While any old PC can be turned into a home theatre machine, there are loads of compact yet affordable alternatives.
They range from simple dongle-sized mini-computers on a stick, to hard-core (but compact) HTPCs capable of high-end gaming.
The ‘stick’ PCs are typically low-end hardware on a tiny device that can plug directly into an HDMI port. They are ready to go and run Windows 10, and make excellent but basic HTPCs. They lack features like LAN or SSDs, and skip extra outputs such as USB and audio.
NUC-style systems are a step up, with multiple video outputs, separate audio, Gigabit LAN, loads of USB ports and room for a 2.5-inch HDD.
They range from fairly low-end hardware (with Windows included), up to barebones systems with powerful Intel Core CPUs. Some NUCs have Intel IRIS graphics, but are generally not gaming focused.
Mini-PCs range from very compact devices, up to chunkier (but still slim) computers with all the bells and whistles. A major focus of the computers is gaming, with discrete graphics cards and faster CPUs.
While most of the PCs reviewed run Windows 10, with the demise of Media Center, third-party player options are needed. Most also run on OSX, Linux and even iOS or Android, and are ideal upgrades for your HTPC.
Our favourite simple (and free) options are Kodi and Plex — both of which can turn any PC into a very powerful HTPC.
How We Tested
All but one PC (the ARM based CuBox) were benchmarked under Windows 10 (including the Mac Mini).
Geekbench 3 was used to provide a cross-platform reference. Barebones systems were tested with 8GB of Kingston RAM and a Samsung 512GB SSD. Games were run on the high setting, at 1080p.