Chromebox vs. Nuc - Cheap mini HTPC for media streaming

Tigerman82

Junior Member
May 13, 2015
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#1
For years I've been using my iMac as an HTPC connecting it to my Sony-TV via HDMI and moving Chrome windows with video streams into this extended desktop. I decided that I want a dedicated mini HTPC to be placed next my Sony-TV with the following criteria:

  • Budget: 150-450 dollars (the less the better but I will still be using it in 2019 so the performance can not be "just barely sufficent")
  • Small, quiet and energy-efficient
  • Needs to handle streaming flash without lag (quality is mostly SD but sometimes 1080p)
  • The OS needs to be relatively light and simple to use (I do not want to type terminal commands as I have enough of that with other devices)

My first choice for a while was a i3 Broadwell NUC with Windows. This alternative would cost around 450 dollars (8Gb of RAM, 128Gb M.2 SSD etc.). However, while this mini PC would enable to playback different formats and use different apps, it might be an overkill considering lesser PCs could handle the job of streaming 1080p flash video from flash video websites.

I then arrived to choosing an Asus Chromebox. Many rave about these Chromeboxes and how their native OS (as well as OpenElec/Kodi) runs with the base model (Haswell Celeron 2955U, 2Gb of RAM) almost faster than Windows-desktops that cost 5x as much. Chrome OS is automated concerning updates and virus-protection so it's certainly seems the easiest OS there is. Moreover, it suits my needs as the whole point is to use the Chrome-browser. However, apart from flash, it does have limited support concerning formats (no Silverlight, Java etc.) which I can live with. I could get the Celeron-version of Asus Chromebox for 200 dollars and the i3-version with 4Gb of RAM for around 350 dollars (due to my location I have to pay a bit more).

I would now value any experience and/or input concerning this issue. I guess my first question is that am I on the right track choosing Chromebox instead of NUC (not wanting to pay for an overkill). My second question would be if choosing the i3-model with 2Gbs more RAM would be a better choice than choosing the Celeron-version (which people rarely say has any type of lag).
 
Nov 20, 2005
14,612
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#2
I am a huge fan of Chromeboxes. Mine runs Openelec, but the CPU has enough umph for pretty serious 1080p video so I am sure it can cut through Flash in ChromeOS.

It seems like it hits all your points to a T. Bonus points that you can make it a Kodi device down the road if you move away from flash stuff and towards local content.
 

scannall

Golden Member
Jan 1, 2012
1,418
263
136
#3
These are very small, and work well. And i3 system for $289 isn't bad at all.

Acer Refurb
 

hoorah

Senior member
Dec 8, 2005
747
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#4
While I don't know exactly how they compare to the chromebox, the HP stream Mini (I might not have gotten the name perfect) is supposed to be a very good HTPC/streaming box, and has the ability to run Windows if you need that functionality. Similar price point to the Chromebox I believe.

Also, the intel compute stick shows promise for what you are looking for, but performance is going to be less than the Chromebox and HP stream.
 

Tigerman82

Junior Member
May 13, 2015
7
0
36
#5
While I don't know exactly how they compare to the chromebox, the HP stream Mini (I might not have gotten the name perfect) is supposed to be a very good HTPC/streaming box, and has the ability to run Windows if you need that functionality. Similar price point to the Chromebox I believe.
I've heard good things about the HP Stream Mini although I'm not too crazy about its looks (which of course is not that important, anyway). Unfortunately I would have to import the HP Stream Mini to my location which wouldn't make it a steal anymore. Apparently it's only available for you guys in the States while others have to settle for more expensive Pavilion Mini models.

At this point I guess I need excuses not the get the Asus Chromebox as it does hit the points concerning my criteria. Those of you with experience regarding the Chromebox, is the i3 model an overkill?
 
Nov 20, 2005
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#6
I think so. Anything the celeron can't decode the i3 really can't either.
 

Tigerman82

Junior Member
May 13, 2015
7
0
36
#7
I think so. Anything the celeron can't decode the i3 really can't either.
The i3 does have that 4k support (Intel HD 4400 GPU) although while I would use the Chromebox until at least 2019 I doubt I'd watch much 4k video. You do also get 4Gb more RAM which might be useful if you have several tabs open. I do tend to have four tabs open: tab 1 for flash stream movie, tab 2 for another movie which might be loading/buffering, tab 3 for email and tab 4 for google/forum. I would probably buy at least another 2 gigs of RAM for the base model and that would tighten the price difference between the $200 Celeron-model with 2 gigs of RAM and the $350 i3-model with 4 gigs of RAM.
 
Nov 20, 2005
14,612
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#8
The i3 does have that 4k support (Intel HD 4400 GPU) although while I would use the Chromebox until at least 2019 I doubt I'd watch much 4k video.
My issue with that reasoning is:

-It is only HEVC hybrid decode, which I honestly think will be useless by the time we get the level of 4K video that will come on the disks. The only futureproof 4K decoder is the one on Nvidia's GTX 960 GPU.

-That functionality is only exposed completely in the Windows driver, which means the Chromebox doesn't benefit. I follow the Intel Linux driver development closely and I don't see it coming down the pipeline.

-The celeron model has the power to hook up to a 4K screen and play 4K h264 video. That is my setup actually. That content is all we will get between now and a day when you can easily get a box that can play the highest HEVC standard for less money.

