FAQ: what hardware to get for 4K
#1
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A question I see being asked around in the forum in different threads is "what box to buy for 4K?". That question always gets answered but I feel a place is missing for a comprehensive answer that approaches this subject deeply, either in the forum or in the wiki. Pardon me if such place exists already and I missed it. Anyway, I'll try to answer that question here with the best of my knowledge, it's likely my answer will be incomplete (or even have inaccuracies) and I invite everyone to contribute on the thread. I will update the first post with the knowledge shared by everyone.

First, if you haven't bought a 4K TV yet I strongly recommend you read Visual Acuity: The Sense and Non-sense of Ultra High Definition Displays (originally posted by @wrxtasy) and cnet: Why Ultra HD 4K TVs are still stupid. If you are not buying a huge 4K TV (75"+) and/or you are not sitting close to it, you probably don't need one.

Second, I also suggest you read Anandtech's Future-proofing HTPCs for the 4K Era: HDMI, HDCP and HEVC which is a good introductory article for what follows. I also suggest reading Pick the Right Kodi Box which has a few 4K suggestions.

The remainder of my answer will only deal with hardware decoding devices since software or hybrid decoding (where the decoding is done totally or partially by the CPU) is a more complicated matter.

4K H264

First hurdle: which codec will you be using? 4K is commonly associated with HEVC (more about that later) but 4K really means content having horizontal resolution on the order of 4,000 pixels, in case of UHD (the most popular format) 3840x2160. 4K videos can be encoded in the good old trustworthy H264 codec and if that is what your 4K videos are encoded with then there is very affordable hardware available today:
4K HEVC Main (8-bit)

If you researched 4K, you probably know of HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding), and that's because most 4K content is expected to be transmitted / delivered in HEVC because it promises the same quality as H264 for half of the size. Without HEVC 4K files can be quite big. Boxes that mention HEVC support without mentioning main10 or 10-bit usually only support the main profile (8-bit). If your video sources are encoded in HEVC Main profile, here are few boxes that can hardware decode it:
4K HEVC Main10 (10-bit)

In the past 10-bit colour encoding was meant for professional use but in HEVC it's part of the Main10 profile so it will be part of consumer applications. It's expected to be used in UHDTV broadcasts (Rec. 2020), Blu Ray and Netflix. So, in order to future-proof yourself it's good to have a box that supports the main10 profile. Some examples: Note: hardware that supports Main10 also support Main profile.


HDCP 2.2: 4K Content Protection

HDCP stands for High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection and if you want to transmit 4K protected content (such as Neftlix) over HDMI both the box and the receiver will need to support HDCP 2.2 or the transmission will be downgraded to 1080p.

HDMI 2.0a: [email protected] and HDR

Some boxes only support [email protected], in order to support 60Hz make sure the box has at least HDMI 2.0 and the box itself is capable of coping with 60Hz, e.g., explicitly specifies 4K playback at 60 FPS. Note that having a box that only supports [email protected] may pose an issue if the source material is encoded with 50/60Hz (Live / Recorded TV) as you can't get a high enough frame rate to preserve full motion. More about this on post #2.

4K Blu-ray and Netflix will also introduce high dynamic range (HDR), in order to carry this to your 4K TV your device will need to support at least HDMI 2.0a.

YCrCb 4:2:0 chroma sub-sampling scheme

Currently quite a number of UHD TVs, particularly the lower cost ones, only implement HDMI 2.0 4:2:0 modes, and don't allow 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 at 2160/60p or 50p. If you have one of these TVs make sure the device you buy does have support for it, as some seem to have issues with it (e.g. Rockchip RK3288). More details on post #2.

Conclusion

If you ever asked about a 4K box and received the answer "wait" this post probably sheds some light on why you should wait, as things are bit muddled right now. x86 solutions for hardware decoding HEVC Main10 will only be released next year while on the ARM/Android front the first HEVC Main10 boxes are being released now. Even the HEVC encoders are still being optimized so there isn't much material in HEVC yet. If you can wait that's the best course of action for now. On the other hand if you can't wait then I recommend the NVIDIA Shield TV as it ticks all the boxes and since OTA 2.0 supports HD Audio passthrough and 23.976 fps.
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#2
Also - beware not all HDMI 2.0 implementations are equal.

