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Multimedia Video Editors Fall Through Gaping Hole in Apple's Headless Mac Lineup

Multimedia Video Editors Fall Through Gaping Hole in Apple's Headless Mac Lineup

Multimedia professionals rely on solid tools to get the job done, and those tools have typically been Apple’s Mac lineup. But as Apple shifts its focus more to its MacBooks and iPhones, it’s neglected a tiny, but important product: the Mac mini.

Why am I singling out the lowly Mac mini? Because it’s currently the only desktop in the entire Apple lineup to play in the under $1,000 price point; an important psychological barrier for many computer shoppers.

It’s also an important barrier for enthusiast multimedia shooters who aren't filling studios with $3,000 Mac Pros that haven’t been updated significantly in years.

The Mac mini has been an easy-to-live-with photo and video editor for years. Even with its meager integrated graphics chips, with a few careful upgrades even a demanding shooter can edit batches of photos and full HD video with ease.

But the enthusiasts have moved forward. People are shooting 4K video on their DSLRs, and at $179 for a Samsung Gear 360, why not try out 4K, 360-video shooting?

Well, you won't be trying it on a Mac mini, with its slow dual-core processor and integrated graphics.

Why the Mac mini Needs to Raise Its Game

The natural reaction would be to say “Get an iMac” but anything even close to $1,000 from Apple is woefully underpowered by today's standards and has a small screen that isn’t a Retina display. The kicker is that the integrated graphics on that $1,049 model won't get you to the land of smooth 4K and 360 video editing.

It’s amongst editors in these new mediums, the hobbyist/enthusiast/semi-pro adding new 360/VR tools to their toolbox, that Apple is losing the most mindshare. One of the most popular headsets out there, the Oculus Rift, still doesn’t support Mac because of middling graphics cards. If you walk into one of the premiere incubators of 360 video/VR work, Syracuse University’s Alan Gerry Center for Media Innovation, you’ll find all Alienware machines, except for the one lonely iMac that doesn’t run any headsets. New editors coming onto the scene are not starting out on Apples and will likely never get to experience them.

That’s bad for Apple in the long run. As someone who taught photojournalism at a school with an entirely Nikon-based consignment, I saw that graduating students carried their preferences learned in school with them to the professional world. More students of mine ended up with Nikons just because it’s what they knew.

Bang for the Buck

Someone buying into a system to edit 360-video can see that something like this $950 Asus will match a $2,300 iMac, at least on paper. When you spec out a loaded Mac mini, it costs more than a capable PC and it still can’t do the basics for this medium. Why would anyone pay these prices when the performance for multimedia editors isn't there?

I’ve been a Mac user for a long time, and I wanted to believe that Apple had the 360 enthusiast willing to drop a grand covered, at least if they spent money on a new machine in 2017. So I gave it a shot, judiciously upgrading a Mac mini, adding a solid state hard drive into the mix along with 16 GB of memory. The Mac mini only offers older dual core i5 and i7 processors anyway so I didn’t make the upgrade there. Even at this modest level, I was already pushing $1,200. The Apple store employee who helped me configure the machine expressed cautious optimism that the machine would be up to scratch.

I loaded up my favorite video editing software, Final Cut Pro X, added the Dashwood 3D tools and got cracking, only to find that editing 360 footage from a Garmin Virb 360 (4K, not even the higher 5.7K the camera is capable of) was an exercise in frustration, with stuttering footage and dropped frames everywhere. Even simply playing back the footage in the GoPro VR Player resulted in the same issues.

I then pit the Mac mini against the above-mentioned, less expensive Asus model, which tore through the footage in Adobe Premiere Pro without breaking a sweat, likely thanks to its dedicated NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card. If Asus can cram all of hardware this into a box the size of a Playstation, I’m sure Apple could have worked something out for a Mac mini.

As an unexpected bonus, I discovered that Microsoft is in tune with 360-video. It’s natively supported in the Windows 10 movie player, and the Edge browser works with 360 as well. Safari can’t claim that and Apple doesn't natively support 360-video in Sierra.

It’s clear that Apple is on shaky ground in its lower-priced machines when it comes to supporting the next generation of multimedia editors. While upper-echelon iMacs are capable machines, Apple ignores entry and mid-level users at their own peril.

It’s hard for me, the longtime Mac user to say this, but when it comes to the next generation of video — that is, 360, 4K, and VR work — it’s time for a PC. Game, set, match.

