Concluding Remarks

Home theater components have seen rapid technological advancements over the last decade. It is almost given that most components will become outdated 4-5 years down the line. Under these circumstances, it is important to identify local troughs where things don't change much except at the leading edge. The rise and stabilization of 3D video was the last such trough. Right now, 4K and HDR seem to have finally matured and become ready for mass adoption. From a HTPC viewpoint, HDMI 2.1 should not be a cause for concern and make consumers wait for the next big thing. This is a marked departure from the tone I had adopted when we last looked at options for HTPC displays back in 2015.

In the process of working on this article, I configured and set up a budget home theater build from the ground up (except for a few speakers from my earlier setup). The table below lists the components that I chose along with the pricing for each. Readers interested in building their own set up will not go wrong by picking and choosing from the list below.

Home Theater Setup Components Guide
Component Model Price Notes
Display TCL 55P607 $700 The TCL C-series (with Dolby Vision) is also recommended, and is available for a comparable (if not lower) price from outlets like Costco as of December 2017.
AV Receiver Denon AVR-X3400H $999 The lowest price we found while tracking this product was $799. A more budget-friendly is the Denon AVR-S730H at $430 (as low as $349 at times)
Media Streamer NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV $199 Available for as low as $160 at times. Recommended as a more flexible alternative / add-on to the Roku Smart TV features of the TCL P- and C-series TVs. Offers ease of setup and use compared to the HTPCs listed in this table
HTPC ASRock Beebox-S 7200U USD 349 (Barebones) Recommended HTPC if media playback is the primary requirement
Intel NUC7i7BNHX1 USD 506 (Barebones) Recommended HTPC if media playback is a primary requirement, and flexibility to add an eGFX enclosure for gaming and/or hardware extensibility is also desired. Offers much better CPU / GPU performance compared to the ASRock Beebox-S 7200U
Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN1080K USD 2000 (pre-built) Recommended HTPC if gaming is the primary requirement. Most powerful CPU and GPU in the list of considered systems, but comes with size and power consumption penalty, as well as the inability to support UHD Blu-ray playback
Blu-ray Drive Pioneer BDR-211UBK $117 Our choice for the Blu-ray drive has to be an internal one as of now, since almost all USB-based ones are currently not available directly in the North American market
SATA-USB Bridge for Blu-ray Drive UGREEN SATA-USSB Adapter with Hub $26 A multi-purpose SATA-USB bridge with a microSD reader and a couple of additional USB 3.0 Type-A ports. If looks are a concern, the Vantec NexStar DX USB 3.0 Enclosure (NST-536S3-BK) at $44 is a good choice. However, since the components are concealed in my setup, I went with the more veratile and cheaper UGREEN option
Blu-ray Player Software CyberLink PowerDVD 17 Ultra $48 Pretty much the only option available to play Ultra HD Blu-rays legally. Does automatic playback in HDR mode for supported local files on supported Intel GPU-based systems. Note that this is not a mandatory component if the Pioneer BDR-211UBK is used. The Blu-ray drive comes with a OEM version of PowerDVD 14 that supports UHD Blu-ray playback. However, only the retail version gets updates that can fix issues that new titles in the market may have
Speakers Polk Audio RC80i $117 Purchased a couple of these in-ceiling pairs for new rear and surround channel speakers, along with ceiling speaker protective covers. Choice depends on home theater size and other requirements. Works well enough for me to recommend
HDMI Cables AmazonBasics High-Speed HDMI Cable (10 ft. / 3 pk.) $14 The Monoprice cables are recommended over the AmazonBasics ones.
Monoprice Certified Premium High Speed HDMI Cable (10ft.) $3.14

Consumers looking for a compact and pure media playback HTPC (including OTT streaming, local media playback, and UHD Blu-ray playback) can opt for either the ASRock Beebox-S Kaby Lake series or the Intel NUC7i7 series. The key is the presence of a HDMI 2.0 / HDCP 2.2 port. If UHD Blu-ray playback is not essential, a machine equipped with a GP107 GPU (GTX 1050 / GTX 1050Ti / GT 1030) is a good choice, as it comes with a GPU capable of VP9 Profile 2 decoding in hardware. However, such a system is unlikely to be as compact as the UCFF machines. If gaming is as important as media playback, a hybrid setup with the Intel NUC7i7 series along with a eGFX enclosure connected to the Thunderbolt 3 port and incorporating a high-end Pascal or similar GPU can also fit the bill. While we have not evaluated such a HTPC setup, it does offer the best of all worlds on paper - gaming with Dolby Vision, UHD Blu-ray playback, and all the other bells and whistles. This is possibly a setup we would like to evaluate in a future article.

