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Appeared on: Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Snazio NetCinema HD Player SZ1350

1. Introduction

Network DVD players are very common nowadays. Most users wish to "stream" multimedia content either from their PCs, or playback Mpeg4 Videos from a USB or network attached HDD player. Wireless networking also provides an alternative solution to using the various connections available. High Definition content is also being pushed into the forefront by manufacturers, as the future in visual and audio quality. Is there a desktop player that can cover all the above needs? Snazio* believes so and provided us with their latest NetCinema HD player, with the model name SZ1350. In this review, we will try to present the player's full functions and features, along with our real life tests and some extensive modifications. Note that several parts of this review are subject to change, due to the fact that frequent firmware releases can fix problems and incompatibilities. From our point of view, we will try to keep this article up to date with the latest available information.

- V One Multimedia Company Profile

V One Multimedia was established in 1997. V One is headquartered in Singapore, with sales, marketing and support activities in USA, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Japan, India and Pakistan. V One has a product development team with full capabilities in R&D, manufacturing, warranty, web-based technical support and operates a speedy logistics facility to support it's worldwide expansion plan. Using internationally endorsed MPEG technology, V One started shipping the first affordable Digital Video computing products, Snazzi* and Dazzle*, in 1997.

The original founder was also the original founding Chairman and CEO of Dazzle Multimedia. Leveraging on LSI (C-Cube), Broadcom, Stream Machine, Philips and Winbond technology, the product can encode video and audio into MPEG file format in real-time. V One will continue along this path and develop a wider range of products with more advanced video-encoding capabilities for both the professional and consumer markets, which will include the latest DVD, DV, AAC and MPEG-4 technology.

- Snazio* NetCinema HD Player SZ1350

Snazio*'s NetCinema SZ1350 is a network High Definition player with many connection and playback capabilities.

As Snazio* comments, you can:

Below is an overview of how Snazio* envisages all possible uses of the SZ1350 player (click on the picture for full size image).

Below is a short listing of the main specifications for the SZ1350 player.

DVD / VCD / Mpeg-4 Disc Playback Yes
HD Video Playback VC-1(WMV9 MP@HL), MPEG-2 MP@HL (720p/1080i), DivX HD
HD Video Output Resolution Up to 720p/1080i (True High-Definition Decoding)
Audio WMA9 Pro YES
Media Processor Sigma Designs EM8620L
CPU / System Board 166MHz 32bit RISC Processor / 8KB I-Cache / 8KB D-Cache / 64MB Data Memory / 4MB Flash
Video DA Converter 12 bit / up to 148.5MHz pixel clock
Audio DA Converter 24 bit / 192 Khz (5.1 Analog RCA Output)
USB Interface on front USB 2.0 / 1.1
Wireless 802.11b/g (integrated)

As we can see, the player is "powered" by the EM8620L chipset from Sigma Designs. The chipset is powerful enough to decode HD content (WMV9, Mpeg2 and DivX HD) up to 1920x1080 resolution (1080i). The upcoming EM8622L/8624L would be able to decode H264 material, as the Sigma Designs brochure unveils:

- Full specifications

Before we proceed with a description of the player, we will spend a little time looking carefully at the full specifications for the SZ1350 player. The player supports almost all currently used Video codecs (apart from WMV7, 8) and has a variety of inputs/outputs:

