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Ziova CS500 review: Ziova CS500

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The Good The Ziova CS510 digital-media receiver offers extensive file format support; HDMI output; digital-media upscaling to 1080p; a front-panel USB 2.0 port; and upgradeable firmware.

The Bad Setting up advanced features can be a tortuous ordeal; the user interface isn't pretty and can be confusing; navigation can be slow; no 802.11n Wi-Fi; no H.264 support; glitchy streaming of HD video, even on wired connections and off the USB drive; no WPA security support; includes outdated version of TwonkyVision software.

The Bottom Line The Ziova CS510 digital-media receiver has attractive features and a promising interface, but they're undermined by quirky performance and so-so stability.

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5.8 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 7
  • Performance 4

Ziova CS510

Editors' note: The Ziova CS510 is virtually identical to the Ziova CS505, except the CS510 lacks a built-in DVD player. This review is a modified version of the CS505 review, but it accurately reflects the capabilities of the CS510.

As more people become interested in streaming media from their PC to their living room, more products that promise to do exactly that pop up. In addition to devices from established brands such as Netgear, Apple, and Microsoft, a growing number of network media players from little-known manufacturers such as Mvix, Tvix, and Helios are popping up. The Ziova CS510 is part of the latter group, and it offers upscaling and network media streaming for a ton of file formats. Unfortunately, we felt the CS510 looked a lot better on paper than in use. The interface looks slick at first glance, but it quickly becomes bulky and sometimes just plain slow. On the upside, streaming was mostly stable, and the CS510 delivered on its promise to stream a ton of formats, although enthusiasts will lament the lack of H.264 support. Overall, the CS510 shows a lot of promise, but it's hard to recommend with the current firmware; perhaps a future update will smooth out some of the reliability issues.

The CS510 looks like a throwback to an earlier era, before glossy black supplanted silver as the preferred color of home electronics. Head-on, the CS510 is boxy and looks like it would be more at home mounted in a hidden equipment rack than on display in a home theater. The brushed-metal look may not be the most attractive, but it gives the receiver the appearance of having solid build quality. To the far left, there's a hard-power on/off switch; if you turn it off, the CS510 won't turn on when you hit the power button on the remote. In the center of the unit is the LED display and further right is a USB port. Note that there are no front-panel controls, so you have to use the remote to control the CS510.

The remote is a little below average, but it's passable. The biggest misstep is placement of the Play, Stop, Fast-forward, and Rewind controls at the bottom of the remote--far from the central navigational pad--so we were constantly moving the remote around in our hand. We did appreciate the dedicated volume and page up/down rockers, but once we got into the user interface, we noticed that the page up/down function didn't actually work, it just moved one item down instead of skipping a whole page. Of course, you can replace the included clicker with a good universal remote, but that still probably won't solve the page up/down issue.

The button layout isn't exactly ideal.

User interface
The main page of the user interface of the CS510 is promising. The graphics look pretty slick, and the choices are simple: Music, Videos, Pictures, Settings, and Extras. Past that point, the simplicity ends. For example, if you select Music, the next screen asks you to select a source, leaving you with choices of USB, Windows Network, Web Radio, and Media Servers. To access music on your PC, you'll select either Windows Network or Media Servers, then the name of the PC you want to browse, then the folder you want to browse--there you can sort by artist, genre, and so on. Not only is it convoluted, but the interface sometimes wasn't quite as quick as we'd like, which only compounded the frustration. We understand that it's hard to pack a lot of functionality into a simple interface, but we thought the Netgear EVA8000 Digital Entertainer HD did a better job. And the Apple TV has an even better interface but offers less functionality.

The user interface starts off looking good but goes downhill from there.

The other problem we had with the interface is that the CS510 could occasionally get bogged down. This often happened when we wanted to switch from one media type to another, from Music to Videos for instance. You have to go back to the main menu to do this, and there's often a substantial wait time--up to 15 seconds. We wished there was a "mixed media" option so we didn't have to go to the main menu so frequently. We also ran into long wait times when waiting for our list of files to populate. Granted, we have a large file library, but it still puts a damper on the experience. While the CS510 can be speedy going between some menus, the occasional slowdowns became frustrating.

One of the biggest selling points of the CS510 is its extensive file format support. For video, it supports MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX/Xvid, WMV, and WMV HD, as well as TS folders and ISO files from ripped DVDs. This extensive file format support is a major advantage over the Apple TV, which is generally limited to iTunes-friendly MPEG-4 and H.264 files. The lack of H.264 support on the CS510 is the biggest omission, as it is quickly becoming one of the more popular codecs for high-definition video. Also note that support for ripped DVD TS folders isn't complete; we were unable to navigate the menus on the discs, just play the individual files. On the other hand, you can easily surf the menus on ISO files.

Audio support is impressive too, with support for MP3, WMA, AAC, OGG, FLAC, and WAV files. Audiophiles will particularly enjoy the support for the lossless FLAC format, as it makes it relatively easy to back up all your CDs and stream real CD-quality music from a large hard drive on your PC. Of course, you won't be able to play any DRM-protected songs you've purchased on iTunes--as you can with the competing Apple TV and Netgear EVA8000--but the Ziova will work fine for the DRM-free AAC iTunes Plus songs that are now available.

You'll also notice that the CS510 lacks the ability to play any sort of DRM-protected content, be it audio or video. That's disappointing, as many competitors offer support for at least one type of DRM (such as Plays For Sure, Zune Store, or Rhapsody). On the other hand, if you like to lead a DRM-free lifestyle, you won't notice it's missing.

Photo support is standard, with the CS510 handling JPEG, BMP, GIF, and PNG file types.

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