Here’s an unexpected twist in the plot: Final Cut Pro, the product that perhaps more than any other earned ire from users for not being “pro,” might be the thing that sells you on the Mac.

Why? Final Cut Pro is really, really fast.

After all, paper specs don’t matter. It’s really world performance in the software you use that counts. And there, Final Cut Pro is a bit of a champ.

Indie tech reporter / filmmaker Jonathan Morrison has a snappy review that gets to the point.

Now, first, you’ll read a lot of reviews complaining the MacBook Pro isn’t really “Pro.” They mean that literally. Apple inexplicably made a clearly differentiated line, with a 13″ with only two USB-C ports and no Touch Bar, and then 13″ models with USB-C ports, a Touch Bar, and faster graphics. But they didn’t give the low-end model a different name, like MacBook, which means there’s no point to having anything called “Pro” anyway.

More on the models in a moment.

But the important thing in Jonathan’s review is the speed of Final Cut Pro versus Premiere, the other popular choice. His benchmark is just an H.264 render, but that’s exactly the kind of thing you’d notice when you’re up against a deadline – and even with a slower CPU inside, the Mac smokes the PC.

Johnathan isn’t the only one pointing this out. In fact, I’d say Final Cut is generally fast enough that you actually feel the different subjectively. You can toss loads of high-res footage at the software and you’re almost never waiting for a render. For sheer performance, Final Cut and Compressor are a beautiful combination.

And sure enough, liking Final Cut Pro X makes pros feel differently about the Mac. Here’s another example:
One Professional’s Look At The New MacBook Pro [Huffington Post]

That writer is an editor with Trim Editing in London. As he puts it:

First off, It’s really fast. I’ve been using the MacBook Pro with the new version of FCP X and cutting 5k ProRes material all week, it’s buttery smooth. No matter what you think the specs say, the fact is the software and hardware are so well integrated it tears strips off “superior spec’d” Windows counterparts in the real world. This has always been true of Macs.

He also praises Touch Bar support in Final Cut, which is to me definitely a place where it makes lots of sense, since video editing necessarily includes a lot of contextually specific parameters and commands. I can also imagine it’s handy when editing on the go (at least until Apple unveils an external Touch Bar keyboard, which they really ought to do).

This still may not necessarily be a reason to buy the new Macs – but it might be a reason to look at, say, a spec’ed out previous-generation model on sale. And it’s definitely something to consider when comparing Mac and Windows laptops.

Also, what was largely missed in the midst of the hullabaloo over the laptop was a significant update to Final Cut Pro X software.


Meet 10.3

Final Cut Pro X 10.3 is simply the first update in the X series to actually be excited about.

Most noticeably, there’s an all-new look. It’s amazing to me how much of a difference this makes, even if it’s partly psychological. The UI is cleaner, even though structurally it’s the same fundamental UI from the previous Final Cut Pro X. That means more room to work and less of a feeling that the UI is distracting.

Just as importantly as the fact that the UI’s new aesthetics mean more room, you can finally make custom window layouts or hide the Timeline or stick the Timeline on another display. You can also use Thunderbolt to drive an external display.

So, it’s fast, and the UI is nice. That’s little comfort if you just don’t like the way you edit in FCP X (especially if you were an FCP 7 devotee or switched over to Premiere).

But Apple has worked on the Magnetic Timeline, too. First off, I think audio handling in Final Cut is now more enjoyable than any program since Vegas, and that one came from an audio developer. You can use audio “roles” to fluidly view, manage, and edit complex project audio. Roles and color coding are generally expanded.

There’s also Wide Color support, which works in conjunction with those new Mac displays.

Deeper down, there are lots of minor improvements that add up to the program feeling more intuitive, including enhancements to the already-terrific multicam support in FCP X.

Parts of the program still feel like iMovie Pro rather than Final Cut, but then Premiere can sometimes go there, too.

I don’t think this will necessarily win you over if you’re more productive editing in Premiere. But I do think that Apple has done a lot to finally address the stuff that annoyed users about Final Cut, and to hammer a lot of quality issues. If you haven’t used Final Cut Pro lately, you really won’t be aware of this stuff.

I still don’t understand why things like video export in QuickTime are hobbled (requiring a trip to Compressor), but I can say there’s at least some reason to use this program.