Moving forward, consumers should look forward to dynamic HDR metadata support. If the components in the display chain are already capable of Dolby Vision, it is likely that consumers are not going to see any major difference compared to components supporting the dynamic metadata feature of HDMI 2.1.

Dolby Vision on PCs presents a host of challenges. In general, dynamic metadata is problematic for general-purpose devices like Windows machines. On such systems, there may be many different video windows open, each with conflicting metadata. So all these different formats need to be merged into a single color/brightness domain. By comparison, most CE devices are in full-screen-video mode, and don't normally have to worry about multiple HDR formats appearing on screen concurrently. Addressing these challenges will require the OS and GPU vendors to work together to go beyond the current HDR10 deployment.

In terms of HTPC hardware, one of the interesting platforms about to debut in shipping systems is Gemini Lake. The low-cost platform supports SGX, HDMI 2.0, and HDCP 2.2. Gemini Lake platforms have a lower power budget and memory performance compared to the KBL-U systems covered in this piece. Intel confirmed that they do not plan to support HDR processing workflows in Gemini Lake due to those constraints. Consumers looking for Gemini Lake to provide a low-cost HTPC platform should prepare to temper their expectations.

Finally, a note on the HDMI cables used in my setup: I bought a number of them of various lengths (up to 10ft.) from both Amazon (Amazon Basics) and Monoprice. The Amazon Basics had a 33% failure rate (only 4 out of 6 were able to work with the GTX 1080 in a Razer Blade Pro driving a 4Kp60 signal at RGB 4:4:4 to the LG 43UD79B). Fortunately, I was able to test out prior to installing the cables inside the wall. On the other hand, the Monoprice Premium Certified cables had a 100% success rate. It is a no-brainer to go with the Monoprice ones.

UHD Blu-ray Playback in Action
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  • Azethoth - Monday, January 01, 2018 - link

    Why don't you go read an article on _not_ home theater, and regale everyone with how awesome the sound from your shitty TV speakers are. Home theater is simply not for your budget, but don't pretend everyone is living in mom's basement.

    This article may be out of touch with the 5 of you, but it is not out of touch with the rest of the readers.

    Why not go whine in articles about supercars about how they are out of touch with 99.999999% of the planet. Oh noes! I still want to read about them though.
    Reply
  • Sivar - Wednesday, January 03, 2018 - link

    Most Anandtech readers are tech-savvy, but not tech experts and have normal homes, eyes, ears, and middle-level income (of those in the United States).
    Talk of an OLED TV or projector tells me that it is you who is out of touch with readers, and it doesn't help that your statement to the author was inappropriately rude.

    OLED TVs have an objectively better picture quality, but are much more expensive and the difference is not that noticeable to most people.

    Projectors are great (I use one) but are impractical for many (most?) homes because they need light control and, for good pricing, a large flat wall for the screen.

    Regarding speakers, if the implication is that there is no noticeable difference between them, then yI suspect you are not at all an enthusiast of home theater. This isn't even a reasonable debate, it just leaves me dumbfounded. True that there is little difference between an extremely fancy speakers (say from Focal or Magico) and a good set of well-designed towers such as those from Ascend or JBL, and indeed the audio industry has a lot of snake oil like expensive cables and any Bose product, but to say that a speaker "works or it doesn't" proves little experience with sound systems, even in the sub-$500 range.
    Reply
  • SunnyHours - Wednesday, July 11, 2018 - link

    Totally agree with you there!
    Especially your comment about Cables, Bose (I HATE BOSE!) and mostly the comment that "either a speaker works or it doesn't" that just really surprised me and made me wonder how this person can even entertain the idea of giving tips on a subject you know nothing about...especially on the internet where people will put you on the spot and call you for being an ignorant person and at the same time being a "know it all".

