Categories: ChromebooksNews

4K Chromebooks Are Coming

Yeah, you read that right. We have some interesting stuff happening in the world of Chromebooks right now, and this development is right at the top of the heap.

In the event that we have some readers who haven’t really cared enough about marketing speak to figure out what 4K is, let’s cover that very quickly. 4K (or UHD – Ultra High Definition) is simply marketing language for a display with a pixel layout of 3840×2160.

For reference, FHD screens (Full High Definition or 1080p) have a resolution of 1920×1080. We also have HD and QHD. HD being 720p (or 1280×720) and QHD (Quad HD) coming in at 2560×1440.

If you are relatively quick at math, you are seeing a theme here. QHD packs in twice the pixels both vertically and horizontally when compared with HD. In the same way, 4K does this with 1080p, FHD screens. For every 4K display you see, you are looking at the equivalent resolution of 4 1080p screens. Two on top, two on bottom. Many times, all these pixels are packed into a screen with the same physical size of a 1080p screen, so pixel density becomes insanely high. Below there is a great visual reference.

Now About Those Chromebooks

Now that we have all that out of the way, let’s get to this commit. The issue being solved here has to do with the boot logo being a bit off. As part of the fix, there is a line at the end of the comment that reads:

As an added bonus, this logo is not only much rounder but also higher resolution, making sure it will continue to look crisp and pretty on our secret upcoming 4K Chromebooks.

I have to admit, that’s a bit cheeky. It almost feels like it was put there on purpose to see if we’d find it. If that’s the case: well played.

Anyway, the idea that 4K-equipped Chromebooks are on the way is pretty exciting for a few reasons.

First, it is a continuation of a pattern that shows manufacturers are interested in bringing premium hardware to the Chrome OS ecosystem. Beneficial or not, 4K screens are clearly considered a premium feature on Windows laptops. Much like glass trackpads, backlit keys, thin form factors and QHD screens (in the Pixels, Pixelbook, and Samsung Pro/Plus), Chromebooks had to evolve a bit to start seeing these higher-end features.

4K displays are the natural progression of this trend. If the industry is pushing 4K displays as their top-tier offerings, the brightest, most color-accurate displays will end up being 4K. It is simply the nature of things. I, for one, am glad that Chromebooks will get to be in on this evolving trend.

Second, with the evolution of display scaling we reported on yesterday, Chrome OS will be well-suited to handle these higher-res displays. The more pixels you have on screen, the easier it is to scale through many display size variations. The Pixelbook, for example, has 4 workable resolutions depending on your needs. All of them look tack-sharp and are easy to move through with the CTRL+SHIFT+(+/-). Lower-res displays can’t scale through multiple resolutions with as well.

Is This Necessary?

The question that still lingers for me is the question of necessity. With the beauty, sharpness, and clarity of the existing QHD screens, what benefit comes of adding so many more pixels? If, to my naked eye, there are no visible pixels on my Pixelbook, how is a 4K display going to make this experience better?

Performance and battery life suffer with 4K displays, though. You can see this across the board on Windows laptops and it is just the nature of the beast. More pixels to push means the processor works harder and kills more battery. Sure, faster processors and bigger batteries compensate for this, but is there a good reason?

Right now, I’m having a hard time seeing it. Again, I’m excited because this is a further shift into the high-end territory, but I’m not sold on the necessity of it all. Maybe you have different thoughts? We’d love to hear it in the comments.

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Robby Payne

Tech junkie. Musician. Web Developer. Coffee Snob. Huge fan of the Google things. Founded Chrome Unboxed because so many of my passions collide in this space. I like that. I want to share that. I hope you enjoy it too.

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  • This will be absolutely WORTHLESS unless these Chromebooks support HDCP and Chrome works with VUDU/Netflix to allow UHD streaming on the browser. Microsoft Edge is actually ONLY browser that allows for higher than 720p streaming through the browser. So update Chrome to go up to 4KUHD and release these Chromebooks (all of them. The $1000 Pixelbook literally cannot stream 1080p content) to support HDCP, preferably 2.2 for future proofing.

    • Chrome OS can certainly stream Netflix in 1080p through the browser. I do it all the time on my Chromebook R13. I believe the 720p limitation is when using Chrome browser on a Windows machine.

