ZT Home Theatre PC A5071 review: ZT Home Theatre PC A5071

The Good Fast and good-looking; tons of external expansion; excellent peripherals.

The Bad Pricey; case is difficult to open; in tests, Sonic MyDVD didn't work out of the box; shipped with wrong OS and without remote control.

The Bottom Line Despite a few missteps, ZT Group's ZT Home Theatre PC A5071 is a superb system that merits a space in your A/V rack.

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8.1 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Support 6

Review summary

Don't let the stereo-component disguise fool you; the ZT Home Theatre PC A5071 is an awesomely fast desktop with AMD's new 64-bit Athlon 64 FX-51 processor, 1GB of DDR400 memory, and Nvidia's top-of-the-line GeForce FX 5900 graphics card. Its facade makes more sense when you see which OS the system is running: Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004. Microsoft's second version of this OS shows improvement and lets you stay on the couch and use the remote control to enjoy the pictures, music, video, and TV shows stored on the PC. You can integrate the A5071 into your home theater or use it as a self-contained unit. Our test system shipped with an excellent AG Neovo LCD and booming 5.1 speakers from Logitech, bringing the price up to nearly $4,000.

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It'll look more at home in your A/V rack than it will atop a desk.

Housed in an Ahanix D-Vine case specifically designed for a home-theater PC, the A5071 will look right at home in your A/V rack. The box is fairly large at 16.9 by 17 by 5.3 inches (W, D, H), but its metal frame gives it a sleek look that's a true departure from the now-boring towers we're accustomed to reviewing. The system even has A/V-friendly inputs, such as S-Video and composite video, and a TV tuner. A bright LED panel on the front can be programmed to display a variety of system information, although the associated software is needlessly complicated to use.

The case is difficult to open--the top of the box slides off after you remove four screws from the bottom--but you may have little reason to do so, considering the utter lack of expandability. The system makes up for a cramped interior with a whopping six FireWire ports (one in front), six USB ports (two in front), and a Creative Audigy sound card for hooking up a surround-sound speaker set. A small reset button next to the power button makes manually restarting the PC a cinch.

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The interior doesn't leave a lot of room to grow, but you do get an abundance of expansion ports.

Compared with its predecessor, Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) 2004 has a slicker interface and runs more smoothly. Of course, much of the ZT Home Theatre PC A5071's fine performance can be attributed to the Athlon 64 FX-51 processor it uses. Its 32-bit performance was outstanding and easily handled Media Center tasks such as recording TV, setting up slide shows of your digital photos, and creating music playlists. MCE 2004 makes it easier to search for, filter, and schedule recordings of your favorite TV shows. Microsoft has also made refinements to improve the quality of the TV picture, and MCE 2004 includes wizards to help you fine-tune your display.

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AG Neovo's 17-inch LCD is gorgeous, but it's better suited for a small bedroom or a dorm room than for larger living spaces.
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Wires? We don't need no stinkin' wires.

Our system shipped with Sonic's MyDVD, which will let you burn DVDs, but if you buy a copy of Sonic's PrimeTime DVD-burning software (it's not bundled with the A5071), an option is added to Media Center's main menu that lets you choose the content you want and burn it to disc--all from within the Media Center environment using the remote control (if ZT Group remembers to bundle the remote; our test system showed up without one).

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Media Center's main menu has expanded, giving you greater control over the digital media stored on your PC.

Even with the bundled MyDVD app, burning recorded TV was fairly quick and painless. Simply connect the system to your cable box using the included Hauppauge DVR card, capture the shows to the system's 160GB Serial ATA hard drive using the Media Center's programming guide, and copy them to DVD using the system's Sony DVD+RW/-RW burner (the second drive is a DVD-ROM). Select a new button in MyDVD, labeled "Get recorded TV shows," and the program will hunt for your archived TV content, saving you the hassle. We had to download a patch from Sonic before it worked, however.

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Media Center lists your recently recorded shows, letting you know that it captured every enthralling moment of Donny Osmond hosting the Pyramid game show.

You can connect the system directly to a TV for playback, but you'll happily stick with the incredibly clear and bright, 17-inch S-17 AG Neovo monitor and the bombastic Logitech Z-680 speakers. One caveat: a 17-inch LCD might be a bit small for living-room TV viewing or true couch-side computing. ZT Group included Logitech's wireless keyboard and MX700 mouse, but you'll still need to sit relatively close to the screen to be able to read text and recognize small desktop icons. A bigger display of equal quality would add significantly to the cost of the system, however.

When you're not watching TV, you can get some work done with the bundled Microsoft Works 2004. Also included in the software bundle are InterVideo's WinDVD 4.0 (a DVD playback app), CD-burning software RecordNow Max, and Ulead VideoStudio 6.0, a slightly outdated video-editing app.

Application performance
The ZT Home Theatre PC A5071 uses AMD's new Athlon 64 FX-51 processor to power Microsoft's new Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 OS. Until 64-bit apps and a 64-bit OS arrive, no system will be able to make full use of the FX-51. Meanwhile, it helps systems like the A5071 deliver excellent 32-bit performance. In our SysMark2002 test, the A5071 closely trailed another Athlon 64-based system we tested recently, the Polywell Poly 900NF3-FX1. It's possible that the additional overhead of the Media Center OS dragged down the A5071's performance slightly, but it's still an extremely fast system that can handle anything you send its way.

Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark2002 rating  
SysMark2002 Internet content creation   
SysMark2002 office productivity   
Polywell Poly 900NF3-FX1 (2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-51, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)
ZT Home Theatre PC A5071 (2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-51, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Dell Dimension 4600C with Media Center (2.8GHz Intel P4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
HP Media Center PC m300y (3.2GHz Intel P4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)
ViewSonic NextVision M2100 Digital Media Center (2.8GHz Intel P4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz)

To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).

3D graphics and gaming performance
You'd be hard-pressed to find a card that performs better than the ATI Radeon 9800 Pro. Using the 256MB version, the ZT Home Theatre PC A5071 was one of the best-performing systems on our 3D tests. Its 3DMark2001 and Quake III scores were both extremely high at more than 19,000 and 330 frames per second, respectively. This card will run any of today's games and those of tomorrow.

3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Second Edition Build 330 (16-bit color)  
Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Second Edition Build 330 (32-bit color)  
ZT Home Theatre PC A5071 (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Polywell Poly 900NF3-FX1 (Nvidia GeForce FX 5900 Ultra)
ViewSonic NextVision M2100 Digital Media Center (Nvidia GeForce FX 5600)
Dell Dimension 4600C with Media Center (ATI All-in-Wonder 9000 Pro)
HP Media Center PC m300y (Nvidia GeForce FX 5200)

To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Pro Second Edition, Build 330. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8.0 (DX8) interface at both 16- and 32-bit color settings at a resolution of 1,024x768. A system that does not have DX8 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one with that support.

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