Two and a half years ago I wrote a post on Apple’s Pro problems and what they should be doing to resolve them. We are looking at a very different situation with Apple today with their latest offering; the 2019 Mac Pro (Shredder is my nickname preference) and the Pro Display XDR. I thought it might be worth revisiting that post.
Firstly a recap
The main thing that I wrote about was the importance of the ‘halo effect’ which was preached at Apple, people want to work on and use the tools that the creative professionals use. Just seeing Macs used in high end workflows really does give Apple a huge amount of creditability but also customer confidence that it will work for them. If I can use an iMac to grade a feature film in UHD and HDR you are going to have no trouble editing your family photos.
Another issue I had was the painfully fragmented product line with a lack of consistency of ports. With one machine that had Thunderbolt 3 and then across the rest of the line, it was all over the place. A big shift like that needs to happen across the whole line at once or start at the top and and filter down.
I was always happy with the 2013 Mac Pro and have a lot of them but really needed more consistent updates mainly Thunderbolt 3 and proper eGPU support. At the time it could be achieved through hacking and it didn’t work well because you had to fool the OS into using an eGPU. Also, without TB3 across the line, the options were limited.
Where we are now?
The short answer is they have sorted everything out! You will find plenty of Apple hate out there but this is the Internet and that’s how things work. Is any of it valid? I’d say no, Apple can do what they like and people will speak with their wallets. Also it’s not uncommon to spend £10-30k on a high end workstation so I don’t have any issues with the pricing.
Across the product line we now have everything covered and at The Finish Line we are using current MacBooks, MacBook Pros, iMacs Pros, Mac minis and Mac Pros (2013). When we are ready for an upgrade we will be migrating our mastering systems over to the new Mac Pro (2019) and can also see them being used in our UHD/HDR Finishing suites especially with the 8K finishing work we have coming in. It’s worth a side note that I’ve not yet hit anything I couldn’t handle on the current iMac Pros especially with a couple of extra eGPUs. Most of our mastering is taking under 7mins for 60′ programmes, so as it is, the top end machines from Apple have little to complain about on stability and performance which is all that matters at the end of the day.
Where to next?
Right now, I’m very happy with the product line. As long as they keep these machines, especially the Mac Pro, on the cutting edge of what is available, it will keep me happy. It’s really important that they keep releasing updates to these systems as soon as new processors are available and I’m keen to see what sort of interesting modules start popping up. Ideally any new tech they want in the product line hits the Mac Pros first, then filters through the range. Really, on the rest of the line you can’t go wrong with just having TB3/USBC (USB4?) as the everything cable, as they now have.
Apple are going to need to consider their cloud plan but I can’t see them rolling out a virtualised macOS anytime soon, perhaps a cloud native version cloudOS? I’m not sure what they will do but they really do need to have something on the market for virtualisation or offloading processing to the cloud. This is an area the pro market is moving into quickly and Apple could make a very strong offering in the secure hybrid cloud market. Not only would this be another big statement to the industry but it plays into the services business they are currently doubling down on.
I have no idea what the Apple entrance into this market would look like but even if it was just intelligent cloud storage with proxy creation it could be amazing. A company or individual could create an iCloud Drive or Drives for a Project, upload rushes to there, Apple transcoding servers create multiple bitrate and resolution proxies and then feed you the appropriate quality while you work from wherever you are based on your bandwidth or a toggle in the menu. They could also create their own smart project sharing. Something software agnostic that any developer can integrate into and use Sign in with Apple to handle secure login and permission management. This could be utilised for all sorts of pro market needs even compiling code for developers. These things exist and third parties are making them but Apple could make it all a lot simpler or build the back end to make it simple for companies like Blackmagic Design, Adobe and Avid to integrate into these services. These solutions would also allow more handoff options between iOS, iPadOS and macOS so could help empower more professionals to do more on their Apple devices where ever they are.
Some thoughts on the Mac Pro
On one level I’m sad about the size. I loved the portability of the 2013 Mac Pro but understand it’s not the right product for the market and it did create the need for many breakout options and hubs. Now with the new Mac mini and the support for eGPUs, I have my solution for portability taken care of. The new Mac Pro is the workhorse for the office and it’s undeniably got everything anyone could want and room for the future. Any argument on price is invalid, if price is an issue for you this machine isn’t for your market. Where this machine will be utilised will be by high end talent charging a good rate for their services. In most situations the machine will pay for itself in a couple of weeks if not a couple of days. In these situations you are paying for high end talent, it’s no big deal to spend the money that is needed to empower the talent to do their work. I had no problem paying £80K for an HDCAMSR deck when we needed it, no issue with £40k for an HDR monitor and wouldn’t have any issue paying whatever is needed for the best computer available either. Provided it allows us to do more faster it will be worth every penny and I’m very happy to be able to keep the company on Mac.
I’m very interested in seeing what happens with Afterburner. I don’t think we will really know much until it’s in the real world and we can test it but there isn’t anything stopping this from being utilised for more than just ProRes acceleration. Everything about this machine has been so secret that I’m sure they haven’t let it into the hands of many developers yet but now that it’s out in the open, I’m sure we will find out more in the coming months.
Some thoughts on the Pro Display XDR
They really should have made it $6000 and included the stand. $1000 for a stand might not be silly considering the quality of the stand but making a point of that was always going to make everyone laugh. That aside I don’t think there is anything on the market close to this quality for under $20,000 so it will be interesting to see. I’m not sold on the 6k resolution or the 576 backlight zones, as a few friends have pointed out one zone per 35,000 pixels isn’t amazing, but it’s also not $20,000+ so for the price it might suit a pretty large user base that can’t stretch to the current price point for HDR mastering monitors. We have a €39,995.00 XM310K from Flanders Scientific and I wouldn’t expect the Pro Display XDR to come close to this but it’s an eighth of the price so why would it? I can however see plenty of places where this monitor could sit in like pre-grade, online, or maybe even QC with Dolby Vision outputting for 1000nits after a 3000nit grade and trim. We will need to wait and see it before we make a final judgment on its place in the business.
Side note: Blackmagic Design today announced Teranex Mini SDI to DisplayPort 8K HDR, an advanced 8K DisplayPort monitoring solution with dual on screen scope overlays, HDR, 33 point 3D LUTs and monitor calibration that’s been specifically designed for the professional film and television market and to take advantage of a new generation of monitors such as the Pro Display XDR.
I’m looking forward to testing this out!
Accuse me of being an Apple fan boy if you like but I’m satisfied. As long as they now keep these machines up to date and always at the peak of what’s possible, then I’m happy to keep in the Apple ecosystem. I work with multiple facilities and I can say, without any sort of bias, that every site we work at on windows isn’t anywhere near as stable as the Mac facilities. In my consulting work, everywhere I encounter slow systems, driver conflicts and more downtime than I could tolerate, is the facilities that are running Windows. The Mac facilities seem to just tick over with very little support and this was even noted by IBM who have mentioned that PC support and management is 3 x more expensive than Macs.
For Apple, once they have these new machines in the wild, regardless of how little the pro business generates in terms of direct profit, they mustn’t take the foot off the gas again. It’s much more important to the Apple brand than I think many appreciate and if they leave that part of the market uncared for, it will hit their pockets in every area of the business long term.