What is the madVR Envy Extreme?
The madVR Envy Extreme is a video processor that's been designed from the ground up to deliver an uncompromising level of performance. It offers state-of-the-art scaling, sharpening and image enhancements, plus there's 4K HDR frame-by-frame dynamic tone mapping, subtitle movement, auto black bar and aspect ratio detection and zooming, along with precise 3D LUT calibrations.
If the name madVR sounds familiar, that's because it actually stands for Madshi Video Renderer. This direct show renderer has been around for years, and is hugely popular with home theatre personal computer (HTPC) enthusiasts. The results using this software can be amazing, but it does require a high-end HTPC, a fair degree of know-how, and the ability to navigate a myriad of setup options – not to mention the notorious unreliability of running software on PCs.
The idea behind the Envy is to take many of the algorithms from the madVR platform and then build them into a dedicated, easy-to-use consumer device. As a result, every setting is optimised to the hardware, there’s a more intuitive control interface and the installation and set up are simple. Since the Envy uses a computer-based platform, it can also be easily upgraded and new features can be added via firmware updates when necessary.
Naturally this kind of cutting-edge performance doesn't come cheap, and the Envy Pro will set you back £9,000, while the Envy Extreme reviewed here will set you back an eye-watering £15,000. If you're wondering what the differences are, we'll go through them in the features section. These are clearly products aimed squarely at the very high-end custom install market, so we're expecting an equally very high-end performance. Let's find out...
Design, Connections and Control
The madVR Envy Extreme keeps things simple when it comes to design... very simple. It's just a matte black box with a logo, a blue indicator light and a power button on the front, although the build quality is excellent. There are air vents at the sides and rear, and the Envy requires plenty of ventilation. The cooling fans are fairly loud, but there are cooling curves in the menus to adjust the fan speed depending on the amount of ventilation. Given the Envy is aimed at the custom install market, the chances are this unit will be in an equipment room anyway. Speaking of which, the Envy is huge – it measures 440 x 175 x 435mm, and weighs in at 10kg.
Things are equally simple around the back, where the Envy's computer heritage is most obvious, although the majority of ports are actually blocked off. There are two USB ports into which are attached the IR and RF dongles for the remote control, and an Ethernet port for firmware updates, IP control, and remote access. There are two HDMI 2.0b inputs, one of which is a pass-through to ensure no added latency when gaming. The single output is already HDMI 2.1 on the Envy Extreme, although it's only HDMI 2.0b on the Envy Pro. The single HDMI input may disappoint some, but the Envy has clearly been designed to sit between an AV processor or receiver and the display.
The Envy Extreme's HDMI 2.1 output means it can drive TVs with 4K/120fps with 10bit RGB. For 4K/60fps, the Envy can send 10bit or 12bit RGB to the display, and of course, it can support 8K displays. On the input side, the only devices that currently exceed the bandwidth of HDMI 2.0 are gaming consoles, but the Envy isn't well suited for gaming because the video latency is too high. For video playback, there's no real benefit to an HDMI 2.1 input until 8K becomes commonplace, but that is a long way off.
There is a paid upgrade path planned for both the Envy Extreme and the Envy Pro, with the former getting HDMI 2.1 inputs added, and the latter getting HDMI 2.1 inputs and outputs added. However, while the Envy Pro will support most of the HDMI 2.1 features, only the Envy Extreme will be capable of processing 8K video. This will make the Envy Extreme the first and only stand-alone processor to offer full 8K processing and full 48Gbps HDMI 2.1 with HDCP 2.3.
The provided remote control is simple but effective, and supports both IR and RF (although you cannot use both at the same time). The default is RF but if you want to change it, press and hold the OK button and, while still holding it, press and hold the top right menu button until the LED light on the remote blinks three times.
Unfortunately there's no backlight, which makes using it in a darkened home cinema tricky. The limited number of buttons makes it easy to remember their locations, but it's disappointing given the price. This is a common problem with high-end manufacturers, who seem to ignore the quality of the remote because they assume the product will be used in a custom install with a bespoke control system.