Are you a 360-video editor? Do you design VR environments? Sound off on the setup you use to edit this stuff in the comments.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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I was just about to spec out a Mac Mini for someone wanting to do simple edits in 4K (not 360 degree). I'd recommended the following:

Mac Mini
3.0GHz Core i7
2TB Fusion Drive
16GB Memory

Would I be giving them bad advice?

I had the version with the i5 and the solid state hard drive, but it's close to what you have listed there. If they're working in Final Cut Pro X with proxy files, it will be a slow workflow with some stuttering and dropped frames, but they can make it work. At the price of this machine you've spec'ed out though, one would hope for more.

Limiting factor is the integrated graphics.

I would not recommend a Mac Mini to anyone. Have them build a PC with much more Power that will last them forever and can be upgraded. Yes, computers can all edit 4K 360 video using proxies but at what cost. TIME! whos going to edit and render/export video if it takes 16 hours?

It's just not worth it and over the years Apple has soldered the Ram Memory on the board so there is no way to upgrade the system. I'm almost 99.9% sure Apple is ending the life of this line. Apple is an All in one company, they don't even make cinema displays anymore.

I think you've hit the nail on the head. Even this Asus GR8 II I got has some upgradeable parts (hard drive, memory) and it's as small as a PlayStation 2 (that's the last one I owned so it's my point of reference).

they are making a new macpro with a display.

I had the same dilemma, and finally ended up building a hackintosh with a Skylake i7 and 64gb ram with ssd for around $600.

That "gaping hole" is why Apple is worth over $800 billion.

Its entire business model revolves around avoiding low margin products.

If Apple was ever stupid enough to compete on specs-per-dollar, I'd sell my stock immediately.

Truly this is the one area where apple really pissed me off. The 2012 Mac mini could spec out higher than the next generation. They went backwards in computer power - quad i7 vs dual i5. I like many picked up the last of the quad i7s when they were phased out

I thought hard about that option as well - but with the price of those approaching or passing the ASUS, paying that much and having the same graphics chip as my MacBook Air would have made the proposition a wash.

It is nuts that they did that though - it seems like the old Mac Mini flew too close to the sun (iMac) and so they clipped its wings.

When Apple dropped quad-core from the Mini lineup, I knew I wouldn't be getting a Mini any time soon. Apple has become an entirely consumer-products business, and clearly doesn't care about the pro communities that kept them afloat through the difficult years. Fortunately, a modest Macbook Pro is all I need, but I feel for folks who need more and don't want an iMac.

And the fact remains that practically all Windows desktops/towers are very easy to upgrade. Upgrading ram or an extra large hd is a matter of mere minutes. Even a complete motherboard and cpu replacement can be done without too many problems (although a Windows reinstall will be necessary).

And most of the time, it will cost you about half what Apple would charge.

I have a 2010 27" iMac, it still runs great. Last year my client bought me a new Mac Mini, which worked fine until the latest Mac OS update, not it's basically unusably slow. Total POS. Good thing my main machine is a Windows box.

I bought from apple maybe the last 2012 quad core i7 mac mini from the "closeout" store. Not doing any video at this time but with a upgrade to 16 gig ram it does ok with 12MB and 24 MB files. With the Mac Pro and iMac pro as expensive as they are or will be Apple should upgrade the Mini to fill the hole in the line up.

Why do so many people still using Macs for editing ? PCs are soooo much faster and flexible, I really dont get it.

I dont care if the computer is in a alluminium housing it must perform and get the job done.

1. The Mac Mini is slow and expensive
2. The iMac is expensive and you need an additional screen for color work. If the hardware is getting old you need to buy a complete new iMac (also if you are satisfied with the screen).
3. The MacPro had years old hardware and has horrible possibilites to upgrade).

So where is the point to buy a Mac for professional work these days ?

Hoping Apple does some cool stuff over the next year or so. Otherwise, I'll be working happily enough on my Hackintosh.

Been working with apple since the late 80s.
Never seen a creative shop invest in a low end Mac for any creative creation. I believe we have enough mediocre solutions for the creative industry from Apple. I would like apple to do something it hasn't done in about 16 years. Listen to the pro market and provide us with the solutions we need to continue using apple platform.

Likely to fall on deaf ears. Based on what they've done under Tim Cook I'm afraid Apple no longer cares about the creatives (that kept them afloat in the lean years) nor do they understand them.