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 It is almost given that most components will become outdated 4-5 years down the line.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 - Thursday, December 28, 2017 - link

    Again, you made the claim he gave a "$2000 HTPC reccomendation" as part of the article. He did not. He merely listed it as an option for those focused on gaming. You lied. You can spew all sorts of crap into as many paragraphs as you wish, but you have no credibility when you willfully lie about the contents of articles simply to 'prove' whatever point you somehow think you are proving.

    As to the rest, spend some time on AVSForums and you'll learn what is budget, midrange and high end for a 'home theater', rather than what you think you can cobble together with your home CNC setup and 'custom networking protocols'.

    You are the biggest joke on this site since Steve Lake/Lord Raiden.
  • ddrіver - Thursday, December 28, 2017 - link

    Guess they're not important enough to show up when you look for "budget receiver" on Google huh? Stop trying to cover up the mess. There are options between $100 and $1million. But almost every normal person will agree that $1000 is not "budget". That's why every article and review out there confirms what I'm saying: $300-$500 is what most regular people call "budget".

    But just to show you how unbelievably dumb you are I actually searched AVS Forum for "budget receiver". Guess what was the most commonly recommended price range... You probably guessed wrong. It's between $300-$500, with very, very, VERY few exceptions at $600-$700.

    Like this:
    Or this:

    Come on, keep making that point =)). I'm sure you can make a bigger ass of yourself.
  • ddrіver - Thursday, December 28, 2017 - link

    BTW, you're so focused on insulting me and proving I'm wrong that you don't even realize your own arguments contradict your case. That's just pathetic. You're willing to make a fool of yourself and ignore all common sense and evidence in your attempts to just contradict me.

    A $1000 receiver isn't budget. It just isn't. Budget is another word for cheap but still reasonably OK. And I was actually looking for a good recommendation for a home theater setup, at least the receiver and speakers part. I expected some info about a budget setup. $1000 just for the receiver? Yeah, he mentions another cheaper (~$500) receiver but that doesn't help sine I basically have to read the details elsewhere. So how is that an article about a budget setup again?
  • Bullwinkle-J-Moose - Thursday, December 28, 2017 - link

    ddriver, For BUDGET Home Theater......

    Check the comparisons and reviews of PreSonus Eris Powered 5 and 8" Monitors to the JBL LSR305 and 308 on Youtube (I chose the JBL)
    (Room size will determine which one you need)

    2nd place>
    KRK are too colored and boomy for me and Yamahas HS5 and HS8 are considerably more expensive for 2nd place sound

    3rd place> There is no 3rd place!
    I also noticed you mentioned > "A receiver is an integral part of a home theater."

    For those who make the computer their central repository of all things Media to keep their setup "Minimal", I would think that a receiver would only have value for those who value DRM Lockdown and clutter
  • Reflex - Thursday, December 28, 2017 - link

    1) I don't have to prove you wrong, you do that effectively on your own.
    2) The article also listed a receiver in the price range you suggest is budget as well. You seem unwilling to acknowledge that fact. Weirdly enough, you give more attention to the very brief mention of a gaming HTPC (on a primarily PC based site no less!) than the fact that they actively discussed the even cheaper option in the article itself and in the final table. Seriously, selection bias much?

    And yes, I never claimed there was no such thing as a receiver for less than $1k. However even at $1k, its a budget receiver. It is in no way out of scope for an article like this. $1k is below what is considered mid-range in this space for actual 'home theaters' rather than "TV and receiver in the living room" class setups.
  • Bullwinkle-J-Moose - Thursday, December 28, 2017 - link

    Reflex says....
    (on a primarily PC based site no less!)
    Sorry Reflex but this is clearly not a PC based site!

    A "Personal" Computer would let "you" control every aspect of your own system

    This site is based around Locked Down DRM Spyware Platforms that prevent the end users from securing their own systems

    DRM destroys the National Security of All Countries by keeping those back doors open

    Try using the Internet without letting Microsoft continually make changes to "your" computer or monitoring everything you do while using Spyware Platform 10

    Whenever you must rely on strangers to provide YOUR security, you have no security

    The PC died with Sandy Bridge
  • Reflex - Friday, December 29, 2017 - link

    You are welcome to your opinion, but others are not required to subscribe to it. Reply
  • Bullwinkle-J-Moose - Friday, December 29, 2017 - link

    "You are welcome to your opinion, but others are not required to subscribe to it."
    As are you
    When you say "Real Home Theater"
    How does that differ from "ANY" Home Theater

    Must we conform to 1000 different "Standards" to make it "Real" ?

    Must it have the latest DRM Lockdown ?

    What "EXACTLY" makes your Home Theater "Real" and mine "not so much" ?

    We would like to hear your expert opinion on the matter before we destroy it
  • Reflex - Friday, December 29, 2017 - link

    I usually refer to what people consider the definition on home theater focused websites and forums. Obviously you are free to define home theater however you like.

    Most people who build a home theater these days want at least Dolby 5.1/7.1 with many opting for the better positional audio of Dolby Atmos. Most people who build a home theater these days want 4k resolution with at least HDR10 with some opting for the slightly superior Dolby Vision standard.

    If your goals are to display content optimally, and playback audio optimally, equipment choices are dictated by those factors within the budget you have permitted yourself. All the rest is just noise. I don't give a damn if my content is DRM'd so long as the equipment I select can play it back reliably. I'm not even sure what 'DRM Lockdown" means in this context if everything I set up to play back the content can play it. I don't really care about hypotheticals or other scenarios that I am not interested in, nor are most people in this space given that as you point out those standards generally win out in the market.

    As for the value judgement, I've made zero comments about your home theater and its 'realness'. If you consider it real, more power to you. But again, I don't have to subscribe to your interpretations, recommendations or priorities when discussing or making recommendations on this area myself. As with most people, I go with what the prevailing standards are and it is reasonable to judge articles, content and conversations based on that understanding. If everyone builds their own definition of a term and insists others cater to only their definition we lose the ability to discuss any topic rationally.
  • Bullwinkle-J-Moose - Friday, December 29, 2017 - link

    "I usually refer to what people consider the definition on home theater focused websites and forums. Obviously you are free to define home theater however you like."
    That's a valid point

    After defining and building the modern 3-Channel System upon which all these current standards are based (3.1 / 5.1 / 7.1 etc), it's nice to know I can have my own opinion on the matter

    The only standard now is that there is no standard!

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