Not every onboard/integrated graphics solution is capable of handling a high definition video stream, however the nVidia ION2 graphics in the Zbox seems to process this just fine. Checking Task Manager we can see it is putting a bit of a load on the system, however video and audio playback is perfect. CPU utilization ranged from 30-40% across the cores and the 2GB of memory with Windows caching was pretty much all in use.
The Zbox was easy to connect to my wireless N router with Windows 7, and I show the networking properties here to verify we're getting the faster speed, 270Mb/s according to Task Manager. I also tested the Zbox connected via cable as well at 1Gb/s, although they're only shown here together for display purposes. Obviously you will only be using one connection type or the other.
The reason I want to point out the networking speed is because of performance issues we've seen before, such as with the Patriot PBO. That unit would not connect to Netflix so I have nothing to compare to, but shown here is the Zbox system load using first wired and then wireless connections. This is an HD stream from Netflix instant queue, although the exact resolution and bitrate of this particular title are unknown. Obviously they're using some sort of compression in order to make this HD streaming possible, as we noted in the PBO review uncompressed Blu-Ray content for example can require up to 48Mb/s of bandwidth. The Internet connection we're using is standard Xfinity broadband service through a Linksys WRT310n gigabit router. As you can see both the CPU and Memory usage of the Zbox are significantly higher when using the wireless, and unfortunately performance is impacted as well. These problems were not observed when viewed on my regular desktop computer.
When pulling an uncompressed, 1080p stream across the network, it doesn't matter whether it's wired or wireless, performance is going to be impacted either way. And here we can see why, around 80% CPU utilization on the wired network, 90% via wireless. Streaming regular SD content via either was no problem, the picture and audio are perfectly fine. But if you want to watch something HD, you're better off popping the disc in the Zbox or pulling the content down to the local hard drive first.
Let's wrap things up with some final thoughts and conclusion.