The simple remote control is effective, and supports IR and RF commands (although not at the same time)
In the top left hand corner is the power button, press it to put the Envy into standby and hold it down to restart the unit. In the top right hand corner is the menu button, and beneath that you'll find the navigation controls and OK button. Beneath these controls are the virtual inputs (profiles menu) and settings buttons, and beneath them there are red, green, blue and yellow buttons. These have multiple functions but the lack of any identifying type (apart from 'OK') on the remote, along with the lack of a backlight, makes it tricky to use sometimes.
Pressing the red button hotplugs the HDMI input, while holding it down opens the test pattern menu. Pressing the green button toggles the Envy's dynamic tone mapping on and off, while holding it down toggles the histogram. Pressing the blue button turns highlight recovery on and off, while holding it down resets the debug OSD counters. Finally, pressing the yellow button turns contrast recovery on and off, while holding it down toggles the debug OSD.
Unsurprisingly, given these processors are aimed at the custom install market, there's also support for automation using Control4, Crestron, Savant and RTI control system, along with custom IP control and a Windows application.
The madVR Envy Extreme is designed to deliver highly accurate 4K HDR frame-by-frame dynamic tone mapping, unrivalled 4K upscaling, fast black bar and aspect ratio detection and zooming, superior decontouring and compression artefact reduction, specialised sharpening and detail enhancement, and highly accurate 3D LUT calibrations.
The madVR Envy has been designed from the ground up to deliver uncompromising video processing
To achieve this, madVR has essentially taken a high-powered computer and turned it into a bespoke video processor. Both Envy models offer uncompromising performance, but the Extreme takes it to insane levels. So much so that "insane" is actually an option on some of the processor's settings. But how do the two differ you ask? Let me elaborate...
The two models look identical and generally offer the same features, but the Pro has a 24 month warranty and the Extreme gives you 36 months. The Pro's CPU processing has four cores and four threads, while the Extreme has six and 12. There's 4,300 of general graphics processing power (GFLOPS) on the Pro and 25,000 on the Extreme. The latter also includes specialised AI graphics processing power (Tensor core GFLOPS), and is better equipped to run multiple demanding algorithms simultaneously.
Firmware updates can be easily installed over the internet via the menu system, and can take less than 60 seconds with a click of the remote. The manufacturer even offers remote technical assistance from authorised dealers using 'madAssist'. There will also be future firmware updates for both the Extreme and Pro, and the same firmware always works for both. Some new algorithms will be exclusive to the Extreme, but not most of the update, such as the recently added HLG tone mapping, and the upcoming NLS feature.
The two models offer proprietary machine-learning algorithms to provide upscaling, chroma upsampling and anamorphic stretch for 4K and, in the case of the Extreme, 8K at 24/60p. They also offer artefact and edge/texture enhancements to reduce compression and banding artefacts, and change edge and texture details. To achieve this they use 32-bit floating point per component processing, a high-quality dithering algorithm, smooth motion algorithm for displays with no or poor 24fps support, and automatic optimisation of algorithm quality levels.
The Envy can detect every single aspect ratio, and instantly adjust the image to exactly fit your specific screen, regardless of its aspect ratio and the aspect ratio of the movie – even as it changes back and forth (yes we're looking at you Christopher Nolan). There's a host of options, including automatic IMAX aspect ratio changes, masking for projection screens, image shift for constant image width projection, advanced convergence correction, automatic activation of JVC and Sony lens memories via IP control, non-linear stretch, and AI-based anamorphic stretch upscaling for 1080p and 4K projectors. The Envy Extreme also offers advanced geometry correction for curved screens, and AI-based anamorphic stretch upscaling for 8K projectors.
The Envy supports 256-point LUTs for incredibly precise calibrations based on 16.7 million points of accuracy
If you're a fan of foreign language films and use a scope screen one of the biggest issues is cutoff subtitles because they often appear in the black bars. The Envy processors include subtitle shifting that dynamically resizes the image to fit subtitles only when needed, thus maximising the picture size.
The Envy enables incredibly accurate calibrations by supporting 65-point and massive 256-point LUTs (look-up tables), without any loss of measurement data and precision. This translates into 274,625 or 16,777,216 points of accuracy, compared to less than 5,000 points with many other processors. The Envy also integrates with all the main calibration products including Calman, ColourSpace, displayCal, and more.
