Apple released a lot of products yesterday, most of which were expected. Let’s take a quick look at the products as it affects video post production.
OS X Mavericks (10.9)
The update is free for most Mac users, and is a 5.29 GB download (8GB space required). What are its core features as it relates to video?
- Single sign-in to all your accounts with iCloud keychain and 256-bit AES encryption.
- Compressed memory to help you save memory.
- Plug in multiple displays without configuration, even an HDTV.
- Organize files with Tags, no matter what kind of files they are. Find them with Finder and Spotlight. Spotlight supports standard metadata and specialized metadata for audio, video and images.
- Applications not being used will consume less energy.
- IP over Thunderbolt to connect two Macs for data transfer.
- To accommodate massive databases, image archives, and video volumes larger than 16TB, OS X can configure HFS+ volumes to use block sizes larger than 4K.
- Hardware-optimized improvements in audio and video processing, supporting convolutions, compositing, color correction, even for gigapixel images.
- OpenCL integration.
Regarding the last point, here’s what Apple says in their Technology Overview Whitepaper:
Deeply integrated into OS X, OpenCL accelerates applications by tapping into the parallel computing power of modern GPUs and multicore CPUs. Using a C99-based language coupled with a flexible API for managing data-parallel workloads, OpenCL opens up a new range of computationally intensive algorithms for use in your application.
You use OpenCL to transform your apps’ most performance-intensive routines into computational “kernels.” Each kernel is runtime compiled by OpenCL and efficiently scheduled for execution, automatically taking best advantage of the parallel processing capabilities of the targeted GPU or CPU.
Mavericks supports RAID, which is nothing new:
OS X supports drive striping (RAID 0) for improved performance, drive mirroring (RAID 1) for higher reliability, and mirrored striping (RAID 10) for improving both performance and reliability of storage. In addition, you can reformat storage in the background: You can promote a single volume to a mirrored volume, split a mirrored array into two volumes, or rebuild RAID volumes.
What does this mean for video users? In a nutshell, Apple is committed to its hardware, especially:
- AMD GPUs (see later) with OpenCL technology.
- Thunderbolt RAID and networking solutions.
- Multiple monitor support, all the way to 4K.
- Better asset management and metadata support.
- Stronger security.
Mavericks is built around this paradigm. With this in mind the rest of this article should make more sense.
iPad Air and Mini with Retina
Those who use the iPad regularly for quick photo or video editing should see some improvements mainly because of the new 64-bit A7 processor. In Apple’s words:
With up to twice the CPU and graphics performance on iPad Air, and up to four times the CPU and eight times the graphics performance on iPad mini with Retina display, almost everything you do is faster and better than ever, from launching apps and editing photos to playing graphic-intensive games—all while delivering all-day battery life. The A7 chip’s 64-bit architecture and support for OpenGL ES version 3.0 unlocks game console-like visual effects. The new iPads also feature the M7 motion coprocessor that gathers data from the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass to offload work from the A7 for improved power efficiency.
However, due to the 64 GB data limit, it’s tough to see how it can help speed up today’s video workflows.
MacBook Pro with Haswell CPUs
Want one of these?
Cosmetically they are similar to the earlier versions, but these ship with OS X Mavericks installed, and all the new app changes that come along with it.
For the 13″ version, here are the changes:
- 2.4 GHz or 2.6 GHz dual-core i5 or 2.8 GHz dual-core i7 Haswell series
- Up to 16 GB RAM
- Up to 1 TB flash storage
- LED-backlit retina display (2560×1600)
- Intel graphics
- 2x USB 3.0 ports and 2x Thunderbolt 2 ports, 1x HDMI port
- Price: from $1,299 (4 GB RAM) to $1,799 (8 GB RAM) and higher.
For the 15″ version, here are the changes:
- 2.0 GHz, 2.3 GHz or 2.6 GHz quad-core i7 Haswell series
- Up to 16 GB RAM
- Up to 1 TB flash storage
- LED-backlit retina display (2880×1800)
- Intel graphics or Nvidia 2GB GT 750M GPU
- 2x USB 3.0 ports and 2x Thunderbolt 2 ports, 1x HDMI port
- Price: from $1,999 (8 GB RAM) to $2,599 (16 GB RAM) and higher.
Basically the MacBook Pros are already capable beasts, and these models should offer minor performance gains over the previous models. The little improvements should add up.
What about Nvidia GPUs? Does this signal a commitment to Nvidia for the future, or is this version of the MacBook pro just an iterative improvement and we’ll see a totally revamped line next year with AMD GPus? Who knows?
This is probably the most exciting news from Apple this year, at least as far as I’m concerned. I’ve already written about my thoughts on its ability for editing. I had concluded with these words:
The major gripe in the marketplace is the lack of expandability, or slots for cards like the Red Rocket, Blackmagic, AJA, etc. Apple decided it was no longer worth bothering about supporting third-party cards – these might become redundant soon anyway. Let someone else worry about supporting it via external enclosures connected by Thunderbolt. I think, all things considered, it was a rational and perfectly valid decision. In my opinion, it makes the Mac Pro more future proof, not less. Funny, but logical.
