How to Build a Home Theater PC

Living Room Home Theater PC Build
"California Casual Home Theater" (photo by Pascal Sijen)

Last updated: August 2019

A home theater PC is a dedicated computer that hooks up to your TV in order to take full advantage of your digital music, movie, and television library; a home theater PC can also allow you to play some PC games, use your computer's optical drive as a disc player for CDs/DVDs/Blurays, and watch videos from streaming services like YouTube and Netflix, all from the comfort of your couch.

What we are going to be looking at here are different pieces of hardware that go inside the build, followed by some useful software and peripherals that can enhance or finish off your set-up perfectly.

The misguided complaints which come up against building a PC for the living room are the same all the time: namely that desktop PCs are too big and too loud. So our recommendations here focus on bringing down the size and noise of the computer by being smart with our part and case choices.

With more and more focus on low-TDP (low-max-temperature) processors than ever before, as well as a greater shift to digital downloads and streaming, there has never been a better time to look into building your own Home Theater PC (HTPC). Perhaps this desire to buid a full-fledged HTPC is due to a frustration or limitation you are facing with a small streaming device that plugs into your TV, or even with the 'smart' functions on the TV not cutting it.

This guide provides all the information you need to build a shiny new Home Theater PC for your living room that will be powerful enough to handle your workload and entertainment—all while being compact and quiet! Building your own Home Theater PC instead of buying one pre-built means you’ll get the exact performance and design you desire, with higher-quality components and less (if any) bloatware.

Let's get to it!

In Section 1, we provide example PC builds that combine components to be well-suited for living room Home Theater set-ups.

In Section 2, we’ve got a part-by-part explanation of how to select components for your Home Theater PC build.

In Section 3, you'll find details on some of the most useful HTPC peripherals.

In Section 4, we have an overview of the most prominent software for Home Theater PCs.

Finally, in Section 5, we give you some info about a couple gamer-specific HTPC set-ups for those of you who already own beastly desktop PCs.

Section 1: Example Home Theater PC Builds

The following four builds provide the best performance and design choices for a Home Theater PC at different budget levels. General info on how these parts were selected and prioritized is available in section two below.

Note: When building a new PC, you’ll need to install an operating system. For maximum compatibility with available HTPC software, we recommend using Windows. You can purchase Windows here. Some people are eligible to get Windows free through school or work, so you may also look into that.

Entry-level Media Player HTPC ($450)

This build is designed to be a nice entry Home Theater solution, capable of being used for high-resolution video playback, as well as general browsing and streaming. It is also designed to be very low-power, typically using only around 110 Watts total.

Some of the biggest cost-cutting here is that this build features no discrete graphics card whatsoever, as this is intended as a pure media playback device. But if you want to use this machine to play games, you'll likely need to add a balanced GPU choice like the GTX 1050 or the RX 560.

CPU: AMD R3 2200G
Motherboard: Gigabyte B450 I Aorus Pro WiFi
RAM: 8GB (2 X 4GB) DDR4-2400
Storage: 1TB Intel NVMe M.2 SSD
Power Supply: Seasonic Focus 450
CPU Cooler: Stock
Case: Cooler Master Elite 130
Operating System: Windows 10

At this sort of price, this build is a great choice for someone who is looking for the Home Theater experience without completely breaking the bank and still giving you plenty of options for upgrades down the line (like adding in additional storage, or perhaps a bluray drive). All told, it is a great starting point!

The Multimedia HTPC ($750)

This build is designed to be an excellent all-around multimedia performer, All while still being a compact and energy-efficient build!

At this level, the build is still relying on its integrated graphics processor and low-profile stock CPU Cooler. While the iGPU of this particular build's processor may be capable of performing adequately in many games, users who will be playing a wide variety of games (especially newer titles) on their system should consider adding a balanced, dedicated graphics solution like the RX 580 (beware: any graphics card choice for this case must be smaller than 11"x4.92").

