Last Updated: 2019-02-20
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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 2019 should proceed with caution until PC support of UHD Blu-ray and 4K media is more mature.
Currently, madVR is the only media software on Windows that supports HDR10 metadata passthrough using APIs provided by AMD and Nvidia without relying on forced system-wide HDR output offered by Windows 10. Both SDR and HDR content will playback correctly with automatic EOTF and color space switching.
1 – CPU
It is unrealistic for all but the most powerful modern CPUs to decode high-bitrate, 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 bitrate 4K UHD content is close to double the bitrate of 1080p Blu-ray (max. of 54 Mbit/s)
. Those bitrates 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 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-bitrate decoding.
If you want legal playback of UHD Blu-ray discs, Intel Kaby Lake (7th generation) Core i5 or i7 processors are a minimum requirement for compatibility with UHD Blu-ray drives. The choice of CPU is only relevant if you want legal playback of UHD Blu-ray disks (not rips).
Otherwise, any CPU is appropriate as long as you are satisfied with boot times and OS performance.
The critical component of a HTPC is the GPU. So don't worry too much about the CPU and motherboard. The CPU should remain mostly idle during HTPC use.
Intel (with legal UHD Blu-ray disc support):
Kaby Lake Core i5
Kaby Lake Core i7
Intel (for general HTPC use):
Core i5 or i7
AMD (for general HTPC use):
AMD Ryzen 3
AMD Ryzen 3
AMD Ryzen 5 or 7
2 – Motherboard
The motherboard must be compatible with the chosen CPU and fit into the chosen case form factor.
3 – Memory
- RAM Types
(e.g. DDR2, DDR3, DDR4)
- RAM Frequencies
(e.g. 1066 MHz up to 4600 MHz)
- Memory Slots
(e.g. 4 x 240-pin DIMM)
- Max. Memory
- Expansion Slots
(e.g. 1 x PCI Express 3.0 x16 for GPUs / 4 x SATA 6Gb/s / 1 x PCI Express 2.0 x1 for TV tuner cards)
- High-Speed SSD Slots (up to 40Gb/s vs. 6Gb/s SATA III)
(e.g. 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 Gigabit Ethernet
(e.g. 1 x 1000 Mbit/s)
- 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.
Buying two equal-sized memory modules (e.g. 2 x 4GB) and inserting them into the paired slots on the motherboard can result in small improvements in memory read, copy, write, latency and bandwidth performance and should be strongly considered if you are using onboard video graphics rather than a dedicated GPU.
Single-Channel vs. Dual-Channel - Does It Matter?
4 – Internal Storage
A Solid State Drive (SSD)
is recommended for HTPC use. Instant access speeds provided by SSDs will make a PC fast in every regard from boot times to responsive control of the operating system. SSDs will also improve the performance of media front-ends such as Kodi and Emby by significantly reducing the time required to cache and load artwork.
SATA III: 6Gbit/s; PCIe x8: 40 Gbit/s.
- SATA: 6Gbit/s (SATA Interface);
- PCIe: up to 40Gbit/s (PCIe x8) - actual performance tends to be much lower (PCIe Interface);
- M.2: up to 40Gbit/s (PCIe x8) - actual performance tends to be much lower (SATA Interface M.2 and PCIe Interface M.2).
More on SSD types here
More on PCIe vs. SATA here
5 – Graphics Card
The majority of madVR processing is carried out on the graphics card. 4K playback is not the primary concern of picking a suitable card. Rather, upscaling 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.
HEVC hardware decoding is also a consideration. The chosen GPU should be capable of decoding 10-bit HEVC with a full-function (not hybrid) hardware decoder capable of decoding high-bitrate HEVC without reducing the rendering performance of the GPU.
Up to 4GB of VRAM can be required when using normal queue sizes combined with NGU image scaling, common madVR processing and subtitles.
- 4GB+ of VRAM
- Fixed-function 10-bit HEVC decoder
- HDMI 2.0a/b (4K 60 fps)
The GTX 1050 3GB offers comparable performance to the GTX 1050 Ti at a slightly lower price point and should outperform the RX 560 with madVR. The 3GB of VRAM is unlikely to be a problem because the card does not have enough power to use higher levels of NGU stacked with other processing.
