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Apple Watch: The new Mac Pro

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Yes, I have one. For a couple of weeks. It's beautiful. Wow. You hear stories of Apple's build quality, but this thing takes the cake. Shiny, slick, round, heavy yet small - it looks like it came from the future. In a sci-fi film, this would look the part. In my office, it just looks like something from another planet, or the future.

I've seen one demonstrated, running 16 streams of 4k video into Final Cut Pro X (which has been optimised for the Mac Pro) without the Mac Pro's fan whirring any louder. Actually, I couldn't hear the Mac Pro's fan at all over the gentle hum of the room's air conditioning. The 2013 Mac Pro is apparently quieter than a Mac mini. Nor was there any noticeable warmth rising from the top vent of its induction core. And this demo unit was driving two Sharp 4K monitors (Apple doesn't make a 4K monitor yet - the current 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display has an impressive, though sub-4K, 2560x1440 resolution).

Really, to do it justice, I should plug my temporary Mac Pro into one of these beauties, but all I have is an old LG at 1680x1050. Sorry. But hey, if you know anyone who wants to lend me a 4K display for a few days of testing, let me know.

Also known as UHD displays, 4k monitors show four times the pixels of the current HD standard of 1080 pixels vertical. The cheapest I've seen in New Zealand is the Asus PQ321Q for $4600 at Computer Lounge. The models I saw in the demonstration were Sharp PN-K321 4K Ultra HD LED monitors which display images at 3840x2160 pixels. These are obviously rated by Apple, since Apple was selling them on the UK Apple Store for £3,499, or around NZ$7028 each.

The Sharp 4K display costs more than the Mac Pro tower, although 4K prices are sure to come down. The Sharp is compatible with the new Mac Pro thanks to DisplayPort (is, Thunderbolt), and it also has HDMI.

So what? Well, the Mac Pro can drive three of these ... out of the box.

So why would you? Because you have loads of money, maybe. (I'd be tempted.) But realistically, it's for film work. Shoot in high-definition digital, edit it in true style with a 4K/Mac Pro setup in Final Cut Pro X, and the quality of the finished product on a big cinema screen should be utterly fantastic.

It's already being done, of course - Pixar had pre-release Mac Pros to animate and render on (and as a test for Apple, presumably) from near the beginning of last year.

But the thing is, the last couple of years of iMacs, at the top end, can do this too. At the recent Digital Cinema Society meeting in December 2013, Neil Smith from LumaForge talked about a film being cut on Final Cut Pro X on iMacs. By the way, all that criticism of Final Cut Pro X? All addressed, please note. It's not the same software that was originally released as FCPX.

We don't know what this film will be, but Neil Smith explains (not in a very detailed way) the process of using iMacs running Mavericks and Final Cut Pro X for what he's been doing, with the most powerful plus being cost saving.

If you're interested in film and this debate and/or possibilities, check out the video.

This 2013 Mac Pro line focuses almost entirely on things true professional users need: multi-core performance, workstation-class GPUs and GPU computing. This is where unused GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) power is used by the CPU for extra computational power. It's a power user's dream. But the machine I think back most fondly about was an aluminium 2006 Mac Pro tower. That was awesome. It looked good, ran games like crazy and was a great work machine. Over the top? Sure. It was like a bloke having a Maserati when a Toyota would do fine. And about as rational a choice. But still, it was super-cool.

But I don't know if I could ever justify getting a new Mac Pro, no matter how much I tried to fool my ego. The new Mac Pro is the first Mac in a long time that's clearly, and almost exclusively, designed purely for real professional users.

Luckily I am very, very happy with my 2012 MacBook Pro. It's fast, powerful and the portability is great for presenting. If I was more serious about Final Cut Pro, a 27-inch iMac could handle it easily. (I do make projects in Final Cut and Logic, but only so I know how to use them in real-worldish situations.)

Besides, realistically, you could get a really powerful iMac and a top MacBook Pro for the same price as one Mac Pro tower, monitor etc (you need to even buy the keyboard and trackpad separately with the new Mac Pro - there's nothing in the box except the Mac Pro itself).

I'm not saying the Mac Pro is expensive - in fact, US studies of this Texas-assembled machine show that's it's remarkably well priced. If you tried to spec-out a PC to the same details, it would cost you US$2000 more.

This article notes "Indeed, if you're hoping to put all of the Mac Pro's computing power into a do-it-yourself machine, good luck trying to get everything to fit into a smaller footprint than the Mac Pro which is just 9.9 inches [25.5cm] tall and 6.6 inches [16.76cm] across."

Anyway, I will write more about this beautiful object over the next couple of weeks. On that note, I guess I should plug it in ...

It's a long time since the days when Weta mastered its three Lord of the Rings films on an old G3 tower because they were too nervous to change up to the already available, and way more powerful, Intel Mac Pro!

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