Tag Archives: Larry Jordan

Configuring an iMac Pro for video editing

By Larry Jordan

Ever since Apple released the iMac Pro, my inbox has been clogged with people asking advice on how to configure their system. This article is designed to help you make more informed decisions when you don’t have an unlimited budget. Also, while the iMac Pro is designed for many different markets, I’m focusing here on digital media.

If money is no object, buy the top of the line. It will be blindingly fast, it will work great and you’ll have enormous bragging rights. But… if money IS an object, then you need to make trade-offs, balancing the performance you need with the money you have. The good news is that you don’t need to buy the top-of-the-line to get a system today that can meet your editing needs for the next several years.

Some background
When Apple rebuilt Final Cut to create FCP X, they focused on upgrading its underlying architecture to take advantage of coming advances in hardware. This includes an all-64-bit architecture, optimization for core technologies including Metal, tight integration with both CPU and GPU and the ability to take advantage of faster I/O — both to the processors and storage.

There are no optimizations in Final Cut, Motion or Compressor that focus specifically on the iMac Pro. Instead, Apple’s media apps take advantage of whatever technology or performance benefits are provided in the hardware. In other words, there are no new features in FCP X that appear if it is running on an iMac Pro. What does appear is faster performance.

This is from the Apple website, comparing the iMac Pro to the fastest Quad core iMac:

“The iMac Pro takes Mac performance to a new level, even when compared to our fastest quad-core iMac.”

  • Photographers can work with enormous files and perform image processing up to 4.1 times faster.
  • Music producers can export massive multi-track projects up to 4.6 times faster and use up to 12.4 times as many real-time plug-ins.
  • Video editors can edit up to eight streams of 4K video, or edit 4.5K RED RAW video and 8K ProRes 4444 at full resolution in realtime without rendering. The iMac Pro can also export HEVC video three times faster.

Keep in mind that Apple reports these performance numbers are based on: “Testing conducted by Apple in November 2017 using pre-production 2.3GHz 18-core Intel Xeon W-based 27-inch iMac Pro systems with 128GB of RAM and pre-production 3.0GHz 10-core Intel Xeon W-based 27-inch iMac Pro systems with 64GB of RAM, both configured with Radeon Pro Vega 64 graphics with 16GB of HBM2.”

Do You Really Need an iMac Pro?
Well, “need” is a relative term. If you principally work with SD or HD material, an iMac will be perfectly fine. The performance benefits of the iMac Pro don’t justify the expense. If you are hobbyist, no, you don’t need an iMac Pro. You might “want” one, but you don’t “need” one.

However, if the bulk of your work involves 4K or greater frame sizes, 360-degree VR, RAW files, or HDR, the performance benefits of this new system make it worth considering, because the design of the iMac Pro significantly speeds working with larger frame sizes, faster frame rates, more effects and more processor-intensive codecs (such as HEVC).

With that being said, let’s take a look at the specific components to see which ones make the most sense for video editing.

Display
The iMac Pro uses the same display technology as the 5K iMac. So everything you see on a current iMac looks the same on the iMac Pro:

– 5K display
– One billion colors
– P3 wide color gamut
– 500 nits

But, while the display of the iMac Pro is the same as an iMac, the display capability of the iMac Pro is greater:
– It can drive two other 5K displays or up to four other 4K displays.
– It has enhanced external connectivity and more Thunderbolt 3 ports (so you still have Thunderbolt ports left over for other accessories after connecting a display).

CPU
Before the shouting starts, let me say again that if money is no object, buy the top-of-the-line iMac Pro. However, for most of the editing that most of us are doing, we don’t need to buy the top-of-the-line system to get significantly improved editing performance.

The 8-core system is fine for most editing and compression. For example, H.264 compression takes advantage of a hardware encoder that is built into all current Macs. This hardware encoder is independent of CPU cores. However, there are benefits to more cores, especially when decoding and encoding heavily threaded codecs like ProRes or HEVC. Also, the 10-core system offers a higher Turbo Boost speed of 4.5GHz versus 4.2GHz for the 8-core CPU. This additional speed benefits rendering and exporting.

The 14- and 18-core systems are designed for applications other than video editing. I would invest my money elsewhere in the system because video editors will see greater benefits in upgrading RAM and GPU when using Final Cut Pro on an iMac Pro.

An exception to staying within a 10-core system is that editors using Red Raw media or working with multiple streams of ProRes — for example, multicam work — will see improved performance with higher-core systems.

I recommend 8 cores for general editing and 10 cores for multicam editing and RAW video workflows.

