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MINIX NEO N42C-4 Triple Display Capable Mini PC Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown

December 18th, 2017 4 comments

MINIX NEO N42C-4 mini PC was first unveiled last September at IFA 2017, as the first Apollo Lake mini PC from the company. The device has some interesting features like the possibility to upgrade the RAM thanks to two SO-DIMM slots, and storage via an M.2 SSD slot, and support for up to three display via HDMI 1.4, mini DisplayPort 1.2, and USB type C connector. Just like MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro model, the device is pre-loaded with an activated version of Windows 10 Pro, and includes a VESA mount.

The company has now officially launched the device, with sales starting at the end of December for US$299.90 / 299.90 Euros on sites like Amazon [Update: NEO N42C-4 is now up for pre-order on GearBest]. MINIX has sent me a unit for review, so as usual, I’ll start by checking out of hardware, before testing Windows 10 Pro, system performance and stability in a separate post.

MINIX NEO N42C-4 Unboxing

While it remains blue, they’ve slightly redesigned the package, as you can see by comparing it to the one for MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro.

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The specifications are the same as the ones unveiled at IFA 2017 with an Intel Pentium N4200 Apollo Lake processor, with 4GB RAM (upgradable), 32 GB eMMC 5.1 flash, a 2280 M.2 slot for an optional SSD, and support for three independent display via HDMI 1.4 up to 4K @ 30 Hz, Mini DP (DisplayPort) up to 4K @ 60 Hz, and USB Type C up to 4K @ 60 Hz.

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The mini PC ships with about the same accessories as NEO Z83-4 Pro model, including a HDMI cable, 6 screws for the VESA mount (not shown in the photo below), a 12V/3A power supply and power cord, MINIX product brochure, and MINIX NEO N42C-4 setup guide. The external WiFi antenna is gone, as the new design- as we’ll see below – uses two internal antennas instead, and this time the company included plug adapter for the US, Europe, and the UK.

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There’s also another small bad with rubber pads, more screws for an M.2 SSD for example, and what looks like an optical S/PDIF adapter.

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The enclosure is made of plastic, with three USB 3.0 ports and the power button on one side, a Kensington lock and a CMOS clear pinhole on the other. The rear panel features the power jack, a Gigabit Ethernet port, the miniDP port, HDMI output, USB type C, and a combo headphone / SPDIF audio jack.

The user manual indicate some of the limitations for the video output:

  1. Mini DP  port – N42C-4 only supports mini DP to D-Sub conversion or direct mini DP to mini DP/DP connection. Mini DP to HDMI or Mini DP to DVI is not supported
  2. USB type C – Only support video output, not audio output. Hot plugging is not supported, meaning you should only connect/disconnect the display when NEO N42C-4 is powered off.

The USB type C port supports 9V/2A, 12V/5A, and 15V/3A power input, but 20V/3.25A is not supported. Power output is limited to 5V/3A.

I’ve connected the SPDIF adapter, and could insert my TOSLINK cable into it. But I have not tested it yet.

MINIX NEO N42C-4 Teardown / M.2 SSD + RAM Installation

In most cases, users do not need to open their mini PCs, and I do open them to check out the hardware design. But MINIX NEO N42C-4 is different since it’s upgradeable, and you can add more RAM up to 8GB, add an M.2 SSD, or even replace the WiFi module. The company confirmed that if users upgrade the RAM or internal storage it won’t affect their warranty status, neither will it void the warranty.

For that reason, I expected them to make opening the device a little easier, but you’d still need to remove the four rubber pads, and loosen four screws on the bottom of the case. Also notice the Genuine Windows logo, something I seldom see on other devices.

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The bottom still come easily, but ideally the rubber pad and screws should be located at different location, as the sticky part on the rubber pads may not work that well if you open the device two or three times. Maybe that’s why they included a spare rubber pad set in the box.

The bottom of the board includes the RTC battery, two SO-DIMM connectors with one Samsung 4GB stick, and an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3168 (3168NGW) WiFi module with 802.11ac 1×1 WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2.

