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.
How We Picked
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.
Best Home Theater PC
Can be used for multiple tasks
Good port options
Compact form factor
If you’re looking for an absolute top of the line home theater PC in terms of performance, the Intel NUC 8 Performance-G Mini PC is the go-to. It sports an Intel Core i7 8809G with a clock speed of 3.10GHz that can be boosted up to 4.20GHz which is extremely powerful for a home theater setup but could potentially be a little overkill for the average user. The processing beast is coupled with Radeon RX Vega M GH graphics which, again, could be a little much for some but ensures you’re not going to be encountering any troubles while viewing your media. Boosting the performance, even more, is the inclusion of 16GB of DDR4 RAM which will allow you to run 4k media with ease. All of these components combined come together to produce a machine that is more than capable for all your home theater needs and even stretches to providing brilliant gaming performance as well as VR support.
Looking at the connectivity that you’ll get from the NUC 8, you can take advantage of great inputs and outputs with the inclusion of 3 USB 3.1 slots, 3 USB-C ports (2 of these supporting Thunderbolt 3), SD card slot, and 2 mini-DisplayPorts. This means you’ll be able to insert expandable storage if you fill-up the internal drive as well as connecting this rig up to 6 displays if that’s why you plan on doing in your home theater. Speaking of internal storage, you’ll get a whopping 1TB NVME SSD which is not only large but also extremely quick, allowing for speedy booting as well as loading whatever media you’re wanting to play fast and with ease.
In terms of the size of this machine, the clue is in the name. It boasts a ‘mini’ form factor by being slim and compact enabling you to hide it very easily behind your TV or maybe even attaching it to your projector. To help with that you also get a mounting bracket bundled in which is a nice addition and one that’ll be useful for those who are wanting the cleanest home theater setup.
All in all, it’s clear to see that the NUC 8 is a performance powerhouse, providing everything you need to secure the best home theater setup. However, all of this comes with a hefty price tag which might be a little out of most peoples’ expectations, and the machine itself might be a little overkill for those dedicating it to this sole purpose. On the flip side, if you want a mini PC that does it all and don’t mind about cost, the NUC 8 is certainly difficult to top.
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.
Solid port options
Compact form factor
Not a multitasking machine
Small internal storage
So we’ve talked about the best value home theater PC but what about if you want to go even cheaper? Well, look no further than the Minis Forum Mini PC. Coming in less than $200, you might think that you’d be getting lackluster performance but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Minis Forum Mini PC boasts an Intel Celeron J3160 Processor that has a clock speed of up to 2.24GHz married up to 4GB of RAM and Intel 400 graphics. These, combined, offer some decent performance when it comes to media viewing and should be capable at most things you throw at it. However, this is its limit and you won’t be able to do much multitasking and certainly no intensive gaming.
In the connectivity department, you won’t be disappointed with the Minis Forum sporting 2 USB 2 ports, 2 USB 3 ports,1 HDMI port, and 1 VGA port. You’ll be able to insert your external storage rather than transferring it over to the internal drive as well as output your signal to pretty much whatever display you like thanks to the HDMI and VGA ports.
For internal storage, you’ll receive an NVMe 128GB SSD which is on the smaller side but thanks to the NVMe nature, it’s faster than your traditional SSD and ensures there won’t be any slowdown on watching your favorite movies and TV shows.
The form factor is, again, small and compact and you can hide this mini PC rather easily. Moreover, you’ll get a bracket included allow you to mount it wherever you like, keeping your home theater setup tidy and simplistic.
Overall, Minis Forum Mini PC has to be your budget home theater PC thanks to it coming in under $200 while still offering the media playing capabilities you require. Yes, you’re not going to be able to multitask or a game like on the more expensive mini home theater PCs but if you just want a dedicated mini machine that’ll work for media playback you can really go wrong.
8th Gen CPU
Compact form factor
Intel UHD graphics
Good port options (including Thunderbolt 3)
The usual MacOS restrictions
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 8th Gen CPU coupled with Intel UHD graphics which make easy work of streaming and playing your favorite movies. If this isn’t enough power for you, you can in fact overclock the CPU to a whopping 4.6GHz. You can additionally upgrade the RAM all the way up to 64GB 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 receive 2 x USB 3.0 ports, 4 x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports, and 1 x HDMI 2.0 port which will allow you to attach any external hardware as well as the ability to 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 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. Thanks to the 8th Gen CPU and Intel UHD graphics, it’ll handle pretty much anything you throw at it. Moreover, with the RAM and storage being expandable, you can customize the specs to fit your needs.
Things To Consider
Size & 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.
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.