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?
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.
Why does any of this matter?
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.
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.
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Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. 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 steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at mstdn.social/@richdevine