and one under the DVD/Blu-ray.
  • ganeshts - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    1. I never received warnings about HDD temperature when running Furmark. The only time there was a warning was when I was copying around 100 GB of data from the USB 3 port (so much higher write rate than even through GbE network) into internal hard disk, at which point the temperature reached 52 C towards the very end. As long as you are doing normal HTPC activities, I don't think this will be an issue.

    2/3. I did DPC latency checks for the Core 100, but found no issues with playback even though the checker reported issues. I have come to the conclusion (with help of other editors here at AnandTech), that there is no necessity that there is an issue even if the checker reports it. In all, even though I saw the spikes in MPC-HC, I didn't notice any issues in the playback of Blu-Rays or any of our other test streams, even with SpeedStep enabled.

    4. No, there is no space for any more components within the Vision 3D chassis :(
  • vlado08 - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    Thanks again for the quick reply and for your enthusiasm.
  • junkles - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    Hi, Ganesh.

    So which HTPC functions have you found to be lacking with a Linux distribution such as Ubuntu?

  • ganeshts - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    For starters, Blu-Ray disc playback and HD audio bitstreaming (even for stand alone files)

    I just wish we had a Linux program capable of playing back Blu-Rays (particularly considering the fact that all standalone BR players run some version of Linux at the core).

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