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 - Saturday, December 30, 2017 - link

    Reflex, are you talking about the same "home theater focused websites and forums" that actually contradict whatever you keep saying here?

    In case you forgot, check the links to avsforum and avforums and let me know what they say about your opinions. =)
  • ddrіver - Saturday, December 30, 2017 - link

    Reflex, you seem unwilling to accept that MENTIONING a product once and not presenting anything about it for the entire article makes that mention useless. If one single mention about an item is what you expect from an article detailing that particular item then it's no wonder your reasoning stinks like a single digit IQ.

    The receiver presented in the article is "The AVR: Denon X3400H". Period. Every single article on the internet agrees with my opinion that it's not budget. Ganesh was very unprofessional and left that title even after Denon "sponsored" him with a much more expensive model.

    Of course you don't have to prove anything. Not since you were "smart" enough to claim things that you went on to contradict yourself.
  • Galid - Saturday, December 30, 2017 - link

    You guys are pushing this to the limits of tolerable. Can't you read the title and how the article begins? Is it written: ''The best most budget friendly home theater setup!!''? Does the article starts with: ''I started to build the best budget friendly home theater piece back in June 2017.''?

    No and no, it says ''A budget home theater'', not the ''most'' budget. This is a personnal setup exlplained on a tech website that doesn't specialise in audio review.

    I have a friend that owns the AVRX3400H recommended by audioholics and I can tell it's screaming good at it's price point. I consider myself a normal person and anything below 1k$ for a receiver TO ME is budget. My friend got this same receiver on sale for 750$, you can get it refurbished by Denon for 480$ and that is an AMAZING deal. Not saying there's no other good cheap AVR, there are tons of good options. Audio is much more compicated than PC component because it relies on personnal tastes(sound isn't perceived the same way for everyone).

    Now for Bullwinkle-J-Moose, your option of budget home theater is interesting but, what do you do for anyone who wants to upgrade speakers. That is REALLY common in the real world. You buy a better set of amplified speakers again, if you want definite improvements, you have to spend 2 to 3 times more at least unless you want a sidegrade. If you move into a new appartment or house with room size that doesn't fit anymore. Those JBL are really good for the price in a small room.

    That behringer 2496 is good but it's far from amazing. Reliability curses it's entrails with low end components. You can't just say: Much better than a Denon receiver I do believe. You did not even hear the Denon, wawwww this is.... A turbocharged Mazda 3 is much better than a Honda Accord HFP, I believe, never driven one but I BELIEVE! Best ARGUMENT eeeever, you sir won the internet.

    I sent my money to Santa Claus because I believe. Have a good year Folks!
  • Bullwinkle-J-Moose - Saturday, December 30, 2017 - link

    "This is a personnal setup exlplained on a tech website that doesn't specialise in audio review.

    I have a friend that owns the AVRX3400H recommended by audioholics and I can tell it's screaming good at it's price point.

    Well Galid, Lucky for you, I do specialize in Audio Reviews

    As I said, I designed and built the first "Modern" 3-Channel Home Theater Speaker system from which all these "Current Standards" are based upon

    I was there creating "THE" Standard before Dolby / THX or anyone else came along as an also-ran

    I have met with many of top leaders in this field

    I could walk into a high end Audio demo and accurately describe the type and order of crossover they were using without any info other than my ears

    I have heard the very best of "Budget" speakers going for under $100,000

    I created the "Standard" for Modern Home Theater

    You won't win an argument by insulting the best by simply claiming that any copy-cat Corp (who would cheapen his creation for mass market appeal by giving it WOW-factor racing stripes and slick advertising) is "THE" Standard, when all they did was to copy the Real Standard to sell a lower quality version to the ignorant masses claiming to be Audioholics

    I think you meant Alcoholics
  • Galid - Saturday, December 30, 2017 - link

    Waw, you're god, the really best and you have time to comment more than I do. I would love to have some of your links/websites or your own online store so I can get some useful references. I personally own a pair of Sennheiser HD-800 and Hifiman HE-560 running into a burson conductor SL1793 and I know how a recording should sound. My stereo setup consist of Rega Elex-R and ATC SCM 19 v2.

    Still that argument: ''Much better than a Denon receiver I do believe'' is worth a ton of gold coming from a pro/best/supergod of audio. Go into any audio forum and everyone will tell you the same if you ask them about a particular set of speakers/amplifier and that answer is? I'll let you guess, we'll see if you're that pro or if you're just so inclined about owning the ultimate ''truth''.

    What I can tell is that I liked that Denon AVR with Monitor audio bronze series, in fact I was blown away when he told me the price he paid but that is still personnal.

    You still have to provide any useful information other than ''I believe'' and I am the best because I did this and that and I work for NASA etc...

