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 It is almost given that most components will become outdated 4-5 years down the line.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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  • Galid - Sunday, December 31, 2017 - link

    I would really much like to listen to your setup, sincerely. I know I would be in awe, never said what you put up on the internet is pure crap, all I wanted to hear from you is that there's stuff out there even if it's overpriced, includes DRM, seems like pure mockery that can still be liked by someone even if it seems impossible to you.

    But you are such a supreme being with no space around it for tolerance of imperfections in the current world
    Reply
  • Bullwinkle-J-Moose - Sunday, December 31, 2017 - link

    "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."
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    You poor guy
    You've never actually heard a great set of speakers
    Even your headphones begin combing over 10Khz with a sine sweep

    My Speakers have zero combing or image shifting at any usable frequency

    Image is stable at ALL usable frequencies! and the sweet spot covers the entire room unlike your ATC SCM 19 v2

    Phase coherent hybrid crossovers and full omni-directional imaging would probably scare the crap out of your after being stuck with your Low End setup for so long

    You have my sympathy
    Reply
  • Galid - Sunday, December 31, 2017 - link

    Well happy to you if you got the most neutral stereo system in the world, never said mine was perfect but it's still good enough to know how a record should sound even if it still has coloration. I was already informed about the bump in frequency on my headphones, the frequency graphs came with the headphones.

    Who do you freaking think you are, I just said I've seen people liking lower end system than higher end ones. What you want in the end, it is not nature with it's imperfection, you want the perfection humans have created, you wanna hear mathematics perfectly aligned, let's kill all those unbalanced beings and create a planet where everything is robotized, controlled, calculated.

    I like imperfections and you seem to believe no one should, I never said you can'T like what you do. I'm trying to have you understand someone else might very much like what you find disgusting. You have yet to understand that.
    Reply
  • Galid - Sunday, December 31, 2017 - link

    ''You've never actually heard a great set of speakers''

    How condescending you can be, I went to many audio shows including Montreal audio fest, again I guess every set of speakers there was really bad, everything is to you yet you recommend stuff like JBL powered speakers which by the way must sound uber crappy. I'm not trying to win a contest here, you already won the internet sir. You own the very best the planet has to offer and yet you can'T accept people can like stuff even if there's better out there.
    Reply
  • Galid - Sunday, December 31, 2017 - link

    My crap low end system, let's then not consider 99.9% of speakers ever produced amplifiers and so on because they're all crappy colored and unworthy.

    Those JBL speakers you recommended are crap btw you just said it. No one can like them. That behringer 2496 can't be loved either, it's crap by your standards because you own better, everything below what you own is crap and then should not even be discussed on the internet.

    I never tried to show you I own better than you, I just wanted you to aknowledge someone might like what you dislike, audio is not science, it goes through someone's ear and then is interpreted by their ears. A neutral sound set of speakers will make some recordings unlistenable. If those records are 90% of what they listen to, they will hate your super neutral sound system.
    Reply
  • Galid - Sunday, December 31, 2017 - link

    Forgive them for they know not what they do.

    I'm sorry, I forgive you, let's hope you will be able to do so with me.
    Reply
  • we - Monday, January 1, 2018 - link

    "My Speakers have zero combing or image shifting at any usable frequency"

    You are talking about the JBL LSR305? Even if that were true (which I doubt), there are many many other significant aspects of loudspeaker design. Some simply cannot be properly addressed at the price point of the LSR305. For example, it can be assumed that the drivers of the ATC SCM 19 v2 will have significantly better distortion / linearity specifications that the cheap drivers in the JBLs. And although powered speaker can be very good, I wonder to what extent JBL addressed vibrational effects on the internal amps and crosover considering the available budget (All amps and even crossovers are microphonic to an extent). So much more could be said.
    I have heard neither the JBLs nor the ATCs, but logic dictates that if the JBLs are even remotely comparable to the ATC in sound quality, then JBL truly pulled off a miracle!
    Reply
  • Bullwinkle-J-Moose - Tuesday, January 2, 2018 - link

    "You are talking about the JBL LSR305? Even if that were true (which I doubt), there are many many other significant aspects of loudspeaker design. Some simply cannot be properly addressed at the price point of the LSR305."
    ----------------------------------------------
    Oh HELL NO!
    I am definitely NOT talking about the "BUDGET" JBL LSR305 Home Theater setup

    I was referring to the 3-channel "Reference Standard" speakers I created over 30 years ago

    Additive/Subtractive frequency interference is easy enough to eliminate with a 3-channel system when done right, but cannot be eliminated in a 2 channel stereo system regardless of cost

    You will get ALWAYS get combing whenever you send the same signal to 2 or more speakers simultaneously

    Even the most expensive dynamic headphones exhibit image shifting at higher frequencies

    It is much less noticeable with planar magnetics, but still there

    You can easily test this combing effect by runnin a mono sine sweep into your headphones at a low level to protect your hearing

    The sweep (Starting at the bass end) will remain dead center of your headphones until it reaches a certain frequency which could be 6-8 Khz on pure crap headphones / 8-12Khz on most midrange headphones and above 12Khz on the best available headphones

    Ideally, you do not want the stereo image to shift left or right as frequency changes as the stereo image wanders and muddies up the acoustical image you are trying to create
    Reply
  • rapster - Sunday, December 31, 2017 - link

    Hahahaha! Someone skipped a dose? Reply
  • FreckledTrout - Sunday, December 31, 2017 - link

    @ddriver, this is very low end for me, so I have no issue with it being called budget. The Jamo sub is utter crap probably not even worth $100 if sold alone. If this build had say a SVS PB-1000 as the sub I might be onboard on the sound side. The in ceiling speakers are at least middle of the road. The other tips were nice but as far as the speakers go it couldn't be any more low end. I ahve the Denon AVR x3300 the prior year version of the one here and it is a lovely receiver mostly because of the Audyssey xt32. Reply

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