Worth the price: Who needs the new Mac Pro?

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Apple’s message to the long-neglected professional user community over the past few months has been clear and unequivocal: we have listened, we have understood, we have acted.

That’s what Apple wants to do after a few faux pas in recent years. And in fact, it would be a good thing to take more active care of your own image, especially in the Mac area. Long waits for upgrades, flawed software, the vulnerable butterfly keyboard in all MacBooks in recent years, and the total failure of the Mac Pro – all of this has left significant scars in Apple’s face.

The Mac Pro pays off

All our interlocutors at this event agreed that the Mac Pro is quite an expensive tool – but also one that would be worthwhile quickly and that no one wants to miss anymore. If you can work more efficiently, you’ll ideally save a lot of money – and if the Mac Pro helps with this, the investment may pay off after just a few orders. Of course, this only applies if these orders are correspondingly large and the customers are correspondingly cash-rich. But this is ultimately a law that presumably applies to every industry – and creative professions are by no means an exception.

But now it seems certain that the curve has been taken. So sure that they were invited to a press event in London where journalists had the opportunity to talk to professional users about the latest Mac models. About what makes the latest generation better or even possible. Whether the prices Apple calls for the Mac Pro can be justified. And also about what is still missing.

Photos from the helicopter

Jason Hawkes may have the most spectacular use of a Mac. The Briton is a photographer with a specialty in aerial photography. He lets himself be flown by a helicopter over the building or the landscape to be photographed. When it reached its destination, the helicopter tilts almost 90 degrees to the side, and Hawkes hangs securely from the door of the aircraft through a harness system reminiscent of that of skydivers.

But that alone is not his art. Much more difficult than the flight technical requirements is a completely different topic, especially in cities: timing. Often his clients are, for example, construction companies, which need recordings from an exact angle and at a very specific time in order to be able to show their clients in the best possible way how the new building works in the cityscape. In order to be able to fulfill these orders, it is not enough for Hawkes to accurately calculate the position and departure time and to wait for a day with suitable weather – he also needs air traffic control to play along. Often he only has a window of time of a few minutes to position the helicopter and photograph the desired motif.

Jason Hawkes explains to the invited journalists how he photographs cities from a helicopter and how his MacBook Pro helps him with this task. (Image: Oliver Hess)

Hawkes has been making his money for 25 years. Initially, of course, with analog cameras and an enormous amount of time – especially if his customers didn’t like the photos. Then it was often said: book a helicopter again, climb up again, discuss with flight safety again, take pictures again, wait for the finished pictures again and hope again that they are “right” this time.

Hawkes was able to significantly accelerate its work processes by creating powerful digital cameras. He gains even more time by simply taking his MacBook Pro into the helicopter – and his customers. The current MacBook Pro with a 16-inch display is so strong, Hawkes says, that he can edit the shots directly from the camera in just a few simple steps and in a few seconds in such a way that the customer can still decide in the air whether the image meets his requirements.

When asked if he would not take the customers with him because they would say “yes” to everything because of the adrenaline, he only smiles.

Even when asked if you couldn’t do your job with a drone by now, Hawkes, who otherwise looks like a stiff picture book Englishman, responds mischievously: “Yes, but that wouldn’t be as much fun.” (“Yes, but it wouldn’t be that much fun.”) In fact, he continues, there are very different things against the use of drones: the helicopter would take him to places and altitudes where the flying robots would simply not be allowed.

Mac Pro in the Virtual Jungle

James Rodgers and David Deacon are computer animation experts from Lunar Animation in Sheffield, and they explain to the journalists present how the Mac Pro ultimately changed all workflows for them.

Lunar Animation is still a young company, and of course when you started it, you thought about whether you really needed to bet on Macs. For cost reasons alone, the Mac is often not so good at the beginning, Rodgers notes. In the end, however, the decision was made to buy Macs in the course of the company’s foundation, mainly because virtually all employees had already used them privately or at least in their previous job.

Among lunar animation’s larger animated assignments in the recent past is the credits of the second “Jumanji” movie or a game in which a god-like character can conjure up skeletons. In both examples, the Mac Pro saves a huge amount of time, often saving monetary resources.

Estelle Rubio is a music producer and mainly uses Apple hardware on the go. She is particularly convinced by the interplay between MacBook Pro and iPad Pro.
Estelle Rubio is a music producer and mainly uses Apple hardware on the go. She is particularly convinced by the interplay between MacBook Pro and iPad Pro. (Image: Oliver Hess)

The most expensive thing about such a production, Rodgers says, is still the employee in front of the computer. “And every time I see a 3D artist lying on the desk with his forehead on the desk because something isn’t working or he has to wait for something, we just lose time and money.”

