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When the new Mac Pro was previewed at this year’s WWDC, Apple said it would be great at editing 4K.   4K is the next size up from HD – twice the pixels horizontally and vertically: four times the detail. UHD is the consumer brand name for TVs that can show 3840 by 2160 pixel footage.

Apple also mentioned that a new version of Final Cut Pro X is being prepared to make the most of the new machine. However, Final Cut Pro users have been able to create high resolution timelines since the mid-00s.

fcp-classic

Although it has been possible to create 4K timelines for many years, smooth editing of 4K footage requires instant playback of more than one stream of video footage at once. For example if you had clip A transitioning to clip B while clip C is overlaid as a picture in picture, your editing software would have to play back clips A, B and C at the same time – changing the transparency of clips A and B while scaling clip C.

Up until now, there have been two strategies of dealing with high quality video on systems that are too slow: wait for the computer the render the video to a single combined clip which can then be played back, or to make lower quality versions that can be edited without rendering.

What could the next Mac Pro / Final Cut Pro X combination bring to 4K editing? The ability to import 4K clips and to work with them instantly – playing more than one at the same time without having to wait for rendering.

Two problems need to be fixed to make this work – fast enough hardware to decode large amounts of video information and a fast enough connection to the storage to get large amounts of data onto the screen.

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Three or four times a year Apple has press events that are designed to get media coverage all over the world. Although they cost up to a few hundred thousand dollars to organise, they get millions of dollars of PR all over the world.

For those of holding our breath waiting for MacBook Pro, Mac Pro and Final Cut Pro X announcements, perhaps we can reverse engineer what Apple might announce tomorrow based on what kind of coverage they want.

News articles, TV and radio reports have a limited amount of space to cover everything that Apple announce. The headline will refer to an update of the product or service known by the largest audience. The first paragraph will expand on the headline, explain the context (“Tim Cook on stage in San Francisco…”) and then go on to expand on other announcements.

Here’s a list of what hasn’t been updated recently and could be mentioned tomorrow in order of public interest:

  • New iPads
  • New free iOS productivity apps for home and work
  • New cross-platform HTML5-based iWork subscription service
  • New Mac OS X Mavericks – including integration with iOS and Apple TV
  • Update to OS X productivity apps
  • New MacBook Pro – with TouchID button
  • New 4K/UHD display – with TouchID button
  • New Mac Pro

If most of those items are announced, coverage of the new Mac Pro will be limited to a single sentence – or clause: “Apple also updated the portable MacBook Pro and Mac Pro computers. The Mac Pro will be the first Mac that will be assembled in the US for 10 years.”

Although the contribution of Mac Pros and professional software to Apple’s bottom line will struggle to reach single percentage digits, Apple would not have developed the new Mac Pro unless it fitted into an ongoing strategy.

In March, before this year’s Mac Pro preview at Apple’s developer conference in May, John Siracusa wrote that a powerful new Mac Pro model works like a ‘Halo Car’ – a “model that lends prestige or attractiveness to the brands and other models of its manufacturer“: 

It’s a chance for Apple to make the fastest, most powerful computer it can, besting its own past efforts and the efforts of its competitors, year after year. This is Apple’s space program, its moonshot. It’s a venue for new technologies to be explored.

The associated prestige that would be lent to other computers in the Mac range only is applied if the public hear about the ‘Halo Mac.’

What could Apple announce tomorrow that gives a hook for the world’s media to use when mentioning a new Mac?

A keynote slide with listing features and specifications won’t work. The public aren’t interested in Thunderbolt 2, fast GPUs or a new Haswell CPU from Intel. There’s a good chance that there’ll be a demo. What demo would be simple enough for the press to understand and interesting enough to mention in articles and news reports?

One strategy for being reporter- and reporting-friendly is to incorporate a famous person or a famous task. Here are three I’ve come up with – each would imply a different software story to go along with the Mac Pro hardware.

