Apple’s positive future for pros

9to5Mac’s Michael Steeber looks back at Apple’s recent history with its pro customers:

To say that the initial release of Final Cut Pro X made waves in the creative community would be an understatement. Among full-time video editors, the shakeup is still spoken about with the same energy as it was seven years ago. Most users felt burned by the upgrade, and many bailed on Apple’s video tools altogether. Two years later, pros were wowed by the radically redesigned Mac Pro, only to be left in the cold without another meaningful update. It was a tough time to be a pro customer.

I launched this site way back in 2011, not long after the release of Final Cut Pro X 10.0, and I had some thoughts at the time. A lot has changed in the years since. Steeber recaps the just-completed FCPX Creative Summit:

This past weekend told a different story. After last year’s impressive announcements, video professionals gathered once again in Cupertino to hear about Final Cut Pro 10.4.4. After seven years of iteration, Final Cut Pro X is no longer the stripped down, controversial editing “toy” it was once perceived as.

New workflows have been developed. Features have returned. The industry is taking Final Cut seriously again. The question is no longer “are you still using Final Cut?” but rather “how are you using Final Cut?”

I can say that I share these sentiments. As I wrote earlier this week, Apple is taking the pro market seriously, and making significant gains in both hardware and software development. It’s an exciting time to be a creative professional.

The future of eGPU support on the Mac

Back when the cylindrical Mac Pro was hitting the scene in late 2013, there was much made of the twin AMD FirePro graphics cards tucked away inside. When developers updated their applications to take advantage of them, performance would soar.

The reality has been quite different. Aside from Apple’s own Final Cut Pro and Motion, not many companies jumped on board. In some cases systems would overheat because a pro application would overtax one GPU and leave the other one sitting mostly idle.

With Thunderbolt 3 here now and a promised (modular) Mac Pro replacement on the horizon*, things seem to be looking up for high end users. Apple now fully supports third party eGPUs (ones that sit in an external box connected via Thunderbolt) which is a pretty big deal. Jeff Benjamin at 9to5 Mac pushes the envelope with dual GPUs in his testing:

On this week’s episode of Back to the Mac, we go nuts with an eGPU setup featuring two Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 650 units mated with a pair of workstation-class 16GB AMD WX 9100 GPUs.

The results are pretty astonishing. You should check out his video too.

I learned something new while filming this episode: the 2018 MacBook Pro can handle up to four eGPUs — two eGPUs per Thunderbolt 3 bus — simultaneously. On the MacBook Pro, or iMac Pro you can connect eGPUs to any of the available Thunderbolt 3 ports. I briefly dabbled around with connecting four eGPUs to my MacBook Pro, and needless to say, it was downright absurd.

We’re slowing coming full circle, back to the place where we were with the “cheese grater” Mac Pro tower- you can add your own additional components for your niche high end use. Sadly, this now means a string of boxes, cables, power supplies, and fan noise instead of an all-in-one solution. Apple bet heavily on the 2013 Mac Pro and came up short. Let’s see what 2019 holds.

*iMac Pro and MacBook Pro users can take advantage of this tech today.

The death of the shared family computer

Computers, like telephones, originally entered U.S. homes in a single unit, tucked away just out of sight but usually accessible to all. Katie Reid at The Verge:

I can still see the Dell I grew up using as clear as day, like I just connected to NetZero yesterday. It sat in my eldest sister’s room, which was just off the kitchen. Depending on when you peeked into the room, you might have found my dad playing Solitaire, my sister downloading songs from Napster, or me playing Wheel of Fortune or writing my name in Microsoft Paint. The rules for using the family desktop were pretty simple: homework trumped games; Dad trumped all. Like the other shared equipment in our house, its usefulness was focused and direct: it was a tool that the whole family used, and it was our portal to the wild, weird, wonderful internet. As such, we adored it.

I remember the phenomenon of losing my dial up internet connection because someone picked up the phone, or patiently waiting my turn to check my email. The PowerMac 7200 (or the IIsi before it) was parked in a spare bedroom and required time and effort to log on. The thought of having unlimited personal access to the internet anywhere you went seemed crazy.

Today when I stand on the subway platform virtually everyone is staring down, their faces aglow in blue light. I’m just as guilty as anyone else- with Bluetooth earbuds plugged into my head I commute in a personal media bubble. As a perfect example of “do as I say and not as I do” we attempt to limit the kids’ access to devices as best we can, knowing that society will eventually force us to relinquish control. Katie Reid:

The advent of constant access has inevitably changed our relationship with tech. At one time, discovering the magical capabilities of our devices astonished and invigorated us. Now, we find them glomming on to our routines: joining us for dinner or family strolls, going on vacations or out on dates with us, waking us up in the morning and tucking us in at night. Though it was harder to come by, the computer time you ended up with on the shared family desktop was cherished and, maybe as a result, that much sweeter. Yet there was an untroubled ritual that, day after day, required us to step away.

