GPU or CPU for video playback?

Hi, I’m going to buy a new PC to offload my video when doing film scores (via VST System Link). My question is, how much gpu/cpu processing does the video playback take?

Which one is the most important for video playback off high quality video? Can I get away with using integrated graphics card?

Generally the less compression the less CPU you’ll be using… I think there may be exceptions if you stick to specific compression codecs where decompression could be supported by the CPU, in which case that’s a benefit.

On the other hand if you’re doing this then DNx of some sort is probably the best option and that won’t hit the CPU I think, just storage size and then the bandwidth. I doubt either would be a problem on a modern computer. You could always just try it out with integrated graphics and then if you have problems buy the card later. Come to think of it, at that point you could also just get a Blackmagic card probably.


Modern video isn’t particularly heavy on the CPU, as long as you stick to well-supported formats. You can totally run Cubase and video playback on a CPU with integrated graphics, and it’ll be … fine.
Speed of hard disk (ideally M.2) and amount of RAM will likely be better places to put the money if you’re starting on a budget.

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What do you mean by DNx? I’ll look into doing this with integrated graphics or try the blackmagic one!

How would you rate “fine”? I want to be able to have a full screen video which is at least as good quality that you don’t clearly see pixels (maybe like 720p?)

Sorry, I’m referring to Avid’s video code and formats DNxHD and DNxHR. You have several levels of compression and quality and you can read up on them on Wikipedia. In order to use them in Cubase/Nuendo you’ll need to pay a small one-time fee to Steinberg (which goes to Avid).

In my experience video looks better using those formats and it plays back better as long as you’re not using crazy 8k or whatever. I don’t use ProRes but I hear it’s also really good.

I forgot to mention regarding the BM card that the card does just that one thing really, it will play back video. So if you get the card it won’t give you another desktop output or anything like that. But again, I would just try it out with integrated video and see how it works.

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Hm, I’m gonna look into buying that license from Avid, see if it solves anything.

My plan was to buy a whole new PC for the video and use VST system link (which I noticed is a bit problematic). But now I’m contemplating this:

If I by a BM Card and use it on my main production PC, will it still affect my CPU or is the video completely independently from the rest of the computer?

What’s your thought on this? Will the video still get choppy if I have a lot of CPU usage from synths and orchestral stuff in the DAW?

I think that if I were you and wanted to spend as little as possible I would do it in the following order:

  1. List your system specs including GPU and CPU, RAM etc. as well as OS version. List both the codec and container of your video files. Spend a little bit of time troubleshooting the current setup if possible. If you can solve it that way the cost is zero.

  2. Got to Steinberg’s website and buy the DNxHD license. Then take some of the videos you have problems with now and convert them to DNxHD and see if that makes it work better. It’s possible that your problem right now is the codec and that simply switching might solve the problem. It might not, but it could. This only costs you about $30. (and ‘yes’ I think video will stream from drive to card and skip the CPU)

  3. Buy a dedicated video card by Blackmagic and see if that helps. That’ll cost you about $150-200 more.

  4. Get a separate computer for video playback. If you do this then ideally you could return the BM card since otherwise you may not really have needed it. Still nice to have in that second computer, but in terms of spending money maybe not the best path.

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As long as the client sends me an .MOV (preferred) file or an .MP4, Cubase and my machine have not had any problems with video up to a resolution of 1080p. Be sure if you or your client has to convert the video format for you that the frame rate stays the same. I let Windows determine what handles my video. My video card is an Nvidia Geforce RTX 3060 Ti with Studio Driver. Good luck.

Yes, every modern integrated graphics chip can do full screen HD video for most codecs.
Can’t watch Netflix without it!
Some codecs and some files and some computers and some cards may not work right, but that’s true no matter what the system.