    Next thing he will say is that "Vinyls sound like crap and cassettes were a much improved product" LOL.
    Reply
  • Dug - Friday, January 05, 2018 - link

    He's not out of touch. A good balanced receiver will last much longer in a system than video. Most people upgrade video (tv's, monitors, etc), than they do sound. Projectors don't really fall into the family room scenario either. Usually too much light, sound, maintenance, setup, etc. Plus there's no real 4k hdr affordable projectors out. Reply
  • Bullwinkle-J-Moose - Thursday, December 28, 2017 - link

    "So you want a home theater system but don't want to get an AV receiver?"
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Why not?

    I have a 35 Watt dual-core Sandy Bridge with optical audio output to my Digital EQ (Behringer DEQ24/96) and Balanced XLR to each JBL LSR305 powered monitor

    (Behinger AD converters sound like crap but with an optical input, it sounds Fantastical)
    Much better than a Denon receiver I do believe

    Sure, it's completely Gimped when its running Windows 10 DRM garbage

    But, if I want to run 4K on a Gimped System, I can boot to 7 / 8.1 or Spyware Platform 10

    I'm running Windows XP right now so I don't need to worry about Bluescreens of Death, malware, or Viruses like I do with Spyware 10

    Burns BlueRay Disks fine and can boot to a stock install of XP in 3-4 seconds from a Samsung 850 Pro

    Any computer newer than Sandy Bridge is nothing more than a Locked Down Gaming Console with a web browser attached and they make for really piss poor home theater setups

    "Personal" Computers died with Sandy Bridge!
    You are just renting a JukeBox
    Reply
  • Azethoth - Monday, January 01, 2018 - link

    I am missing the part where your "fantastical" Behringer DEQ24/96 decodes Dolby Surround.

    You are failing at Home Theater. There are standards. One of them is surround sound.

    Stereo is for listening to old timey music. I am willing to put my Denon in surround stereo up against your stereo thing anytime. I will also pretend that Denon is better, except it would actually be true unlike your imaginings where an optical in somehow makes a difference.

    Just so you know, hard science and engineering tells us that an optical in connection means you 100% do not have what this article is about: the more part of 4k blu ray. Atmos does not fit into optical. Hell, 7.1 and 9.1 surround did not fit.

    So you and the rest here are just bloviating without saying anything relevant to the topic.

    tl;dr If it is beyond your budget, quit whining and read the follow up article next year. Everything will be cheaper and better.
    Reply
  • Bullwinkle-J-Moose - Monday, January 01, 2018 - link

    "I am missing the part where your "fantastical" Behringer DEQ24/96 decodes Dolby Surround.

    You are failing at Home Theater. There are standards. One of them is surround sound."
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    There is no "Standard" to Home Theater!

    Surround Sound is one of many so called "Standards"

    Your "Budget" demands "Your Standards"

    3.1 / 5.1 / 7.1 / 9.1 are simply additions to the 3.0 "Standard" that I created over 30 years ago

    They do not Image a "Standard" stereo output as well as mine and yet you claim "They" are the "Standard"

    Advertising propaganda has taught you well

    Now go forth and spew nonsense

    A "Budget" Home Theater can be whatever you want it to be

    Racing Stripes and RGB lighting may cost extra
    Reply
  • Reflex - Monday, January 01, 2018 - link

    I am unclear on how your setup will do positional audio in a home theater setup. For instance, if I play back DD5.1 content, will your setup put the appropriate audio and effects behind a viewer? If I play Dolby Atmos or DTS X content, will it additionally place the appropriate audio above the viewer's head? If so, how are you handling the decode operation for those standards to translate them to your proprietary speaker number and arrangement?

    Thanks!
    Reply
  • Bullwinkle-J-Moose - Tuesday, January 02, 2018 - link

    "If I play Dolby Atmos or DTS X content, will it additionally place the appropriate audio above the viewer's head? If so, how are you handling the decode operation for those standards to translate them to your proprietary speaker number and arrangement?"
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    I support my original "Reference Standard" which preceded Atmos and DTS X

    I do not support other "Non-Standards" which came later

    The only way a "Non-Standard" Home Theater experience can match the "Stereo" Imaging accuracy of my Reference "Standard" is to steal my design

    If Dolby or anyone else can claim to match the Imaging accuracy of my Reference Design, then there are really only two possibilities here that I can see

    A: They stole my design
    or
    B: They are Liars

    There either ONE Reference, or there is no reference

    Choose Now!
    Reply
  • Bullwinkle-J-Moose - Tuesday, January 02, 2018 - link

    There is either ONE Reference, or there is no reference at all Reply

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