This may seem excessive in individual cases, but overall it is quite true. Rodgers and Deacon reconstruct a few steps from the creation of the film credits and never tire of stressing where they used to have to wait twice as long – with current iMacs. And even with processes that still take a lot of time on the new Mac Pro, there would still be enough CPU power left to continue elsewhere instead of waiting – or banging your forehead on the table top.

Deacon and Rodgers can’t agree on demand, which is the biggest advantage of the new Mac Pro for them in their day-to-day work. “It’s the mix,” Deacon explains, suggesting that saving time, in itself, is already a big plus. Conversely, the Mac Pro would also allow better productions to be delivered at the same time as before, which could potentially mean a real competitive advantage.

Four times four 4K streams in parallel

Thomas Carter, video editor at Trim in London, comes to a very similar conclusion – a company that was not invited to this appointment by chance, since it works for the agency TBWA, whose clients include Apple. Trim has contributed to Apple’s AirPods commercial “Bounce”.

Carter talks about the production of a music video and especially raves about the graphic power of the Mac Pro. Of course, it doesn’t have the standard graphics cards and also has Apple’s afterburner card.

Modern music videos, Carter reports, nowadays often consist of a combination of different productions, which are taken into the same song. His task is then to create an overall composition from it. It shows us how to run 16 4K video streams in parallel in Final Cut Pro X and, despite various effects, can effortlessly jump back and forth between them.

Like the other three gentlemen, he is similarly impressed by Apple’s Pro Display XDR. Previously, a single master monitor would have been used, where all videos were finally checked and released. A monitor, because the cost of such color-fast screens would actually be the Apple-led 40,000 US dollars. Apple’s Pro displays, on the other hand, are actually real bargains, with 5,500 euros plus the mandatory 1,100 euros for the stand. Bargains that would quickly pay off, everyone agrees.

Pro Display XDR

XDR stands for Apple’s self-developed extension of HDR. While HDR is the abbreviation of “High Dynamic Range”, Apple puts one more on it as usual and speaks of “Extreme Dynamic Range”. Apple’s display also combines tremendous brightness with a 10-bit color depth and support for the extended P3 color space, which is particularly widely used in the world of film. The quality of the 32-inch screen with a resolution of 6K (6,016 x 3,384 pixels) with a pixel density of 218 PPI), according to Apple, it can be quite comparable with that of reference monitors of the film and photo industry, but is many times cheaper. If you currently pay well over 30,000 euros for a corresponding Sony screen, Apple “only” charges 5,500 euros (or 6,500 euros if you want an anti-reflective glass). In addition, there is another 1,100 euros for a stand, which earned Apple a lot of ridicule – whether rightly or wrongly, be left and is in the eye of the beholder.

But it is also clear that such investments are worth it faster if you have customers like Apple or take aerial photographs for the British royal family and do not wait for someone to need a new passport photo in a small photo studio in the city centre of Göttingen.

Mac makes music

Interestingly, Apple had also invited An Artist, Estelle Rubio, who had very little to do with graphic productions. Rubio is a musician and music producer and pursues her profession with a MacBook Pro. Yes, with the new Mac Pro or even with a current iMac (Pro) there would be more technically, Rubio confirms, but when weighed up directly, flexibility and mobility are more important to her.

“Pop music is changing right now,” Rubio said. “While the pieces are becoming more and more minimalist, fewer and fewer instruments are being used, but the sound becomes denser.” A good example of this is the success of Billie Eilish.

This density can be obtained by picking up individual passages several times and playing them synchronously in individual tracks. In order to be able to do this not only with 20 or 30 tracks, but with a three-digit number of tracks, you need – you guessed it – computing power.

She is also surprised by the quality of the microphone system used in the MacBook Pro. “I would say that it can compete qualitatively with microphones in the price range of 350 to 400 euros,” Rubio said. He adds: “For instrument recordings. It’s a little more difficult with voices.”

Conclusion

It should not be forgotten that Apple invited to this event and carefully selected the professionals present. However, contrary to what we learned at press events of other manufacturers, the five interlocutors did not follow any script approved by Apple, but reported freely from their everyday life and were also in the aftermath of the meeting by e-mail and telephone available for enquiries.

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