Over the last two years, the launch of every major desktop CPU family from both AMD and Intel has been accompanied by a dedicated HTPC-oriented article. This coverage has been complementary to Anand's extensive analysis from a general computing perspective. Haswell will be no different.  The advancements made from Llano to Trinity and from Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge had rendered entry level platforms good enough for casual / mainstream HTPC users. Advanced users still require discrete GPUs for using some video renderers and obtaining accurate display refresh rates. Each vendor has their own quirks when it comes to driver features and stability. This has made it difficult to declare any one solution as the perfect HTPC platform. Intel has hyped up improved GPU performance in the lead up to Haswell.

Has Intel improved the GPU performance and video-centric features enough to make discrete GPUs redundant for HTPCs? More importantly, how much of an improvement do we have over the HD4000 in Ivy Bridge? This question will be looked at from multiple angles in the course of this review. We will determine whether the shortcomings of Ivy Bridge (rendering benchmarks and refresh rate support, primarily) have been addressed. Also of importance are the HTPC configuration options, stability and power efficiency.

In this review, we present our experience with low-power desktop Haswell as a HTPC platform. We have listened to feedback from our earlier HTPC reviews at launch time and made efforts to source a low power CPU suitable for HTPC duties. In earlier HTPC reviews put out at launch time, we used the highest end CPU sampled by Intel / AMD. This time around, thanks to ASRock, we managed to get hold of an Intel Core i7-4765T CPU along with their mini-ITX motherboard, the Z87E-ITX.

In the first section, we tabulate our testbed setup and detail the tweaks made in the course of our testing. A description of our software setup and configuration is also provided. Following this, we cover the video post processing options provided by the Intel drivers. A small section devoted to the custom refresh rates is followed by some decoding and rendering benchmarks. No HTPC solution is completely tested without looking at the network streaming capabilities with respect to some of the popular OTT (over-the-top) services. 4K is the next major upgrade stop for the casual HTPC user. Haswell does have 4K display support and we will have a dedicated section to see how well it works. We are finally at a point where GPU encoders have become stable and popular enough for mainstream open source projects to utilize. A section is devoted to Handbrake's integration of QuickSync capabilities. In the final section, we cover miscellaneous aspects such as power consumption and then proceed to the final verdict.

Testbed and Software Setup
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  • Penti - Monday, June 3, 2013 - link

    Plus old hardware is old and not available anymore.
  • phoenix_rizzen - Monday, June 3, 2013 - link

    Quad-core Athlon-II, CPU fan configured to spin down as needed, case fan unplugged, SSD, nVidia 210 GPU (fanless) running Linux + XBMC. Sub-$300 CDN.

    Why would you need an i7 for an HTPC? Why would you need a skookum dGPU? And why would you be transcoding on the HTPC? The HTPC should just play the movies on the screen that's attached to it, nothing more. The movies shouldn't reside on the HTPC, and you should be plugging in mobile devices to transfer movies to/from them. That's what the skookum "server" in the other room is for. :)
  • solnyshok - Wednesday, October 23, 2013 - link

    This is quite old thread, but I wanted to add, that it strikes me that my htpc usage model is totally different from the one you described. I use Atom based htpc (dualcore 2.1GHz) which is on 24x7, doing playback to HDMI 1080p tv and torrents and file serving for home network. it is up to 10w and fanless. No MadVR though.
  • benamoo - Monday, June 3, 2013 - link

    I'm wondering why no one mentioned the upcoming Ouya console and possibly many more ARM based media player boxes coming to the market next year.

    I've been an HTPC user for years now, but it's not worth it anymore to invest in such a costly/bulky/noisy system simply for HTPC tasks. Sure, repurposing an old system is great, actually that's what I've been doing, but building a new one from scratch (especially with a Core i7) seems to be a huge waste of money IMO.

    I have high hopes for Ouya (and similar ARM/Android powered boxes). Hopefully the experience would be so good that we can finally rid ourselves of this Wintel duopoly.

    Don't get me wrong. I still believe an HTPC is the best media center box out there. But these boxes can offer very similar results with a fraction of the cost.
  • rennya - Wednesday, June 5, 2013 - link

    Mainly because those ARM players has crappy GUI and limited support for file formats and containers? Try playing a Matroska file that used segment linking, has a 10-bit H.264 1080p24 video stream with at least 10Mb bitrate, a DTS-HD MA 7.1 track and also a fully-styled SSA subtitle track and you will see that Ouya console crashed and burned while doing so.
  • sireangelus - Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - link

    Can someone explain to me why they don't get themselves a laptop with some remote functionality and use that as an htpc? shouldn't it be less expensive, have a lower tdp and be more useful?
  • HisDivineOrder - Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - link

    I sincerely hope they fixed the 23.976 bug in the IGP that is included with Bay Trail. If they did, there's your HTPC of choice for anyone not obsessed with MadVR.
  • halbhh2 - Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - link

    Such a careful review makes me want to have the new A10 6700 put through the same paces.
  • majorleague - Wednesday, June 5, 2013 - link

    Here is a youtube link showing 3dmark11 and windows index rating for the 4770k 3.5ghz Haswell. Not overclocked.

    Youtube link:
  • eio - Saturday, June 22, 2013 - link

    according to the snapshots, to my eyes, the QSV quality of HD4600 is significantly better than HD4000 & x264...

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