AV Output
Video Output Composite Video(RCA), S-Video(Y/C), Component Video(Y Pb Pr), Digital Video Interface-Integrated (DVI-I), VGA (via optional adaptor). Support Progressive Scan
Video Output Signal
SCART Connector
  Video S/N ratio: 65db
Composite Video - 1.0Vpp (75Ω) , S-Video: Y : 1Vpp (75Ω) - C: 0.3Vpp (75Ω)
Audio Output
RCA x 6 Surround 5.1
Audio Output Signal Coaxial SPDIF Digital Output, Optical SPDIF Digital Output
  Audio S/N ratio: >90db, Degree of distortion: < 0.01%
Audio Stereo Output : 2Vpp , Audio Out 2.1CH: 0.5Vpp
Media Format
Video Format MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, Xvid, RMP4
Audio Format
Audio Digital / Surround Format
MPEG-1 Layer 1 / 2 / 3 (MP3), OGG vorbis, AC3, MPEG-4 AAC (Low complexity, 5.1 channel), WMA9, PCM
THX. DTS, Dolby Digital, WMA9 Pro, AC3 and Linear PCM at 16/20/24 bit with 44.1/48/96 KHz digital bit stream to SPDIF Coaxial and Optical output
Image Format JPG, BMP, PNG, TIF, GIF, Animated GIF
Disc Format DVD (Single/Double sides) (Single/Double layers), DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, CD-RW, CD-R, VCD, DivX 4.02 or above without QPEL and GMC, MPEG-4 ISO, CD, CD-DA, MP3, WMA (8.0) or above, Picture CD
TV System NTSC / PAL compatible
Video Resolution Up to 1920*1080 (1080i)
Multiple DVI Resolution 480p, 720p, 1080i, 640*480, 800*600, 1024*768, 852*480 (Plasma) (p-progressive, i-interleaved)
Multiple Component Resolution 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i (60Hz); 576i, 576p, 720p, 1080i (50Hz)
Picture Resolution Up to 2048*1532
Network Connection LAN, Wi-Fi
Network Interface (10BASE-T) IEEE 802.3, (100BASE-TX) IEEE 802.3u , IEEE802.11g / IEEE802.11b
Network Protocol TCP/IP
LAN Connector RJ-45 8 pin 10Mpbs / 100Mbps (auto sensing)
Wi-Fi Security SSID (64 characters max), WEP Key (64 bit, 128 bit) (* note 2)
Wi-Fi Access Method Infrastructure, Ad hoc
UPnP version 1.0
Windows Media Connect (WMC) YES
USB Interface Type-A Connector
USB device Classification Mass Storage Classification – Fat16, Fat32, SCSI transparent command set
USB device USB HDD, Thumb Drive, MP3 Player, Media Reader (CF, Micro Drive, Memory Stick (Pro), Smart Media, MMC, SD, xD)
Media Server Software Platform and Updates
PC Windows Media Server Software Snazzi* Net Cinema for PC Windows included
Mac Media Server Software Snazzi* Net Cinema for Mac included
Linux Media Server Software Snazzi* Net Cinema for Linux (contact Support)
Network Attached Storage (NAS) SnaZio* Studio NAS HD Pro (with built in Net Cinema Media Server - operates as a standalone server)
Firmware and Software Update Periodic Updates are available for online download by registered users
Basic Specifications
Power Supply AC 100V – 240V 50 / 60 Hz 15W
Size 430 * 290 * 45mm (L*W*H)
* note 2 : WPA, WPA2 recommend to use external wireless bridge

2. The Package

We received at our labs, the retail version of the SZ1350. The player costs around US$350 and can be bought directly from Snazio*, at least for several European countries. The package includes the player, a printed manual, a CD with software, a network 10/100 cable, component Video(Y Pb Pr) cable, and one remote control with two AAA batteries. The included installation guide is worth reading.

The player itself is very small and lightweight. On the front, we can see the main power button, a small LED display, the disc tray and five main function buttons. The USB port is located behind the USB logo, underneath the function buttons.

The LED display is clear and provides the required information:

The five function buttons are soft touch and backlit. The USB port on the front, is useful for connecting your USB sticks or even USB HDD drives...

Going to the back, we find input and output jacks. Going from left to right, we have the ethernet 10/100 jack, the DVI output, S-Video and Video Component jacks, Coaxial and Optical digital outputs.

Moving further along, there is the 5.1 channels Audio output, the wireless antenna and the default scart output.

Lastly, the model ID and S/N.

The included Wi-Fi antenna can be removed and a larger one used for better transmission:

Removing the mounting screws reveals the inside layout of the player.

The various components are separated into (from left to right), the power supply converter, the CD/DVD loader and the main board that comes again from Sigma Designs (Promedia8620L) with an additional Wi-Fi 802b/g card. There are some limitations when up-scaling with several formats that will be discussed later on:

Snazio* uses only one USB Port, while the board can support an additional port, and even a smartcard reader.

The HDD cable is attached to the board and secured with glue (to prevent possible mods?)

