Should Filmmakers Be Excited about the New Mac Studio and Display?

Apple has dropped some new, and somewhat surprising, kit that hopefully land in a sweet spot for a lot of filmmakers.

After a bit of a dip a few years ago, Apple has been on an absolute roll the last few years with one release after another of toolsets that legitimately improve our workflow.

When it decided to make the switch to "Apple Silicon" (designed in-house on the ARM architecture instead of running Intel chips), it laid out a rough game plan for what it would look like, with the refresh timing for laptops, iMacs, and eventually a new Mac Pro.

Nowhere was there mention of new monitors or a new "mid-level" Mac desktop, but here we are—Apple has managed to not just roll out new stuff, but to actually surprise people. 

So should a filmmaker care about these releases?

Honestly, while we think of ourselves as "pros," the $6,000 Mac Pro is out of budget, and needs, for most of us. In fact, we know more than a few filmmakers who work regularly with a Mac Mini for various tasks, and the concept of a machine midway between a Mac Mini and a full-on Mac Pro is absolutely a sweet spot that will do a lot for the benefit of filmmakers, film schools, and students.

Apple M1 Chip Lineup
M1 Chip LineupCredit: Apple

Creativity on a Budget

The power that the Mac Studio is going to pack, at the price (under $2,000 for the base model), is kind of astounding.

That base model has the M1 Max Apple Silicon, which is the dynamite top-of-the-line chip from the current generation MacBook Pro. As someone who has been working on that chip since it came out on projects in RED and Blackmagic RAW at 8K and 12K Resolutions, it screams. Getting it in a $2,000 box offers a ton of power.

One of the key features to pay attention to in all this is the sheer number of Thunderbolt 4 ports. Yes, by using the "cube" factor, we don't get PCI slots, but a lot of what we used to do with PCI we now do with Thunderbolt.

You can mount your Blackmagic 4K DeckLink via Thunderbolt 4. You can patch to your insanely fast hard drive storage. PCI is rapidly leaving the realm of being an absolute requirement. Ten years ago it was a massive disappointment to not get PCI in the 2013 Mac Pro, but now we've moved on quite a bit as an industry with I/O formats, and it's not as necessary as it was for most of us.

On top of that is 10-gigabit Ethernet. This doesn't seem like that big a deal until you remember that Ethernet is one of our favorite tools for patching to shared storage. Having 10GE natively built-in is a huge plus.

Put one of these between your four edit rooms, patch it all into a Jellyfish, and you have shared storage at a reasonable price point with an ease that folks just couldn't implement a few short years ago.

The only really odd thing is the front SD port. We love it. It's amazing. But it's kind of impressive that it's still SD, and not CF Express type B.

It's the right choice for where we are now, and we use the SD card slot in our CalDigit Thunderbolt breakout box all the time. It's a welcome surprise to see Apple supporting a mid-cycle format (Apple tends to focus on the format that's coming next, not the one that's here), but a surprise nonetheless.

A Display for Your Studio

The real question filmmakers need to answer is if they want to go for the Studio Display, which is back, and only $1,599. 

$1,599 is a ton for a monitor, of course (and the old Studio Displays were $1,000), but it's a lot cheaper than the $5,000 Pro Display XDR of a few years ago.

So should filmmakers splurge for it?

We're going to wait for a final verdict until we've had hands-on time with it, but there are a few strong reasons to consider.

We'll be honest and say that it's perfectly normal to see an editing workstation that is a Mac Tower with two HP or Dell monitors. It's very much the norm in post to use the monitor as a place to save money, especially since you might need two or three of them. But there are a few features that filmmakers should be paying attention to with these units that might make them worth considering.

The biggest one is color accuracy. Apple has put in a ton of work to make this monitor accurately recreate colors as intended by the original creator.

However, the issue with color accuracy is still going to be software. Just because a monitor is capable of showing colors correctly doesn't mean software is going to process correctly. While we are confident that Apple will make its own apps process well, and color-critical apps like Resolve will do everything they can, browsers are still going to be all over the map.

Open the same Vimeo link in Firefox, Safari, and Chrome (and put the same video on YouTube and do the same), and they aren't all going to look the same.

It's great that the monitor will be color-accurate, but software will still be the frustration. The solution for that is to use something like a Blackmagic Mini Monitor or DeckLink 4K to get a video output that isn't dependent on software processing.

A Sound Alternative

Actually, the more interesting feature in these displays is the sound.

Yes, they won't be "fully accurate" the way a calibrated mixing stage will be, but good speakers are actually something a lot of editing suites spend some money setting up, and this system might be able to save you on that.

A few years ago that would've sounded bonkers, but Apple has put a tremendous amount of work into making its machines sound great without accessories.

The new MacBook Pro sounds incredibly impressive, especially for a laptop. For a lot of editing and client review situations, we suspect that the Studio Display will become the default reference for a lot of editors and clients.

The new Studio Display comes not just with six speakers built-in, but also processing built in to create the best sound possible for various situations. Again, it's never going to be as accurate as the mixing suite, but we see folks approving the sound on projects using headphones or their MacBook Pro speakers all the time, and we suspect that this monitor will end up serving this purpose on some smaller, quick turnaround projects.

We can't wait to get our hands on these and see if our suspicions are right, but all the releases we see here seem like they land in a sweet spot for a lot of uses.     

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1 Comment

I don't see the Mac Studio as midway to the Mac Pro. It effectively renders the Mac Pro useless. You'd be an idiot to purchase the Mac Pro for $28,000 when the Mac Studio maxes out around 8k with more power and a smaller form factor.

March 11, 2022 at 9:13AM

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