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[Discuss] Zotac Zbox ID80 for media front-end

In 2009, I bought several Acer Revo 1600 boxes to use as MythTV front-ends. 
If they were still on the market, that product (based on a first-gen NVIDIA
ION GPU) would be what I'd recommend buying.  Smooth video, runs everything
out of the box, and no failures in nearly 4 years.

Today's market for this has gotten more complicated, more expensive, and not
really as advanced as I'd have thought.  Moore's Law apparently never came
close to the 1080p video-playback requirements that many of us have.

If you're thinking of buying this, here are some post-purchase thoughts:

* You will need to upgrade to absolute bleeding-edge NVIDIA Linux driver: 
version 310.19.  Read more at: . Until I
installed that, I saw frame-refresh rate of about 15fps.

* The system is bare-bone in terms of disk/RAM but it includes an MCE IR
remote kit.  It's clear that Zotac has been targeting the home-entertainment

* Specs on these Atom-based systems are misleading in one respect:  when they
say "4GB maximum", they actually mean 4GB per DIMM slot (there are 2 slots). 
If you want, you can put 8GB in.  And if you only want 4GB, you should buy one
4GB DIMM rather than 2 2GB DIMMs so you have a spare slot for future upgrades.
 (RAM is so cheap these days that $20-25 gets you a 4GB SODIMM.)

* I crafted my own cron script to put the system to sleep during hours when
I'm usually asleep or at work.  It's basically a one-liner, inserting the
output of 'date -+%s -d "desired-wakeup"' directly into the kernel's
/sys/class/rtc/rtc0/wakealarm setting prior to a pm-suspend.

* I use lircd for managing the IR remote.  Starting with SUSE 12, I ran into a
problem with double-input of button presses.  New versions of xorg-x11 have
done away with most of the painful xorg.conf.d crap, so X usually comes up
more automatically.  But if you're manually controlling configurations of
things like the IR remote, you have to explicitly tell X not to be so smart: 
use an Option Ignore "true" with a MatchProduct specification of the
particular device, to disable this capability.  You can get the MatchProduct
string by grepping the output of Xorg.0.log for anything that you want to
disable.  (My double-keystroke problem was due to having two processes
listening simultaneously, X's built-in input driver plus lircd.)

OK so here's the full recipe of what it takes to build a Zbox ID80 front-end
running MythTV or one of the rival media servers:

* The Zotac package:  about $234
* A 4GB DDR3 SODIMM: about $25
* Storage:  a spare 2.5" drive or USB or SSD: about $20-$50
* (Optional) An external optical drive: $20-$50
* Free software download:  NVIDIA driver 310.19
* Your favorite software distro and media player software

One caveat about the optical drive:  MythTV dropped its DVD ripping support
when it achieved enough critical mass to attract attention from Hollywood's
lawyers sometime around 2009.  The only useful alternative I've found is a
non-Linux tool called DVD Decrypter which requires a Windows box.  Thus far
those battalions of attorneys haven't yet shut down the download sites for
that tool.  I haven't yet tried playing Blu-Ray discs with this new system but
I assume it'd be even more painful than DVD.  (The reason Linux DVD playback
doesn't work is that 99% of DVDs have at least one I/O error.  MythTV versions
since 0.24 don't tolerate even a single error.  The only way I can watch a DVD
in MythTV is to rip first under Windows, which means a 15-25 minute wait
whenever I buy a new one.)


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