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You can also add your own M.2 SSD, and I did so with KingDian N480 2280 M.2 SSD with 240GB capacity, but it looks like 2260 M.2 SSD may also be supported. MINIX told me you can boot from M.2 SSD. Simply re-install the Windows 10 OS on the M.2 SSD, and disable the eMMC in the BIOS.

Most people won’t need to further remove the board from the case, but I still took it out to check more of the hardware design.

Click to Enlarge

All other MINIX mini PCs I’ve reviewed so far were fanless with a large heatsink covering the board, but the company has instead gone with a actively cooled design for their NEO N42C-4, with a copper heatsink fitted with a fan blowing out the warm air from one of the sides (the one with Kensington lock). The fan is connected via a 4-pin, so it should be controlled depending on temperature, and not spinning all the time.

Some of the visible chips include Realtek RTL8111F Gigabit Ethernet transceiver, Realtek ALC662 5.1 channel HD audio codec, and an ARM MCU (MINI5870E?) for power control. Some headers are also exposed for the ICE (In-Circuit Emulator), and serial interface for debugging.

I have not tried the VESA mount, but the installation procedure should be the same as for MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro. Documentation and support are available through a dedicated forum.

Continue reading MINIX NEO N42C-4 Mini PC Review – Part 2: Windows 10 Pro.

Intel Compute Card Apollo Lake and Kaby Lake SKUs, Block Diagrams, and Specifications

May 29th, 2017 2 comments

Intel Compute cards are the latest ultra-thin CPU cards introduced by Intel at the beginning of the year, with a concept similar to EOMA68 CPU cards, that it to allow  CPU card upgrades or replacements, and interoperability across compatible devices such as smart kiosks, IoT gateways, and so on. But at the time, Intel did not reveal that many details about the different cards, although we know NexDock is working on laptop dock compatible with Intel Compute Cards. But I’ve recently received some block diagrams for Apollo Lake Pentium/Celeron, and Kaby Lake Core M/Core i5 compute cards.There will two SKUs for Apollo Lake compute cards sharing the same specifications, except for the processor:

  • SoC
    • CD1C64GK SKU – Intel Celeron N3450 quad core processor @ 1.1 / 2.2 GHz (base/turbo) with 12EU Intel HD Graphics Gen9; 7.5W TDP
    • CD1P64GK SKU – Intel Pentium N4200 quad core processor @ 1.1 / 2.5 GHz with 18 EU Intel Gen9 HD graphics; 6W TDP
  • System Memory – 4GB dual channel LPDDR3-1866
  • Storage – 64 eMMC flash, SPI flash for BIOS
  • Connectivity – Intel Wireless-AC 7265 (2×2 802.11ac & Bluetooth 4.2)
  • Compute Card connector:
    • USB type C part with  USB 3.x, USB CC (Configuration Channel), DisplayPort 1.2 and USB 2.0 signals
    • Extended part with USB 2.0, DisplayPort 1.2, USB 3.x, 2x multiplexed SATA & PCIe x1 interfaces
  • Others – PMIC, Embedded Controller, and Crypto Element Device

There will also be two more powerful and expensive Kabe Lake compute card with the following specifications:

  • SoC
    • CD1M3128MK SKU – Intel Core m3-7Y30 dual core / quad thread processor @ 1.0 / 2.6 GHz (base/turbo) with Intel HD Graphics 615; 4.5W TDP
    • CD1IV128MK SKU – Intel Core i5-7Y57 dual core / quad thread processor @ 1.2 / 3.3 GHz with Intel HD Graphics 615; 4.5W TDP; Support Intel vPro
  • System Memory – 4GB dual channel LPDDR3-1866
  • Storage – 128GB PCIe SSD, SPI flash for BIOS
  • Connectivity – Intel Wireless-AC 8265 (2×2 802.11ac & Bluetooth 4.2)
  • Compute Card connector:
    • USB type C part with  USB 3.x, USB CC (Configuration Channel), DisplayPort 1.2 and USB 2.0 signals
    • Extended part with USB 2.0, DisplayPort 1.2, USB 3.x,  1x multiplex Gigabit Ethernet / PCIe x1, and 1x PCIe x1
  • Others – Voltage regulators (VRs), Embedded Controller, and Crypto Element Device; CD1IV128MK only: TPM

I was not aware of any Core i5 processors with such a low TDP, which can also be tuned up to 7W, and down to just 3.5W. The processor was just launched in January, a few devices are equipped with the processor, but I still managed to find Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet 20JB ( $1,450), as well as some benchmarks for reference.

