What is madVR?
| madVR Set up
This guide outlines the hardware necessary to achieve high-performance playback from madVR at 3840 x 2160p
The current landscape of UHD technology is shifting and true 4K PC support is still new. Therefore, this guide is incomplete and anyone looking to build a 4K HTPC in 2017 should proceed with caution until PC support of UHD Blu-ray and 4K television is better understood.
1 – CPU
It is unrealistic for any modern CPU to decode high bit-rate 10-bit 4K HEVC video using CPU-based (software) decoding. The computing power required to decode HEVC is 5-10 times higher than equivalent H.264/MPEG-4 AVC.
Considering the UHD standard calls for data rates of up to 82 Mbit/s for 50 GB discs, 108 Mbit/s for 66 GB discs and 128 Mbit/s for 100 GB discs, even low bit-rate 4K UHD content is close to double the bit rate of 1080p Blu-ray (max. of 54 Mbit/s)
. Those bit rates include both audio and video. But, coupled with slow HEVC decoding, the load posed by 4K UHD Blu-ray is formidable for any CPU or fixed-function hardware decoder. So we will assume the bulk of difficult 10-bit HEVC decoding will be handled by a fixed-function GPU hardware decoder capable of handling high bit-rate decoding.
Intel Kaby Lake (7th generation) Core i5 or i7 processors are a minimum requirement for compatibility with UHD Blu-ray drives. As well, 6 GB of system RAM and Windows 10 are also necessary.
Kaby Lake Core i5.
Kaby Lake Core i7
2 – Motherboard
The motherboard should be compatible with the chosen CPU.
3 – Memory
- RAM Types
(e.g. DDR2, DDR3, DDR4)
- RAM Frequencies
(e.g. 1066 / 1333 / 1600 / 1866 / 2133 / 2200 / 2400 / 2600 / 2800 / 3000 / 3100 / 3200 / 3300 MHz)
- Memory Slots
(e.g. 2 x 240-pin DIMM)
- Max. Memory
- Expansion Slots
(e.g. 1 x PCI Express 3.0 x16 / 5 x SATA 6Gb/s / 1 x PCI Express 2.0 x1 for TV tuner cards)
- High-Speed SSD Slots (10Gb/s vs. 6Gb/s SATA III)
(e.g. 1 x SATA Express / 1 x M.2)
- CPU Overclocking
(e.g. Intel H97 vs. Z97 / cheap AMD vs. 990FX)
- USB 3.0
(e.g. 4 x USB 3.0 Ports)
- Onboard LAN
- Onboard Wireless LAN
(e.g. Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac or 1 x Mini PCI Express)
- Onboard Bluetooth
(e.g. Bluetooth 4.0/3.0 or 1 x Mini PCI Express)
- S/PDIF Out
(e.g. 1 x Optical)
- Case Form Factor
(e.g. ATX (tower), mini ITX (small form factor), micro ATX (slim profile))
Up to the discretion of the user. Larger amounts of RAM than recommended are suitable for PCs that double as gaming rigs.
4 – Internal Storage
A Solid State Drive (SSD)
is recommended for HTPC use. This will offer the fastest boot times and responsive control of the operating system. A SSD will also improve the performance of media frontends such as Kodi and Emby by significantly reducing the time required to cache and load artwork.
5 – Graphics Card
The graphics card is the central component of a madVR 4K HTPC. 4K playback is not the primary concern of picking a suitable card. Rather, scaling any HD video to 2160p (4K) revolves around the use of costly image doubling – preferably, NGU. High definition scaling factors start at 2x (1080p -> 2160p) and can become as large as 3x (720p -> 2160p). An ideal 4K graphics card would allow for the use of image doubling plus artifact removal and post-processing for FHD content – often combining multiple shaders and upscaling under one profile. Cards with this power will have no problem playing 10-bit 4K UHD.
A secondary consideration is 10-bit HEVC decoding. Hardware decoding will become a core feature of 4K HTPCs with the release of UHD Blu-ray. As of 2016, all Nvidia Pascal
and AMD Polaris
cards offer a full function, 10-bit HEVC hardware decoder. This is the only type of video decoder capable of munching through high bit-rate HEVC without compromising GPU performance.
Video RAM of 6GB may be necessary for 4K UHD playback, while 2GB of RAM is suitable for 1080p playback.