Famous task: “I’d like to welcome the editor of ‘Gone Girl,’ the next David Fincher feature film on stage who will show you how they are using the new Mac Pro in conjunction with a new version of Final Cut Pro X, our editing application. Here you can see then compositing multiple 6K clips of different takes in the same shot to make a perfect scene.”

Famous person and famous task: “I’d like to welcome Chris Martin of Coldplay who will show us how he worked with Logic Pro X on a Mac Pro to create their contribution to the new Hunger Games sequel soundtrack”

Famous person and famous task: “I’d like to bring on John Lasseter, the Chief Creative Officer of Pixar and Disney. He’s going to show you how the new Mac Pro works with custom Pixar software to render 4K frames from ‘Frozen,’ Disney’s next feature .”

How would you demo a new Mac Pro to the world’s media?

Today the HDMI Forum announced a big upgrade to their video connectivity standard: HDMI 2.0. What does this mean for this autumn’s ‘4K’ Mac Pro?

HDMI-Logo

HDMI 2.0: 4K and more

HDMI (High Definition Media Interface) is a successful video and audio interface standard that has been used in over 3 billion devices since 2003. It is used to transfer uncompressed video and audio from one device to another.

The initial definition defined a maximum video resolution over a single connection of 1920×1200 at 60 frames a second with 24 bits used to represent each pixel, using a maximum throughput of 4.95 Gbit/s.

Today’s 2.0 definition includes the following specifications:

– Maximum resolution: 4096 x 2160 p 60 48 bits/pixel

– Maximum audio channels: 32

– Maximum audio sample frequency: 1536kHz

– Simultaneous delivery of multi-stream audio to up to 4 users

– Support for 21:9 aspect ratio

– Maximum throughput: 18 Gbit/s

The cables and connectors haven’t changed, the definition of the data that can be transmitted along the wires has changed.

Apple and HDMI 2.0

Apple is a member of The HDMI Forum, so what does 2.0 mean for Apple products?

In June Apple previewed this year’s new Mac Pro. Many were surprised that Apple included six Thunderbolt 2 ports and an HDMI 1.4 connection. Firstly, Thunderbolt 2 had only been announced a few days before by Intel with the first products using the new standard expected in 2014. Secondly, given that Apple said that the Mac Pro is designed to be a full 4K editing device, why include an HDMI port that can only handle 24 frames a second at 4K?

MacPro_small

MacPro_connections

HDMI 2.0 could explain some of the Mac Pro specification. Thunderbolt 2 is implemented using Intel’s Falcon Ridge I/O controller. It doubles the possible maximum throughput of the connection in one direction from 10 Gbit/s to 20 Gbit/s.

Currently Apple’s Mac Pro page states that it will have an HDMI 1.4 connector. As the I/O controller on the Mac Pro will be able to transfer up to of data 20 Gbit/s along Thunderbolt 2, maybe the HDMI port will be upgraded to 2.0 on launch day to transfer up to 18 Gbit/s of video and audio. HDMI 2.0 is electrically identical to HDMI 1.4: the wires and ports are the same. It’s probably a matter of upgrading the firmware in the I/O controller. The HDMI site says that ‘The HDMI 2.0 Compliance Test Specification is expected to be released before the end of 2013.’

It also allows Apple to launch a range of 4K monitors that use HDMI 2.0 data standards. Knowing Apple however, they may transmit the HDMI video and audio signals along a special Apple-flavoured Thunderbolt 2 cable instead of using standard HDMI connectors and cables.

HDMI 2.0 might mean there’s more to the Mac Pro’s 4K ambitions than Thunderbolt 2 and a new version of Final Cut Pro X.

When Steve Jobs launched the iPhone 4 in March 2010, one of the big new features was a much higher resolution screen. The iPhone 3GS 3.5″ screen displayed 320 by 480 pixels. The new phone displayed 640 by 960 pixels in the same space. The number of pixels displayed per inch increased from 163ppi to 326ppi.

Developers didn’t have to change the layouts of their applications to run on the new phone. Instead of displaying 320 by 480 apps at half the size on the 640 by 960 screen, the new version of iOS used twice the pixels horizontally and vertically to show the same content. Since then developers have designed their iPhone apps to work on 320 point wide screens even though the vast majority of users will see them on 640 pixel wide screens.

