The new Mac Studio packs a lot of punch for a relatively small bite in your wallet.
The Mac Studio counts as Apple’s first real “surprise” in a long time. After rolling out the move to Apple Silicon (which had been rumored for a long time), we had an idea of what was to come for about two years.
Then, out of nowhere, a $2,000 desktop with a killer display and plenty of power, in a form factor like a super powerful Mac Mini. A bit like the Mac Cube of long ago which was a bit too ahead of its time.
We’ve had a few days to test the Mac Studio, and we’re frankly quite impressed with the amount of power packed into a little box on your desk. Honestly, while we know a Mac Pro is coming, it looks like this little unit could be powerful enough for the vast majority of people making movies today.
Small package, incredible power
To put it simply, the Mac Studio, even in the $1,999 configuration we tested, just has incredible power. There’s, of course, the demo Apple made with Final Cut Pro running 18 streams of 8K ProRes files at once. But it’s ProRes, which plays well, and Final Cut is amazingly optimized. We wanted to see how it handled other formats and software, so we fired up Resolve and piled on Blackmagic RAW 12K files and ARRI RAW 4K files (often harder to read).
And it just cracked.
We could have seven separate files running at the same time on a single SSD.
A likely problem was a disk speed bottleneck more than CPU power. Without much effort from the machine, it obviously didn’t strain or kick the fans. As for the dailies, we were getting real-time dailies on the 12K and 2x files on the ARRI RAW, also in real time. If you’re old enough to remember when we had to pay $6,500 for a Red Rocket to get real-time transcodes from 4K RED raw files, getting the same speed on 12K for a $2,000 machine is just bonkers. .
Do you need all that power?
One thing people seem to wonder about is, will they need all that power?
Considering the affordable price, especially for the M1 Max version, it’s a safe bet for most filmmakers that, yes, you will enjoy it. Even if you decide to do your next project on an iPhone, which still runs in 4K (ProRes if you will), and you still want to transcode it into something editable, then you’ll want to turn it in for delivery. All of this will be faster, easier and less painful with this power.
But at the high end, the resolutions keep cracking. 8K is becoming quite mainstream now, and Blackmagic 12K is still out there and produces high resolution files that you can cut and crop in all sorts of ways. On top of that, we usually expect to get at least three to four years out of a machine.
I know people who still use 2013 Mac Pros in their stations (although these 9-year-old machines are clearly showing their age). Higher resolutions will continue to arrive, more and more productions will be shot in RAW, and within a year some of us will be working with 18K RAW files. So yes, the power will be worth it.
The Studio screen is back
The other news that was released at the same time was the return of the Studio Display with a whole host of nifty features such as great color accuracy and sophisticated webcam technology built-in.
Since software alters the image so much, we’ll continue to emphasize that we don’t care about the color accuracy of our screen (only the color accuracy of our broadcast monitor). But the Studio Display offers a very nice image which is pleasing. For home media consumption, this will be a joy.
The real secret surprise was how good the speakers sounded. One of the first things filmmakers do is set up some kind of audio card to hook up some audio monitors. Getting a good sound is essential throughout editing and for previewing a remote mix.
Honestly, the Studio Display speakers sounded clean, robust and as accurate as my studio monitors and could well serve as a replacement. At least until you need a more robust solution. It seems likely that we’ll soon see editing suites specified using the built-in Studio Display speakers for their audio.
Even better than that, you’ll have these speakers in more client offices, so when you send your cut out for approval, what they’ll hear is more accurate than it otherwise would have been. And that’s a huge, huge advantage. The Studio Display also has a built-in stand which is quite attractive and doesn’t cost extra money, which is a nice touch.
Intel’s Mac Pro
One of the big questions on the table is, “How pissed off should owners of the 2019 Mac Pro be?” It’s an interesting question.
Honestly, I’m on the side of “I hope it’s not so pissed off, or at least not about it.”
In 2019, the path to Apple Silicon was pretty clear. Attentive people (and you should have been if you were buying a $6,000 machine) knew this was the “last Intel Mac” and should have made their decision accordingly.
At the time, the $6,000 price tag seemed insane, but looking back, I actually think it was a deliberate decision to keep casual purchases at bay. $6,000 is the price of a business computer. If you’re spending that on a computer, you better have a plan for how it’ll get its money back in two years. If Apple discontinued the Mac Studio six months later, I’d agree to be crazy. But that’s 2.5 years later. You’ve had 2.5 years to monetize this Intel Mac Pro.
Yes, weirdly Mac didn’t refresh the Mac Pro from 2013 to 2019, but that was a weird time in computer history, and Mac went back to a normal refresh cycle.
Now, there have been misfires with this Mac Pro that have left owners frustrated, and that emotion is right. You spend $6,000 on a machine, it runs better and works well, while really meeting expectations. But after about two years, you know a refresh is coming. And here it is.
Is the Mac Studio good for filmmakers?
For the vast majority of filmmakers, this is the Apple desktop to land on. More power and better speakers than an iMac (when paired with the display), but without the “used-car” level expense of the Mac Pro.
A new Mac Pro is coming, and knowing Apple, there will be something interesting there. But the question will really be whether you need the power this is going to offer. For many of us shooting 12K projects and producing 4K masters, the Mac Studio is going to pack a lot of power at a price that seems pretty darn reasonable for what it offers.