- HDMI 2.0a/b (4K with HDR)
- HDCP 2.2
- Fixed-function 10-bit HEVC decoder
These are mid-level cards capable of upscaling 1080p content using Jinc/NGU image scaling with artifact removal and post-processing. This allows the user to take advantage of all madVR features, only compromising with high frame rate content (> 25 fps), interlaced 60i sources and MPEG4-MVC 3D.
These are mid-high cards capable of upscaling 1080p content using NGU image doubling as well as artifact removal and post-processing. Fewer compromises are required at high frame rates and it is possible to use NGU high quality with some profiles. A reduction in settings may be necessary with interlaced 60i sources and MPEG4-MVC 3D.
These are high-end cards capable of the most aggressive settings with little to no compromise playing any content. NGU very high quality with artifact removal and post-processing is possible with all profiles (SD, 720p, 1080p). Possible exceptions include interlaced 60i sources and MPEG4-MVC 3D, which may require a reduction in some settings.
6 – Optical Drive
Pioneer is the first to market with 4K UHD Blu-ray drive support. Those purchasing the BDR-S11J-BK
must combine the drive with:
- Windows 10;
- 6 GB of system RAM;
- Intel Kaby Lake Core i5 or i7;
- Intel HD Graphics 630 or 640;
- GPU with an HDMI 2.0a/b output.
Decryption software will also be necessary. Cyberlink PowerDVD is first to market with legal playback software of 4K UHD discs. The Pioneer drives arrive packaged with PowerDVD. Grey market options could include RedFox AnyDVD (HD)
, which has been a staple of 1080p PC Blu-ray. This type of decryption seems unlikely in the near future but is necessary for UHD Blu-ray support for free media players such as Kodi. Grey market decryption will also be necessary to create back-up copies of 4K discs.
The cost of any additional playback or decryption software should be factored in with the cost of the drive.
UHD BDXL (triple-layer support)
7 – Power Supply
The power supply must be large enough to provide the necessary wattage for all components when under load. Other considerations include its size – it must be small enough to fit inside the chosen case. And it should be reasonably quiet – suitable for watching videos in silence.
Websites such as this
are available to provide estimates of the power draw of any assembled PC. An example system is shown below:
8 – Case
The case is up to preference. It must be sized appropriately for the chosen motherboard and graphics card, and fit comfortably into its end-use component rack.
9 – CPU Cooler/Case Fans (Optional)
- ATX (tower)
- HTPC (horizontal)
- mini ITX (small form factor)
- micro ATX (slim profile)
If you are not overclocking the CPU, an aftermarket CPU cooler is likely not needed. Most CPUs come with its own fans. If a cooler is added, it is best to choose one with a fan over a passive cooler to ensure additional airflow is provided throughout the case.
A cramped case may also require additional case fans to supplement those that come with the case.
10 – Operating System
Windows 10 is the only operating system supported by UHD Blu-ray drives.
11 – Accessories
Putting It All Together – Building Your System
Now that the components of a system have been outlined, it is time to build one for yourself!
is a handy tool for experimenting with various hardware configurations. Thousands of components are found in its database from numerous reputable brands in the PC industry and online parts sites. By creating a user account, you can create multiple parts lists and even purchase individual components directly from the vendor.
When attempting any build with PCPartPicker, I would recommend starting with the case then the motherboard, ending with the power supply.
The compatibility checker will ensure each part added to the list is compatible with the form factor, inputs and chipsets of the existing components.
Example 4K madVR/1080p Gaming Build
External NAS Storage
If using digital media, chances are you require data storage. Cheap USB external hard drives will do, but they do not offer the reliability and protection of Network Attached Storage (NAS)
All NAS offer some form of back-up redundancy (RAID), where data is spread across multiple drives, sometimes allowing for the replacement of failed drives without upsetting the performance of the rest.
There are two ways to go about creating a NAS server:
If you buy a ready-made NAS device, it will come pre-loaded with its own proprietary software. Other options include software RAID
, which can turn any drive array into a NAS. All software should be configurable to various RAID levels
are available to calculate the available capacity of each RAID level and tolerance to drive failure.
Example DIY Builds Using Popular RAID Software:
unRAID NAS Server
FlexRAID NAS Server / Windows Media Manager
Debate: unRAID vs. FlexRAID