Intel To Make Thunderbolt 3 Royalty-free, Release Specifications

May 25th, 2017 10 comments

Intel Thunderbolt 3 is a single port connect that supports multiple standards (Thunderbolt, USB 3.1, DisplayPort, PCIe), leverages USB-C connector, and offers up to 40 Gbps throughput. So far, it’s mostly found in higher end computers and laptops, but Intel has now announced plans to make it royalty-free, and “release the  specifications to the industry” (so maybe not completely free/public) in order to increase adoption of the standard.

Thunderbolt-3 main features:

  • Thunderbolt, USB, DisplayPort, and power on USB-C
  • USB-C connector and cables (small, reversible)
  • 40 Gbps Thunderbolt 3 – double the speed of Thunderbolt 2
    • Bi-directional, dual-protocol (PCI Express and DisplayPort)
    • 4 lanes of PCI Express Gen 3
    • 8 lanes of DisplayPort 1.2 (HBR2 and MST)
      • Supports two 4K displays (4096 x 2160 30bpp @ 60 Hz)
  • USB 3.1 (10 Gbps) – compatible with existing USB devices and cables
  • DisplayPort 1.2 – compatible with existing DisplayPort displays, devices, and cables
    • Connect DVI, HDMI, and VGA displays via adapters
  • Power (based on USB power delivery)
    • Up to 100W system charging
    • 15W to bus-powered devices
  • Thunderbolt Networking
    • 10Gb Ethernet connection between computers
    • Daisy chaining (up to six devices)
    • Lowest latency for PCI Express audio recording

That means eventually we may get devices with a single Thunderbolt/USB-C like smartphones to connect all peripherals including 4K displays,  NVMe SSDs, Ethernet, external GPU, etc.., and power/charge the device though a Thunderbolt 3 dock, which can be purchased for $200 and up. One example is StarTech.com Thunderbolt 3 Docking Station with 4K display, Ethernet, Audio and USB ports going for $199.99 on Amazon US.

Intel also announced plans to integrate Thunderbolt 3 into future Intel CPUs.

Categories: Hardware Tags: displayport, intel, thunderbolt, usb

Zotac CI327 Nano Apollo Lake Fanless mini PC Features HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort 1.2, and VGA Video Outputs

April 23rd, 2017 7 comments

While many Apollo Lake mini PCs have been launched, few support 4K @ 60 Hz video output, but Zotac CI327 Nano mini PC does even better than that thanks to HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.2 outputs allowing for dual 4K UHD @ 60 Hz setups, and it also adds an extra VGA port to enable triple display setups.

The rest of the specifications are not too bad either with three models CI327 Nano (windows / no windows) and CI327 Nano Plus with slightly different hardware specifications:

  • SoC – Intel Celeron N3450 quad-core  processor @ 1.1GHz / 2.2GHz with Intel HD Graphics 500
  • System Memory
    • Nano with Windows and Nano PLUS – 4GB DDR3L (one slot occupied, up to 8GB)
    • Nano – 2x 204-pin DDR3L-1866 SO-DIMM slots (up to 8GB)
  • Storage – 1x 2.5″ SATA 6.0 Gbps SSD/HDD slot; 3-in-1 (SD/SDHC/SDXC); Nano with WINDOWS only: 32GB M.2 on-board SATA SSD
  • Video Output
    • HDMI 2.0 up to 3840×2160 @ 60 Hz
    • DisplayPort 1.2 up to 4096×2160 @ 60 Hz
    • VGA up to 1920×1080 @ 60 Hz
  • Audio – 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks, lossless bitstream via HDMI
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 type C port, 2x USB 3.0 ports, 2x USB 2.0 ports
  • Connectivity – Dual Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 ac WiFi + Bluetooth 4.2
  • Misc – Power button, Kensington lock, Power/HDD/WiFi LEDs, VESA mount
  • Power Supply – 19V/40W AC adapter
  • Dimensions – 127 .8 x 126.8 x 56.8 mm