Probably the technology madVR Labs is best known for is pioneering frame-by-frame HDR Dynamic Tone Mapping (DTM). The company's patent-pending DTM 2.0 engine analyses every frame in real-time to optimise every single pixel. That’s nearly a half billion pixels per second when analysing 4K/60p source. Dynamic tone mapping shouldn't be confused with the dynamic metadata used by formats like HDR10+ and Dolby Vision, which is a different technology.
The big selling point is madVR's amazing frame-by-frame HDR dynamic tone mapping (DTM)
This technology includes proprietary Highlight Recovery, Contrast Recovery and Shadow Detail Recovery to provide superior HDR images on displays like projectors, where the peak brightness is limited. The Pro and Extreme offer the same DTM features, except that only the Extreme includes the 'insane' option in the Shadow Detail and Highlight Recovery settings.
MadVR has a number of planned future algorithms that will be offered as software updates for the Envy Extreme only. These include machine learning-based motion interpolation, motion compensated video deinterlacing and motion compensated multi-frame noise/grain reduction. There will also be AI-based grain agnostic sharpening, and AI-based 4K HDR DTM processing. The company has also recently added geometry controls to support a wide range of installations and help eliminate barrel distortion and artefacts from anamorphic lenses or curved screens.
Setup and Operation
Considering the sophistication and potential complexity of this processor, it's incredibly easy to set up. All you need to do is connect your source or, more likely, AV processor or receiver to the HDMI input, and your display to the HDMI output. While you can use the Envy with any display device, it clearly offers the most benefit to projectors. Then all you need to do is turn the processor on and decide how to use the remote; the RF setting seems best since it doesn't require line of sight.
Despite its inherent sophistication, set up is incredibly easy, just input your projector's peak brightness
The front panel LED indicator lights blue when the unit is on, red to indicate disk activity, pulsating between blue and off when in standby, and off when the Envy is powered down. You can reduce the brightness of the LED indicator, or turn it off completely, using the wheel at the bottom right-hand edge of the front panel.
The menu system is composed of three sections: Configuration; Settings; and Information. Each can be accessed by pressing the appropriate button on the remote control: top right is the menu button, the one directly below it is the settings menu, and the OK button brings up the information menu. There is also a Test Patterns menu, which is accessed by holding down the red button, and Profile menu, with the latter providing access to profiles for up to eight devices and four displays (more on this later).
The configuration menu is where you’ll find the options that you won’t need to adjust on a regular basis. The settings menu is typically where you will find options that you may want to change occasionally, to suit your mood, viewing conditions or tastes for a particular movie. The information menu shows information about your incoming and outgoing signal, the display device, and system information such as your model type and serial number (which you should never share with anyone other than your dealer or madVR).
The majority of the default settings should deliver superb results, without you needing to actually change anything. Of course, once you're up and running you can experiment with different settings and see how they look. Any changes you make to the settings will be temporary until you save them to your base settings or to a profile. These changes will be identified with the tag TEMP, BASE or PROF next to a specific setting.
You can experiment to your heart's content, and any setting changes are temporary unless you save them
However, there are some settings you'll need to adjust for optimal performance. First of all, the Envy will need to know your projector's peak luminance in order to optimise the HDR DTM, which means you're going to need to measure it when displaying a full field 100% white pattern, and then input it as cd/m2. If you're using lens memories and a scope screen, you can use the profiles to set different peak brightnesses for each aspect ratio.
If you're using an anamorphic lens, you'll need to enter the anamorphic stretch factor and make sure this feature is turned off if you've already enabled it in your projector. If you're using a scope screen, but not an anamorphic lens or lens memories, you should also set up the black bars configuration. You essentially 'teach' the Envy about your screen, so it can manage changing aspect ratios and know where to place subtitles.
The profile system allows you to create specific settings for different sources, displays and even content
To enable black bar detection and management, go into the screen configuration menu and set the screen boundaries to custom. Then input your display resolution (3840 x 2160 for example) and adjust your projector zoom so that the image fits your screen perfectly side to side. Then display some 1.78:1 content and adjust the top and bottom values under screen boundaries so that the image fits within the height of your screen – this will enable the Envy’s automatic black bar detection. This feature will automatically scale 1.78:1 content to fit your screen without cropping, while showing scoped content at full screen. This is particularly useful for owners of scope screens who want to watch a 4K disc or Blu-ray that opens out to 1.78:1 during IMAX sequences.