HDMI 2.0 introduced a clever (if slightly sneaky) new chroma sub-sampling scheme. YCrCb 4:2:0 in addition to the YCrCb 4:2:2 and YCrCb/RGB 4:4:4 that previous HDMI 1.x implementations support.
(This may sound like reduced quality, and for UIs and Photo display it is. But all broadcast and pre-recorded media commonly encountered by consumers is already encoded in 4:2:0 - so it's a moot point for video playback)

Why 4:2:0? Well 2160/50p and 2160/60p at 4:2:0 8bit just squeaks into HDMI 1.4a's bandwidth limits. It effectively allows you to carry a 2160/60p or 50p signal without needing an HDMI 2.0 Physical interface (i.e. one which can cope with the higher bandwiths that 2160/50p and 60p 4:2:2/4:4:4 require) This standard allowed Sony and nVidia to use HDMI 1.4a hardware to be upgraded to carry HDMI 2.0 4:2:0 2160/50p and 60p video. (nVidia did it with a drive update to their Kepler and Maxwell cards, Sony did it for some of their early UHDTVs)

Currently quite a number of UHD TVs, particularly the lower cost ones, only implement HDMI 2.0 4:2:0 modes, and don't allow 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 at 2160/60p or 50p. Why is this an issue?

Well some 2160/50p and 60p capable HDMI 2.0 devices won't output 4:2:0 it seems... So it is still a case of buyer beware.

Rockchip RK3288 devices have issues with HDMI 2.0 4:2:0-only displays, it appears, either because they don't support 4:2:0 8-bit.

Without HDMI 2.0 (or nVidia's HDMI 2.0 over HDMI 1.4a) you will be limited to 2160/30p maximum frame rates. This is what the Chromebox and other Intel GPU Haswell devices are limited to over HDMI.

You may not think this is an issue, as movies are shot at 24p, and there currently isn't any 2160/50p or 60p content widely available (and it is in HEVC when it is). HOWEVER - if you want to run Kodi permanently in 2160p mode, with 720/50p and 60p, and 1080/50i and 60i Live / Recorded TV upscaled to 2160p in Kodi, you are stuffed, as you can't get a high enough frame rate to preserve full motion. And Kodi currently doesn't cope with this scenario automatically (unlike frame rate refresh, there isn't semi-intelligent handling of spatial resolution when frame rate limitations are in play)
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#3
(2015-07-20, 16:38)oWarchild Wrote: [email protected]

Some boxes only support [email protected], in order to support 60Hz make sure the box has HDMI 2.0.

I was recently testing Kodi's ability to do 4K HEVC 60hz on CPU only. I tried a 3770K stock, 3770K overclocked to 4.3ghz, a hex core 4930k and even tried toe 4930K overclocked to 4.5ghz. ...Even at 4.5ghz, the 4930K comes up juuuuuuust a bit short, heh. Though I imagine that FFMPEG will progressively get more efficient over the next couple years.
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#4
(2015-07-20, 17:15)DJ_Izumi Wrote:
(2015-07-20, 16:38)oWarchild Wrote: [email protected]

Some boxes only support [email protected], in order to support 60Hz make sure the box has HDMI 2.0.

I was recently testing Kodi's ability to do 4K 60hz on CPU only. I tried a 3770K stock, 3770K overclocked to 4.3ghz, a hex core 4930k and even tried toe 4930K overclocked to 4.5ghz. ...Even at 4.5ghz, the 4930K comes up juuuuuuust a bit short, heh. Though I imagine that FFMPEG will progressively get more efficient over the next couple years.