These are mid-level cards capable of upscaling 1080p content using super-xbr/NGU image scaling with artifact removal and post-processing. This allows the user to take advantage of all madVR features, only compromising in algorithm quality (e.g. NGU low or medium
and possibly high
) and with content with high frame rates (>25 fps).
These are mid-high cards capable of upscaling 1080p content using NGU image doubling with artifact removal and post-processing. Fewer compromises are required at high frame rates and it is possible to use NGU high
quality image doubling with some profiles. A reduction in settings may be necessary with 4K 60 fps, interlaced 60i sources and 720p60 broadcasts.
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, 4K). Possible exceptions include 4K 60 fps, interlaced 60i sources and 720p60 broadcasts, which may require a reduction in some settings.
HDR Tone Mapping
The last category are for those primarily interested in buying a card to use madVR's high-quality pixel shader HDR tone mapping. The recommended cards are capable of using tone mapping with all of the HDR enhancements enabled (with some adjustment to the unimportant chroma upscaling setting) with 4K 24 fps content. A setting or two may be need to be disabled at 4K 60 fps, but this is a minor concern given the majority of 60 fps content is limited to HDR demo clips. Lesser cards can still run madVR's tone mapping in good quality, but a few performance compromises may have to be made.
GTX 1050 3GB
GTX 1050 Ti
GTX 1660 6GB / RTX 2060
HDR Tone Mapping:
GTX 1660 Ti / RTX 2060
RX 560 (Baffin XT
, not Baffin XL
RX Vega 64
RX Vega M GL / RX Vega M GH
HDR Tone Mapping:
RX Vega 56
GTX 960 4GB
GTX 1060 6GB
GTX 1080 Ti
HDR Tone Mapping:
GTX 1070 / GTX 1070 Ti
Note: AMD Polaris cards struggle with NGU image scaling in madVR. This makes equivalent Nvidia cards the performance choice, even if benchmarks between equivalent cards can be similar.
Fan noise should also be considered when buying a GPU. There can be a lot of variability in fan quality and fan noise during video playback can be bothersome. Tests like this one for the RTX 2060 are best consulted before purchase.
On a budget and need basic 4K video processing:
AMD Ryzen 3 2200G
, AMD Ryzen 5 2400G
, Nvidia GT 1030 2GB
and Nvidia GTX 1050 2GB
are all capable of playing 4K 60 fps content with madVR, but only with basic processing.
Recommended Base Settings:
6 – Optical Drive
- Set madVR to its default video processing settings and/or set image upscaling to DXVA2;
- CPU and GPU queue sizes set to 8/8 or lower;
- 8GB of the fastest RAM you can find should be run in dual-channel mode (2 x 4GB - only applies to AMD APUs);
- XySubFilter is not recommended to render subtitles;
- Use of 3D LUTs or tone mapping by pixel shaders are unlikely.
Official 4K UHD Blu-ray drive support is offered by Pioneer and LG. Those purchasing the BDR-S11J-BK (internal)
, BDR-S11J-X (internal)
or LG WH16NS60 (internal)
must combine the drive with:
Note: This only applies to legal UHD Blu-ray disc playback on a HTPC (not the drives required to rip these discs or for other decryption methods).
- Windows 10;
- 6 GB of system RAM;
- Motherboard with HDCP 2.2, SGX and AACS 3.0;
- Intel Kaby Lake Core i5 or i7;
- Intel HD Graphics 630 or 640.
is the only option for legal playback software of 4K UHD discs on PC. The Pioneer drives arrive packaged with PowerDVD.
PowerDVD UHD Blu-ray System Requirements
Grey Market Decryption – UHD Blu-ray Disc Requirements:
How to Install Old Firmware into New UHD "Friendly" Drives
RedFox AnyDVD (HD) and DVDFab Passkey don't require any special motherboard, CPU or other hardware beyond a "friendly" Blu-ray drive, 4K-ready graphics card and available hashed keys for select discs.