      • The Netflix Help Center page - Netflix system requirements for HTML5 Player and Silverlight - says this in relation to Google Chrome browser resolution support of Netflix streaming media:

        "Up to 720p on Windows, Mac, and Linux
        Up to 1080p on Chrome OS"


      • Huh, weird, but thanks for the tidbit. Tried on Chrome WIndows 10 on my custom built PC (i7-8700K, GTX 1080Ti, 32" 4K monitor with HDCP support) and it maxed out at 720p. On my Asus C302CA? 1080p. Verified by hitting Ctrl + alt + Shift + D to see the stats. Makes no sense to me.

        Regardless, VUDU is a pretty big digital platform, and both the browser and app from the Play Store only support SD because of an error code that points to missing HDCP support on Chromebooks. Once they get this sorted, I'll think about upgrading my Asus C302CA, or making more use of it than I do now for that media streaming.

    • Yes, there are screen, processor, OS and browser system requirements that must dovetail for this to work. It is reasonable to assume that everything would be evolved together to permit 4K streaming if and when Chromebooks ship with 4K screens, however. That is probably another area that Google is busily working on. And, Netflix, if Google had the hardware and software to support 4K would probably be very willing to evolve their service to provide it.

  • Could it be a case of having the hardware available for app developers to invest more heavily into Chrome OS?
    Kind of like what has plagued XBOX for the past couple of years. Developers didn't want to invest into a subpar system.

  • I have a Pixel and put GalliumOS on it, but am still fiddling with fonts, resolution, and icons so I don't need a magnifying glass to read stuff. Sorry, I don't see the need for 4K.

    • I agree. More pixels in a small display means that fonts and icons become very small and hard to read. I have an Asus 302CA DHM4 Chromebook Flip. It has a 12.5 inch display with 1920 x 1080 resolution (1080p) and I had to adjust the resolution to 1536 x 864 to make the fonts and icons big enough to see comfortably. I also set the font size to large. I admit that the display is sharp enough. I suspect that I would notice a difference for a video if the display was set to 1080p.

  • The Pixelbook has a beautiful screen; I don't see any visible pixels on mine either. It's pretty small though, so it doesn't need 4K to get that clarity. Physically bigger screens may, though. Maybe this super secret 4K chromebook is bigger than the pixelbook.

    • Well, everything starts with the SoC on board. Core M based Chromebooks can support 4K. Tegra K1 based Chromebooks also supported it, but I'm not sure that Chromebooks using the K1 are still being manufactured. The ability to output 4K is becoming more common for mid-tier Chromebooks and laptops. Still, there is a difference between formal support of 4K (on a Chromebook or any computer) and being able to successfully stream digital content. The requirements go well beyond the ability to output 4K. It makes sense to start from the stated requirements of the content provider and check whether a device fully complies.

  • This announcement would likely interest me if I knew more. No sane person realistically needs higher built-in display resolution than a Pixelbook currently has. So, if it's intended for the built-in display, then it's a stupid move. But, if I knew that this was actually just a support capability of the OS and that it was really only intended for attached large-screen UHD monitors, then it potentially gets interesting. I'd also need to know that the current USB type-C port is already designed with UHD output capability supported. And then, if the Chromebook is expected to be driving a large-screen UHD monitor, the effect on battery life is a totally moot consideration because the Chromebook will be plugged in. So, I have a hard time caring without knowing more.

  • Only one company can pull off a 3840×2160 screen, resolution, and that would be HP. So HP is getting into the high end chromebook game. Let the chromebook wars begin.

    • Does HP manufacture screens? Most screen panels are manufactured in Asia - China, Taiwan and South Korea mainly. I am not sure what you are specifically referring to but as a rule components like screens are provided to laptop/tablet/device manufacturers from an existing supply chain of component manufacturers. Quite often particular panels are specified by an ODM that is part of the supply chain and that acts as an intermediary between the manufacturer and component suppliers. There are not a lot of components in this supply chain that a given manufacturer has sole access to (n.b. Apple is a rather special case). If a manufacturer's screens are a cut above that would normally be because the manufacturer sought the best that the supply chain could offer.

  • Well just got a new Pixel book but if they have a 4k model looks like one of my kids will be getting a Pixel book so I can get one of these.

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