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 It is almost given that most components will become outdated 4-5 years down the line.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

  • 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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