The used loader comes from Epo, the same drive found on the Iodata AvelLink2 player, with however, a newer firmware revision. The loader is based on the MediaTek chipset:

Users can use any optical drive instead of the default EPO drive. For our tests, we used a Memorex DVD Recorder (LiteON OEM) which worked perfectly. Unfortunately, there's no easy way to secure the drive since the holes are at the bottom. Of course, enthusiast users could find a way around this.

3. Setting up the player

In order to start using the player, you have to decide which output connection method you will be using, according to your current TV/Audio setup. We used the composite AV output with a normal 29" CRT TV. After powering up the player, you will see the welcome message:

If you leave the player without activity for sometime, a screensaver will be enabled:

The main login page, consists of the internal DVD drive (1) and SnazziZone, a portal where Snazio posts news and interesting information on several subjects.

After selecting the DVD drive, you will see the contents. Unfortunately, the GUI doesn't use the full screen area, making long character filenames, hard to read. In order to start playing a file, just select it (up/down) and press "Enter"

If the player is connected to the Internet, you can access Snazzizone or any other website. By pressing the URL button on the remote, you can start typing the desired address. Note, that the process is time consuming since you have to cycle through letters and numbers using the remote control which at times can be unresponsive. Perhaps a full, optional keyboard would be much better. From snazzizone.com, you can also access various Internet radio stations or Internet TV or simply download HD trailers...

The built-in browser isn't very capable of handling most websites (like www.msn.com or www.cdrinfo.com), however you can read the basic content.

4. Menus

You can access the player's menu by pressing the "Setup" button. The basic functions are divided into 6 categories, where several settings can be selected:

The IP settings use DHCP to acquire an IP address, but you can also set this manually.

On the Wi-Fi setup, you can select the preferred network connection, set up authentication and various other settings.

The time setup tab includes further settings:

Online firmware updating is encouraged:

And lastly, in the DVD setup tab, you can select your TV type or enable/disable parental control.

5. Firmware update

Our player had the 10-10-050920 firmware revision installed.

Firstly, we used the built-in firmware update process, but we were informed that no update was available, which was rather strange since we had read around the Internet that a newer revision was available.

After looking around, we found an alternative URL address where someone could update their player. Go to http://www.mpcclub.com/1350/update.htm

And the newest firmware update was available. Select the highlighted link and press enter. Depending on your internet connection, it can take sometime to download the bin file, after which, the player will be auto-flashed.

After rebooting, the player had the newer firmware revision (11-95-051227)

6. Video Settings/Hacks

The player supports many output modes and at various resolutions. The default selection is Composite/S-Video PAL. HDTV users can select from many different modes:

As we mentioned earlier, there are some limitations when playing back DVD and Video files:

The last one may worry HDTV users, since DVD playback through DVI is limited to 576p. To make the SnaZio* NetCinema SZ1350 play DVD over DVI without limitations, eject the tray and at the main menu page:

A message will appear "CSS LICENSING". Quickly press 1 to disable it (or 0 to enable).

The player can become region free if you follow another similar process:

Both "hacks" are courtesy of Video Help.

7. Connecting with PC

Snazio* can be used to view Digital content from networked computers. Users have to download and install Snazzi* Net Cinema software (latest version 1.2):

Accessing the software preferences, we can select where our server would "listen" (default is port 8000). Remember to allow traffic on that port from your firewall. You can also add a username to prevent unauthorized access:

Moving down the list, we can select which folder we want to monitor, i.e. where our files are located.

Users can add several folders, either local or networked. Here are some, currently waiting to be streamed:

Going back to our player, we have to add the virtual server. The process is easy, just type a name (for example where the PC is located) and its IP address (static preferred):

A new icon appears and after selecting it, it is added to the list as follows:

You can also edit an existing network connection:

We were now able to access our content:

The Snazzi* NetCinema offers several other services, like music playback, photo display or you can visit sites around the net.

8. Wireless Connection

For testing the wireless connection, we used a Wi-Fi 802b/g card based on the Atheros chipset. Going to the Wi-Fi setup on the SZ1350, you have to select the Preferred "Wireless network", type in a SSID, select a connection method and the security method (none, WEP 64/128bit key). Note, that WAP is not supported, at least with the current firmware revision. It is advised to read the following article at Microsoft's website, explaining several aspects of wireless networking if you are new to wireless networking.