CPU: AMD R5 2400G
Motherboard: Gigabyte B450 I Aorus Pro WiFi
RAM: 8GB (2 X 4GB) DDR4-2666
Storage: 2TB Intel NVMe M.2 SSD
Power Supply: Seasonic Focus 450
CPU Cooler: Stock
Optical Drive: LG Bluray/DVD/CD Drive
Case: Silverstone Tek GD06B
Operating System: Windows 10

This is a LOT of performance for the money, yet the bigger focus here is all about being compact and quiet. It'll still handle some gaming thanks to the decent integrated vega graphics, and with the extra CPU cores it also serves as a great multi-tasking PC that is more than capable of 4K streaming and bluray playback.

Some of the most important decisions here were doubling the SSD space to 2TB and adding a full-featured LG optical drive for all your disc reading/writing needs. All of this is then impressively squeezed into the compact GD05B case to keep things nice and tidy.

The Gaming-focused HTPC ($1500)

The focus here is gaining some more gaming performance, as well as some additional high-speed storage for optimum performance!

CPU: AMD R5 3600X
Graphics Card: GTX 1660
Motherboard: Gigabyte X570 I Aorus Pro WiFi
RAM: 16GB (2 X 8GB) DDR4-3000
Storage 1: 1TB Samsung NVMe M.2 SSD
Storage 2: 2TB Crucial SATA SSD
Power Supply: EVGA SuperNOVA 550 G2
CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-L9x65 SE-AM4
Case: Silverstone Tek GD07B
Operating System: Windows 10

The fact that you can get this much performance into a small case is frankly amazing. With this, we will be capable of overclocking both the RAM and CPU. As we have a separate GPU installed here, we've switched out the integrated-graphics-focused CPU selection above for the 6-core/12-thread R5 3600X instead. To add to our overheads for gaming, we've gone with 16GB of RAM instead of 8, as well as a faster NVMe SSD and additional overall storage space.

Finally, in an attempt to keep things quiet, we've once again gone with a high-efficiency PSU, and a premium low-profile CPU cooler.

All told, this will give you awesome gaming performance in something that looks nice, with a brushed metal front, all while being compact and quiet.

The Big, Bold, Invigorating HTPC ($2300)

Big might be a bit of an overstatement, but this micro-ATX monster is definitely a slight compromise regarding the size concerns championed by the above builds. Instead, this build prioritizes being the logical maximum of Home Theater power and functionality. What you're losing here is some of the space-efficiency and noise-reduction of the above builds, but what you're gaining is a huge amount of performance (especially in gaming applications, even at high resolutions).

The aim of this build is to have the best of the gaming and multimedia options, as well as even more sound options for hooking into a surround sound system.

Oh, and we're wrapping this all up in a gorgeous silver-and-glass micro-ATX case.

CPU: AMD R9 3900X
Graphics Card: RX 5700 XT
Motherboard: Gigabyte X570 I Aorus Pro WiFi
RAM: 16GB (2 X 8GB) DDR4-3200
Storage 1: 2TB Samsung NVMe M.2 SSD
Storage 2: 2TB Crucial SATA SSD
Power Supply: EVGA SuperNOVA 750 P2
CPU Cooler: be quiet! Dark Rock 4
Case: Phanteks Enthoo Evolv
Operating System: Windows 10

So what are you getting for your money here? Well, it's a powerful PC which can even stand to be overclocked; comes with 4TB of SSD storage space, half of which is high-end NVMe space; and doubles as a top-of-the-line gaming PC.

Living Room Home Theater PC Build
wiretap25's Home Theater set-up (via

Section 2: Choosing PC Hardware for a Home Theater PC


Like most PCs that you build, the CPU is one of the most crucial parts of a Home Theater build. We need to think of a few main things when trying to keep things together in a small package, though:

Firstly, sound! The more we have to cool something, the more our fans are going to have to work in the case. Coupled with this is total power consumption, as with lower power builds we can use power supplies that disable their fans at low usage, fanless power supplies, or at least high-efficiency power supplies with a fair amount of overhead.

Secondly, a more normal question: what performance are we going to get for our money? We aim for the best price-to-performance ratios on the market.