The Envy includes madVR's profile system, which provides the ability to create and recall a group of settings that can be applied to different devices, displays and even content. The profiles provide an efficient way to group individual menu settings together, even settings from different menu pages, and override just those settings. There are a number of predefined profiles already loaded, and a custom profile that can be created and named appropriately. There are also two predefined groups: source devices with eight profiles that can be set up and named; and displays with four profiles. You can also create your own groups and name them appropriately – so for example, you could create a group called 'viewing conditions', and in that group have profiles for daytime, nighttime and batcave. It's an incredibly flexible system, and allows you to customise your Envy to your heart's content.
The madVR Envy Extreme delivered an astonishing performance when it came to scaling and enhancing images. It can upscale any resolution to any other resolution, and give your Blu-rays and even your ageing DVDs a new lease of life. The scaling is exceptional, squeezing every last pixel out of lower resolution content, while the sharpening and edge enhancement features can add another layer of perceived detail. The image enhancement features also improve the appearance of compressed material, but how much you use them with a high quality source will largely depend on personal preference. The deinterlacing and motion handling is equally as impressive, and these are due to be expanded significantly with upcoming firmware updates.
The scaling and image enhancements are exceptional, giving your Blu-rays and DVDs a new lease of life
The auto aspect ratio control is easy to setup, and works perfectly. The Envy analyses the video signal, identifies the aspect ratio and then changes the image to fit the screen while retaining the correct framing. Of course, this feature is scaling the image within the scope ratio screen, but thanks to the exceptional processing there aren't any apparent artefacts when watching actual content. With streaming services using aspect ratios of 1.78:1, 1.85:1, 2.00:1, 2.20:1 and 2.35:1, this feature is great for anyone with a scope screen but no lens memories on their projector. It's also the only way someone with a scope screen can watch discs or shows that switch between 2.35:1 and 1.78:1 aspect ratios (or even between 2.35:1 and 1.43:1 in the case of the IMAX Batman v Superman disc).
The auto aspect ratio control is great for anyone with a scope screen a discs with IMAX scenes
The subtitle shifting feature is also very useful, and while Oppo and Panasonic players allow you to shift the subtitles on discs if necessary, many streaming services also place subtitles in the black bars, which is a nuisance. This feature allows the Envy to automatically deal with this issue, and ensure you never miss any subtitles.
The 3D LUTs offer incredible colour accuracy, but if you want to take advantage of this feature you'll need a quality colour meter and supporting software. You'll also need plenty of time because even using the Klein K-10 (which is a fast meter) the lightning LUT can take up to an hour, and the full LUT can take over four hours! Although, it's worth remembering the 256-point LUT involves 16,777,216 points of accuracy, so no wonder it takes a while, but the results are definitely worth the investment.
It's not just time consuming, you also need to leave some content playing so that the Envy is in the correct colour space. Given the time a LUT can take, the extended cut of Return of the King on 4K Blu-ray should do the trick. There have been some compatibility issues with Calman recently, but they appear to have been fixed with the latest 2021 R2 version of the software. Now it's a fairly easy process, and as you can see from the graphs above the results are amazingly accurate.
The feature that madVR is best known for is its HDR dynamic tone mapping, and with good reason because it's superb. The Envy will get the very best out of HDR by analysing the incoming signal and applying dynamic tone mapping that retains all the details in both the shadows and highlights. Perhaps more importantly, this feature is equally effective whether the HDR is graded at 1000, 4000 or 10000 nits.
The HDR dynamic tone mapping is incredible, especially with 4000 and 10000 nits content
The latest JVC 4K projectors include an HDR dynamic tone mapping feature of their own, so it made sense to compare the two. We used the Spears and Munsil Ultra HD Blu-ray, which includes the same demo material graded at 1000, 4000 and 10000 nits. There's a particularly difficult scene involving horses in the snow, where the tone mapping needs to retain the detail in snowy landscapes while also keeping the horses a dark shade of brown. The images above show the 1000 nits results using the JVC DLA-N7's internal dynamic tone mapping on the left, and the Envy Extreme on the right. The JVC does a very good job and two are quite similar, although the Envy is slightly better at pulling out more detail in the highlights.
