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 It is almost given that most components will become outdated 4-5 years down the line.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


View All Comments

  • Reflex - Tuesday, January 2, 2018 - link

    You are not answering my question:

    If I play back content that is encoded in DD5.1, 7.1 or Atmos, will your equipment do the proper object placement so that I get a sound effect in the appropriate location?

    It is an important detail, if you cannot do that with the material that is available today, your solution is a solution for an audience of one. If it can do that, I am curious how it accomplishes it with what you are describing as essentially a 3.1 setup and with no Dolby or DTS license.
  • Bullwinkle-J-Moose - Tuesday, January 2, 2018 - link

    "what you are describing as essentially a 3.1 setup and with no Dolby or DTS license."
    The original reference design was 3.0
    Moving the Bass speaker to a separate sub cab and calling it a 3.1 system makes zero sense

    No Dolby or DTS License is correct
    I do not support fake standards forged from a Real Standard

    If Dolby and DTS is as good as mine, they should get a License from me

    If you wish to play incompatible standards, be my guest
    As I have said, I do not support Lesser Quality, incompatible or forged Standards

    Dolby Vision is the same in that regard, as I or anyone else can easily create an "Open" Standard that is Visually the Equal of Dolby Vision without need for a Dolby License

    Being locked into a proprietary and lesser Standard is "your" choice / not mine!
  • Reflex - Tuesday, January 2, 2018 - link

    Then your setup is good only for you and content you produce, and for the purposes of the article and the discussion thread essentially meaningless. If you can't play back the content that is being produced accurately then it just isn't relevant to the discussion.

    I'm glad you enjoy your setup, I also enjoy mine.
  • Bullwinkle-J-Moose - Wednesday, January 3, 2018 - link

    "Then your setup is good only for you and content you produce"
    You are correct
    I can produce content for anyone, and they can Lock it down with whichever proprietary standard they want for sale to people like you

    My content can be encoded in the standard of the week or whatever "standard" Dolby comes out with next year

    Yes, I wanted a system that can master for anyone!

    and you want the finished result in a proprietary format of your choice

    we are both happy with what we have!
  • Bullwinkle-J-Moose - Wednesday, January 3, 2018 - link

    My Home Audio setups are for creating frontal 2 and 3 channel Audio Imagery

    I am not interested in surround but I could easily add as many surround channels as the next standard can handle

    My focus is on audio production/mixing/mastering/Imaging

    yet they are all I need or want for Video / Home Theater as well

    All I really want is a great Audio Image in front, so I want what I have and I have what I want!

    It's right for ME!

    What works for you is also correct
    There is no wrong standard here
    You can believe in one standard, a hundred standards or none
  • wiyosaya - Friday, January 5, 2018 - link

    I choose C: You are a troll! Reply
  • Aspernari - Tuesday, December 26, 2017 - link

    Everything came out of your pocket, except several thousand dollars worth of stuff you recommended because you didn't have to pay for it, so it had no budgetary cost to you.

    Would you have really bought the $500 receiver instead of a suitable HDMI switch (if you didn't have enough HDMI ports for all your 4k sources) and using ARC or optical out from the TV with your existing receiver?

    Your cost/benefit analysis is broken in this article. You keep trying to defend it, but it's not defensible.
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, December 26, 2017 - link

    The $430 receiver was what I wanted in the build. That is what I was ready to spend my budget on.

    What part of the sentence 'pick and choose from the list' did you not get in the concluding section?

    A HDMI switch will not do the job of the AVR.

    It is not a matter of defensible or not - I have presented what worked and what didn't, even with the sponsored equipment. I have presented alternatives also. I think $349 for the AVR driving a $700 TV is a very reasonable budget - incidentally, the same amounts that I spent back in 2008 with a Toshiba Regza 46" TV and a Onkyo TX-SR606.
  • Aspernari - Tuesday, December 26, 2017 - link

    Regarding not understanding: I understand just fine. Your choices are poorly considered and presented. I'll restate from elsewhere: You recommend readers buy $200 worth of Bluray-related hardware and deal with BSODs and/or pursue beta drivers, among other issues.

    Regarding the receiver: I guess you just wanted a new one, since a budget option would have been a TOSLINK cable or other solution to get audio from the TV to your existing receiver, abandoning the HDMI ports on it, and making use of an HDMI switch if you were short on HDMI ports. Total investment of about $40. Sure, you lose some of the functionality of the obsolete receiver (which you could still use fine on 1080p and lower content), but you also save $349 on sale/$430 retail/$464.40ish after tax by not buying a new receiver. Or getting someone to sponsor you.

    " I have presented what worked and what didn't, even with the sponsored equipment." - You didn't present anything that I noticed that didn't work with the receiver. You state the inverse actually, "None of the issues encountered in the course of the evaluation presented in this piece could be attributed to the Denon AVR X3400H." - Which may well be true. But you also didn't evaluate the hardware you then recommend people go out and buy anyway, so the entire thing is moot. You're pushing hardware you didn't get your hands on, which just makes this all the more silly.

    Imagine publishing a hardware review article, giving something a good "buy" recommendation,but never actually using the product. Oh wait - you just did that.

    It's cool that you're going back and making edits based on the response here, but there's really two articles that should have written, crammed into this one:

    1) A blog post about stuff you bought and the setup you made, where you can squeeze in your promotional consideration for Denon.
    2) The testing you did and the issues you had navigating the current home theater market, focusing on 4k and HDR with HTPCs and high-end settop boxes.

    Are you going to actually review the $1000 receiver, or is this article all that they're getting out of it?
  • edzieba - Tuesday, December 26, 2017 - link

    "I guess you just wanted a new one, since a budget option would have been a TOSLINK cable or other solution to get audio from the TV to your existing receiver, "

    That's... not how things work. At all. Adding an S/PDIF cable is not going to magically allow transport of audio streams that:

    a) Are too high bitrate for S/PDIF (which cannot even carry 5.1 LPCM)
    b) Were developed decades after the S/PDIF standard

    It's as ludicrous and nonsensical a suggestion as installing an IDE cable to allow your SATA motherboard to use m.2 PCIe NVME drives.

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