You do also get 4Gb more RAM which might be useful if you have several tabs open.
ChromeOS uses less RAM overall, and you can always upgrade later.
 

LoveMachine

Senior member
May 8, 2012
491
0
81
#9
If you end up with the Chromebox, something to look at might be KodiBuntu instead of Openelec. I started with a dual-boot Openelec/ChromeOS setup, but found KodiBuntu much more flexible with minimal futzing. I just keep it in the Lubuntu session with Kodi running almost all the time. Within Kodi, you can launch Netflix/YouTube/Amazon Chrome full-screen tabs and even have some remote control functionality. It's pretty slick, and you can't do that with Openelec, though you can reboot in ChromeOS, of course. It just takes a bit more clicking, requiring mouse/keyboard work. With KodiBuntu, anything you can't do within Kodi, you can quickly quit Kodi and fire up a Chrome tab. No rebooting required.

Regarding lifespan, I think 2 years is a good stretch for an HTPC, given how much things are moving and shaking. Just in the last year, there has been a LOT of software integration/improvements. For 1080p, the Chromebox route will be fine for a long time to come. But in 2 years, if I have no doubt I'll be tempted to start all over with whatever is happening at that time with the $150 equivalent of whatever the Chromebox becomes at that time. There's a lot of exciting development happening right now, and for the price of 2 months of cable service, I'm getting all the content I can handle for the foreseeable future.
 

Tigerman82

Junior Member
May 13, 2015
7
0
36
#10
If you end up with the Chromebox, something to look at might be KodiBuntu.
Sounds good although I've always been a bit sure what Kodi is. I get that it's a media center/player and you install add-ons to get content. I've just always thought it as something for your local content but not that much for streaming. Is using Kodi comparable to using Chrome for media streaming like I do now, but with a different UI? If I stream sports or a movie via Chrome, can the same thing be done via Kodi and an add-on that lists sports or movie streams? What are the advantages and disadvantages of using Kodi instead of a browser to do this?
 
Nov 20, 2005
14,612
2
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#11
Is using Kodi comparable to using Chrome for media streaming like I do now, but with a different UI?
Kinda. It is the same content as you get in the browser, but the Kodi pluggin forces it into a ten foot interface.

If I stream sports or a movie via Chrome, can the same thing be done via Kodi and an add-on that lists sports or movie streams?
If that site/source has a pluggin sure. There are many many.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using Kodi instead of a browser to do this?
Advantage: It is all remote driven, so no awkward using a mouse from a couch or teaching the less technical in your life how to do it.

Disadvantage: If the source doesn't have a plugin you have to pull up a browser in Kodi and do it the old fashioned way. Another disadvantage is it might be harder to use a VPN for content.
 

Tigerman82

Junior Member
May 13, 2015
7
0
36
#12
Kinda. It is the same content as you get in the browser, but the Kodi pluggin forces it into a ten foot interface.

If that site/source has a pluggin sure. There are many many.

Advantage: It is all remote driven, so no awkward using a mouse from a couch or teaching the less technical in your life how to do it.

Disadvantage: If the source doesn't have a plugin you have to pull up a browser in Kodi and do it the old fashioned way. Another disadvantage is it might be harder to use a VPN for content.
I think you just sold me on getting the base model of Asus Chromebox and installing Kodiubuntu as standalone with EZ Setup (making life a bit easier for someone who has never used Linux OS before). I'll try it out first and then add RAM if needed. I have about 15 gigs worth of local media (.flv movies and series) but as not even an SSD update is recommended for the Asus Chromebox, I might just get a USB3 flash stick and play them from there.

So, with Kodiubuntu, if I cannot find an add-on that contains the streams I want, I can just quit Kodi and, in the underlying OS in Kodiubuntu, fire up the Chrome browser and find the streams like I do now? And hardware acceleration (Chromebox's GPU) is supported all the way?
 
Nov 20, 2005
14,612
2
126
#13
I have about 15 gigs worth of local media (.flv movies and series) but as not even an SSD update is recommended for the Asus Chromebox, I might just get a USB3 flash stick and play them from there.
That is what I would do too.

So, with Kodiubuntu, if I cannot find an add-on that contains the streams I want, I can just quit Kodi and, in the underlying OS in Kodiubuntu, fire up the Chrome browser and find the streams like I do now?
Not quite that manual of a process no. You just install the Chrome Launcher pluggin that will open Chrome in kiosk mode for you within Kodi:

http://forum.kodi.tv/showthread.php?tid=170965

In Kodibuntu/OpenElec there isn't really a underlying OS. Like if you quit Kodi its nothing, black screen (unless you log out and log into the utility side, then you get a Windows XP-ish interface). That is the point, to make a Kodi appliance. So the trick is to use Kodi to launch your other apps via plugins.

And hardware acceleration (Chromebox's GPU) is supported all the way?
Yup, just make sure you tell it to download and install the updates on initial install. It will take longer, but then you will have the newest Intel drivers which are pretty good. In fact you can use Silverlight stuff once you install Pipelight:

http://pipelight.net/cms/installation.html
 

mvbighead

Diamond Member
Apr 20, 2009
3,793
0
76
#14
I would say if you are considering a flash stick, it might be worth buying a simple external drive with more storage for future files. That may or may not be of interest to you, but generally speaking you're going to run out of space pretty quick if you're adding files to a very small drive.
 

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