The mini PC ships with a WiFi antenna, an AC adapter with power cord, a warranty card, a user manual, a quick install guide, a driver disc, and a VESA monitor mount (with 4 screws). Nano with Windows version also comes with a O/S recovery DVD. The only operating system listed as supported is Windows 10 Home 64-bit, so it’s unclear whether you’d be able to install Linux distributions.

The barebone version – Zotac CI327 Nano – sells for as low as 172.13 Euros in Germany. You’ll find a comparison of the three models on Zotac website.

Via FanlessTech

Targus Universal DisplayLink Docking Stations Support Up to Six 4K Monitors via a Single USB Cable

February 3rd, 2017 7 comments

USB type C connectors are becoming more and more common and beside transmitting data and power, some devices also support video over USB which requires a dock, and if you have some serious display requirements, Targus docking stations over USB-C or USB 3.0 might be what you are looking for, as they support two 4K monitors at the same time thanks to their multiple HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort 1.2a and DVI outputs, and you can even daisy-chain three docking stations over USB 3.0 type A cables in order to control six 4K monitors from one USB port.

Targus Dock 160 – Click to Enlarge

Targus has several models, but let’s check out the specifications of their “USB 3.0 DV4K DOCK160USZ dock station” pictured above:

  • Chipset – DisplayLink DL-6950
  • Video Output Ports – 2x HDMI 2.0 ports, 2x DisplayPort 1.2a ports supporting up to dual 4K Ultra HD video @ 4096×2160 60Hz 24 bpp
  • Audio – 1x 3.5 mm audio in/out jack for microphone, headphone or speakers, 6-Channel (5.1) audio over HDMI/DisplayPort
  • USB
    • 1x USB-C port (USB 3.0 data only)
    • 4x USB 3.0 SuperSpeed ports (1x powered for fast device charging)
    • Input from PC – USB 3.0 micro B port marked “UP”
  • Connectivity – 1x Gigabit Ethernet port
  • Misc – Integrated lock slot accommodates standard industry-security locks to safeguard equipment
  • Power Supply – 19V (45Watt) power supply

The dock comes with a detachable one meter USB-µB/M to A/M cable, and a 45Watt AC power supply. It works with Windows 7/8/10, Chrome OS, Mac OS X 10.8 or later, Linux, and Android 5.0/5.1 or greater operating systems. Beside controlling two displays, you can also attach USB 3.0 devices, access the network through Ethernet, and charge the input device (computer/laptop/smartphone). The company also offers Dock 410 docking station using USB-C input instead, still supporting up to  two 4K monitors, but with two DisplayPorts, one HDMI, and one DVI-D, and featuring a 65 Watts power supply. I found about their solution through Charbax video below at DisplayLink Booth at CES 2017. The video is 17 minutes long, and covers multiple DisplayLink solutions. The part related to the dock starts at 1:26.

It seems fairly complicated to find out whether a dock will work with your laptop, as some specific USB feature may be required, and you’d better ask the seller or to the company whether it will really be compatible with computer, laptop, or mobile device and which limitation you should expect. I’ve included some customers questions from Targus website to give an idea of what I mean:

Q: This has 2 DP1.2 ports, do these ports also support MST, such that I could split each port using a MST port splitter and drive 4 standard 1920×1200 displays?

A: Great question! Currently the DOCK160USZ does not support MST on either DP1.2 port. It is being considered by our product development team but to date we have yet to find any Intel based graphics that support more than three (two external and one local) monitor.

Q: With what type of Cable will connect to my laptop (my laptop has TB3); Will it charge my laptop thru the connection cable as well, Or I still have to charge laptop separately

A:  To connect it your laptop via TB3, you may use a USB Type-A to USB Type-C adapter such as the Targus ACC923USX adapter. The DOCK160USZ is not designed to charge the host PC via TB3. The Targus DOCK410USZ can power and charge up to 60W via the TB3 port and is recommended for most TB3 applications.

