No more testing in the office, we took the Mac Pro on the road for a real outside broadcast TV job. This was cutting on the front line. So just how did the Mac Pro perform? You will be in for a very short surprise.
There have been many benchmark tests since the Mac Pro was released, but how do these relate to the real world? Would all those very large and very small numbers translate into performance in editing, rendering and outputting?
We put the MacPro back in the box and took it on the road with us on a terrestrial TV job for a broadcaster in the UK most people have heard of. The suite was already equipped with a fairly beefy 'old Mac Pro' under the desk driving the Apple 27 inch monitor and running FCP7.
The first obvious difference between the two here, the old Mac Pro is under the desk taking up floor room and the new Mac Pro is sitting on the desk. To be fair, you can't hear either of them over the air conditioning, but the new model was very close to the operator.
Both machines are connected to a handful of NAS machines and EVS storage. The new Mac Pro has a Thunderbolt 1 GRAID attached. For monitoring, Blackmagic Design were very kind in lending us an UltraStudio 4K to try out, the job was 1080i 25FPS however! The 19inch unit fitted neatly into the rack mount, although we used a box to support it so we wouldn't mark the unit screwing it in. This was connected to one of the Mac Pro's Thunderbolt 2 ports and would have the ability to run at Thunderbolt 2 data rates.
The setting up of the UltraStudio took no more than about 5 minutes. Neither we or the engineer had seen one of these before, so kudos to Blackmagic for making things easy with one downloadable driver for all I/O boxes. The little LCD monitor on the front of the unit is really handy when wiring up the box's outputs as it shows when a signal is present from the Mac Pro. No more guessing if the unit should be outputting a signal. If you work in the UK broadcast market, PPMs are essential and it was good to see those familiar needles nudging up to 6 whilst editing on FCPX. Sound was monitored on our favourite Genelecs.
We work with some very creative people who are very keen to try new things out, but there was severe time pressure and nobody wanted to put hours of work into something that wouldn't get broadcast. We also had the FCP7 suite which was doing most of the main editing, so we were in no way reliant on FCPX and the Mac Pro. What we could add with the new machine was all extra.
The new Mac Pro chugged away quite contently putting a few finishing touches to some of the more simple packages that were being cut. Then it was time to get bold and cut an opener from scratch.
This was the moment that we had been building up to (and to be honest), very much looking forward to. It was the first time we had sat down and cut a real broadcast job on the Mac Pro and Final Cut Pro 10.1. What happened next could have huge consequences on what happens in the future.
First problem, not a show stopper on this job (and we don't know who is at a fault, Apple or EVS) but FCP 10.1 on Mavericks still doesn't read timecode on clips properly. Instead of being able to go to a specific timecode point on a clip, all imported EVS clips start at 00:00:00:00. Will somebody please get this fixed! (Stop Press: We have it on good word that EVS are working on the problem.)
The opener to the show consisted of different shots of two players with graphics overlaid, all cut to music. The player would start off moving, freeze with a graphic over the top and then unfreeze with the graphic animating off. Although we have a dislike for gratuitous speed ramps, the hold feature on clips in FCPX makes this task super easy and very simple to trim.
Let's take a look at the timeline as we applied the same treatment to a bunch of clips. Click for the larger images.
And closer into the timeline...
So working our way up the lanes, we start off with the basic raw clip. Some of the shots were in SD and were uprezzed on the timeline. The freeze on the clips was applied by using a hold. Then the Orange and Teal (Apple supplied) look was applied. After that, to get a gentle zoom on each layer, Idustrial Revolution's Auto Zoom from their XEffects Toolkit was applied and tweaked. As you would expect, everything was still playing in real time.
On the next lane, a simple Motion text title (white with a black drop shadow) spelt out names and statistics. To animate the title in and out, the free XEffects Glitch Flash transition was used which was also downloaded from the Idustrial Revolution website.
Finally a Widescreen Matte (yes you guessed) from the Toolkit was applied over the whole edit.
It probably took about an hour and a half to build, but that's including finding all the shots and choosing music. We then wondered how long the timeline would take to render. Would this Mac Pro impress the colleagues who had got slightly bored of being constantly bombarded with amazing facts about the machine?
If we had built this in FCP7, we would expect a render time of probably up to an hour as there were some heavy pixel recalculations and GPU intensive effects going on on that timeline.
It took 42 seconds. Yes you read that right, 42 seconds.
Gobsmacked again. And this was on a machine that was dragging video back and forth off NAS drives, not 10GigE or Fibre Channel either.
The Mac Pro not only allows you to edit fast, it also allows you to get the job rendered and outputted quickly. Very quickly. It will work as fast as you can and that is pretty remarkable, remember this is a real world situation, a piece cut to a brief and cut to a deadline.
Still gobsmacked. Just to check we hadn't missed some background rendering going on, we tweaked a few parameters on the widescreen matte and waited for the automatic rendering to kick in again.
42 seconds later we were gobsmacked once more.
Apple's FCP 10.1 and Mac Pro combination is an awesome razor sharp editing tool. We often use the analogy of a Formula 1 racing car to describe FCPX. When it was released, it was missing some features such as a tyre or decent brakes, maybe it could only turn left. Every update has improved FCPX, better wheels, a better engine, a bigger fuel tank e.t.c. It's now a finely tuned product capable of going at very high speed and the new Mac Pro is the track that Apple has given it to drive on.
The combination is a game changer.
A few quick thank yous to Alison, Nairn, Dom, Aled, Ben and of course Charlie for giving the Mac Pro a chance and Byron and Patrick for the kind loan of the UltraStudio.