Logitech has designed the Z-Cinema to be like “The Dude’s” (The Big Lebowski) rug – it’ll tie your whole entertainment system together. It’s a speaker system that functions via remote control that integrates with Windows Media Center and other popular programs to give you total control over all your media, including music, photos videos and movies. Though it works rather well, the UI has a few issues and the price tag is quite steep for a 2.1 speaker system.
Features and Design
The Z Cinema is a 2.1 speaker system, meaning it has two satellites and a subwoofer (the .1). The system connects to your PC via a USB cable for 100 percent digital sound that bypasses your soundcard. It includes a full-sized remote control that controls the speakers (there are no controls on the speakers themselves) and the included Z Cinema software.
The satellites are quite tall and have a glossy piano finish. Each satellite sports both a midrange speaker and a tweeter, which together output a total of 70w RMS (35w per satellite). The satellites include six-foot cables and connect to the eight-inch, long throw subwoofer, which pumps out 110w.
Image Courtesy of Logitech
A full-sized remote control is included and it controls all the functions of the Z Cinema system. It uses two AA batteries (included) and includes several different sections that control different functions such as input, media controls volume and TV functions. Windows Media Center (built-in to Vista Home Premium and Ultimate Editions) is required to get full functionality from the remote, and the system in general.
Image Courtesy of Logitech
The Z Cinema software is required to be installed and running in order to let you interact properly with the speakers. Once installed an icon sits in the system tray and can be called up on screen by clicks or by the remote. The application lets you control volume levels and program associations as well as a number of other settings.
Logitech Z Cinema Software
Use and Testing
We plugged the Z Cinema into our test system and had to fiddle with it for awhile and even reboot to get it to work, which is how it’s supposed to work according to the installation manual. Regardless, we eventually got it working and started our tests with some music.
First we fired up some music, and were reasonably impressed with the overall fidelity and balance between the satellites and subwoofer. We played everything from acoustic tracks to hip hop and thought it sounded decent, but never amazing. The speakers sound decent, but neither their overall volume nor audio fidelity blew us away. We would say on a three-tier scale of poor, decent and awesome they rank as “decent.” They certainly get loud enough for a mid-to-large size room and at max volume they are loud without any distortion at all, which is good. The subwoofer delivers the kind of power you’d except from a unit of its size. The bass sounds great too, and is very well-balanced with the output from the satellites. Next we decided to try out a movie with the SRS Surround Sound enabled, to see if the Z Cinema really could producer believable surround sound. We fired up Roy Orbison’s Black and White Night which is notable for its surround sound since you can hear the backup singers behind you on a proper 5.1 setup. We noticed some definite ambient “surround” sound when SRS was enabled, but it wasn’t nearly as good as having actual rear channel speakers. The two satellites did a good job of opening up the soundstage a bit from simple stereo but it was not as convincing as we hoped it would be.
The Z Cinema software ties it all together, and is comprised of two elements; a system tray icon that you can click on with your mouse to change settings, and on-screen displays that appear when you make changes to volume, sound levels, etc. For example, when you select a song its title appears at the top of the screen, the volume level appears in the lower left and the SRS Surround setting appears on the lower-right. After a few seconds it all fades away so as to not block your view of the screen.
Z Cinema Software
The Z Cinema software has its pluses and minuses. When you click the icon in the system tray a small control center opens on screen that lets you tweak various settings such as volume levels and what program opens when you click a button on the remote. There are three tabs for music, photo and video, and each tab lists supported programs. Surprisingly, the software supports a wide array of programs and all of the most popular ones, including iTunes, Winamp and Rhapsody for audio, as an example. Even better, if the program you use isn’t listed, you can select “other” and use any program you want.
So for example, if you set Winamp as your program of choice for music, pressing the “music” button on the remote opens Winamp. An “iPod” style spin wheel adjusts volume, and you can pause, skip, stop and fast-forward tracks. It’s easy to use and the remote works very well with the software, but we did have a few issues.
The biggest problem we had was with the four “presets” buttons, which are supposed to let you easily create one-touch launch buttons for your favorite music, videos, etc. In reality, they were difficult to configure, and equally difficult to use. Holding down a preset button did nothing, but releasing it would some times trigger a certain song across all four preset buttons. We couldn’t find any way to change the presets, nor could we successfully add new presets beyond one that we added initially. The overall setup process for these presets is flawed, and it would be great if we could manually change them in the Z Cinema software.
It also annoyed us that we could open programs with the remote, but could not close them. A simple “close application” button would be appreciated. We also experienced numerous little irks that detracted from the overall experience, like when you press the Shuffle button the word “shuffle” appears on screen, but if you press it again to turn off shuffle it still says “shuffle” on screen. We also had issues adjusting bass and treble volume, as it would instead change the overall volume. Finally, every time you make a change to anything, the Cinema software pops up on screen, which is annoying.
We do like the soft orange backlighting on the speakers though, and thinks it’s both classy and effective. It’s too bad there’s no backlighting on the remote since it would make it easier to use in low light.
We also have to mention the SRS Surround sound, which gives you pseudo surround sound from just two speakers. It works okay in the sense that it certainly broadens the soundstage a bit and adds more ambience to the sound but you will not be fooled into thinking you have a phantom rear channel of speakers.
The Z Cinema is an interesting approach to integrating a home theater PC remote with a set of better-than-average speakers. Overall the package accomplishes most of the goals it set out to achieve, making it somewhat easy to control a wide range of media from the comfort of your couch. Of course, we did have a few difficulties, and must also point out that you must have Vista Home Premium or Ultimate, or XP Media Center Edition to fully utilize the software. And then there’s the price: $300 USD is a lot to pay for a 2.1 speaker system, even after taking into the additional cost of the remote control into consideration.
• Decent sound quality
• Remote works very well
• Easy installation
• A few interface issues
• “Surround” sound is so-so