Also, I’d love to see that dark UI in Logic. Given the new direction of Final Cut, I’m really curious to see where Logic Pro goes next.

There’s a lot in 10.3; see it here:
Final Cut Pro X release notes

Ouch. It hurts.

Ouch. It hurts.

So, back to those MacBooks…

It’s not just the product; it’s also how you tell the story of the product. And I think there’s no question that Apple told the story of the new MacBook Pro poorly – at least from the pro perspective. Consumers may well have warmed to product.

Certainly, it’s selling well:
2016 MacBook Pro Sales Defy Critics: Tops All New Laptops With Shoppers

Mostly what that says to me is that people shopping don’t really worry about reviews here. For one, I think a lot of people still just want a Mac. All they needed to know here was that new models had arrived, at last. Also, the complaint from me and other pro users was not that the MacBook Pro was generally deficient, only that it didn’t match our own expectations and needs.

What I will say about the new Mac line – it’s really expensive, even with Apple discounting its adapters.

The basic 13″ model, without the Touch Bar, starts at US$1499 with an anemic 256MB of storage and 8GB of RAM, plus slightly slower graphics, and only a 2GHz dual-core Intel i5. Now, you could certainly dispense with the Touch Bar and just load that model up with RAM and storage, but then you’re stuck with only two Thunderbolt ports. Since one of those is used for power, that’s probably not going to make you very happy.

So, more likely you start with the US$1999 model, which finally gets you 512MB internal storage. Upgrade it to 1TB internal storage and 16GB of RAM and you’re at $2599 for a 13″ dual-core notebook with no dedicated GPU. That’s… pretty crazy.

For quad-core CPU and dedicated GPU, you really want the 15″ model. Even the basic model, with only a 2GB GPU, is going to run you $2999 for 16GB RAM / 1TB HD. Upgrade the CPU and GPU one step and you’re at $3499.

So, why would you do it? Well, there are certainly some advantages in Apple’s court.

All reviews of the display have been terrific, and it does give you full color.

Those hard drives are best-of-breed fast, faster than what you get in competing models – which partly explains Apple’s higher price. (But that means you do really want to upgrade them to more storage space when you purchase, since otherwise you can’t take much advantage of it working with media.)

The Touch Bar, while a gimmick, does appear to offer some useful customizable shortcuts, though I wish it included haptic feedback when you touch it.

I’ll be honest, though. On a budget, I’d be inclined to get a high-end model of the last generation MacBook Pro – especially if I were using a desktop monitor and not so worried about the improvements to brightness and color gamut.

Also, anyone considering the new models would do well to wait a few months while the accessory situation for USB-C and Thunderbolt becomes clearer. I haven’t heard audio manufacturers certifying these machines yet, and anyone spending this much on a notebook computer will want to avoid any potential compatibility issues.

Early compatibility tests are not encouraging. I think it’s better to wait and get some data on what works reliably – and maybe see if there are driver or OS updates, too.

Look, Apple’s products are exceptionally reliable, exceptionally cool and quiet (which matters a lot in audio), and exceptionally high end.

The reason some of us are looking elsewhere is, this is enough of a price/performance difference to shop around. Windows has done a lot of improvement in the audio side. And on the live visual side, having a GPU is a real advantage. My friend Tarik Bari, for instance, was an early adopter of the apparently now-defunct Mac Pro. It meant the ability to drive high-res visuals. And Tarik is a huge macOS fan. Now, I know even Tarik was frustrated with the latest Mac offerings, as is everyone I talk to who does live visuals. This is probably a niche so small we number in the dozens, but – that’s the nature of the general-purpose PC as a product. It serves lots of tiny niches.

For sheer GPU power, laptops like the Razer Blade give you desktop GPUs in a form factor and price that’s similar to Mac laptops that lack even dedicated GPUs.

I’m eager to try one to see if fan noise is distracting.

Meanwhile, the Dell XPS line is a good tradeoff – modern specs, not quite the latest gaming GPU as the Razer, but well balanced. One of my colleagues has this in the office, and it’s a really fine machine. It’s quiet, it’s fast, the display and build are great, and … oh yeah, it’s dramatically cheaper than the Apple.

Should Adobe just go and make Premiere faster? Yes, please. Imagine what it could do on this fast hardware if given the chance. But meanwhile, with a diverse range of apps, these specs actually should transfer into real-world performance.

