New Mac Pros–Mixed Feelings and Baseless Speculation

For a change of pace, I thought I’d toss out a small nugget of pure speculation (this time I’m really thinking aloud). However, in the event history proves me to be right, I thought it’d be fun to commit this thought to the internet.

I was originally going to rant about how much of a “#$%@ you” I felt the latest rev of the Mac Pro line is to the postproduction power-user. In fact, I was going so far as to compose an email to someone I know who might actually care, when for due diligence sake I decided to do a bit of research to find out just how far behind the specs of the Mac Pros are from our Windows and Linux workstation bretheren. In particular, I wanted to find out whether there was a better version of PCIe that we were missing out on.

Popping over to good ‘ol Wikipedia, I found the following nugget of information (emphasis mine):

The final specification PCI Express 3.0 has been delayed until 2011 and will be backwards compatible with existing PCIe implementations.[15]

So, the next major architectural update that will be useful to me (in the form of faster data throughput, faster GPU data pushing, etc.) isn’t going to be finalized until 2011.

Oh, and one other thing… I keep wanting faster FireWire. After all, FireWire 1600 and 3200 were announced back in 2008 as a response to USB 3, right? Well, here’s what Wikipedia has to say about that (again, emphasis mine):

S1600 (Symwave [23]) and S3200 (Dap Technology [24]) development units have been made, with the latter promising a consumer version by late 2010.

At the risk of sounding like an apologist, it seems entirely plausible that maybe, just maybe, somebody is waiting for PCIe 3.0 and FireWire 1600/3200 to become finalized/implementable before committing a ton of resources to redesigning and retooling the Mac Pro in a significant way. At least, that’s what I’d like to think.

And while that still doesn’t excuse the lack of USB 3, 10-gig ethernet, or port-multiplied eSATA (okay, so that’s really wishful thinking), I suppose I can understand. I mean, why do a bunch of redesign work when next year you’re just going to redo it all from scratch?

Guess we’ll see…


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14 thoughts on “New Mac Pros–Mixed Feelings and Baseless Speculation

  1. What do you think of the new imacs? The option of a 256 gig solid state drive either as the main drive or as a secondary is nice, if a bit expensive.

  2. I like the new iMacs, although here I especially think the lack of USB 3 is a lost opportunity. However, the iMacs remain great bang for the buck, and if you don’t need portability, you get a lot of computer for the money. I like the 21 inch with the i3/1TB drive/ATI 5670 config, although only $500 more you can step up to the quad-core i5/27-inch display.

  3. Hey Alexis – good post! I’m about to write and link to it.

    On the iMacs – i3/i5 don’t have HyperThreading, so while they work, the 27 Quad is best processor/size bang for the buck.

  4. Hey, Mike, glad you liked my baseless speculation. I missed that the i3 and i5 don’t support HyperThreading, thanks for the heads up. Although really, for me to get excited about HyperThreading, I’d have to see it actually speed up some real world apps first. I’m always skeptical of paying a bunch of money for new-fangled optimizations that provide a speed boost I end up not noticing because my software hasn’t been optimized for it.

  5. Hey Alexis, can you use the built-in 27” screen for professional color-correction?

    Is the monitor and it’s internal motherboard connectors good enough for professional quality color-correction using Apple Color?

    Thanks.

  6. That’s an easy one—no.

    While it’s likely suitable for photography, publishing, and design, which admittedly are all color-managed tasks, these utilize quite different standards then either the Rec 709 or DCI standards required for professional broadcast video or digital intermediate work. That’s the short answer. The long answer, discussing black levels, gamma response, gamut, etc, is very long. Suffice it to say there’s a reason the Flanders Scientific monitors, which are designed for broadcast work, cost $4K – $9K. If you’re looking for a budget solution, you might do some research on the HP Dreamcolor monitor, it’s pretty nice. I saw it in person for the first time at the last NAB, and my friend Patrick Inhofer did an interesting review of it (he invited me over to check it out with him) on ProVideoCoalition. Another option is to go for Plasma, but the outboard calibration gear required to calibrate it precisely will likely cost as much or more then the display, and it’s a bit more hassle to set up (check my article about LUT calibration).

    I’ll be discussing the topic of display selection at greater length in my book, but that won’t be available until early fall sometime…

  7. I see, thanks a lot for the informative answer.
    Can you give an idea of where to draw the line as far as when you really need a professional color accurate monitor like Flanders/Dreamcolor/etc.?