Have you tried OpenHEVC branch of ffmpeg. I was getting almost 60fps from a 1920x1080 cutout of a 3840x2160/60p HEVC transport stream (Brazil World Cup Soccer broadcast on DVB-T2 experimentally by the BBC) using ffplay.
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#5
(2015-07-20, 16:38)oWarchild Wrote: 4K H264

First hurdle: which codec will you be using? 4K is commonly associated with HEVC (more about that later) but 4K really means content having horizontal resolution on the order of 4,000 pixels, in case of UHD (the most popular format) 3840x2160. 4K videos can be encoded in the good old trust wordy H264 codec and if that is what your 4K videos are encoded with then there is very affordable hardware available today, example:
  • Chromebox or any Haswell Celeron 2955U/2957U box

if one is buying hardware to output to a 4K display, then a Haswell-based device is not a good choice, since it can only do 60Hz via DisplayPort with MST. No DisplayPort->HDMI 2.0 adapter will likely be able to output 60Hz from a Haswell-based device.
Questions about Kodi on a ChromeBox/Chromebook?  See:

Chromebox (wiki)
http://forum.kodi.tv/showthread.php?tid=194362
https://mrchromebox.tech
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#6
Thanks @noggin and @matt Devo, I've updated the first post.

BTW, I didn't include any graphic cards because I'm not up to speed but if anyone wants to add some to this list, let me know.
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#7
(2015-07-20, 17:21)noggin Wrote: Have you tried OpenHEVC branch of ffmpeg. I was getting almost 60fps from a 1920x1080 cutout of a 3840x2160/60p HEVC transport stream (Brazil World Cup Soccer broadcast on DVB-T2 experimentally by the BBC) using ffplay.

I'm really only interested in testing Kodi proper. That said, with how rare such content will be for a while, I imagine FFMPEG itself will improve in terms of efficiency. I remember back in the day as h.264 480p got better and better on my classic Xbox with XBMC, until 480p was actually mostly playable. Heh. Smile If not, some dedicated hardware acceleration will become affordable instead.
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#8
Might be worth mentioning that the other exciting part of 4K is HDR which needs the latest HDMI 2.0a revision.

http://www.hdmi.org/manufacturer/hdmi_2_...a_faq.aspx
http://www.cnet.com/uk/news/what-is-hdmi-2-0a/
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#9
Updated, thanks @JustAnotherUser!
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#10
with the Minix X8H Plus not having the hdmi 2.0 how much is it holding it back
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#11
Please refer to this chart. Note most SD/HD/UHD movies are 23.976fps and will play with HDMI 1.4
I believe 4K TV would be 50Hz in Europe.
I'm not sure what refresh rate the MINIX X8H XBMC version runs at. It possibly is 24 or 30Hz to fit within HDMI 1.4 spec.

Image

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#12
(2015-07-20, 17:43)oWarchild Wrote: Thanks @noggin and @matt Devo, I've updated the first post.

BTW, I didn't include any graphic cards because I'm not up to speed but if anyone wants to add some to this list, let me know.

Here is a good reference for desktop/mobile GPUs: http://www.geforce.com/hardware/technology/4k

I can't find an accurate source but the GTX 960 is the only (Nvidia) card to be able to fully support 4k hardware decoding. The other GTX 900 series cards do support it but Nvidia don't give a complete yes or no.
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#13
Added the GTX 960, thanks @Levi.baker88!
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#14
(2015-07-21, 14:27)wrxtasy Wrote: Image

Wait, why is 21:9 supposed to be HDMI 2.0 exclusive? That one doesn't make any sense. HDMI below that can handle all sorts of aspect ratios, including 21:9.
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#15
According to cnet's article HDMI 2.0: What you need to know:
cnet Wrote:There's also support for a 21:9 aspect ratio (basically 2.35:1), which is interesting, but not of much practical value yet. There are only a handful of native 21:9 displays (a few TVs like the discontinued Vizio CinemaWide, and some high-end projectors). Yes, many BD movies are 2.35:1, but these are really just 2.35 in a 1.78:1 window.
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