Over the years I've used a couple of Intel GPUs on frontends and the results have been satisfactory. My big screens are all attached to Nvidia GPUs now but I still have an old GMA3100 GPU running with an E2180 processor that I use as a frontend connected to a 22" monitor that looks good to me. This machine is also my master backend and primary fileserver, among other things. I have not used VAAPI because I don't think I've owned a GPU recent enough to support it. But I've heard good things about Intel in Linux for the past couple of years and my experiences have been positive.
One of my laptops also has an intel GPU and video playback has been good their too...
I know these aren't small factor PCs, but just stating that while Nvidia may still be the easiest and most reliable path to good video in Linux it certainly isn't the only path and hasn't been for a while. As always, YMMV.
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