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 It is almost given that most components will become outdated 4-5 years down the line.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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  • ebilg - Tuesday, December 26, 2017 - link

    To avoid all the headaches with UHD Bly-rays you could just get an Xbox instead. The studios don't seem to care about 4K Blu-ray on PCs. Plus the Xbox also does Hulu in 4K. Reply
  • ddrіver - Tuesday, December 26, 2017 - link

    It's obvious the "budget setup" isn't actually a budget setup because the guy just accepts to be "sponsored" with equipment that blows any budget: it goes from ~$470 to ~$1000. That's over $500 extra. On a budget! So who cares about the BR player? It can just be sponsored by somebody.

    @GaneshTS & AT what other budget builds can you do with expensive sponsored stuff? I was thinking on an article on how to get free gaming builds... from your parents.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, December 26, 2017 - link

    Dude, seriously? The only equipment that was sponsored was the Denon AVR, and it was clearly specified. Everything else was out of my own pocket (other than the PCs that come in for review on a revolving basis) Reply
  • ddrіver - Tuesday, December 26, 2017 - link

    That wasn't about getting hidden stuff or anything like that. It was about adding $500 and still calling it a budget build. A $1000 receiver isn't part of any budget build. It doesn't make sense. Reply
  • Gasaraki88 - Wednesday, December 27, 2017 - link

    So you want a home theater system but don't want to get an AV receiver? You complaining about a $500 receiver? That's the cheapest you can get that supports DV passthrough and all the other new tech. If you don't want good sound you don't need a receiver so you can subtract that out but then it not a "Home Theater" then. Reply
  • Icehawk - Wednesday, December 27, 2017 - link

    Not even remotely true, plenty of recievers in the ~$400 range offer the sams functions. After my last two $800+ recievers crapped out after two years I will no longer put my money in them. Reply
  • Crazyeyeskillah - Thursday, December 28, 2017 - link

    You are completely out of touch with your readers. There are plenty of options on the market that will deliver a great experience without dumping $500 into a receiver. While it's fun to piss away money on a home theater system, you don't have to blow all your money on something that won't give a perceivable benefit whatsoever to the average consumer. The extra $500 could make up the difference towards a 55" OLED display, or an entry level projector. Your priorities are clearly bias and deserve to be in question. Most of your articles are fair but this is really a preposterous entry without question.

    I would have honestly love to seen a review of some entry level projectors. Virtually everyone wants to know more about the bulbs, longevity, brightness, clarity, and other factors. Speakers are pretty much the no brainer of tech, they either work or they don't. If you want more channels just increase the blank.1 you have setup.

    Even just building a really versatile box for future proof playback would have been sufficient. People tend to geek out on their displays in their own way.
    Reply
  • FreckledTrout - Sunday, December 31, 2017 - link

    @Crazyeyeskillah, I disagree. Any adults here who can afford an OLED TV would love a decent quality home theater which will cost at minimum $2000 but many people just don't know it. My nephew who is 28 has a good soundbar system and really didn't understand why I spend $2.5K on speakers and a receiver so we watched a movie, pearl harbor. When your company leans to duck the plane dropping bombs, priceless. Good home theater isn't something most people understand but once they have heard it they know what they are missing. Reply
  • SunnyHours - Wednesday, July 11, 2018 - link

    There are other ways of having a decent speaker system without dishing out 500$US on a "home theater" receiver...especially if you don't plan on getting a decent set of Surround Sound speakers, which are not cheap...we are talking at least another 500$ up to 2000$ or more...and just for speakers.

    Instead, why not get a nice set of powered Bookshelf speakers like AudioEngine, Swan, HiVi, M-Audio, Kanto, Edifier and even Klipsch have good speakers that don't need a Receiver/Amplifier and generally have a 3.5mm cable so it's compatible with most anything, there are also some who do have RCA input(s). In this list you'll find all kinds of prices and whether you want a 2.0 speaker system or a 7.2 speaker system.

    Also, another nice option if you have many things to connect, you can always just get a nice and simple 2.1 Sound System with a receiver (NAD, Yamaha, Denon, Harmon Kardon and others that don't come to mind should serve you well) and a pair of regular Bookshelf Speakers (Same brands mentioned before plus a couple others...just go to your biggest audio dealer close by and try them out before you buy them...if you can try both the receiver and speakers all the better!)

    The 3rd option would be to go with Headphones!
    If you want to head to head, speaker system vs Headphone system...of the same price, you'll always get way more sound for your money out of a simple headphone DAC/Amplifier combo and some Headphones or a DAC, headphone Amplifier and Headphones.
    Whatever you do, please, do NOT encourage Bose. They sell overpriced stuff and it's just a really bad deal all around.
    If you want more information and to ask questions to people who really know their stuff, head over to the Head-Fi Forums. They really specialize in headphones, but being Audiophiles usually means you'll also want good sounding speakers to be able to share it with others, and also to mix it up a little.
    Reply
  • prerich - Friday, July 27, 2018 - link

    Bravo!!!! Reply

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