The days of bulky HTPCs with built-in optical drives, massive internal storage arrays, and integrated TV tuners are long gone. The advent of over the top (OTT) online streaming services has moved a lot of functionality to the cloud. As NAS units become more powerful, it has made sense to move local media files to a central repository. All these have enabled the TV-connected PC to become more compact. Unless the consumer has specific requirements (like, say, high quality gaming), even ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) machines such as the Intel NUCs can fit the bill.

Home Theater Components: Keeping up with the Times

The primary functionality of HTPCs has evolved to become one of a powerful and versatile media player. However, recent advances such as 4K and high dynamic range (HDR) videos, as well as stricter DRM requirements such as HDCP 2.2 for premium content have made the perfect HTPC platform difficult to achieve. Before delving deeper into these new advances, it is helpful to have some insight into how the landscape has changed over the last decade or so. The advancements in that timeframe have meant that next attractive home theater feature was always around the corner. In the initial days of 720p televisions and other home theater equipment, it was Full HD (1080p). As 1080p became widespread, it was HD audio bitstreaming. After that, 3D support was sought after. A brief lull ensued before the market started slowly getting ready for 4K.

Over the last year or so, we have seen the appearance of displays and audio/video receivers (AVRs) supporting HDMI 2.0 / HDCP 2.2 along with HDR / Dolby Vision. Despite the announcement of HDMI 2.1, I believe that we have reached a point where it is possible to purchase a relatively inexpensive home theater and HTPC configuration without worrying about it getting obsolete within the the next 3 to 5 years.

On the media side, OTT streaming services have become popular to the extent that Netflix and YouTube moved to offer 4K videos to consumers ahead of Blu-rays. Fortunately, many modern PCs are capable of 4K Netflix playback, though HDR is available only on a subset of those configurations. UHD Blu-ray playback support is available through CyberLink PowerDVD 17. However, the hardware requirements are a lot more specific compared to premium OTT services. UHD Blu-ray playback with HDR requires that the home theater components fulfill additional requirements.

Building a Home Theater on a Budget

I started work on this home theater piece back in June 2017. The aim was to present a setup (TV, AVR, and HTPC) with all the bells and whistles, yet light on the wallet. While the TV (TCL 55P607) and the AVR (Denon AVR X3400H) were easy to narrow down based on the feature requirements and budget, the PC side proved to be more challenging. Our core requirements (compact form factor, 4K Netflix support, and HDR capability) narrowed down the choices to a NVIDIA Pascal GPU-equipped PC or a Kaby Lake PC with HDCP 2.2 capabilities. UHD Blu-ray support further narrowed this down to certain Kaby Lake PCs with a HDMI 2.0 / HDCP 2.2 display output.

In the course of our evaluation, we found that consumer electronic (CE) equipment almost always received features ahead of HTPC platforms. Keeping this in mind, we ended up evaluating a number of options for the fulfillment of HTPC duties

  • Roku Smart TV platform in the TCL 55P607
  • Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN1080K
  • ASRock Beebox-S 7200U
  • Intel NUC7i7BNHX

Prior to looking at the performance of these options, it will be of interest to readers to delve deeper into our choice for the other home theater components. Earlier this year, I happened to embark on a house remodel, and I took that opportunity to revamp the HTPC test components used in our system reviews. Our choice of components is geared towards a typical family room (15' x 15') home theater.

The Display: TCL 55P607
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  • ddrіver - Wednesday, December 27, 2017 - link

    If you have enough time reading them then I consider I'm doing a public service ;).
  • Notmyusualid - Tuesday, December 26, 2017 - link


    Try to ignore ddriver - he could have an argument in an empty room.
  • ddrіver - Wednesday, December 27, 2017 - link

    As long as it's a good argument? Why share a piece of crap with people when I can have a cake all by myself?
  • Notmyusualid - Thursday, December 28, 2017 - link

    @ ddriver

    EVERY possible argument seems to be a 'good one' for you.

    Here, I think these people can help you:
  • Duckeenie - Wednesday, December 27, 2017 - link

    Dude, seriously? Oxymoron?
  • Crazyeyeskillah - Thursday, December 28, 2017 - link

    There is nothing budget about this review. You are painfully out of touch with your readership. I've been on this website since 2001 and honestly don't know why I bother reading anything that isn't written by Ryan at this point. Really a shame what is left for Anands legacy.
  • lmcd - Tuesday, December 26, 2017 - link

    Given that the primary point of the article was the HTPC itself, there's literally no point in your comment except to continue your pattern of abuse. This is equivalent to talking about "storage on a budget" and using an expensive CPU to test the storage solution.
  • ddrіver - Wednesday, December 27, 2017 - link

    @lmcd: For your sake I hope you're pretty because you sure don't score any points on the IQ scale.

    The article is LITERALLY about "A Budget Home Theater & PC Setup". Not just "the HTPC itself". Reading comprehension fail. The article LITERALLY describes both. And although you may assume home theater is a wooden podium with really tiny actors putting on a play for you, it's actually not. A receiver is an integral part of a home theater. This is why the receiver is on the 3rd page of the article, before "the HTPC itself".

    Which brings us to my gripe: a $1000 receiver and a $2000 HTPC recommendation are not budget by any stretch of the definition. Which means the very first part of the title is complete and total BS. Kind of like your understanding of the text... or words in general. Literally.
  • Reflex - Wednesday, December 27, 2017 - link

    As usual reading comprehension is not your strong suite. The article lists two receiver options, one for $999 and one for $430. Nether is top tier nor considered 'expensive' in the receiver space. It offered three HTPC options, two which could be configured for $600-800, and one that was gaming focused for $2000. Again, perfectly reasonable budget options while highlighting the current cream of the HTPC gaming crop as an option for those with the budget.

    If I have a complaint about this article its that I'd have liked for them to offer one or two steps up on each category, for instance I chose to focus on the display for my setup and dropped $2k on a 65" OLED and then went cheap on the HTPC by using a XB1S.

    None of the recommendations listed would be considered expensive, or even mid-range for the home theater space. Not even the $2k HTPC, honestly although it was the closest item. Mid-range in this space starts at around $20k, and goes up to around $200k before you get to the actual crazy setups (real home theaters).

    But again, reading comprehension is not your strength, nor is knowledge of the areas in which you spout word salad like something sold by RonCo.
  • ddrіver - Thursday, December 28, 2017 - link

    Oh Reflex, if only you paid more attention to making sense instead of just hurling whatever you pull out of your a$$.

    The fact that the author mentions another option once and then never describes anything related to it again is useless. If "mentioning" something was enough this article could very well have been a short table with the components needed. Basically the table on the last page (but one that actually lists the cheap AVR option).

    Secondly, reviewing a "budget" setup where the actual receiver used is $1000 redefines the meaning of "budget". The $2000 HTPC must be a stupid joke only the author gets. Google for "budget receivers" and tell me what the ENTIRE INTERNET believes "budget" means. But I'm sure you're smarter than everyone else... in your own tiny head.

    Only a bumbling moron can think these prices are "budget" because "midrange starts at $20000". And yeah, you refuse to actually read any of the comments that make good points here and prefer to focus on your own understanding of what I wrote, on rants about $20k midrange setups, and other stuff only you could think is reasonable. So you definitely fit that description.

    But but but wait. $200k is actually entry level pocket change, far from a "crazy setup" you seem to think it is. Compared to real home theater systems:

    But I need a good laugh. Keep going with your "knowledge". ;)

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