Q: Will DOCK130USZ comes with a USB-3.0 C cable to connect to a dell XPS 9365, and would it power the laptop?

A: The DOCK130USZ comes with a USB 3.0 Type Micro B to A cable. While USB 3.0 can often charge certain devices (i.e. a smartphone), it is not designed to charge the host PC. The Targus DOCK410USZ however, should power and charge the Dell XPS 9365 on the DisplayPort Alternate Mode port with power (right side) and may power and charge on the Thunderbolt 3 port (left side).

So you have to carefully think about your use case to find out if it can meet your needs.

Targus Dock 160 is sold on Amazon US for $249.99, and Dock 410 with USB-C input port for $188.91.If you only want to drive a single 4K display from a USB port, and don’t need any of the other features, there are much cheaper solutions.

Firefly-RK3399 Rockchip RK3399 Development Board Launched on Kickstarter for $139 and Up

December 5th, 2016 35 comments

Firefly-RK3399 is the first, and for now the only one, development board equipped with the latest Rockchip RK3399 hexa-core Cortex A72 & A53 processor. It’s just not available yet, but the board has now been launched on Kickstarter where it is offered for $139 to $199 depending on options.

rk3399-development-board

Firefly-RK3399 board specifications:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3399 hexa-core big.LITTLE processor with dual core ARM Cortex A72 up to 2.0 GHz and quad core Cortex A53 processor with ARM Mali-T860 MP4 GPU with OpenGL 1.1 to 3.1 support, OpenVG1.1, OpenCL and DX 11 support
  • System Memory
    • Standard – 2 GB DDR3
    • Plus devkit – 4 GB DDR3
  • Storage
    • Standard – 16 GB eMMC flash, micro SD card, M.2 socket
    • Plus devkit – 32 GB eMMC flash, micro SD card, M.2 socket
  • Video Output & Display Interfaces
    • 1x HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60 Hz
    • 1x DisplayPort (DP) 1.2 interface up to 4K @ 60Hz (via USB type C connector)
    • 1x eDP 1.3 (4-lanes @ 10.8 Gbps)
    • 1x MIPI DSI interface up to 2560×1600 @ 60 Hz
  • Video Decode – 4K VP9 and 10-bit H.265 video codec support up to 60 fps
  • Audio
    • Via HDMI or DisplayPort
    • 3.5mm headphone jack with stereo audio output and mic input
    • optical S/PDIF
    • 1x LINE Out and 1x speaker via GPIO header; Speaker: 1.5W or 2.5 W per channel for respectively 8Ω or 4Ω speakers
    • Built-in microphone
    • I2S output and input interface up to 8 channels
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet (RJ45) port using RTL8211E transceiver, WiFi 802.11ac 2×2 MIMO and Bluetooth 4.1 (AP6354 module)
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x USB 3.0 port, 1x USB 3.0 type C port
  • Camera
    • 2x MIPI CSI interfaces up to 13MP or 2x 8MP
    • 1x DVP camera interface up to 5MP
  • Debugging – 3-pin serial header
  • Expansion
    • 42-pin GPIO female header with access to 1x I2S, 2x ADC, 2x I2C, 1x SPI, 2x GPIO, 1x LINEOUT, 1x SPEAKER
    • 1x mini PCIe for LTE, 1x PCIe 2.1 M.2 slot B-key (2x PCIe, SATA, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, HSIC, SSIC, Audio, UIM, I2C)
    • SIM card slot
  • Misc – RTC battery header; power & user LEDs; power, reset and recovery buttons; IR receiver
  • Power Supply – 12V/2A DC (5.5×2.1mm barrel connector)
  • Dimensions – 12.4 x 9.3 mm (8-layer PCB)
  • Weight – Board: 89 grams; board + cooling fan and heatsink: 120 grams

