So I am interested in non PC alternatives if they exist or better ways to set them up to avoid noise issues (inc fans) etc.
If you are looking for reliable hardware-based audio players, I recommend checking out the 360 System Instant Replay. Pricey, but I trust it.
If budget does not allow or you just need simple instant start/stop, look at the Tascam SS-CDR200 with the RC-SS20 remote. It pre-loads a few seconds of each track (up to 20) for random access and instant start. I use a setup with two of the SS-CDR200 decks/remotes for many backing track-type shows and it has worked reliably.
Again, these are audio-only and are somewhat limited in functionality compared to a computer-based playback like QLab, but may be easier for a single operator to run since they have real buttons.