Initially, we were able to stream our digital content over the Wi-Fi network, either with WEP or with no security in place.

However, the next day, for an unknown reason, the wireless network didn't seem to perform as expected. Under WinXP SP2, the player had acquired a network address (either automatically or manually), however no packets could be received, as Windows XP network properties showed.

We are not sure what the cause of the problem was (corrupt drivers of the Wi-fi Card, or Wi-Fi problems on the SZ-1350?)... Searching around the net, we found several complaints from other users, commenting that there must be a problem with the Wi-Fi. During the limited time our network worked, we found that HD streaming didn't work well, since playback was jerky. It is advised to use the wired 10/100 network to ensure problem free playback of all formats.

9. The Tests - Disc compatibility

Disc compatibility

Format Content Booktype Playback
DVD-R DVD-Video - Yes

The above tests were performed with the Epox CD/DVD loader. The same drive was found in the IODATA AveLink2 Player, but the updated firmware seems to solve all compatibility problems. The player didn't produce any problems with any of the DVD recordable/re-writable formats, either with or without bitsetting.

Removing the Epox CD/DVD loader and connecting to the PC, we can see the drive's details, as well as the firmware revision:

The Epox CD/DVD loader is capable of reading up to 6X single layer discs,

Click for Full picture

and up to 6X for double layer discs.

Click for full image

Using CD/DVD Speed, we were able to use the drive for measuring PI/PIF error rates from a SL disc, however the reported error levels are too high to be useful...

Click To Enlarge

The SZ1350 with the current firmware, cannot recognize externally connected HDD drives (at least formatted with NTFS). It possible that FAT32 HDD drives are supported, after reading the manual. Perhaps this can be solved in a future firmware update.

A GUI inconvenience we found (which was also present on the IODATA AveLink2), is if a disc has many folders, when you enter a folder, move down its list of folders and enter the 5th sub folder for example, when you then return back to the original folder, the menu doesn't mark the 5th folder again, so that if you want to now go to the 6th folder, you need to scroll down all folders again from the top.

Coming to the displayed info, not a lot is offered during playback, except for some basic info:

In order to move forward and backwards when viewing a DivX/Xvid movie, the SZ1350 will first "scan" the entire file, causing a pause of several seconds. With small files, this time is very small, but with large files, it can take 5-7 seconds.

10. Playback Tests - Page 1

In order to test the SZ1350 player, we used several encoded files with the most commonly used Video and Audio codecs. You can view further details about all encoded files in this PDF.

The tests were performed with the built-in loader and not with with the Snazzi Net Cinema Server, unless mentioned in the results column. In short, the SZ1350 supports the following audio/video/picture extension filenames:

Audio Tests

We used several audio formats, from almost all current compressed/uncompressed music files:

Format Details Result
(.MP4 & .AAC)
CBR (32~192Kbit) Yes**

VBR (30~300Kbit)

HE/LC VBR 2.0 Yes
HE/LC VBR 5.1 No (Displays Too many channels message)
5.1 Yes
5.1 No
2.0 Yes
MP3 (Layer 3)
ABR (32~320Kbit) Yes
CBR (32~320Kbit) Yes
VBR (32~320Kbit) Yes
MP3 (Layer2)
CBR (8~160Kbit) Yes
MP3 (Layer 2.5)
CBR (8~160Kbit) Yes
MP3 Pro
CBR (18~ 96Kbit) Yes
VBR (Lowest-Highest) Yes
CBR (45~500Kbit) No
VBR (25~100 Quality) No
VBR 5.1 No (Player locks up, needs hardware reset!)
PCM 44.1 /48Khz 2.0 Yes
PCM 48Khz 5.1 No (Displays Too many channels message)
DTS_CD_5.1 No
CBR (5~320Kbits) Yes
VBR (48~192Kbits) Yes
WMA Pro 5.1 Yes

The SZ1350 has issues playing back specific Audio formats. What really troubled us, is that you cannot use the FF/RW or Next/Previous buttons on the remote control to move to other music files. Probably, those functions are only used for movie playback. There is no form of equalizer but it isn't something that should worry you.