    I am co-owner of Totem Acoustics, I have shown my products around the world and met the very best the industry has to offer. My team and I have created some of the best speakers at their respective price points.

    I created Walt Disney when he was still in his mother womb.

    What have you created? Best budget ''no links provided'' godly audio setup?

    You won't win an argument with me when there's no argument to be won, audio is a question of personnal preference. I have met people that preferred a colored low end system than a 100k$ stereo perfectly balanced setup in a perfectly sound treated room. Your ears might like something someone else might find disgusting.
  • Galid - Saturday, December 30, 2017 - link

    BTW there is no ''THE standard'', all I said in my post was that to my ears it was screaming good at it's price point wether audioholics were right or not to recommend it. My friend took it's info from their website and I listened to his setup and I liked it end of the line. Wether I was right or not to like it, it seems it's up to you, I can't like a particular setup if god doesn't allow me to do so.

    Oh well life is unfair, god has to decide wether I like to hera something if it's not passing through some piece of hardware recommended by him. Personnal preference has disappeared with Bullwinkle-J-Moose. He is the new DRM for audio purchases.
  • Galid - Saturday, December 30, 2017 - link

    If you want to win something I can tell you that yes DRM is pure bullshit, it's the result of piracy. It's been dealing with it in a bad way, yes it can frustrate the consumer. If you want to know, yes I liked the Denon and I believe I have the right to like what I want to do even if there's better solutions out there. Can my friend live with it's DRM locked AVR yes he can, does he have the right to enjoy it yes he can, could he get better, yes he could.

    What do you think, owning a cellphone and using it is personnal, going on facebook and publishing photos/content is personnal owning a car? Wanna go down the rabbit hole? In 2013, 96% of every new car sold in the United States came with a black box that gathered information about each and every move you make. You think that going on the internet even with the best firewall being the best hacker on the planet and running windows XP, Linux or whatever is personnal? Everything can be dealt with if they really wanted to.
  • Reflex - Sunday, December 31, 2017 - link

    "I have met people that preferred a colored low end system than a 100k$ stereo perfectly balanced setup in a perfectly sound treated room."

    This is a real issue, what sounds good is not necessarily perfect reproduction, and varies person to person. I am considering that issue on the visual side with my new LG B7A. It is absolutely jaw-droppingly phenomenal looking out of the box with all the LG features enabled. Unfortunately it is not accurate and I am considering having it calibrated. The problem with that is that unlike what people believe, calibration usually reduces the pop and extreme color saturation of TV's since the real world does not look that way.

    The question is: Do I want it accurate, or do I want it to blow my mind every time I turn it on? It's a harder question to answer than one would expect. There is nothing wrong with saying "I actually like oversaturated colors" just as there is nothing wrong with someone buying a sound system saying "actually, I like more bass."
  • Bullwinkle-J-Moose - Sunday, December 31, 2017 - link

    "Go into any audio forum and everyone will tell you the same if you ask them about a particular set of speakers/amplifier and that answer is? I'll let you guess, we'll see if you're that pro or if you're just so inclined about owning the ultimate ''truth''."
    An Audio Forum?
    I'd rather have the Ultimate Truth!
  • Galid - Sunday, December 31, 2017 - link

    There is no thing as ultimate truth in the present world when personnal preference has to be taken into account. I have one proof right now, you seem to hate things so profoundly that someone else seem to like. Do you know the definition of ultimate truth? Something that cannot change, science is an example of ultimate truth not based on what you see or hear but rather on something that can be tested with identical results whoever is testing it with the same tools.

    That answer you couldn't provide taken from normal users(not gods like you are) on audio forums is that they will tell you: You need to listen and try it to know if it will suit you It is the opposite of what you are trying to tell us that in the audio world there is ultimate truth. Waw, in the end, you are rather a pathetic god, one that believes he owns something that doesn't exist, truth in itself. Truth is not an object, it's not what you think it can't be possessed, it's something that can't be changed by time, personnal tastes or anything that revolves around what I just said.

    I'm not denying you have some knowledge but you are pushing the boundaries far too much to be criticizing other's taste. You are exhibiting some very low tolerance levels caused by that knowledge on a subject that needs to take personnal preference into account. If X amplifier you freaking hate because of DRM, overprice but you look on the internet and said amplifier has 90% positive review. That 90% of users totally have the RIGHT to love it even if they don't know there's better out thewre for a cheaper price. If I buy a porsche spyder 918 for 1.7 millions that does 1 to 60mph in 2.3 seconds and freaking love it, I dn'T need people to force feed me about the toyota AE86 modified for 300k$ that does it in 1.8 seconds.

    Have a good year

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