The cost of any additional playback or decryption software should be factored in with the cost of the drive.
BDXL (triple-layer support)
Cyberlink PowerDVD, JRiver Media Center (with Blu-ray menu support), MPC and other free media players.
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:
The 80 Plus certification program (Bronze to Titanium) defines the efficiency of the power supply. The higher the rating, the lower the power usage at a given wattage. Basically, this determines how much power is used by the PSU during normal use.
More on 80 Plus certification here
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 fan.
A cramped case may also require additional fans to supplement those that come with the case. Case fans can range in size from 25mm to 230mm, with larger fans producing less noise than smaller fans as they spin slower to move the same amount of air.
10 – Operating System
As DirectShow software, madVR is compatible with Windows operating systems.
Recommended OS (with UHD Blu-ray disc support):
Recommended OS (for general madVR playback):
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 the most reputable brands in the PC industry linked directly to popular 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 CPU, 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 madVR 4K HTPC Build
Ripping UHD Blu-ray Discs with MakeMKV
The easiest way to create UHD HDR10 media suitable for HTPC use is by ripping UHD Blu-ray discs. MakeMKV has made this process fairly simple. With an UHD "friendly" drive, MakeMKV can read the disc, as long as a decryption key for the disc is known, and rip the appropriate video, audio and subtitle tracks into an .mkv container. This is all lossless. The relevant tracks are simply packaged into an .mkv ready for playback by any media player, free or paid. If storage is an issue, the file can be compressed by software such as StaxRip
UHD Blu-ray disc ripping requires:
How to Install Old Firmware into New UHD "Friendly" Drives
International UHD Friendly Drive Sales & Firmware Flashing Service
Ultra-High-Definition Blu-ray Disc (UHD-BD) Backup & Playback Guidance
Heads up - Support for Official LG UHD Drives Coming in 2019
Do not update the firmware of UHD "friendly" drives or it will no longer work. These UHD "friendly" drives are drives produced for normal BR discs (so, AACS 1.0) but with BDXL (three/four layer disc) capabilities.
The downloaded hashed key file must be installed into the MakeMKV data directory (which is set in the preferences - NOT the program directory). MakeMKV v1.12.3 added the option to update this file automatically with an Internet connection. The download link is updated weekly, sometimes several times a week. Those requiring manual updates should bookmark the above link and return back regularly. The hashed key method is different than the general crack of AACS 1.0 used to rip 1080p Blu-rays.
There are often many versions of each UHD Blu-ray disc, which cover many regions. If your disc is not supported, it is possible to take the dump file created when an attempt is made to open the UHD disc and send it to MakeMKV. That disc will be included in the next hashed key file update, so the disc can then be ripped. This means the creation of hashed keys is virtually infinite.
MakeMKV UHD Blu-ray FAQ
Set the minimum title length to 3600 seconds (60 minutes) and a default language preference in Preferences to ease the task of identifying the correct video, audio and subtitle tracks.
Other UHD Blu-ray Ripping Software:
External NAS Storage
Digital media usage requires a considerable amount of data storage (measured in terabytes, or TBs). 4K UHD media, in particular, can require a significant amount of hard drive space. This can be managed with cheap USB external hard drives, but such drives do not offer near the same level of reliability and protection as Network Attached Storage (NAS)
Average File Sizes of Current Rips:
- DVD: 8GB (avg);
- Blu-ray: 20GB-35GB (avg);
- UHD Blu-ray: 50GB-80GB (avg).
All NAS offer some form of backup 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:
Ready-made NAS devices come pre-loaded with proprietary software. Any existing drive array in a PC can be turned into a NAS drive pool by using software RAID
RAID software is configurable to several RAID levels
. RAID calculators
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
Windows Software – Media Front-Ends
Finally, the following media front-ends can be used to enhance the experience of madVR video playback by organizing your media collection and providing artwork and detailed metadata for each title. Some front-ends also offer content from add-ons that can be played through the media player and enhanced by madVR.
Media front-ends with integrated madVR video players:
Media front-ends that support external players: