Focusing on the world of post production today, I’ll share some experiences from the last couple months working with the latest Mac Pro and OWC 32TB Accelsior 8M2 PCIe 4.0 Storage Card.
Megabytes, gigabytes, terabytes, all the bytes. In the digital age, our work resides on a mountain of data. If you work as a filmmaker like I do, in an age where they seem to add another level of K every time I turn my back, having a system that can effectively drive that data is crucial.
That is why, a few months ago, I added the Mac Pro to my post-production suite. Having worked with over the counter Apple systems for most of my career, the time had come to step up my system. In the midst of editing multiple long-form projects, I needed a computer system that would be fast, reliable, and capable of handling higher-end codecs without a glitch.
Now, I am not a computer engineer. So I’ll admit to you upfront that, if you are looking for an in-depth exploration of how every byte of data moved through the machine or benchmark testing, I may not be your guy. What I can tell you more tech-oriented readers is that the system I’m using is the 24-core CPU (expandable to 76-core GPU) 128 GB and 2 TB tower. It has the Apple M2 Ultra Chip and 7 PCI Card Slots. I’m using it with the Pro Display XDR with standard glass. And, as we’ll get to in a moment, I currently have the OWC Accelsior 8M2 PCIe card installed. The Mac Pro itself is capable of running up to 22 concurrent video streams of 8K playback and can support up to 8 displays. But, as a real-life user working day-to-day as a professional, what I care most about in a computer system is similar to what I care about in a car. Does it get me to my destination? And does it do so more efficiently than other options with limited fuss. To that end, the Mac Pro has been a home run.
As I hinted at earlier, key to its success was the addition of the OWC Accelsior. Truthfully, the benefit to a large system like the Mac Pro isn’t just the computer itself. The real benefit is the customization. No filmmaking workflow is the same. So you will want/need to customize your system to your individual process. And the 7 PCI slots available with the Mac Pro mean that you can customize the system in multiple ways to meet your exact needs.
In my case, storage, and being able to drive that data quickly, we’re going to be key. The very first project I edited with the system was a multicam television pilot. There were 11 different cameras rolling simultaneously in 4K with occasional uses of 8K thrown in when necessary. The footage was raw video. And the show was dialogue heavy.
I mention that last part because one tell-tale giveaway I’ve found that suggests I’m using the wrong editing system is when the footage struggles during playback. Sure, if it’s not that bad, you may be able to work around the buffering when doing your assembly. But sooner or later, you’re going to need to get a pinpoint edit on exactly when you want to make your cut. With so many overlapping video streams, this problem is only exacerbated.
But using the Mac Pro with the OWC card eliminated all buffering, allowing me to play back multiple streams of footage and make my cuts and adjustments in real-time without any guesswork.
This benefit extended to when I started with the color grade. The more adjustments you make, the more problems you potentially create that could slow down your machine. But with this system I was able to do multiple complicated image refinements on my timeline right there in DaVinci Resolve Studio while still playing back the footage smoothly. This gave me a more accurate reading on how my scene would play without needing to render first to get the complete picture.
The only slowdown I did find was when applying the noise reduction. Small sections were fine. But applying noise reduction over the course of the half-hour long episode did lead to minimal stuttering when playing back the timeline. I’d be more concerned about this if I didn’t have this exact same problem on every system I’ve ever worked on. Or if it weren’t easily remedied by simply turning off the noise reduction node until export. So, while it did occur, it was hardly a meaningful obstacle when I was editing. Other graphics, like titles and on-screen overlays, worked smoothly without delay.
Using the Mac Pro was also key in that it gave me stability. The storage capacity of the system was such that I could bring all my footage into the system and work internally from a single component without having to resort to an assortment of external devices. With over 10 TB of data on that project alone, this gave me a lot of peace of mind. And yes, in case you were wondering, I did have that 10 TB backed up elsewhere just in case. I’m not that crazy. But I never needed to access the backups. Another in the win column for the Mac Pro.
Aside from the television pilot, I’ve used the system to complete post-production on a handful of film projects as well as a number of commercials in the months since its arrival. It has yet to let me down. And, while the same can be said for some of my previous Mac systems, as the file sizes for my recent project increase and the codecs grow more complex, having a system capable of handling the load is a massive improvement to my workflow.