Viewing Online Content With Zinc

by Damian on October 6, 2009

in Guides

logoOne of my goals with my digital home setup is to get online content sites like Hulu and Netflix integrated with my various media players. Ideally this would all happen at the WHS level with the media player(s) simply capturing and displaying the feed. There are currently a few options out there, such as PlayON and Tversity, that I hope to test out and document in the coming weeks (Now that I have my server up and running I hope to take a closer look al PlayON sooner then later). For now I thought I would look at an interesting piece of software called Zinc that I installed on my HTPC. Zinc™ software delivers Internet and downloaded video in an easy to navigate graphical interface. Zinc is designed to be driven with a remote control and displayed on a TV. Zinc can be used to playback local content but playing back online content is mainly what it is intended for. Most importantly, Zinc is free and is available to both Windows and Mac users. So let’s take a look under the hood and see what Zinc has to offer.

When Zinc loads up the first screen that appears is ZvPresents which lists out all the available online content. The layout is very nice with each content provider prominently displayed.

Zv Presents

Probably the two most frequently requested online sites are Netflix and Hulu, which Zinc supports. The reason why Hulu works with Zinc is because all Zinc does is redirect you to the Hulu website via Firefox. The nice thing about Zinc is that all you need is a remote to navigate around Hulu or any other content (I used a standard HP MCE Remote but you can also purchase a ZvRemote). The Hulu UI is very nicely laid out by category (TV Shows, Movies, HD Showcase, Most Popular, and Recently Added). Once you locate the show/episode you are interested in watching, Zinc will go directly to the Hulu site in firefox, and once loaded will automatically go into full screen mode.

Hulu

Hulu 3

Netflix was just as easy to operate. The first think you will be asked to do is to link up to your Netflix account. Once this is done you will now have access to the Netflix Watch Instantly Service.

Netflix Link

Netflix View 1

The next thing I wanted to check is to see how Zinc handles local content stored on my WHS machine. Zinc is not meant to be a full fledged media center application, so I wasn’t sure what I could get out of this. Setting up the local content folders was very easy to do, just simply go to the Add/Removes Folder section in the Settings and choose the folders where your media is stored. You can even set Zinc to rescan these folders at start up to look for any new content.

Media Folders

Once the scan was complete I went back to the main menu and under Local Content I could see that some of my media had been brought in. From what I could tell files such as “avi” and “mpeg” were being picked up, but not much else. I dug around ZeeVee’s website but could not find a list of supported audio/video formats, but as I mentioned before Zinc is not meant to be a full fledged media center so my guess is it only supports only the most basic formats. Even with the limited files showing I don’t see much use in this function with Zinc as the layout/navigation of local content is very basic and definitely not intended for a large amount of files.

Local Content

One interesting feature I came across was the ability to add your own online content via an RSS Feed. I tried to think of what would be a good example to test this out, and then I recalled a few weeks back hearing about a site called MediaSmartServer.net. Supposedly in the past month the founder Alex Kuretz had brought on a new contributing editor to the blog who many in the know consider him to be the George Clooney of the tech industry. So I thought, let me check out what all the hype is. In Zinc I typed in the web address and before you know it I had a list of the most recent blog postings. Selecting a posting then opened up the full post in Firefox for reading.

RSS Feed Favorites MSS RSS Feed Favorites MSS 1

The nice thing about the RSS feeds is that you aren’t locked in to the default online content provided by Zinc. If there is a site with an RSS feed (including videos) odds are you can add it to Zinc. Since my son is on a big Scooby Doo kick, I searched around and found the RSS feed for KidsWB. From here a list of all available shows appeared, so I clicked on Scooby Doo and sure enough I had thumbnails (although of poor quality) of various Scooby Doo episodes ready to be watched.

RSS Feed Add 1

RSS Feed Favorites 1

Final Thoughts:

I have mixed feelings about Zinc. On the positive side, the developers did a really nice job with the UI. The layout is simple and easy to navigate, and the ability to add your own online content where available is a huge plus. Zinc is probably one of the best “Online Content Aggregators” that I have come across to date.

On the downside I just don’t know how Zinc fits into my home setup. Since Zinc has very limited support for local content I would still need to rely on a separate media center program like WMC or SageTV (you can actually open up WMC directly from Zinc via the Applications menu option or add Zinc to WMC via programs like MC Menu Mender). The goal with my home setup, and in particular my HTPCs, is to simplify things as much as possible, so adding another program to the mix could go against this and hurt the all important WAF. I think this is where the appeal of a program like Boxee is, to have an All-in-one program that handles all media content (music, videos, online, offline, etc…). Also, it is hard to determine where Zinc fits into the plans of ZeeVee. The focus of ZeeVee is streaming/sharing HD content over existing coax. Their products are geared towards Commercial clients or a more high end consumer which leaves you wondering how offering a free software application ties in to future plans.

Overall I would say Zinc has a lot of promise and given that it is free I see no reason not to download and try out for yourself. Currently Zinc is in Beta 4.


Article by

Hi, my name is Damian, and I'm tech gadget addict! Although I always had some interest in technology, it wasn't until I got my EX470 and more importantly found Mediasmartserver.net, that my interest became an addiction. My goal, aside from world domination and to see the Mets/Broncos win another championship, is to set up the perfect digital home where all my media is available at the click of a button. When I am not writing for Mediasmartserver.net you can find me over at my blog at http://www.adigitalhomeblog.com or follow me on twitter


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