The company will provide Android 6.0.1 and Ubuntu 16.04 firmware images for the board, including a dual boot image. There are also work-in-progress documentation and placeholder links to Android SDK and schematics in the product page which will hopefully soon link to the actual documents and files, as well as a work-in-progress Wiki. It may also be worth monitoring the company’s  Github account.

firefly-rk3399-boardThe company aims to raise $50,000 from the crowdfunding campaign, and you’d have to pledge $139 to get “Firefly-RK3399 Development Kit” with 2GB RAM, and 16GB flash together with a 12V/2A power adapter, a USB Type C adapter, a USB to UART serial board, a USB cable, and a a cooling fan (I assume with an heatsink). After the 50 first pieces, the price goes up to $159, and if you want the “Plus development kit” with 4GB RAM and 32GB flash, you’d need to pledge $199 instead. Shipping adds $5 to $30 depending on the destination country, and delivery is planned for March 2017.

Zotac PI330 Cherry Trail mini PC Supports Dual Monitor Setups with HDMI and DisplayPort Outputs

May 27th, 2016 6 comments

Several low power Intel mini PCs coming out of Chinese manufacturers support dual monitor setups, but usually they combine HDMI and VGA with models such as Vorke V1 or MeLE PCG03. Zotac PI330 mini PC powered by an Intel Atom x5-Z8500 processor offers instead dual independent display support via HDMI and DisplayPort connectors.

Zotac_PI330Zotac PI330 hardware specifications:

  • SoC – Intel Atom x5-Z8500 quad core processor @ 1.44 GHz / 2.24 GHz) with 2M Cache and Intel Gen8 Graphics
  • System Memory –  2GB LPDDR3
  • Storage – 32GB eMMC flash + micro SD/SDHC/SDXC card reader
  • Video Output – DP1.1a, HDMI 1.4b
  • Audio – DisplayPort, HDMI and 3.5mm headphone/microphone combo jack
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 Type-C, 2x USB 3.0 port
  • Misc – Power LED,
  • Power Supply – 5V/3A
  • Dimensions – 115 x 76 x 20.7 mm

Zotac_PI330_Power_SD

The fanless mini PC is pre-loaded with Windows 10 Home, and ships with a universal power adapter, VESA mounting brackets, two mount screws, one CTIA -> OMTP audio jack adapter, and a O/S Recovery DVD.

Pricing has not been disclosed, but more info may be available at Computex 2016 taking place on May 31 – June 4, in Taipei, Taiwan, and you can also consult Zotac PI330 product page.

Thanks to TLS for the tip.

DisplayPort 1.4 To Support 8K Displays over USB-C, [email protected] Hz, 32 Audio Channels

March 3rd, 2016 1 comment

Just as 4K UHD televisions are getting more affordable with prices ever closer to their Full HD equivalent, the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) has published DisplayPort 1.4 specifications with support for 8K QUHD (7680 x 4320) resolution, High Dynamic Range (HDR), video compression and more.

DisplayPort_1.4_8K_QUHDSome of the key enhancements or new features of the new specifications include:

  • Up to 8Kp60Hz HDR deep color and 4Kp120Hz HDR deep color
  • Display Stream Compression (DSC) – DSC 1.2 natively supports YCbCr 4:2:0 and 4:2:2 coding, and offers nearly lossless 3:1 compression ratio
  • Forward Error Correction – FEC, which overlays the DSC 1.2 transport, addresses the transport error resiliency needed for compressed video transport to external displays.
  • HDR meta transport – HDR meta transport uses the “secondary data packet” transport inherent in the DisplayPort standard to provide support for the current CTA 861.3 standard, which is useful for DP to HDMI 2.0a protocol conversion, among other examples. It also offers a flexible metadata packet transport to support future dynamic HDR standards.
  • Expanded audio transport – DP 1.4 supports up to 32 audio channels, 1536kHz sample rate, and inclusion of all known audio formats.

It will take a few years before 8K and DP 1.4 start to take off. 8K televisions have just launched with hefty prices including Sharp LV-85001 for around $125,000, and content is basically non-existent with one the first 8K broadcast likely to be Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics four years from now.

Via Liliputing and ComputerWorld

Categories: Video Tags: 8k, displayport, standard, uhd