How To Choose a Multimedia Computer
The top performers in our review are the Velocity Micro Cinemagix, the Gold Award winner; Origin Omega, the Silver Award winner; and Apple Mac mini, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a multimedia computer to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 systems.
With the increased access to fast internet subscriptions and high-capacity hard drives, digital music, movies and TV shows are more popular with consumers than ever before. Multimedia computers have large storage capacities and can plug into your home entertainment hub to manage and play all of your digital media collections from a single machine.
Some of these computers also fit well on our home computer review site. Home computers are low-price desktops that are ready to use out of the box. If you're looking for more traditional computers that still possess basic multimedia functionality, our business computer review site compares the best professional desktops. For home users, our all-in-one PC review site highlights computers that combine their components into a monitor.
Multimedia computers need to have a strong processors, large hard drives or other storage options, and good networking capabilities. They can be either desktop-size or compact PCs and the main difference between the two designs is the space they have to fit components. Some people prefer desktops, since they can house components like high-performance hard drives and processors. Others want compact computers they can easily fit in to home theater setups.
Depending on the computer you buy, you may need to purchase media programs like DVD player software and Blu-ray player software. Since these computers often run operating systems identical to standard laptops and desktops, you also need to make sure that the computer has peripherals like a wireless mouse and keyboard.
Multimedia Computers: What We Evaluated, What We Found
In our evaluations, we focused on factors that are important for multimedia-specific applications. With CPU performance data from Passmark, an independent and widely cited benchmarking organization, and research from our sister site Tom's Hardware, we established an aggregate evaluation of the level of performance you can expect from each computer.
With the size of movies and music files, your multimedia library can quickly add up. The multimedia computers we evaluated tackled storage in several ways. Some rely on physical high-capacity hard drives, while others use a combination of memory cards, solid-state storage and cloud storage, which requires internet access. Generally, computers with local storage can access data much faster than cloud storage and can be slightly more effective for multimedia viewing. Still, storage also depends heavily on your exact multimedia needs and consumption habits.
Unlike standard desktop computers, home-theater-size PCs are designed to be compact and fit into a home theater shelving setup. Typically, these smaller multimedia PCs are quiet and consume little power. In our research, we found that most small PCs covered the basics for multimedia needs, while bigger computers supplemented their bulk with extra features.
Windows-based multimedia computers have the option to upgrade to Windows 10 for free once the new operating system is released. Computers with Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 can upgrade to a full license of Windows 10.
Additionally, most of our evaluated PCs came in preassembled configurations directly from the manufacturer. However, several manufacturers offer customization options during the checkout process, allowing you to upgrade components like the processor and graphics card for an additional fee.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. Manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What Else Is Important In Selecting a Multimedia Computer?
For computers to be effective in a home theater environment, issues besides storage and processing horsepower are important. Unlike standard desktops or laptops, home theater PCs require a unique set of features, including these secondary factors:
Connectivity: Hooking Up Your Devices
Especially in a home theater environment, an effective multimedia computer needs to be a Swiss army knife with loads of entertainment options, including photo viewing and video streaming. Features like Bluetooth and internal Wi-Fi allow your computer to cover functionality that typically requires a separate dedicated device.
Gaming: Turning Your Computer into a Console
Dedicated graphics cards are typically exclusive to full-size desktops, but for more upscale home-theater-size computers, gaming is an option. Dedicated graphics cards have the processing overhead needed to play games like "BioShock Infinite" or "Crysis 3." While these options are typically not included in the basic configuration of mainstream multimedia computers, they are often offered as upgrades for those who find them desirable.
Must-Have Features for the Best Multimedia Computer
The best specifications for your multimedia computer vary depending on your exact multimedia needs. For instance, a multimedia PC that acts as a local media server needs specifications like ample memory and a fast quad-core processor. By comparison, small form factor multimedia PCs can get by with less powerful components when they're supplemented with features like storage options and connectivity support.
In general, computers with features like large amounts of base memory and storage provide the greatest benefit as multimedia PCs, regardless of size. Ample storage – whether it's cloud or locally based – gives you room to store files like photos and movies. With at least 4GB of memory, you can also smoothly run tasks like video streaming and web browsing.
Multimedia Computers: Our Verdict and Recommendations
The Velocity Micro Cinemagix, Origin Omega and Apple Mac mini rank among our best multimedia PCs because of their strengths in areas like build quality and storage options. With its desktop-level specifications and full slate of home-theater-friendly features, the Cinemagix can be easily integrated into a home theater environment without issue. Similarly, the Origin Omega's fast NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 graphics card works alongside the computer's excellent specifications to be a productive entertainment multitasker. Finally, the Mac mini's compact dimensions, fast processor and large hard drive make it equally suited for the home or office environment.