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How to tell if your mini PC supports 4K — and why that matters

Skull Canyon

Intel NUC

The technology to enable true 4K has been around for years, but as is often the case, it takes a while for the tech to filter through and become more affordable. That's where we're at right now.

Today, 4K TVs are common and so are 4K PC monitors, and we're getting more and more ultra HD (UHD) content to use with these displays. But a display isn't any use without something to actually push that 4K content to it. Thankfully, that doesn't require a high-end gaming PC.

There's a pretty wide range of PCs that can push 4K video output, from the very big to the very small. And in the case of a mini PC, you're looking at a good option for a living-room-based Home Theater PC (HTPC).

How can you tell if a mini PC supports 4K?

Intel CPU

CPU (Image credit: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

It shouldn't be too difficult to figure out whether your mini PC is capable of outputting 4K video. From a processor perspective, Intel added support for it into much of its lineup of Core i chips, and now even the lower-powered Atom processors can support 4K.

The best place to check many different aspects of specific processors is Intel's reference guide.

Check out which processors support 4K video at Intel

When it comes to Atom processors, as far back as 2015 with the Cherry Trail x7, Intel was talking about 4K video output at 30 frames per second (FPS) in the H.265 codec, or 60 FPS in H.264. The generations-old Surface 3 has a processor capable of outputting 4K video, for example.

Even the less powerful x5 can do 4K video, albeit in a more limited way than the x7. Taking a $100 mini PC as an example, with Intel HD 400 graphics you should still get 4K output at 30 FPS.

To look more specifically at Intel graphics and its capability, check out the link below. When you're looking at any product it should always have an accompanying spec on which version of Intel graphics you'll get.

Intel graphics specifications

Why does any of this matter?

Intel Compute Stick

If you're not concerned about 4K, it doesn't. Here's the thing: The HTPC isn't a new concept, but in years past folks have had fairly large (read the size of a VCR, remember those?!) boxes beneath their TVs to house them.

How to turn your mini PC into a monster media center

But even without Windows Media Center, a Windows 10 PC is a great thing to use to control your home media. And even if you don't yet care about 4K content, you probably will in the future. Netflix already delivers 4K video through Microsoft Edge, and Amazon has UHD content available. This trend will only increase.

Perhaps best of all is that for not a lot of money you can get yourself a little PC that can handle all of the 4K video. Make the right choice now, and you'll have a highly capable home entertainment center that'll last for years.

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

16 Comments
  • Don't own a TV or monitor above 1080p and won't until prices come down. I'm near sighted and don't benefit from a higher resolution TV.
  • Have you thought about corrective lenses? I am near-sighted as well but wear inexpensive contact lenses and use a 4K tv for my computer. Trust me, on a 50" screen 4K makes a difference even for near-sighted individuals. Picked up my 4K 50" Samsung for around $400 on Black Friday last fall.
  • As a near-sighted guy myself, I think a 4k TV makes a great monitor. I bought a 42" Samsung 4k KU6290 TV for $198 at BestBuy recently (last few months) and it certainly has beaten my previous dual 24" ASUS monitors and a great small PC to get if you need a screaming workstation / gaming PC is the Intel Skull Canyon NUC. I maxed it out to 32GB RAM and dual 500 GB SSD's one with a max read speed of 2200MB/s (boot drive) and the other with a max read speed of 500MB/s (data drive).
  • But gaming from TV introduces more noticeable input lag than monitors.
  • Not if the TV has a PC mode.  Mine has a low latency mode that makes input instant.  No lag is apparent at all and this goes for gaming as well.  You set this mode using the input and only one of the HDMI ports supports this (as well as HDR+) so I plug the NUC into that port (HDMI 1).
  • Same here. My TV has a Game Mode but it automatically disables at 4K60 resolution, as there is basically no lag whatsoever.
  • In general yes, there are more TVs with more input lag than monitors, although there are several models that are decent (~20ms or less). I generally check various sites including displaylag and rtings for input lag numbers.
  • How comes that the TV has a so low price ? With that price I couldn't buy a new 1080p TV.
  • You just have to shop around. Deals like that don't come around every day so sometimes you have to be willing to wait a few months or even a year to get a good price.
  • Good times of year to shop for TV's in the US: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, week after the Super Bowl or sometimes even just before...
  • It was my understanding that for Netflix 4K to work, you need a Kabby lake processor due to the DRM on that family. 
  • I heard from somewhere that NVidia 10-series GPUs and maybe even AMD RX GPUs also support decoding that DRM. Might be mistaken though
  • Yes, you need Kaby lake and more, you also need to have HDCP 2.2 connection which typically means also to have HDMI 2.0 - and not on separate card, on the motherboard. So, it is today opposite, most PCs won't be able to stream Netflix.
  • 4K is really only useful at 55' or bigger. Anything smaller than that in a TV and you sit too far away from it to matter.
    That and it has to support HDR or it's pretty much useless.
  • 49" is perfect if you're sitting 3' away from it.  I can't see a pixel.  But this all depends on your desk setup and your preferences.
  • The link "Check out which processors support 4K video at Intel" in the article just opens up the same article instead of going to Intel :) (On a side note, your editor still uses <font color=""></font> to color text ... shame on your editor O_o! )