Check the spec sheets on any of these – every Mac user I know who has was floored. You get all the new ports (like Thunderbolt 3) without having to give up basic amenities – proof that this isn’t just Apple “looking forward.” And the price is certainly competitive. You can also (cough) go the Hackintosh route with these machines. (Not that I’m supposed to say that, of course.)

Also, I agree with long-time Mac advocates lamenting the loss of the Mac Pro.

So that’s the equation. Apple’s still the high-end option, and still appealing if money is no object. But their offerings are limited to mid-range GPU hardware (charitably), not the latest gear, and the price difference is pretty huge.

  • Freeks

    I saw that same Huf Post article. First, how many professional editors use laptop keyboard? One? Two? Yes, you might need to use it when working on a plane or such. But 99% of time it sit’s docked and you use external keyboard.

    Also:”MacBook Pro with the new version of FCP X and cutting 5k ProRes ” I mean really? I want to see video of him cutting 5K ProRes on any laptop so it’s “buttery smooth”. He might be using FCPX proxy files and that has nothing to do with 5k editing.

    If he really can do that then i will switch my maxed out latest iMac to new Macbook as my computer can’t to do that.

    • R__W

      Depends on what you mean by “pro editor.”

      If you’re cutting a feature film you’ve got a studio setup. However, loads of people doing vids for online ad work just do it all on the laptop. I’d say nearly everyone doing that kind of work just does it all on the laptop.

      • Yeah, exactly, I think there will be a market for that… on the laptop alone.

        But I’d want to see a revised external keyboard to be convinced they’re taking this seriously. And that could work, given that a lot of editors have their hands trained on the keyboard.

        Editing suites I’ve seen are about fifty/fifty… that is, some people have an external display but use the laptop as the main machine. Some people are just using external display and keyboard.

        I have no idea what the numbers are, but I’d say they’re each big enough groups to take into account.

        • R__W

          an external keyboard with the magic strip would also be pretty cool 😉

    • Markus Girrulat

      🙂 a touch bar for scrubbing vids… really Apple? :-))… i mean, i think its great fun to do for your 1 hour editing of the last holiday :-)))… and 5 K. YEAH… 10 K, 15 K… and then watch it on iPhone :-)… I really think Macbook and FCP is a good combination… if you just want to do a tutorial and if your not really ambitious in using any of the nice things like resolume avenue, houdini, C4D, Aftereffects, Nuke… so… it is perfectly in line with Apple Strategy… Go Consumer! :-))

  • itchy

    this article is hilarious after emotional rant about apple.
    they don’t do everything right but they do know how to mess with peoples emotions.

  • I am interested in audio performance tests, comparing Windows and OSX on different machines using different software versions using all sorts of plugins.

    In my experience one plugin update can change everything. It can ruin the performance, latency etc. Recently I noticed a small worse performance under Live 9.7 compared to Live 9.6. It’s small, but it is definitely there when using certain plugins.

    Bottom line: nothing is perfect and nothing stays perfect. Like I say: one update can ruin the party 🙂 So take it all with a grain of salt.

    • PaulDavisTheFirst

      Just so everyone is clear .. as a DAW host developer, I can assure you that although they appear to be a necessary thing, plugins are the worst nightmare for us. We spend weeks/months/year honing our own code design and implementation … and then allow users to load arbitrary, random blobs of 3rd party code into our applications, given them (in general) complete access to everything. Sandboxing is cool but doesn’t scale to sessions on the scale that you’d do in a large studio with a traditional large format console (think EQ + compressor on every track, just for starters).

      I get why plugins happened – it makes sense when viewed from the perspective of (a) users (additional cool and/or useful functionality without waiting for DAW host developers to add it) (b) plugin developers (implement code in a blob, provide/sell to users with many different hosts). But for DAW developers, plugins are an evil that we have to tolerate against our better judgement and desires.

      • What about Propellerhead Reason? Any Rack Extension developed now will also run in any future update of Reason. And even on iOS versions!

        • PaulDavisTheFirst

          I have no idea what this has to do with my comment … also, believing stories like “this will work in ANY future update of <some application>” is probably not wise.

