KISS started a mini-revolution when it released the DP500, which was the first DVD player to support both DiVX files and an Ethernet connection.
KISS introduced the “home entertainment network” to the world , and the latest player from local company Zensonic builds impressively on these ideas.The Z500 is a “High Definition Network DVD Media Player”, which means it can replay HD DiVX and WM9 files (and isn’t a HD-DVD player, by the way). Not only that, but there is a choice between a wired or wireless connection, which makes it very flexible to position. But, like any player of its type, if you do choose a wireless connection, don’t expect to stream videos, wired will always be better for that.
Setup was quite straightforward, going into the Settings menu and then choosing, in our case, a wired connection. Deleting the IP address, should one appear there, will set the player to Auto, which means it will automatically detect your settings and you’ll be ready to go.
The Z500 will replay so many file types it’s easier to list the ones it won’t: SACD, WMV8 and under, and encrypted WMA (though this is coming).
Feature-count is similarly excellent, with HDMI an excellent inclusion at this price, as it guarantees the bandwidth for high definition content, and provides some future proofing. The backlit remote is also a revelation. The ability to automatically update is also good, which will help iron out any bugs and provide enhanced features. It’s also fully UPnP compatible, which means it will connect seamlessly with an Xbox 360 or NAS devices like the Maxtor Shared Storage Plus. Of course, the Z500 has no onboard storage but connected to a UPnP device it won’t matter. This means you can stream MP3s without a PC.
When turned on, you are greeted by a menu offering Music, Video, pictures and Extras. You can also set the player to auto-play when a disk is inserted.
One thing that really struck us was the quality of DiVX files, if at present you use a TV out cable from your video card, you’ll find the quality of video from Z500 will blow you away. There is plenty of fine detail on offer, and no blurring or banding apparent. Our archive of the series Carnivale was reproduced with crystal clarity and dark scenes delivered with aplomb.
Simply, if you download files from the internet, this is the best way to see them.
HD DiVX files played without a hiccup, though we did find that HD WMV 9 files stuttered terribly, even when connecting a USB 2.0 drive directly to the Z500. This is due to the high bandwidth needed by these files. Burning them to a disk, however, is fine.
DVD replay was also good, and the machine was able to dig up plenty of visual detail from the moody thriller Unbreakable, and sound effects were steered accurately around the soundstage.
CD replay also, for a budget player, is very good, so this could easily double as a music machine if pressed.
At the time of review, the machine was still in preproduction and there were still some hiccups, which was understandable. But we also found some problems with the first official release with occasional freezing, but nothing to worry about. And it’s also easy to forget which media menu you selected, so if you’re deep into the Music menu you’ll need to cycle right out to select Video files, otherwise you’ll navigate to your My Videos folder, for example, and wonder why there aren’t any videos there!
But these small niggles aside: if you’re after the ability to stream MP3s or internet radio to your hi-fi, watch some DiVX files, and enjoy DVDs, this is one of the best devices of its type yet. It handles all tasks equally well, and sets a new standard for features at this low price. Easy to set up and use, it shows Zensonic is a company to be reckoned with.
Zensonic Z500 | $549 |
For: Easy to use; a true jack-of-all-trades; excellent networking abilities; quiet — unlike a Media Center.
Against: Still some wrinkles to iron out; occasionally frustrating menu system.
Verdict: An excellent, affordable player which should finally help popularise networkable media in the home.