The Apple Newton shipped 25 years ago today

On August 2, 1993 Apple Computer launched the Newton MessagePad. In development longer than it was on the market, the Newton was one of Apple’s flashier failures. Born with the Newton was the notion of a “personal digital assistant” and portable pen computing. You could manage a calendar, jot down notes (with Newton’s initially maligned handwriting recognition), store your contacts, and…send a fax or two.

It’s not hard, however, to see the Newton as the prototype of what virtually everyone carries around in their pocket today: a computer that you can take out into the world with you. Newton ran an early version of the ARM processor, the descendant of which lives inside the current iPhone. The space in time between the ’90s Newton and mid-2000s iPhone was occupied by a parade of short lived, pen-based PDAs from Palm, Handspring. Sony, Microsoft, and others.

And let’s not forget how the Newton put Doonesbury firmly on the map.

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iFixit’s 128K Mac teardown

iFixit takes a break from cracking open the latest Mac Pro and turns their attention to the original Mac for the 30th anniversary of its release.

Cult of Mac will have us note that no vintage Macinti were harmed in the making of this guide — although with a pretty awesome 7 out of 10 repairability score, they didn’t have to worry much about us breaking it. Disassembly was straightforward once we figured out how to open the case.

FCPX’s “Cold Mountain” moment

Editors familiar with Final Cut Pro’s history know that the legacy version of the application gained some major traction in the pro marketplace following Walter Murch’s decision to edit 2003’s Cold Mountain with FCP.  Over a decade later (and almost three years after its release) Final Cut Pro X is on the edge of a similar game changer.

This week, fcp.co linked to a ten minute presentation from Neil Smith from LumaForge at the Digital Cinema Society meeting last month.  Smith describes (without giving names) how a major Hollywood studio is editing a “100 million dollar movie” using six Final Cut Pro X workstations running Mavericks and connected to an Xsan.  In listening to the details that Smith lays out, it was surmised by fcp.co forum member Ronny Courtens that the film in question is Focus, starring Will Smith.

The obvious question: why is a Hollywood studio going against the Avid grain to cut a motion picture in X?  According to Neil Smith, the directors themselves are the driving force- they have been editing with FCPX on their MacBook Pros for two years and insisted upon using it for this feature.  The studio pushed back, but the the film’s producer had enough clout and sided with the directors, and they got their way.  They touted the creative power and flexibility of X as well as the relatively low cost of the buildout as the main reasons behind their decision.

2014 should be a tipping point for Final Cut Pro, one that’s been in the making for quite some time.  New Mac Pros will (finally) be arriving in editors’ hands, and the solid upgrade to version 10.1 (its 10th revision since 2011) brings FCP to a new level of capability in a shared professional environment.

FCPX and breaking with the past

As FCP7 continues its long slow march into the sunset, I still find myself using it for one crucial task: creating HDCAM masters.  I’ve been editing in FCPX, exporting master ProRes files, and dropping them into a Final Cut Pro 7 sequence (with color bars and countdown slates) for delivery to tape.  It works, but it’s just one more hoop to jump through.

With the impending release of the new Mac Pro running Mavericks, I’ve been wondering just how well FCP7 will perform on it.  Back in 2011 Apple promised support for 7 in Lion, but has not extended that support for Mountain Lion or Mavericks in the years since.  It’s also worth noting that with OS X 10.9 Mavericks Apple has deprecated the QuickTime APIs that Final Cut Pro 7 relies on.  What does it mean to be deprecated?  Here’s Apple to explain:

From time to time, Apple adds deprecation macros to APIs to indicate that those APIs should no longer be used in active development. When a deprecation occurs, it is not an immediate end of life to the specified API. Instead, it is the beginning of a grace period for transitioning off that API and onto newer and more modern replacements.

As a developer, it is important that you avoid using deprecated APIs in your code as soon as possible. At a minimum, new code you write should never use deprecated APIs. And if you have existing code that uses deprecated APIs, you should update that code as soon as possible

So the writing is on the wall, but in the meantime there are plenty of editors who still need to deliver “legacy” videotape to their customers.  Here are a few solutions I’ve been considering:

  • Keep one legacy Mac on the network running 10.7 and FCP7, and feed final QuickTime files to it to go to tape.
  • Use the third party app that ships with the capture card (or Thunderbolt box) I’m using for capture and output now.  I’ve been testing Blackmagic’s Media Express and it’s pretty solid.
  • Hope my clients stop asking for tapes.

I’m kidding about that last point, but only a little.  Among my customers there’s really only one network that still asks for tape, and they are talking seriously about going all file-based delivery in 2014.