          • Because you state that as a host developer plugins are the worst nightmare. This is why Propellerhead has created their own Rack Extensions format instead of using VST/AU. It’s ingrates natively with Reason. Has undo and CV and in/output on the back panel like any Reason device. It’s fully integrated.

          • PaulDavisTheFirst

            Ah, understood. Yes. Would that we all were comfortable saying “no more plugin hosting based on 3rd party plugin APIs – if you want to write code that runs in the context of our host, you must use our own plugin API”. Alas, I think few host developing people/companies feel comfortable doing that. Also, it doesn’t really stop the interference between plugins and hosts without actually sandboxing the plugins. Sandboxing works fine for small-scale stuff, but it just isn’t a large-scale solution.

          • Yeah, I’d say plug-in developers would have a few things to say about Reason, too.

            So Paul, what would you suggest to break up monolithic audio apps with overly restrictive plug-in formats that then cause compatibility, performance, and stability problems? It’s like we need some sort of way of jacking audio from one place to another… 😉

          • I saw what you did there 😉

          • foljs

            > Sandboxing works fine for small-scale stuff, but it just isn’t a large-scale solution.

            Citation needed.

            (Note: I’m not saying that Reason’s sandboxing is the solution. Just that sandboxing, the generic Computer Science notion, can work just as well in a large scale DAW plugin solution. What exactly would be the problem?)

          • Because you state that as a host developer plugins are the worst nightmare. This is why Propellerhead has created their own Rack Extensions format instead of using VST/AU. It’s ingrates natively with Reason. Has undo and CV and in/output on the back panel like any Reason device. It’s fully integrated.

          • foljs

            > I have no idea what this has to do with my comment .

            Obviously the fact that it presents an alternative way to develop plugins (many attributes: curated, sandboxed, iirc some code translation involved too, etc), that the commenter would like to ask if it is an answer (perhaps partial) to plugins “being a nightmare” for host authors.

            That said, at best what you wrote means that plugins are a nightmare to one particular DAW author (and mainly working with Linux if I recall correctly, where it’s not exactly plugin heaven). Not necessarily all DAW authors.

            In fact Steinberg, for a different example, as we all know, developed the VST standard and encouraged plugin creation.

          • PaulDavisTheFirst

            It may come as some suprise to you (or perhaps not) that I know and am friendly with the authors of several DAWs and various developers who continue working on them. We do talk. Not much, but enough, and the talk is often of … plugins.

            My comments had nothing to do with Linux at all. Ardour (and Mixbus) runs on all 3 major desktop operating systems anyway. Steinberg may have created VST, but they certainly do not control plugin creation (or quality), and even their control is limited – it has taken them more than a decade to adapt VST to work without hacks on OS X (for example).

            We do in fact curate a set of plugins with Ardour these days, but I’ve never met a user of any DAW who was happy with only the set of plugins that are included with the host (or if I did, they had only just started using the DAW).

  • squirrel squirrel squirrel

    I imagine these FCP performance benefits are coming from the GPU and the associated OpenCL processing. I don’t think any DAWs or plugins take advantage of OpenCL yet (Logic XI & Live 10, please do this!). The previous generation of MBP CPU benchmarks are actually higher on the Geekbench benchmarks

    I’m interested in what the audio DSP specs are on this machine. If you’re loading up a bunch of crazy CPU-hogging softsynths and effects, what is your best buy these days?

    • PaulDavisTheFirst

      GPU processors have high bandwidth but also high latency. For low latency audio processing they are still not appropriate for realtime rendering. For offline rendering … bring it on.

      • squirrel squirrel squirrel

        That sounds extremely difficult to believe. GPUs are where all the muscle behind super fast low-latency gaming comes from. VR, for example, requires extremely low latency to prevent the users from becoming nauseous.

        Now, it may be the fact that audio DSP simply isn’t well suited to the types of computation that GPUs excel at.

        • PaulDavisTheFirst

          required video latency is an order of magnitude larger than is required for audio.

          At 30fps and 48kHz, 1 video frame is 1600 samples. This is larger than most audio users mean when they say “low latency”. Historically, super-low-latency audio has typically meant working with 1-8 samples at a time. GPUs are a very, very long way from being able to do this. Even the more normal 64-1024 samples is really beyond their capabilities at this time.

          Seriously check out the latency of GPUs (not the bandwidth). It might be good for video, it isn’t good for audio.

