Apple Targets Hollywood With New Mac Pro

Tim Cook Apple Worldwide Developer Conference - Getty - H 2019
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With the unveiling of a new Mac Pro and HDR-capable Pro Display XDR, Apple targeted Hollywood and filmmakers during its Worldwide Developer Conference keynote on Monday morning at the San Jose Convention Center. Its focus was welcomed by industry sources immediately following the announcements.

Available this fall starting at $6,000, the new Mac Pro was described as a modular and configurable "8K powerhouse" that's all about performance with Intel X-Neon processors with 28 cores, AMD Radeon pro Vega II GPUs, eight PCIe expansion slots and a memory system with a 1.5TB capacity. Apple announced its Afterburner accelerator card as "a monster for editors" with the ability to play up to three streams of 8K video or 12 streams of 4K. "We can say goodbye to proxy workflows," the company claimed, though it remains to be seen if productions will choose to build their workflows around these higher resolutions in the foreseeable future.

Hollywood's motion picture and TV production industries have stepped up use of 4K resolution. Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon offer 4K while upcoming Apple TV+ will as well, though U.S. broadcasters still deliver 2K. Japan public broadcaster NHK has launched an 8K service, but that's an exception compared with most of the world.

On Monday, Apple announced support of the Mac Pro from a slew of companies that develop software for Hollywood's production and postproduction communities. They include Avid, Adobe, Blackmagic Design, Epic Games (the maker of the Unreal Engine), Foundry, Maxon, Side Effects, Red and Pixar.

Also aimed at Hollywood, for uses from on-set workflows to color grading suites, Apple unwrapped Pro Display XDR, a 32-inch HDR-capable 6K Retina LCD display that supports P3 and 10-bit color and 1,000 nits of full-screen brightness. It supports various flavors of HDR including Dolby Vision, HDR10 (not HDR 10+) and HLG. "Video editors can now work with HDR content as it was intended," Apple claimed as it unveiled the new display, which is scheduled for availability this fall for $5,000. (Meanwhile, the announcement that the pro monitor stand would be sold separately for $1,000 quickly became the butt of many jokes.)

Mac computers are widely used in Hollywood's postproduction community, but as veteran editor Harry B. Miller III explains, not always the current models. "Most editing and post systems run on the older 'cheese grater' design, released in 2006, rather than the current 'trash can' design, launched in 2013," he said, adding that many found the 'trash can' design to be limiting in terms of the ability to upgrade memory, CPU, GPU and hard drives.

"It's great to see Apple getting back into the professional market," Miller said of the new Mac Pro, which recalls the cheese grater design, though he questioned how the pricing, which starts at $6,000 for the base model, might impact rollout. "It will be cheaper for Fox, Sony, Warner Bros. and all the independent vendors to keep upgrading their cheese grater Mac Pros," he suggested.

"We look forward to hearing more about Apple's new workstation as we've been using antiquated hardware to support camera technology that has outpaced Apple's ability to keep up," said postproduction industry vet Larry Chernoff, who is CEO of MTI Film. "We are, however, concerned that there was no mention of immediate support for Nvidia GPUs, especially in light of Red's close integration with the latest of them. That said, it is welcome news that Apple has reengaged in the professional market and we are anxious to see exactly what we can expect in terms of performance boosts for applications that utilize Apple technology."

During the keynote, Apple also demoed the new Mac Pro's 8K playback with its Final Cut editing system. A new version of Final Cut, taking advantage of the new Mac Pro capabilities, is planned for release later this year.

The announcements follow the launch of Apple TV+ in March, when Apple trotted out Hollywood filmmakers who are working on shows for the new Apple streaming service, including Steven Spielberg, Kumail Nanjiani, J.J. Abrams and Oprah Winfrey.

During the Monday keynote, which ran more than two hours, Apple confirmed that it would discontinue iTunes, which will be replaced with a trio of desktop apps: Apple TV, Apple Music and Apple Podcasts. It also included a preview of iOS13, as well as updates to WatchOS, macOS and the introduction of iPadOS. A preview of tvOS 13 for Apple TV was also featured, which includes support for Xbox and Playstation game controllers. Developer tools include new capabilities for augmented reality.