The player locked up when we tried to playback several AAC, OGG 5.1 files. The player recognize MP4 files as video content, even though they can be only Audio, as in our case. We noticed that the player is only capable of playing MP4/AAC files with a bitrate higher than 100Kbit (either CBR/VBR). Trying to play back lower bitrates, will cause either distortion, or even lock the player. Snazio* should fix such problems with a future firmware upgrade.

11. Playback Tests - Page 2

Uncompressed Video Formats (.avi)

Format Details Size BitRate Result
2.1GB sized 720x576 26Mbit No picture, only shuttering sound

DivX Video Files (.avi codec)

Format Details Size BitRate Result
Home Theater Profile 720x400 1~4Mbit Yes
High Definition Profile 720x400 4~8Mbit Yes
High Definition 1280x720 4Mbit Yes
GMC 720x400 1Mbit Yes
GMC Multiconsecutive
GMC & QP Yes
GMC & QP Multiconsecutive
QP Yes
QP Multiconsecutive
VBR MP3 & AC3 Sound Streams 720x400 1Mbit Yes

The DivX format is fully supported, even when using non-profile settings like GMC or QP.

Special Video Files (.AVI)

Format Details Size BitRate Result
ASP Adapt Nero 720x288 965Kbit Yes
ASP Custom XVid 720x288 406Kbit Yes
ASP GMC 1Warp Point DivX 720x288 356Kbit No
ASP GMC 3Warp Point XVid 720x288 396Kbit No
ASP Mpeg XVid 720x288 396Kbit Yes
ASP QPel DivX 720x288 493Kbit Yes
SP 3ivX 720x288 454Kbit Yes

Xvid's GMC implementation isn't supported by the player.

Packaged Video Files (Video, Audio and Subtitles Streams)

Format Details Size BitRate Result
3 VBR MP3 Audio Streams & 5 Subtitles ? ? Audio and Subtitles Streams are playable but not the main menu
Slideshow ? ? No menu, but slideshow works
DivX5 Video Stream, VBR MP3 AudioStream, 2 Subtitle streams 704x288 1Mbit No

The "new" DivX format (.divx) is supported but, not as we might expect. No main menu is displayed. Matroska files are not supported at all.

12. Playback Tests - Page 3

Xvid Video File (.avi)

Format Details Size BitRate Playback
No special modes 704x288 1Mbit Yes
BVop Yes
BVop & Packed BitStream Yes
BVop & Packed BitStream & QP Yes
BVop & Packed BitStream & QP & GMC GMC Not supported
BVop & QP & GMC

As was mentioned, the EM8620L chipset cannot handle GMC, so users should avoid using it.

H264 Video Files (.avi)

Format Details Size BitRate Playback
VBR Mp3 Audio Stream 704x288 700Kbit Unknown Video Codec*

Unfortunately, the EM8620L series cannot decode H264 compliant content. We would have to wait until later on this year, with the new series of desktop players using the EM8622L chipset that is capable of handling H264 files.

NeroDigital Video Files (.mp4)

Format Details Size BitRate Playback
ASP (.MP4)
Mobile 176x144 400Kbit Yes
Portable 352x288 2Mbit
Standard 720x576 4Mbit
Cinema 1280x720 9.8Mbit
HDTV 1920x1072 9.8Mbit
- XVid Encoded with AAC Sound and Subtitles Streams 720x576 217Kbit Yes but subtitles doesn't work

The player has no problem with Nero Digital's Mp4 files (ASP profile only), even up to 1080i resolutions. Unfortunately, subtitles are not supported.

13. Playback Tests - Page 4

Mpeg Video Formats (.mpeg)

Format Information Resolution Bitrate Playback
Mpeg1 (.MPG) VCD Compliant 352x240 1152Kbit Yes
352x288 1152Kbit
XVCD 352x288 1500Kbit
XVCD 352x288 2000Kbit
Out of specs 640x480 1200Kbit Yes
- 720x480 2713Kbit Yes
AC3 Sound 720x576 9800Kbit
SVCD 480x576 2519Kbit
Compliant Test Stream 352x288 1.5Mbit Yes
704x576 4Mbit
18Mbit No
5.1 Surround sound 1920x1080 12Mbit Yes

The bitrate check showed that the EM8620L chipset is able to decode Video streams at up to a bitrate of 12Mbit. There are hints, that the chipset can reach 15Mbit. Mpeg2-TS files didn't present a problem, either at 1280x720 or 1920x1080 resolutions.