Apple marketed this new screen as a ‘Retina display’. Apple later said that the definition of a  Retina display is a screen where individual pixels cannot be distinguished at a normal viewing distance. In the case of the new phone, it would have to have a screen resolution of at least 300ppi when used at a distance of 10-12 inches. The combination of figures is summarised as ‘Pixels per Degree’ – the number of pixels per degree as seen from a specific distance. 300ppi at 10″ equates at a PPD of 53. The iPhone resolution of 326ppi at 10″ has a PPD of 57.

Minutes after the launch, Apple fans started speculating when other products would get a Retina display update. The top of the range iPod Touch followed in September 2010. The iPad got a Retina display in March 2012, followed soon after by Retina MacBook Pros in June 2012.

With every new launch event, may hope for a Retina display as part of the specifications for new Apple products. But what does Retina mean for iMacs and desktop displays?

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In August 2010 (almost a year before the introduction of Final Cut Pro X) Apple applied for a user interface patent that is relevant to colour correcting video clips. They were awarded patent 8,468,465 today.

Although Apple has chosen a different UI for colour correction in Final Cut Pro, the UI shown in this new patent may turn up in future Apple applications.

Abstract

Some embodiments provide a computer program that provides a graphical user interface (GUI) for controlling an application. The GUI includes a contiguous two-dimensional sliding region for defining several values. The GUI also includes several sliders for moving within the sliding region. Each slider selects one or more values from the several values based on a position of the slider within the sliding region. The selected values are parameters for controlling one or more operations of the application.

Excerpt

2D-sliders_fig_16

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The main complaint many people have about the forthcoming Mac Pro is the lack of internal expandability. Post-production professionals have Mac Pros with PCIe cards for important functions, internal storage and disc burners. They’ve invested a lot of money in workflows that require this hardware.

I’ve come up with a product idea that might satisfy many people with this complaint: A PCI Express card that can be installed in an older Mac Pro that uses one or two Thunderbolt 2 cables to connect to a 2013 Mac Pro. This would turn the old Mac Pro into an expansion chassis for the new Mac Pro.

This solution would provide access to the other PCI Express cards in the old Mac plus internal storage and disc burners (by connecting internal cables to the card if access via the PCI bus is a problem).

Such a card is easier to engineer than a whole expansion chassis. The old Mac Pro provides everything needed but the interface.

You could even attach more than one old Mac Pro to a 2013 Mac Pro using this method…

A valid idea for Kickstarter? The pro][pro card for your new Mac Pro… and your old Mac Pro too.

pro2pro-promo

Here’s how a powerful AMD graphics card compares with what Apple has announced about the AMD FirePro GPUs in the forthcoming Mac Pro.

AMD FirePro S10000 2013 Mac Pro GPUs
Stream Processors 2 x 1792 2 x 2048
Memory Bus Width 2 x 384 bit 2 x 384 bit
VRAM 2 x 3 GB 2 x 6 GB
Single Precision 5.91 TFLOPS 7 TFLOPS (OpenCL)
Launch Price $3,599 ????

If you visit Apple’s 2013 Mac Pro page, you’ll see a sneak peek of the Mac Pro being released later this year.

One feature of the page are videos showing internal elements of the computer. In order to have a close look at how it’s put together, here are the videos as a single movie:

If you want to get the source video, visit its Vimeo page and click the Download button. This is is helpful if you’d like to step through the video frame by frame.

Room for improvement?

As regards how upgradeable the computer will be, it might be almost as easy as the old Mac Pro to modify. Apple have already stated that memory and flash storage will be user-configurable, however based on stepping through the Apple video, it seems as if the central chassis is put together with hex screws, and the three main boards are attached with a few screws:

mac-pro-2013-graphics-cards

The base board is then attached to the three card sockets:

Mac-Pro-base

Perhaps Apple will offer a configuration of the Mac Pro with only one GPU card, and publish the specs for third parties to supply CPUs.