The most important question is the one of price: How much will this beast cost? With flash storage and dual GPUs, I don’t expect the Mac Pro to cost cheaper than a current Mac Pro, at least. It is up to the professional (you) to decide whether they want Apple’s version of the computing experience, or the PC/Linux version; and if they have the dough to meet their desires.
Now that we have a lot more info, we can take a more deeper look. Here are your configuration options with the Mac Pro:
|Intel E5 Xeons, Turbo Boost up to 3.9 GHz||3.7 GHz, 4-core, 10 MB L3 cache||3.5 GHz, 6-core, 12 MB L3 cache||3.0 GHz, 8-core, 25MB L3 cache||2.7GHz 12-core, 30MB L3 cache|
|DDR3 ECC 1866MHz Memory||12 GB to 64 GB|
|GPU, Dual AMD FirePro||D300 2GB||D500 3GB||D700 6GB|
|Display||Three 4K displays, or Six Thunderbolt displays|
|Storage||256 GB, 512 GB or 1 TB PCIe-based flash storage|
|Maximum Power||450 W|
|Typical noise level||12 dBA when idle|
|Warranty||1-yr, extendable to 3 years|
450 watts for dual GPUs and a 12-core processor! And 12 dBA is the sound of breathing. Take a bow, Apple.
Let’s eliminate one myth right away. The Mac Pro starts at $2,999 (quad-core, 12 GB RAM, D300, 256 GB storage) or $3,999 (6-core, 16 GB RAM, D500, 256 GB storage). If you had to put together your own system, how much would it cost you? Here’s an unfair comparison:
|Mac Pro Option One||Cheapest Equivalent||Mac Pro Option Two||Cheapest Equivalent|
|3.7 GHz, 4-core, 10 MB L3 cache, Intel E5 Xeon (1620 v2)||$1,000+||35 GHz, 6-core, 12 MB L3 cache, Intel E5 Xeon||$1,000+|
|12 GB 1866 MHz DDR3 RAM||$180||16 GB 1866 MHz DDR3 RAM||$240|
|D300 2GB AMD FirePro x 2||$1,400||D500 3GB AMD FirePro x 2||$2,000+|
|Flash storage 256 GB (1.2 GB/s)||$220+||Flash storage 256 GB (1.2 GB/s)||$220+|
|450 W Power supply||$75||450 W Power supply||$75|
Even with cheap and inferior last-generation components, it is far more expensive to put together the same system, just by parts alone. Add to this the operating system, applications, support, power savings, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, time it will take you to buy, build, install and troubleshoot your system, and all the important details that go into creating a robust editing experience.
Going by these numbers, the Mac Pros are excellent value for money. The memory and storage drives are user accessible, so you can make upgrades to these if you wish. The CPU and GPUs are already powerful enough for most editing and single-user post production applications that run on Macs.
There’s one important thing left to think about, and that is storage for video. You have 6 Thunderbolt 2 slots, 4 USB 3.0 slots, and even 2 1 GbE Ethernet slots. Apple has clearly indicated that it is tough for it to estimate the storage requirements of each individual user. If you’re shooting AVCHD you only need one-tenth the storage as Prores HQ, which is one-fifth the size of R3D RAW, and so on. Why would any company want to build a large tower that might lie empty half the time? All things considered, I believe this is the right path for workstations to take.
What about expansion? Here’s what Apple has to say:
Manufacturers like Promise, AJA, and Blackmagic are creating a host of advanced high-performance storage, video I/O, and expansion solutions for Thunderbolt 2. Another benefit of Thunderbolt: You can easily move your high-performance peripherals from one Mac to another based on the task at hand. And both generations of Thunderbolt technology are compatible with the new Mac Pro.
My thoughts? The Apple Mac Pro is a winner. If you still don’t believe me try budgeting an HP or Dell workstation with the same specifications.
Finally, we come to FCP-X. Since the Mac Pro is shipping in December, it was to be expected that Apple wouldn’t make any announcements about FCP-X. However, they are not silent about it either:
The new version of Final Cut Pro X (coming in December) has been engineered to take advantage of the 4K capabilities of the Mac Pro. The dual workstation-class GPUs in Mac Pro accelerate effects, optical flow analysis, video export — and virtually everything else you do in Final Cut Pro. Ultrafast PCIe-based flash storage means fast project loading and multi-stream 4K playback. And Final Cut Pro X has been so perfectly tuned to take advantage of the new Mac Pro, you can work in 4K — in real time — without rendering. (Take a minute to let that slowly sink in.)
Six Thunderbolt 2 ports and four USB 3 ports redefine the meaning of expansion. Connect up to 36 best-in-class audio I/O devices from Avid, Apogee, M-Audio, MOTU, Universal Audio, and more. And with a PCI expansion chassis connected via Thunderbolt, you can work with the DSP and audio I/O PCI Express cards you already have.
Well, all said and done, the prospects for Mac users have suddenly shot through the roof. When FCP-X was first announced, nobody knew Apple’s roadmap. Well, here it is, and I must say it is extremely impressive.