Awhile back, I wondered aloud when we'd finally see a "Hulu box" that could stream on-demand video from that increasingly popular online video destination directly to your TV. And a couple of weeks ago, we got our hands on the first potential candidate in the form of the ZvBox. The PC accessory converts your computer's video output and makes it accessible on your home HDTV (multiple TVs, in fact, if your home is cable-ready). It also includes an RF remote with wireless-mouse functionality, so you can navigate your PC screen from afar, and pull up any computer-based media content on the TV screen--including Hulu, iTunes, BitTorrent, or whatever other Web- or PC-based video strikes your fancy.
Unfortunately, we found the ZvBox had too many caveats. You can read the full review for all the gory details, but here's the executive summary: it's got a very complicated setup; the wireless remote response is so laggy that it's frustrating to use; and--the real deal-killer--it costs $500. For that amount of money, you could just by an entry-level PC (with a wireless keyboard) and connect it to your TV. You'd be spending the same amount of money, getting an easier set-up process and lag-free response time--and you'd still be able to watch Hulu or any other digital-video source from the comfort of your sofa.
Can ZvBox be fixed? Even with the price cut in half, it'd be a tough sell in its current incarnation, but there are options for an overhaul. One option: sell the RF remote and the ZV software (basically a streamlined front-end for bookmarking and accessing media-friendly Web sites and programs) separately as a DIY add-on for PCs that are directly connected to a TV. (The remote works fine when viewing the PC-video output directly, without the lag introduced by the ZvBox transcoder.) Or consider bundling it with a cheap Atom-based mini-PC that would easily fit near the TV--something like the EEE Box or upcoming Shuttle X27--either with Windows XP or a custom Linux install that focused on media playback.
Of course, those sort of changes would make ZvBox just another Media Center PC/Home Theater PC wannabe--competing in an already niche-y marketplace among enthusiasts and tech geeks. I'm still holding out hope that someone--ZeeVee or otherwise--is working on a cheap and convenient way to get Hulu (and other Web video sources) onto my TV. In the meantime, I'll just keep lugging the laptop back and forth to the living room for quick and dirty hook-ups to that dangling AV cable.
What do you think: Is the ZvBox an attractive product as is, or does it need an overhaul? And do you have any desire for a Web video set-top box, or do you have too many boxes under your TV already?