Best home theater PC in 2023 – value, budget, and premium picks
Discover the best home theater PC using our top picks.
If you’re carefully constructing a professional home theater setup, there’s one piece of the puzzle that will make your viewing experience a lot easier – adding a home theater PC. A home theater PC dedicated to this purpose will enable you to hook up a projector or TV just once, removing the need to keep plugging and unplugging other devices such as a streaming stick, laptop, or your main PC. Moreover, thanks to today’s tech getting smaller, specialized home theater PCs can be tucked away neatly, hidden inside a storage unit, or potentially even behind your TV.
Products at a Glance
How we picked the best home theater PC
When scouring the internet for the best home theater PC, we encountered that there is an abundance of devices that claim to provide enough power to allow for a seamless viewing experience no matter what quality of media you’re playing. However, this is not always the case and while some offer good processors, they might lack the required RAM, and some offer solid input options but might lack in outputs.
If you’re looking for more home theater recommendations, then head over to our best projector under $200 guide. Looking for more PC guides? Then, check out our best computers for video editing article.
Best home theater PC in 2023 – value, budget, and premium picks
- Incredibly powerful
- VESA mounting
- 4K and 8K video
- Latest CPU
The Intel NUC is our top choice for the best home theater PC. With this HTPC, you’ll get a 13th Gen i7-1360P processor which is the latest mobile CPU released by Intel right now.
It is perfect for your home theater needs thanks to its split performance cores and Iris Xe graphics card. Let’s look at connectivity. The Intel NUC 13 comes with 2x Thunderbolt 4 ports, 3x USB 3.2, 1 x USB 2.0, 2x HDMI 2.1, 1x 2.5 Gbps ethernet, and 1x 3.5mm headphone jack.
With this HTPC, you’ll also get 16GB of DDR4 and 512GB of NVMe SSD giving you fast and responsive loading. All in all, if you want a reliable and powerful HTPC, your top choice should be the Intel NUC 13.
- Great value
- Decent port options
- Compact form factor
- Mounting plate included
- Small internal storage
If you’re a budget-conscious individual, you’re going to be wanting a good value home theater PC that does the job well without breaking the bank. As with most tech, finding a solid home theater PC at a good price can sometimes be a tricky task as you’ll have to cut some corners to get the cost down. However, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you and the AWOW NYi3 Mini PC is the one to go for here.
It’s responsive and fast thanks to the i3 CPU coupled with 8GB of RAM, making light work of media viewing no matter what the file size or format. Granted, you won’t get the same performance as the best overall pick we listed above but the AWOW is costing an incredible amount less and still does the job so it does beg the question of is spending over a $1000 on a home theater PC worth it?
Looking at the ports, you might be surprised to see that you’ll get plenty of options. It has 2 USB 2 slots, 2 HDMI ports, 1 DCIN port, and 1 USB-C slot which is probably more than you’ll ever need to be honest. The fact that it included 2 HDMI options is a nice feature as you’re able to either opt for the projector one night and the TV the next allowing you to change it up as and when. The form factor is pretty fantastic also coming in a small package that you can tuck away nicely. The design of the actual box isn’t the greatest but thanks to that ‘mini’ element, you’re able to hide it from sight.
The only real downfall we see in the AWOW is the storage. It comes with a 128GB M.2 storage solution which is a little on the small side and will only be able to house a small amount of 4k media. On the other hand, the fact that it’s of M.2 nature means its extremely fast, ensuring there’s no skipping, etc. on playback and if used for other purposes like working, you can rest easy knowing it’s up to the challenge
Summing up, the AWOW NYi3 Mini PC certainly offers value for money. The fact that you get an i3 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and an M.2 SSD all for such little cost is impressive and just because you won’t be getting a large storage solution shouldn’t turn you off, especially if you’re going to be using it more as a streaming box.
- Many mounting options
- Upgrade options
- Limited to two HD video outputs
If you’re looking to balance your budget, then the Dell Optiplex 3070 Micro is an excellent option. Its small, compact size allows it to seamlessly fit into various settings. It can even fit snugly into home theater cabinets.
But that’s not all, you even have the option to attach it to the rear of your VESA-compatible TV using an optional bracket. It comes with a tidy cable management solution which will further enhance its sleek setup. Couple it with a soundbar and you’ll get an impressively discreet home theater system.