Windows Media Video Video Files (.wmv)

Format Information Resolution Bitrate Playback
WMV (.WMV) Windows Media Player 10 Digital Life Clip 320x180 300Kbit Only sound was available no video
Windows Media Player 10 Striker Clip 320x180 300Kbit
WMV HD DRM (.WMV) Underworld Extended Cut European Edition 1280x544 9Mbit Yes, need to follow specific procedure
The Magic Of Flight Clip 1280x720 6Mbit Yes
1920x1080 9Mbit Yes
WMA Pro 5.1
Peter Gabriel Sledgehammer Videoclip 240x192 466Kbit Only sound was available no video

The player has been advertised as WMV9 compatible and our tests showed it can playback WMV HD content without any problems. Using several clips, either from Microsoft or movie trailers, didn't cause problems for the SZ1350. However, low resolution (320x180) WMV9 clips, had only sound and no video, which is a bug. On the other hand, playing DRM files, requires several additional steps. After performing these steps, we were able to play back DRM protected material with the SZ1350A.

14. Playback Tests - Page 5

Special Tests

Format Information Resolution Bitrate Playback
Mpeg 1
Filename contains Greek Characters 352x240 1Mbit Doesn't display correctly the filename, but can play it

Despite the fact that the SZ1350 didn't recognize Greek characters for example, it was able to playback the file.

Subtitles Test Files

Format Information Playback
Text (.SRT) English Subtitles Yes
Greek Subtitles Yes*
DVD (.IDX .SUB) English Language No
Greek Language
Netherlands Language
Text (.PSB)
MicroDVD Format English Language No
Text (.PSB) PowerDivx Format English Language No
Text (.SSA) Substation Alpha English Language No**
Text (.SUB) Subviewer English Language No

The SZ1350 can display subtitles, mostly in Subrip (.SRT) format. Users have to set the same file name for subtitles as the video file (test.avi, test.srt), otherwise the player won't recognize them. Unfortunately, only 3 languages are supported (English, Chinese, Japanese), leaving out other European and worldwide users. The player will display them, but since the codepage isn't supported, they won't be displayed properly. Also, we couldn't figure out if the player supports Substation Alpha format, since it seemed to recognize that subtitles were present, but didn't display them.

Note, that with the DVD-Video format, the player displayed Greek subtitles perfectly.

Picture Formats

Format Resolution Playback
2272x1704 Yes
2048x1532 Yes
2048x1532 Yes
2048x1532 No

The player supports most picture formats, including Jpeg, PNG and Gif. The Jpeg files were loaded almost instantly, however both Gif and PNG took some time to load. BMP files weren't recognized by the player.

15. Conclusion

The Snazio* is the second network DVD/DivX player we have tested, after the IOData AveLink Player 2. The two players share the same "engine". However, Snazio* showed better playback performance in some areas. In general, we were satisfied with the performance of the SZ1350 since it is capable of playing back almost all Mpeg4 compatible (DivX/Xvid) formats, along with support for DivX HD and WMV9 (HD). The several input/output connections, will make it very easy to install with your current or future TV set, since the player also includes a DVI output. The network capabilities will further boost connectivity, whether it be wired or wireless. The included Epox CD/DVD loader didn't have any problems reading most of the current CD/DVD formats although DVD-RAM was not tested. It's possible for power users to modify their player with a DVD-R/-ROM drive, that gives even further media compatibility. Lastly, the player can become region free and upscaled for CSS DVD-Video content with the proper "mod", for up to 1080i which is important for HD TV users.

Of course, there are several negatives, or we should say problems, that Snazio* should fix with a future firmware upgrade to satisfy our needs. Don't forget that if you have internet access, your player can be updated online to upgrade it with new features and of course, fix possible bugs.

The price of the player is around US$350, which is not cheap, compared with low priced DVD/DivX players. However, none of those offer the connectivity and expandability of the SZ1350. Overall, a good product at a reasonable price.

- The Good

- The Bad

- Like To Be Fixed

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