Pro Res Apple white paper

Apple have updated their ProRes White Paper and tucked away are some interesting performance figures for Final Cut Pro X on a Retina Macbook Pro. A great read with some great explanations.

When we first started to read this update to the ProRes White Paper, we just thought it had been given a slight tweak to bring it up to date. Then we realised that some of the testing had been done on FCPX 10.0.6 on a Retina MacBook Pro, so we read on!

Read Apple's ProRes White Paper

We would recommend that everybody should read the publication as it provides some really good background information about ProRes and other codecs. A few things jumped out at us.

The first was the mention of 5K ProRes material. Did you realise that 60p 5120 x 2160 ProRes 4444 has a target data rate of 3535 Mb/s? 

Second was the multicam editing performance of the ProRes codecs in 10.0.6

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Here are the test conditions, Brownie points if you realised that FCPX can only show 16 angles live at once in real time, hence the endstop.

"Testing conducted by Apple in October 2012 using OS X Mountain Lion v10.8.2 and shipping 2.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-based 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display units configured with 512GB of flash storage and 8GB of RAM. Testing conducted with a prerelease version of Final Cut Pro X using 7-minute, 30-second 1920 x 1080p24 ASC-DCI Standard Evaluation Material multicam clips for each content type. MacBook Pro continuously monitors system thermal and power conditions, and may adjust processor speed as needed to maintain optimal system operation. Performance may vary depending on system configuration and content."
You have to admit that being able to switch 13 angles of 1920 x 1080 ProRes 422 on a (hot) laptop is pretty impressive.
Reading on we found out that number of cores really does help when decoding ProRes. This could be of importance when choosing a machine after new MacPros have been announced. It's not all about the GPU!
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"Testing conducted by Apple in October 2012 using OS X Mountain Lion v10.8.2, a prerelease version of Final Cut Pro X (10.0.6), and shipping Mac Pro 3.06GHz 12-core Intel Xeon units configured with 12GB of RAM. Performance may vary depending on system configuration, content, and performance measurement tool use."

Lastly we were interested to read about the performance gains on rendering and encoding using ProRes over other codecs.

"Although fast decoding speed is the primary factor in real-time editing performance, fast encoding speed is also important for key steps in post-production workflows. Like Apple ProRes decoders, the Apple ProRes family of encoders have all been built as efficient software implementations, and fast encoding is achieved through efficient use of multicore processors. Fast encoding speed is essential for some steps and important in virtually all others.

For real-time capture and Apple ProRes encoding of baseband video signals (either analog or digital SD or HD signal sources), Apple ProRes software encoders must be fast enough to keep up with the incoming real-time video frames. An appropriate video capture card must be used for this purpose, but otherwise no specialized encoding hardware is required to achieve real-time capture of baseband video to Apple ProRes formats.

For file-based transcoding of video files that have been encoded with other (non-Apple ProRes) video codecs, transcoding to Apple ProRes entails both decoding of the starting technique and reencoding to Apple ProRes. The minimum total transcoding time will therefore be the sum of the time required to decode the
file and the time required to reencode it to Apple ProRes. For certain video codec formats known to be highly complex and therefore relatively slow to decode, such as JPEG-2000 and the REDCODE® RAW (R3D) native codec format, the overall transcoding time will be dominated by the decoding time. Still, fast Apple ProRes encoding helps make the total transcoding time faster.

Fast encoding and decoding also benefits rendering and exporting. Rendering effects, as part of a creative process or the final step before output, is basically a decode of the source media and a reencode to the chosen final output format. During the rendering process, all of the decoding, blending, and compositing steps must be precomputed before encoding to the compressed format defined in your Final Cut Pro project. Although you can choose any Apple ProRes codec as a rendering format— from Apple ProRes 422 (LT) to Apple ProRes 4444—and change it at any time during post-production, Final Cut Pro X defaults to rendering in Apple ProRes 422.

When rendering to Apple ProRes, the total rendering time is determined by the speed of both the decoding and encoding steps, which can be significantly quicker compared to other, more complex and slower codecs. The speed advantage of Apple ProRes is also beneficial when exporting a file at the end of a project. If
you need to deliver to the web, DVD, or Blu-ray disc, you can speed up the export process by choosing to edit in Apple ProRes instead of other professional formats, including uncompressed."

All great stuff, but we really hope that Apple implement the ability to convert to ProRes some of the codecs it won't do at the moment. We have read that this is because Apple think that no advantage is to be gained by say converting XDCAM to ProRes. Why do we want this? It would be especially beneficial to those who cut to a tight deadline such as news and sport to have everything converted to keep export times down to a minimum. Why wait for a XDCAM conversion at the squeaky end of the day when it could have been done earlier? A reduction of a minute or two of export time could be the difference between a piece making air or not.