Graphics Card (GPU)

Choosing a graphics card is an interesting balancing act when you're looking at HTPC builds. One the one hand, having a discrete GPU means far more graphics performance for video playback and playing games. However, having a GPU also means more heat in the case, more power consumed, and more fans spinning for cooling—so if you're after a quiet build you might have problems.

In most cases, a build for only video playback may not necessarily need a discrete graphics card (most of the CPUs in the example builds have integrated graphics processors capable of displaying high-resoultion HD video). But a graphics card can open up additional display options, and is almost certainly needed if the system may be tasked with any gaming applications.

CPU Cooler

As mentioned above, one of the key considerations with a Home Theater PC is the cooling. The cases are often smaller and more compact internally, meaning there's no room for large, robust cooling solutions.

If you aren't pushing the CPUs particularly hard, like if you're just watching video or browsing online, then you can get away with the standard cooling solutions AMD and Intel provide. However, these never really have sound in mind—so what can happen is that people start to notice the hum from the fans when they're running.

Thus, a couple of alternative solutions to investigate would be low-profile air coolers and all-in-one liquid coolers.


Welcome to the realm of Mini-ITX motherboards! This form factor is designed with size in mind, so you end up missing out on a high number of RAM slots, PCIe slots and so on, in exchange for the super-small size. Now, depending on exactly what type of Home Theater PC you are going for, these types of boards will be perfectly fine, even if you are a gamer. The only time they are not likely to cut it is if you are aiming to game as well as having additional sound cards for things like 10.1 surround solutions.

Mini-ITX motherboards feature in most of the example builds in section one, due to the fact that their extreme space-efficiency makes them natural pairing for the tiny cases of HTPC builds.

One of the drawbacks of the mini-ITX boards, as I've said, is that they only come with a single PCIe slot. Now, if you're just after a HTPC for video playback or gaming then that is fine. But what if you want to do multiple things with the system, or upgrade it in some way? This is where the Micro ATX boards come into play. They're similar to the Mini-ITX boards, but they are longer in order to accommodate additional PCIe slot(s), meaning you might have to re-think your case selection if you go this route. What you'll do here is use the main PCIe slot for the GPU, and then (depending on what sound card or other expansion card you specifically purchase) use the second slot at the bottom of the board.

After picking a form factor to match your case, the most important thing with the motherboard is to make sure that it is compatible with your CPU (this will be determined by the manufacturer, generation, and sometimes even model of your CPU—but will always be listed in the motherboard's specifications).


The good news here is that for home entertainment purposes, you don't need a whole lot of RAM—8GB would do fine. However, when you start looking at gaming, you might want to consider doubling that to 16GB. On the other hand, if you've gone with one of the Ryzen CPUs, it might be smart to spend a little bit more for higher-speed RAM, as those chips have demonstrated the ability to take advantage of speed increases.

Although normally you might think buying a stick of 16GB RAM might produce savings, more often than not they're around the same price as if you simply purchased 2 separate 8GB sticks. Because of market fluctuations, I'd strongly advise keeping an eye on the RAM column of our primary build chart for the best value propositions we can find on 8GB and 16GB RAM!


Older, slower, spinning-disc-style hard drives are a very inexpensive way to access very large storage capacities. But nowadays, very-high-speed solid state drives are reasonably priced as well—and don't make any of the notoriously inconsistent noises of hard disk drives—so they now feature throughout our example builds above.

Power Supply (PSU)

Although more often than not an afterthought, in a Home Theater PC build you really have to consider your power consumption. More power consumption means a bigger PSU to handle it, which in turn needs to be kept cool, which means more noise! We just want to watch movies in peace, is that so much to ask?

Well, thanks to the low power consumption from a number of available CPU options: no, it's not really that much to ask. Now, if you are going for a more powerful gaming and multimedia build, then on a practical level you're not going to be able to go for a PSU that shuts its fan off reuglarly or even has no fan. But if you're building one of our lower tier example builds, there are a number of highly-rated, high-efficiency power supplies on the market (granting that those models are somewhat pricier than their louder and/or less-efficient counterparts).