    I am filming with Panasonic HMC150/Canon 5D, editing with Final Cut Pro, Coloring with Color, and publishing primarily H.264 to vimeo/youtube/web.

    As of now none of my content gets broadcast on TV or goes to mainstream commercial DVD, for someone like me is the Apple display enough? How useful/important for web distribution is having a color accurate display?

    Thanks

  8. Understood. Well, I’ll be the first to say that if you’re only grading projects for the internet, then a $4K broadcast monitor isn’t necessary, though you might consider calibrating your monitor with something like one of X-rite’s monitor calibrators.

    Now, about Final Cut Pro. Unfortunately for web work, what you see in Final Cut Studio apps is not what you get after you’ve outputted a movie file. FCP “temporarily” lowers the gamma of whatever plays in the Canvas on your computer’s display, in an effort to emulate how it would look on a proper broadcast monitor. This only happens during playback, and has no effect on how the media is exported or output to video. (However, for visual compatibility during playback QT 7 has the “Enable Final Cut Studio color compatibility” preference). On top of that, Color’s preview window was set up to emulate FCP’s canvas, so you run into the same issue for monitoring. Keep in mind that both FCP and Color output the correct values to a video-out interface, so for broadcast folks this has never been an issue.

    So, that means you can grade on your iMac monitor all you want, but after you export, the resulting movie will look a bit different then it did in FCP. This is easily resolved, however, by applying one last clip-wide color correction filter (which you can do inside your compression utility of choice), to make the final result in h.264 look the way it did in FCP. With a little trial and error, you should find a correction that does the trick (I’ve not done this in a few years, so I don’t have a handy setting to recommend, but I’ll add this to my 256-item long to-do list. 😉

  9. Isn’t still true (as I recall from reading in one of your APTS books), that to get a proper display of content in FCP you need to calibrate your monitor with a profile having a 1.8 gamma, because FCP assumes that your monitor has such a setup?

    So, whether using a hardware calibration device or the OS X Display Calibrator, you need to choose a target gamma of 1.8 for the “best” possible view of media in FCP. Right?

    If the 1.8 gamma requirement for FCP is still true, then it is more tricky in Snow Leopard, as its default profile creation uses a gamma of 2.2. Right?

    What a mess. 😉

    And, isn’t it true that most computer-oriented (rather than broadcast or film-oriented) calibration tools (SW and HW) don’t properly set things up (i.e., color space) for standards like Rec. 601 or Rec. 709 anyway? So, while you may use a hardware calibrator and a target gamma of 2.2 for a computer display (let’s say one of the last versions of the Apple Cinema Displays, not the glossy LED ones), you don’t end up with a profile that maps specifically to one of the broadcast or film color spaces…???

    Sorry about the length of this post… this probably isn’t the best place for this kind of discussion, though this issue has been frustrating me for several years (I’ve got all of the APTS book, as well as others — and I have been reading a bunch of stuff at the Cine-Tal website).

    A comment about the iMacs and the new LED displays from Apple… I can’t find hard evidence to support this, but I’ve heard that the displays in these devices aren’t up to the same standards as the last models of the Cinema Displays. With the Cinema Displays, Apple had info about the monitors meeting various SWOP and other color quality standards. From what I’ve heard, the gamut representation of the newer iMac displays and the new LED standalone monitors don’t have the same (or better) gamut coverage that the now discontinued monitors had. Apple doesn’t had any info (that I could find) about the quality and gamut coverage of the new displays (iMac and standalone), even though that info was geared towards pre-press use. As you mentioned, the Dreamcolor displays seem to be much more capable and can fully meet the color space requirements (or get damn close?) for pre-press and video work.

    People get confused (including me, fairly often) about calibration issues and what’s really happening (is it something in the media, does ColorSync apply or not, etc.)…

    I have yet to find a clear, definitive discussion of these issues.

    You know something is a bit wanky when you open the same QT movie file in Compressor, FCP, Motion, QT Player (7 or 10), etc., and the brightness, contrast, color, and gamma don’t all match up…

    Thanks for your books and posts…

  10. Oops. Sorry, I misstated a few things in my previous comment…

    I know that Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6.x) auto-creates profiles for built-in or attached monitors (or uses a bundled profile) with a gamma of 2.2. Many people don’t realize that this is a option, not a hard-wired thing.