Configuring Mac Pros with alternate GPU cards will have to be done by confident engineers, but probably won’t require a visit to an Apple Store.

According to a ‘friend of a friend’ report from the Worldwide Developer’s conference posted to the CGSociety forum:

OK – I have a friend the WWDC and he has asked a lot of questions to the right guy. The Graphics cards in this new macpro are swappable. But they are bespoke and a new form factor it seems. Ram / GPU and the Main drive is all updatable – it does seem that there is the possibility of installing 2 or more of these PCIe drives…

Future versions of the Mac Pro may have more space for GPU cards. With a slightly larger enclosure, there could be four instead of two:

3-cards,-5-cards

Professionals welcome

With the announcement of this computer, there’s no doubt that Apple is still interested in professional markets. Despite the relatively limited opportunities for making billions in profits, they must see value in serving those who want the fastest personal computers in their offices.

The most distinctive feature of the sneak peek is the fact that Apple felt under enough pressure to pre-annouce the computer at all. The Apple of 10 years would have created an Autumn 2013 event in Los Angeles featuring professionals from the film, TV and music industries extolling the virtues of Apple’s professional hardware and software solutions.

What else can we get them to do?

Apple’s new streaming service is called iTunes Radio. Not iMusic. What elements could be included that would justify such a name?

The current music streaming services offer very large music libraries to those that pay a subscription fee, or to accept listening to adverts. Although streaming services have features named ‘radio’, they don’t sound much like broadcast radio.

I think there is room for a streaming service that adds elements of radio: the shared experience, regular elements, a reliable schedule.

FutureRadio = Purchased music + Streamed music + Curated music + Shared experiences

Imagine a service that combines purchased music, music that fits well with purchased music and shared audio experiences.

Curated music in this case starts with algorithmically chosen music that works well with the music you want to listen to. iTunes has a ‘Genius’ command that creates playlists of tracks from your library that fit the genre or mood of a chosen track. Spotify has a ‘Radio’ feature that creates playlists based on an artist, genre or time period.

Curation doesn’t only have to come from software algorithms: it could come from the playlist of a favourite radio station or radio show. Radio station playlists change periodically, some every week, some every few months. Radio show playlists could be based on the music played over the previous years, year, month or week. The playlist could be the exact tracks played on a recent show.

There is also a place for non-music content on a radio service.

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MacPro fans are waiting for Apple to announce an update to their favourite computer. Many hope that Monday’s Worldwide Developer Conference keynote speech will end their long wait.

This time last year an email purported to be from Tim Cook was posted to the MacRumors forums:

Thanks for your email. Our Pro customers like you are really important to us. Although we didn’t have a chance to talk about a new Mac Pro at today’s event, don’t worry as we’re working on something really great for later next year.

Those few words have been pored over since then. Some pointed out that Tim’s email didn’t say that there would be a new MacPro ‘later next’ year, just that Pro customers would get ‘something really great.’

More recently Drew Baird posted the following to the reduser.net forums:

For what it’s worth – a couple of months ago I received a call from Douglas Brooks, Apples project manager for the new Mac Pro to address my concerns about the new machine. Obviously he didn’t tell me anything about the new MP, but asked me what I wanted to see. I told him expandability for extra graphics cards support, and memory expansion were at the top of my list amongst other things. His reply was simple:

“You are going to be really glad that you waited [to buy a new tower]. We are doing something really different here and I think you’re going to be very excited when you see what we’ve been up to. I can’t wait to show this off”.

That conversation gave me enough confidence to wait for the new machine. I’m looking forward to the announcement. Hopefully the wait will be worth it.

If this is true, the MacPro replacement is unlikely to look like the current model in any way.

More recent MacPro rumours suggest that the new hardware may have more GPU power, but will not have FireWire, optical drives or internal expansion. Some suggest that the new pro computer will be the hardware that Apple is manufacturing in the U.S. as high-end customers are less likely to complain about the extra costs of home manufacturing.

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