The interesting part of this is actually understanding how much the PSU fan will actually spin up under load. If your system is close to, say, 100 Watts—then even a decent 450 Watts power supply won't be under a lot of strain at all to handle it, meaning its fan won't be going a million miles per hour.


Where to even start? Some Home Theater PC cases are a statement in and of themselves, designed to be compact while still standing out. Every so often, you will even see limited runs of models that have fancy touchscreen fronts or all-glass cases. Yet, as those are few and far between, we have restricted ourselves to readily available cases for this guide!

The two most important types of cases for HTPC building will be Mini ITX cases and HTPC cases. Mini ITX cases are usually shaped more or less like normal PC cases, only tiny. HTPC cases are generally extra-thin, with special layouts to make them look more like game consoles or cable boxes than computers.

Folks with a little extra space in their media center, a need for maximal cmoputing power, or a low tolerance for the difficulty of Mini ITX building may want to consider a somewhat roomier Micro ATX case.

Additional Components

Sometimes you need a little something extra to finish off a build to your satisfaction, and Home Theater PC builds are no exception to this!

Optical Disc Drive

For playing physical blurary, DVD, and CD discs, you'll need an optical drive. An internal optical drive requires an available 5.25" drive bay on your case, so pay attention to that when choosing which case to use in your build. For general playing of bluray discs, DVDs, and CDs, there is the reasonably priced LG WH14NS40.

Sound Card

The sound system built into the motherboard of most modern computers is typically good enough for most or all desktop uses (and desktop users). But if you have a full-fledged surround sound system, high-quality speakers, and/or some other audio set-up to support (or if you just don't want to use the motherboard's on-board audio for some reason) you can add a sound card to your system. A solid, common choice is the Creative Labs X-Fi Xtreme. If you're after higher sampling (at a somewhat higher price), then it's the monstrous ZXR 24-bit 192KHz Sound Card for you.

Cable TV Card

While any computer with internet access can easily take advantage of the numerous streaming services available on the web, putting cable television on your computer requires something more. Hauppauge have cornered the market here, and their PCIe TV Tuner Card 1609 will happily work with QAM digital cable TV.

Living Room Home Theater PC Build
"Home Theater" (photo by Tysto)

Section 3: Home Theater PC Peripherals

So now that you know what is going into your build, it's time to take a look at additional items that will make your Home Theater PC set-up more complete and convenient.

Wireless Keyboards and Mice

Ranking high on the "What is that thing?!" scale for visitors when they see it—is the Lenovo Multimedia Remote N5902. For a sit-on-the-sofa experience, this is honestly one of the best compact options available while still having a keyboard and mouse.

If you would prefer a more normal-looking, less-specialized device, then take a look at the Logitech K400 for a keyboard with a built-in trackpad.

If you want to go even more desktop in style, we have a full guide chart for keyboards and a full guide chart for mice to point you in the right direction at various budget tiers.

Remote Controls

If you're actually wanting something that looks like a remote, there's plenty of models out there which work across multiple devices, like this mini 4-in-1 remote from Favormates, which still features a trackpad and a tiny keyboard on its back.

However, if you have a smartphone and it's something free you're after, browse on the app store of your iOS or Android device for a 'PC remote' app. There are plenty of them available on both platforms, and they'll do the job as free alternatives.

Wireless Gamepads/Controllers

For PC gaming on a machine running Windows, you will find that the default controller these days is a USB Xbox controller (typically either the Xbox 360 or Xbox One style).

If you are wanting wireless, you'll need an adapter from Microsoft, which you can buy by itself for $25—or with a controller for $70.

However, an Xbox controller is thankfully no longer the only high-quality option!

The PlayStation 4 controller is compatible with any ordinary PC. The controller itself is $45 for the standard black model, and if your chosen motherboard doesn't come with bluetooth, cheap USB Bluetooth adapters can be obtained for less than $10 each.

Oh, and let's not forget the Steam Controller! A highly customizable option designed with PC gaming in mind, which comes with everything needed for wireless connectivity, for $80.

Section 4: Home Theater PC Software

Oh man, there is so much choice at this point! From free to expensive, there's a choice for everyone in the HTPC software world, and I'll just give an overview of a few of the highlights!