    In the 5th paragraph, I mention the frustration of trying to get a good calibration of one’s computer monitors (not external, broadcast monitors), in order to get the best view of things in FCP. Of course, if the FCP gamma assumption is still true, then you’d want to do a high-quality HW calibration of your computer monitors with a target gamma of 1.8, not 2.2 as I mentioned.

    Thanks again.

  11. Thanks for the info Alexis.
    What is your recommendation for color grading for the web on a mac?
    Is there a way to turn off the “lower gamma in preview window” setting in FCP + Color?
    Can I find a color correction filter setting online somewhere that will negate this effect?
    Should I use after effects instead or something?

    Thanks.

  12. The gamma issue is thorny, no doubt about it. This whole topic is one reason why I primarily focus on grading for video with a rigidly standards compliant monitor, all is known on v-out and the CPU display is just for UI. Also, web gigs usually don’t have budgets. 😉

    Can’t speak with authority about the panel quality of the new iMacs, I know at one time the 20″ panels had lower bit depth then the 24″ but it was disguised by dithering.

    About the new Snow Leopard 2.2 gamma, sure you can recalibrate to 1.8, but the result won’t change that the fcd/color canvas won’t match system QT player display, and now you’re back to being incompatible with the windows world ( using 2.2.

    There are no easy answers, but this is a research project I’ve been meaning to look into someday soon.

  13. I have been working on a Mac Pro for 7 years as a Motion Graphics Artist and Colorist. Also admittedly a tech head who grew up on PCs. I Was one of the Pro’s stuck with a hard choice when Apple decided to not really do anything with the Mac Pro this year. My machine is 6 years old and lagging behind in render speed and it’s ability to stay current with software. Had been waiting since NAB of 2011 for Apple to do something but after their announcement could not wait any longer. I bought all my parts and have begun the process of building my new Windows based workstation. With the death of Final Cut there was nothing keeping me on a Mac other than the love of the OS. Certainly not hardware since the Mac hardware was always severely lacking in upgrade options.

    Two points. One, I think Apple is finished with FireWire and will not update those ports. The real possible delay is that there are no workatation class motherboards out with Thunderbolt. Plus Thunderbolt is still not even at its full spec. The Apple masses would cry havoc of a new Mac Pro came out with out Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt is Apples new FireWire 800.

    Two, PCIe3.0 has been available for awhile now and the workstation I’m building has 7 full x16 lanes of PCIe3.0 available. I’m building a dual CPU workatation based on the latest Intel Xeons touting 32cores. HP, ProMax, SuperMicro, Boxx, & Dell all have new workstations with these processors and PCIe3.

    Bottom line I think Apple wants Thunderbolt on the Mac Pro and is willing to wait for it. The initial delay of the MacPro last year was there was no new Intel Xeons in existence. Those just came out 4 months ago but have no current thunderbolt support. So Apple waits again. In my opinion I think it is possible that Apple may release another MacPro next year. However that will probably be the last one. Or the more likely scenario is they will try to “revolutionize” the market again like they did with Final Cut so well…hehe…and release a iMac Pro. A single 27inch monitor computer with a workstation class Xeon in it. Sounds like Apple to me. Plus HP has already built and is selling a similar product. Sad times for Pros on Macs. Thus I leave the Mac world with my head low.

  14. Well, keep in mind I wrote this in July of 2010, just before plunking down cash to buy the 2010 Mac Pro that summer. Little had I realized I’d be parked on that machine for the next two years. At that time, FireWire seemed important, and PCIe 3 was, as I’d written, not yet widely available.

    Moving forward to now, I completely agree with you, I suspect Apple is waiting for next gen Thunderbolt, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Apple rethought the overall form factor in some dramatic way. Folks like me, with relatively “recent” Apple boxes, can afford to wait and see. But folks like you with six year+ machines have the really tough choice. I don’t blame you for going the Windows route, I think it makes all the sense in the world for folks who need more power right now to earn money and get things done to switch platforms.

    My general philosophy of buying new technology is to wait until two clients in a row come to me to do something that I can’t do with my current hardware. As my general goal is not to say “no” three times in a row, I’ll throw down money for something that pays for itself in jobs I’d otherwise be unable to get. For now, I can do what I need with what I have, but as soon as I find myself in the awkward position of having a job go marginally because my hardware isn’t up to the task, then I too will be evaluating my options, and I’m not opposed to switching to Windows, or even Linux, if that gives me better bang for the buck, and better capabilities, then Apple’s offerings on that date.

    I figure I’ve got another 12-odd months with my current workstation, then I’ll see.

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