          • squirrel squirrel squirrel

            That argument doesn’t quite cut it. 30fps isn’t what’s going on these days. VR for example often needs to be well over 60fps, which in your math, gets the samples down to 800. Which is within the range of a hefty buffer size if you’re working with a ton of plugins. I often have to run my DAW at 512 or 1024 buffer size. I’m sure there are latency issues, but when working in a studio environment with a large buffer size, does it matter?

        • R__W

          latency is lost in the pipeline to the GPU.

          also one can’t parallelize many basic techniques for audio filtering so GPU style processing is mostly useless for audio

          VR doesn’t just work with a computer either, it requires specialized and very expensive hardware and software. Even then the VR headset only needs to accurately render what’s in your viewport.

          • squirrel squirrel squirrel

            That’s not entirely the case. Parallel processing helps with some aspects like polyphony in synthesizers.

            I’m not a programmer, though, so this might be a different kind of processing problem.

          • R__W

            you can’t parallelize IIR filters which make up the basis of most dynamic effects

            maybe there’s some way to rewrite an IIR filter in a parallel paradigm but I don’t know anything about that other than that is not how current filters are written. if that is even under investigation it still in the research project at a uni phase

            you can parallelize the FFT but again you still need to get audio data to and from the GPU which doesn’t work in real time

    • But this machine doesn’t have a dedicated GPU. I think it may just be more optimized code running natively. That or else it’s running on that integrated Intel chipset… I honestly don’t know.

      • squirrel squirrel squirrel

        OpenCL GPU acceleration can still be used with the Intel Iris GPUs that are part of this line of CPUs.
        But yes, completely fair point, this performance advance may have nothing to do with GPU acceleration. Do older machines also get these performance gains? That might tell us something.

  • squirrel squirrel squirrel

    I imagine these FCP performance benefits are coming from the GPU and the associated OpenCL processing. I don’t think any DAWs or plugins take advantage of OpenCL yet (Logic XI & Live 10, please do this!). The previous generation of MBP CPU benchmarks are actually higher on the Geekbench benchmarks

    I’m interested in what the audio DSP specs are on this machine. If you’re loading up a bunch of crazy CPU-hogging softsynths and effects, what is your best buy these days?

    • PaulDavisTheFirst

      GPU processors have high bandwidth but also high latency. For low latency audio processing they are still not appropriate for realtime rendering. For offline rendering … bring it on.

  • FS

    “long-time Mac advocates lamenting the loss of the Mac Pro”?? there is no loss of the Mac Pro. when Apple makes a Mac Pro they make it to last 10 years plus. i had my Mac Pro “Tower” for 8 years and it served me well, now i have the Mac Pro “Trash Can” and i have yet to push it anywhere near its limits. we don’t need a new Mac Pro coming out every Christmas like laptops and iPads. i saw articles like this before they unveiled the new Mac Pro, people convinced they had abandoned it then the “Trash Can” came. i would argue that apple continues to stay very loyal to the Pro market.

    • Right, but the absence of updates is suspicious. I said earlier it’s an apparent loss. At this point I can’t imagine buying the Mac Pro. Early adopters got a machine that may have lasted a long time… but … buying it now would be insane, since the price hasn’t come down. (That’s a weird reversal of early adopters actually getting a better deal.)

    • Space Captain

      I’m often get a good laugh from commenters who throw the word “pro” around and then when you ask then about the work they do – there is silence. I work on feature films and TV shows and almost everyone uses a Mac. Every DIT I’ve dealt with has a Mac. Some older editors are on Avid for simple reasons of familiarity but I see a movement to FCP X because it gets out of your way. Often at this level change is slow because you have no time to try new things. The work timelines are intense so you use what you know and what works. Having the latest version of some hardware or software is left to the people who don’t really seem to be very pro because their income doesn’t depend on it.

      Have said that, I switched to FCPX from FCP7 when it came out because I had the time to take a risk. There were definitely growing pains but now it is an extension of how I think when it comes to visuals. It’s strength is getting out of your way to tell a story and reliability. I can’t recall the last time I had any issues no matter what i throw at it.

      I am going to pickup one of the new Macbook Pro’s because I do need a new machine and I expect it to work well with FCPX. Yes I’ll have to get a few adapters and readjust my setup but that’s par for the course with technology.