Kodi (Free)

You won't go far into multimedia software searches without hearing about Kodi. This is because it's free, it works across numerous devices, and it also has a LOT of add-on support—making it a dream for a PC builder who likes to tinker around to get things how they want!

Plex (Has Free Version)

Plex is an interesting alternative to Kodi mainly because you give up some customizability in exchange for an easy "install and go" experience. (Plex even now offers a form of Kodi integration that is meant to allow users to get Kodi-style customization with Plex-style multi-device access.)

Now, if you're just after a player, then the free version of Plex is fine. A lot of the decision as to whether to upgrade to the paid subscription version of Plex comes down to what additional features you want. A lot of what some might consider to be key features (like DVR for live TV, and parental controls) are locked behind the subscription.

PowerDVD Ultra

Probably one of the more contentious pieces of software in the HTPC world, to the point that some love it (for its ease-of-use) and some hate it (for its constant adding of new features), comes PowerDVD Ultra. That being said, you do get what you pay for here—and you get nothing less than a fully featured modern player and media center.

The initial interface option between PC and TV is a nice touch to set it up how you want. And from a technical standpoint, it is compatible with every modern standard under the sun for video, audio, and photos. It will play and display any media files without issue, and will also let you customise your experience.

Section 5: Gaming-specific Home Theater Devices

Yes, yes. I suppose we have to mention these devices for those of you already equipped with a monster PC in your home, who therefore don't want to build a cool separate Home Theater PC. Take all the fun out of it why don't you?

In all seriousness though, one of the devices below—which are designed to let you stream games from your desktop computer to your TV—can be a great addition to your home set-up.

NOTE: If you came to this section hoping for recommendations or additional info on building a PC that is only or primarily for PC gaming in your living room, then you should definitely check out our big guide article on building a living room Gaming PC.

Valve's Steam Link

Have too many Steam games to finish just at your desk, or do you want to play your most awesome games on a bigger screen? Then consider getting the Steam Link (a simple device that connects your computer to your television, and your controller to you). It's rather inexpensive after all, and it does work!

Nvidia's Shield TV

Nvida's crazy streaming device. Some say this range of devices inspired the Nintendo Switch, yet this model is just a very hardcore and high-end streaming device for all kinds of media, from games to films to everything else. In addition to being designed for a broader range of streaming applications than the Steam Link, this beast also comes equipped with 'smart' capabilities, including Roku-style all-in-one video streaming management and smart home device compatibility.


If you can't tell by reading through this guide, there are a LOT of options available for someone wanting to create that big Home Theater TV experience with a PC. The example builds and components in section one of this article are only a representative sample of the many choices on the market. Yet we hope that this guide helps you formulate your entertainment plan, with the right balance of PC size, performance, cooling, and sound generation.

Unlike a lot of other builds, a Home Theater machine starts with the case. If you go for one of the specialized HTPC cases, then that means you can only go with a Mini-ITX motherboard, and therefore a single PCIe slot and little room for building or upgrading (or cooling, for that matter). If you jump up in motherboard size to the micro ATX, you do gain additional features and space, at the cost of no longer having something super-compact, uniquely attractive, and maximally portable.

Everything else, as this guide has demonstrated, then starts to slot into place around the case choice, with the biggest determining factor after that point being the budget. Above all, in keeping with our general philosophy here at Logical Increments, be sure to build something that meets your specific requirements, whether that is one of the example builds above or a well-researched custom machine of your own design!

Living Room Home Theater PC Build
"Home Theater, After Images" (photo by Chris Lattuada)

About Us

Chris is a contributing writer for Logical Increments, and has worked in the gaming and technology industries as a community manager for many years, as well as a live streamer. He has been building PC's for over 11 years.

When Chris is not here creating builds and guides, he can be found at University, studying for a BSc in Video Production as he makes the transition over to the film industry from gaming. You can read more about his journey on his website.

Logical Increments helps more than 2 million PC builders each year with hardware recommendations for any budget.

If you want to see our build recommendations for general purpose gaming PCs, check them out!