When we move on to the same demo graded at 4000 nits, the differences become more pronounced. Here, the JVC struggles with the higher overall brightness and, in an attempt to retain detail in those highlights, the horses end up a light brown instead. Conversely, the Envy delivers almost exactly the same image with 4000 nits as it does with 1000 nits. Very impressive.
The same is true when watching the footage graded at 10000 nits, with the JVC delivering an image that's identical to its 4000 nits performance, and the Envy once again producing the same excellent results. There is very little HDR content graded at 10000 nits, and most streaming content uses a 1000 nit grade, but a lot of Dolby Vision releases do use a 4000 nits grade, so the Envy certainly adds value with this type of content. Watching actual movies with the Envy's dynamic tone mapping reveals an astonishing HDR image – from the snowy landscapes of The Revenant and the lengthy nighttime scenes in Overlord, to the glorious colours of The Greatest Showman and the stylised photography in Blade Runner 2049.
Whether you consider these improvements in tone mapping worth the £9,000 or £15,000 investment will come down to requirements and budget, but to put it into context, the JVC DLA-N5 costs £6,495, the DLA-N7 will set you back £8,495, and even the DLA-NX9 starts to look reasonable at £18,495!
- Exceptional image processing
- Amazing HDR dynamic tone mapping
- Incredibly accurate 3D LUT calibrations
- Useful auto aspect ratio control
- Handy subtitle repositioning
- Easy to install and set-up
- Excellent build quality
- It's eye-wateringly expensive
- Remote is disappointing
- Very limited connections
- This beast is huge
madVR Envy Extreme Video Processor Review
Should I buy one?
The madVR Envy Extreme is an undeniably impressive cutting-edge video processor that delivers unrivalled performance in terms of AI-enhanced scaling, upsampling, deinterlacing, motion interpolation, and image enhancement. Its ability to produce staggering levels of colour accuracy thanks to 256-point LUTs will undoubtedly please calibrators, while the automatic subtitle shifting and aspect ratio changing are cool features to have. There's a modular hardware platform with planned upgrades, processing power to spare, and future internet firmware updates.
The custom install market, which this processor is primarily aimed at, will also be delighted by the complex geometry controls, IP automation and control, support for all the main control systems, and remote assistance. However, the biggest selling-point is the Envy's ability to deliver exceptional HDR on a projector thanks to its state-of-the-art frame-by-frame HDR dynamic tone mapping (DTM). This feature alone will probably be the main reason many enthusiasts are interested in the Envy, and it certainly is an excellent USP that delivers exceptional results.
The Envy Extreme is clearly a product aimed at the super high-end market, as evidenced by its fifteen grand price tag. So if you're a custom installer who sells Barco and Christie projectors or even some of the high-end Sony models, this processor will undoubtedly provide solutions to a number of issues at a 'relatively' acceptable price point. You might be surprised to discover that these ultra-high-end projectors often don't have lens memories or advanced calibration controls because the assumption is these features will be handled by an outboard processor.
However, if you own a JVC 4K projector then the Envy's features might seem less crucial because any improvements won't necessarily justify the significant increase in overall cost. Having said that the DTM alone will raise the HDR performance of the current JVCs to an entirely new level. The cost of Envy should also be considered a longterm investment that will remain current thanks to hardware and firmware updates. Ultimately, the madVR Envy is an astonishing video processor that's worthy of a Best in Class badge, but to enjoy its undeniable charms you're going to need very deep pockets.
What are my alternatives?
Well, if you want to immediately save yourself six grand, just get the madVR Envy Pro instead. It's almost exactly the same as the Extreme, and the features it doesn't support aren't that big a deal. The Pro is also closer in terms of pricing the madVR's main competitor – Lumagen. The Radiance Pro is the obvious choice at £5,424 for the 4242 version. While it's not as easy to setup as the Envy, it does offer four HDMI 2.0 inputs and two HDMI 2.0 outputs, and boasts most of the same features as the Envy, including Lumagen's own proprietary dynamic tone mapping for HDR. It certainly looks good on paper, and is considerably cheaper, not to mention smaller!
Dynamic Tone Mapping
Processed Picture Quality
Value for Money
Our Review Ethos
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