Software. The millions of lines of code that power practically everything. While it’s all well and good for companies to pour millions of dollars into designing fantastic hardware, if the software that powers it isn’t good, then you may as well scrap everything and head back to the drawing board. This seems to be the case with the ZOTAC StreamBox, a cute little device that’s supposedly designed to make streaming your media from Android devices (and your PC) a snap, but it turns out to be a nightmare because of its absolutely dismal software.
I know ZOTAC best for their mini-PCs, and as a sort of homage to that, the StreamBox adopts the design of the ZBOX Nano; small and compact. Around the back you have a mini-USB port for power, HDMI, audio, Ethernet, and a USB port for plugging in a thumb drive or external hard drive. In the front you have the power button and what looks like an IR receiver, but sadly is not. The StreamBox oddly comes without any kind of remote control, so you’re always reliant on running the compatible app from your Android device or Windows PC.
Connectivity & Performance
Setting up the StreamBox was simple enough – I plugged in the power and HDMI, and connected it to my nearby router. As a word of warning, ZOTAC have decided that it was necessary to include a 10 second video of their logo when you boot up the StreamBox (complete with nightmare-inducing heartbeat sounds), so a friendly tip is to make sure your TV is set to a low volume before you switch this thing on.
Once you’re powered up, you’re greeted by a screen that aptly says “Ready for Connection”. Here’s where you can choose how to connect to and control the StreamBox. The first option is to head to the Google Play store and download the free “AirFun” app by Realtek, which will then automatically detect and connect to the StreamBox. The second option is to download the Windows version of the app onto your PC, and launch it. I’ll cover both methods individually so you can see just how good (or bad) each one is.
The AirFun Android app is divided into five simple tabs. The first one activates a remote control for navigating through the StreamBox, the second does the same thing except through swipes, the third tap is for playing media off USB, while the forth tab is where you can actually stream media from your Android device. The last tab displays system information and also lets you reset the StreamBox or initiate a firmware update.
Streaming media is as simple as choosing whether you want to stream photos, music, or video, selecting which media you want to stream, and then hitting play. There is a fraction of a delay before the media starts streaming, but once it’s up there’s no loss in quality or any issues with streaming. The problem arises however in the app itself – it’s absolutely riddled with bugs. There were countless times where I had to quit and reconnect the app because it lost the connection to the StreamBox, so I had no way to pause what I was streaming. Another time is just refused to see any of the content on my phone. Yet another time, it wasn’t registering any of the commands from the in-app remote control, so once again I had to reboot the app.
The mediocre experience seemed to carry over in the PC app as well. The app did detect and connect to the StreamBox, but the remote pops up in a web browser window, and commands often didn’t register on the StreamBox. And no matter what I tried or how many different machines I installed the app on, I just could not get it to detect anything on my laptop to stream.
Two things to note is that the StreamBox is that firstly is also supports Miracast, which means you can duplicate your Android device or PC screen onto your TV. While this is briefly mentioned in the user manual, I wasn’t able to get this up and running, via my HTC One, so whether it works or not will remain a mystery. The second thing to note is that this is very much an Android-only device. Anyone with an iOS device or Mac can pass on this, as to the best of my knowledge there isn’t any way to connect the two.
While the ZOTAC StreamBox may have started out as a good idea, it’s ultimately the bug-ridden companion software that lets it down. Given that most TVs now support in-built DLNA apps or streaming, it’s a bit of a puzzle why you would invest in the StreamBox in the first place. Until it gets better software, the ZOTAC StreamBox sadly won’t be given a warm welcome anytime soon.