The Digital Media Zone started many years ago out of a passion for home theater PCs. At the time we gravitated to Windows Media Center, because it provided many of the features we were looking for, and it was built on an operating system we loved. Unfortunately, Windows Media Center is no longer updated, and isn’t available with the latest version of Windows. There’s a new company that looks to be the new home of Windows-based home theater PCs. They are called Homebase, and their product is the Homebase Hub.
The Homebase Hub is a hardware and software offering. The box is built around Intel’s NUC. It comes in two variants (oddly named the Hub White and Hub Blue, despite the fact that they look identical.) The White is based on the latest generation Intel Celeron processor. It has 2 GB of RAM, a 32 GB SSD for fast performance, and 2 TB of storage for media. The Hub Blue has an Intel I5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 128 GB SSD, 2 TB hard drive, and sports Intel Iris Plus 640 graphics.
Both the Hub White and Hub Blue have HDMI 2 ports and support 4k video at 60 frames per second. They also have 802.11AC Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, 7.1 audio, and a plethora of USB ports. The Hub Blue even sports a USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port.
If you have fairly light needs, and don’t plan to do any serious gaming, the Homebase Hub White should be powerful enough for your daily task. If you’re into gaming, or just like to ensure you have power to spare, you’ll want to spring for the Hub Blue.
Software and strategic partnerships set the Homebase Hub apart from just building your own Windows 10 home theater PC. The Hub can, and probably should, be paired with an HDHomeRun tuner. With the HDHomeRun app you’ll be able to watch Live TV. For recorded TV they’ve partnered with Plex to use the Plex DVR. Of course you’ll need a Plex Pass subscription to use Plex DVR. That’s where Homebase’s partnerships come in. With the purchase of a Homebase Hub you’ll get a one-year Plex Pass subscription included.
The other major software piece comes in the form of a custom launcher that the team has built. Windows 10’s Start menu doesn’t offer a great experience in the typical living room situation. The Hub’s launcher provides a look and feel similar to iOS. You’ll be presented with a grid of large icons to choose from, and those icons can also be grouped together. To control all of this from the comfort of your couch, they’ve included a remote control. It has your typical navigation and playback buttons. It also sports a keyboard on the back which will make typing in search queries a lot more convenient.
Another one of their partnerships, this one with Tonido, turns the Homebase Hub into your own personal cloud. With that software you’re able to access all of your files from any connected device. You can also automatically sync content from your mobile devices, like your camera roll, straight to the Hub. This will be managed by an app they are creating which will also double as a remote control for the Hub.
The Homebase Hub White will be available in March for $399. The Homebase Hub Blue will be available shortly thereafter for $799. The hardware inside is rock-solid. We’ve often recommend the Intel NUC as the basis of a home theater PC. This product really hinges on the software, and if they can get the remote control to play nicely with all the apps. We’ve had pretty limited success using remotes to control Windows UWP apps. For example, Plex works well but Netflix is pretty miserable. If the problem is simply apps that don’t elegantly support keyboard input, I’m not sure that the Homebase team can even do anything to resolve this issue. Also, while the launcher they’ve designed is usable, we don’t particularly care for the dated iOS design language they’ve used. We’re definitely going to keep an eye on the Homebase Hub, and we’ll keep you all updated.