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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  • strolfey - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    Thanks a bunch! Based on this, there's no major hangups so I'll be looking to get one as soon as it's available from newegg.
  • cjs150 - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    Bit like the Apple TV article, we are moving closer to the ideal living room HTPC but not there yet.

    A decent SSD rather than a HD would be better, less noise, reliability not an issue, less heat.

    Noise is the issue for me. This is improving (and would be less noisy than my current cable box) but still not perfect (total silence would be perfect but impractical).

    I do wonder whether an optical drive is really necessary. Seems to me that there may be 2 HTPC markets. One for a streaming device that can play games and another where the device is also the sole Blue-ray/DVD player on an AV system.

    I would be happy to ditch the optical drive for a TV tuner. Even more so if it could replace the cable box
  • blacksun1234 - Wednesday, October 6, 2010 - link

    Dear Ganesh,
    Is its BD playback video quality better than consumer BD 3D player?
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, October 6, 2010 - link

    I didn't do a side by side comparison, but I would believe that you have lot more tweaks available at your disposal on the HTPC to do some post processing if you desire (compared to the options in a consumer BD 3D player).

    The only advantage of a consumer BD player I can foresee is the ease of use factor. HTPCs are inherently not designed to cater to the lowest common denominator yet. (Yes, we have Win7MC + PDVD / ArcSoft integration, but you still need to do some configuration like AutoStart / Start Maximized / configuration of 3D display etc. etc. to make sure it acts like a consumer BD 3D player).
  • SirMeili - Wednesday, October 6, 2010 - link

    With my current HTPC, I can have distinct On and off Codes. so my question is this:

    You said you can wake the HTPC via the remote, but can you

    1) put it to sleep with the remote, and
    2) Turn the computer on with the remote (from an off state)
    3) program additional codes for the IR Receiver (for instance, I have a button on my universal for alt-f4)

    Neither are ultimately important, but I like my setup as it is now (especially since I can train specific on and off codes for my IR Receiver for the HP)
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, October 6, 2010 - link

    1 and 2 are definitely possible ( 2, when AC power cord is still connected, but you already knew that :) )

    As for 3, I will ask ASRock. I haven't personally tried out.
  • The Jedi - Tuesday, October 12, 2010 - link

    If this were an Asus brand product I might find it more attractive, but I think ASRock has issues with its reputation. I mean they make some innovative and low cost mobo's, but from reading around they seem to have quality control issues. Last time I visited their website they had imperfect English so I think I'll just stay away.
  • mutarasector - Monday, November 29, 2010 - link

    Can't wait to see a Llano powered version of this thing. I believe one might see a mini based on it by the 'Fruity computer Co.' in the not too distant future.
  • borekb - Tuesday, February 1, 2011 - link

    On these screen-less HTPC devices, how do you display things like MP3 or volume information while you're playing musing and the TV is turned off? I'm thinking about attaching a digital picture frame but would that be possible to output the signal to both HDMI (-> A/V Receiver -> TV) and to the frame? (I don't own any digital picture frame at the moment so I'm not sure what would be required on that front.)
  • mpogr - Thursday, June 2, 2011 - link

    Got one of these. They sell them here in Australia without memory and HDD, purchased both from the same store, the total price was ~940AUD (should be ~970-980 USD now)..
    Assembly was quite easy and all was working fine at first. Installed Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bits, SageTV client and PowerDVD 11 (planned primary use: TV and, occasionally, 3D Blu Ray playback). Because of TV being used by the children, the computer was always on (but not always playing back media). The unit died after ~5 days. I wasn't at home when this happened, but it just powered itself off. After that, upon disconnecting and reconnecting power, it came on and then off straight away. Resetting CMOS and pulling the BIOS battery out helped a bit, so now it doesn't power itself off after reconnecting the mains. The blower spins and the power led is lit, but no video output and no HDD activity. Disconnecing HDD and ODD didn't help.
    So it's just dead. It can be the unit itself or the memory, as I don't have any spare SODIMMs to test. About to send the unit back to the retailer for investigation.

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