      Whenever there is these stupid arguments about the tools you use, I think back to an article I read about that mystery kid Burial in London and how he made some rather stunning albums using just samples, a cheap PC, Soundforge? and a whole lot of desire. Now that’s a real pro.

  • FireTimCook

    Just in case you weren’t convinced Apple was on its way to progressively kill the whole Mac line, they just abandoned today the whole router division, so no more Airport or TimeCapsule routers from now on. These were the easiest to use and configure routers you could buy. All the things that participated in making the Mac ecosystem easier to use than PC is being killed by Tim Cook in favor of iPhones and iPads.

    • More and more I agree with that theory that says Tim Cook is Apple’s Steve Ballmer.

  • Markus Girrulat

    Well. All the good “video-pro” stuff is now going to be based on GPU. And Intel iris graphics is really not capable of dealing with that… So Adobe should make Premiere optimized for a third choice graphic solution? 🙂 no, i dont think so. And to be honest… for example the advantages of using Aftereffects combs directly “unrendered” in Premiere saved me tons of days… 4 minutes in rendering is a joke to me compared to this feature…But Apple is totally right in getting away of the “pro”-wording… its still a good laptop, but its consumer…. as much as final cut… still windows is a pain to setup, but if you do good and didnt buy bad hardware its really seems to be the better option. After ten years of only mac, i will give a windows-device a try (as i see some of our agency designers already switched and had exactly no problems)… in terms of audio i am on your side… more and more bugs in OS… also worth a recall of audio in windows… luckly i always just bought software, that is compatible with OS AND windows… so i am not lost in the apple-consumer world :-)))

  • James

    So does this mean FCP is likely to render faster than Premiere on older i5 MBP’s?

    And do these updates point to dialog editing, sound design, and music stems being at home in FCP? Or do you think they’ll further enhance Logic or some new product for audio post? Because I see that the MXF support might elude to passing the baton to the staid industry standards: avid protools. But I also see that Logic now ships with a broadcast loudness meter. So there’s potential there.

    In other words, is there a viable alternative to dongles and software subscriptions if I’m not composing, but rather doing post-production dialog?

    Love the iXML-to-roles support. Looking into whether Sound Devices ingest software will make up for those of us who don’t have this capability of a pro field recorder.

    • Yeah, those seem to be Intel optimizations not specific to this chip architecture.

      Sadly my colleague at Macworld who used to do these benchmarks saw his job / lab eliminated. :/

      I do expect Logic to remain part of their strategy here. It seems that’s lagging FCP a bit … so it’ll be interested to see if there’s complementary support. I’d say it’s probable.

      • Markus Girrulat

        By the way. This morning i updated to premiere and aftereffects 2017… Just by remembering this topic: It seems to be definetly faster… A project including (easy) aftereffects compositions, a lot of color grading, audiomastering and so on was exported as MP4 (2 minutes) in about half the time (before it took 9-10 minutes, the same project now finished in under 4 minutes, macbook pro, late 2013)… i heart a lot of rumours about CC 2017 to be buggy… for me the “first two hours” were pretty fine… lets see what happens in the next projects… 🙂

        Does anybody have experiences with CC 2017 for Mac?

  • foljs

    >Here’s an unexpected twist in the plot: Final Cut Pro, the product that perhaps more than any other earned ire from users for not being “pro,” might be the thing that sells you on the Mac.

    Mainly the ire of stupid users, who either don’t understand that “from scratch” rewrites always drop some features, some because they have to ship at some point and can’t get them all done, and others because they are related to the old ways of doing things, and the purpose of a from scratch rewrite is to build a future foundation for the code.

  • James

    A little off topic, but it would be nice to revisit this in the light of Davinci Resolve 14 public beta now that they’ve dramatically invested their time on optimization and audio workflow and integration. It’s relevant because I wonder if independent developers have the same access and insight to the integrated apple experience as apple’s own teams do for native applications?

    With Resolve, we’re not talking seamless roundtrip export, but actual built-in, all-in-one server-based collaboration for teams (what term would you use for that?) Of course, that’s when you are really paying for things, so I’d love if anyone weighed in on either platform’s audio implementation (factoring in price.) Means a music supervisor, for example, is playing within the same build as the rest of the production team. And a speed test would illustrate how well Davinci’s coding payed off.