At the entry-level tier, the Dell Optiplex 3070 Micro strikes a balance between affordability and performance. Equipped with a dual-core Pentium processor, 4GB of DDR4 RAM, and a spacious 500GB hard disk drive, it comes with a price tag that undercuts much of its competition. If you require more power, there’s room to upgrade to a range of Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors. You can even opt for a 256GB PCIe SSD, expand the RAM to a maximum of 8GB, and explore other enhancements.
- Apple M2 processor
- Fast connections (Thunderbolt 4, Wifi 6E, Gigabit ethernet)
- The usual MacOS restrictions
- 8GB RAM
The one and only Apple device to make the list of best home theater PCs is the Mac mini. This is because it offers some top performance no matter what you’re playing as well as a decent amount of connectivity giving you the ability to connect to your display of choice.
Initially focusing on the internals that go into the Mac mini, it’s clear to see it has the power, sporting an 8-core CPU coupled with an Apple M2 chip which make easy work of streaming and playing your favorite movies.
You can additionally upgrade the RAM all the way up to 24GB if you require, probably more than you’ll ever require from a home theater PC but if you plan on using it for multiple purposes, it’s certainly useful to know.
Thankfully, the Mac mini has a decent amount of storage, great for those who might be using it as a home theater PC to store your media on rather than as a streaming machine. Initially, you’ll get a 256GB SSD which is respectable and could potentially be enough for some but this can also be expanded up to the much larger 2TB, certainly enough to keep you going for some time.
Moving to the connectivity, you’ll get 2 x Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) ports, 2x USB-A, HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet, and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. This will allow you to attach any external hardware and hook up your display of choice thanks to the inclusion of the HDMI slot.
While you might think that this kind of power and port inclusion might make the Mac mini far from ‘mini’ you’d be wrong. It has a really impressive form factor and is just 1.4 inches in height, allowing you to fit it into practically any tight space or even hide it behind your TV.
Of course, you might not want to hide it away and thanks to the space grey case and minimalist Apple aesthetics, you can show it off with pride, and it will slot in nicely whatever your home theater setup.
Overall, the Mac mini is a solid choice for those who either don’t particularly like Windows setups or just want a compact, stylish machine that will work in most, if not all home theater setups.
Features and considerations
Size and weight
While most PCs of the home theater ilk are small in nature, they do seem to vary in overall form factor and weight. You’re probably thinking the smaller the better but in this case, it may be detrimental to your rig, and opting for a slightly larger and weightier machine could be the way to go, especially if you’re wanting power.
Naturally, with a home theater PC you’re going to be needing a machine that has a lot of connectivity thus not needing to worry if you’re able to hook it up to your projector or TV. The best home theater PCs have a wide variety of inputs and outputs including HDMI, USB-C, and Ethernet which allow you to have a seamless home theater setup that won’t buffer, be awkward connecting to your devices and allow for a variety of media inputs.
If you’re not planning on using your home theater PC as a streaming device and prefer to load up your movies and TV shows onto your machine, you’re going to need a hefty amount of storage to keep you going. That’s where again, the best home theater PCs shine. Ideally, you’re going to want at least 128GB as this will allow for a decent amount of 4k movies as well as room for a few seasons of your favorite shows. Moreover, if you’re able to expand this storage in the future maybe to something like 1TB or 2TB that’s a huge plus and something to look out for when purchasing any home theater PC.
Are HTPCs dead?
Home theatre PCs have definitely reduced in popularity due to the rise of smart TVs and streaming devices. However, there is still a place for HTPC in your living room as they are the best at what they do.
How much RAM does an HTPC need?
It is recommended that you have at least 8GB of RAM. This will allow you to have 1080p video quality without lag and long loading times. 4K viewing should also be achievable but 16GB of RAM is recommended.
Do I need a GPU for HTPC?
HTPCs do require a graphics card in order to function. However, it doesn’t need to be a powerful one. An integrated graphics card will be able to handle all of the demands. But if you do want something with more power then a good budget graphics card will do the trick.
So, which of our top picks is the best home theater PC? Well, we’d opt for the AWOW NYi3 Mini PC. It has the best balance in terms of performance and price as well as being small enough to slot into your home theater setup. It’ll handle high-quality streaming coupled with the option to store a bunch of your favorite movies and TV shows thanks to the 128GB M.2 SSD. However, if you’re looking for an absolute budget home theater PC, the Minis Forum Mini PC is the way to go. It has solid overall performance at a surprisingly low cost and will still work in pretty much all home theater setups thanks to its size.