Performance vs. Heat 
One of the issues I’ve heard about the current Mac Pro is that it has a problem with heat under heavy load. What I discovered is that, even more than the Mac Pro, the iMac Pro internals are designed specifically to dissipate heat under heavy load.

Outside, the iMac Pro is millimeter for millimeter the same size and shape as a standard 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display; outside of the space gray color and a few extra vents on the back. But, on the inside, it’s radically different.

One of the key things Apple was able to do is make the system all flash-based; 3GB/s of fast SSD is pretty darn fast! Switching to all flash allowed Apple to remove the 3.5” hard drive and use that large space for a dual blower design and a massive heatsink and heat pipe architecture.

This delivers 75% more airflow and 80% more thermal capacity, enabling far more CPU and GPU power in the box over a traditional iMac. It is also worth noting that it does all this while still being super quiet (it is an iMac, after all), letting you focus on your work.

GPUs
In general, cutting video tends to use more of the CPU while effects and graphics tend to rely more heavily on the GPU. Increasingly, both FCP X and Premiere rely on the GPU for more and more tasks. Also, the greater the VRAM, the better the GPU performance. Whether you use Motion, After Effects, Premiere or Final Cut, investing in the best GPU will be a wise choice.

While VRAM is important, it is not the only determinant of a superior graphics card. For example, the Vega 64 is significantly faster in addition to the larger amount of VRAM. Also, more VRAM offers benefits when working with large frame sizes, multiple video streams (i.e. multicam), multiple displays and complex motion graphics.

RAM
The 32GB default RAM is fine for virtually all editing. If, on the other hand, you run multiple applications at once — say FCP X, Motion, Compressor, Photoshop and a web browser — 64GB of RAM is better.

While there is value in more RAM beyond 6GB, you won’t get enough bang for your buck to justify the additional cost.

Storage
The iMac Pro ships with a 1TB SSD. I haven’t measured it, but it is probably way past blindingly fast. (Apple says 3GB/second!) The problem is that most media projects today far exceed 1TB in storage. You will need an external high-speed, Thunderbolt 3 RAID system for even medium-sized projects.

Video Compression
Unlike video editing, video compression has its own requirements for system resources. While this is worth its own article here are some thoughts.

Both H.264 and HEVC are relatively highly compressed formats. This compression, of course, leads to smaller file sizes, but the resulting compression requires more processing power. With H.264 and HEVC, decoding and most encoding actions are processed via dedicated H.264 hardware within the system.

A select set of custom H.264 encodes in Compressor may use the H.264 software encoder, which is threaded across multiple cores. So while ProRes encoding benefits from faster, higher-core CPUs, H.264 and HEVC are not similarly CPU bound. Also, it’s important to note that video compression often includes other operations including retiming, scaling, and color conversion — all of which use the GPU.

If you are interested in HDR, 8-bit HEVC does, in fact, support HDR. Still, 10-bit encoding is recommended for the highest quality HDR output when using the HEVC codec. The reason this is important is that current Macs only support hardware acceleration of 8-bit HEVC. This makes the iMac Pro about 3x faster in HEVC encoding than an iMac.

For 10-bit encoding, the HEVC software codec is threaded and can therefore take advantage of multiple CPU cores when encoding; more cores means faster video encoding.

Wait, What About the Mac Pro?
First, Apple has announced and reiterated that they are working on a new, modular Mac Pro. However, they haven’t announced specs nor a release date.

The current Mac Pro is getting long in the tooth. In terms of performance, the iMac Pro is a better choice.

That being said, there are still two reasons to consider the existing Mac Pro:
– You can add any monitor you want
– Many of the components inside are upgradeable

For me, while these benefits are not trivial, the hardware inside the system has not be upgraded in several years. If you are focused on video editing, the existing Mac Pro is not the best current choice.

Summary
Here are my two recommendations for an iMac Pro for video editing: A budget version and a top-of-the-line version for editors. (The mouse and keyboard come standard, so I make no recommendations about either of these.)

Budget Version:


Top of the Line

Here are two other configuration articles you may find useful:


Larry Jordan is a trainer, writer, editor, producer and director who’s been explaining technology since, well, forever.This article first appeared in his website: LarryJordan.com

Panel: The future of post production — 4K and HDR

By Larry Jordan

Last week, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel sponsored by KeyCode Media and Sony on “The Future of Post: 4K and HDR.” We spent 90 minutes discussing whether it was time for editors and post facilities to start editing 4K and/or HDR images, and what changes these new formats would require.

The panel featured Michael Cioni, president, Light Iron; Mike Whipple, executive director of post, Sony Pictures Entertainment; and Bryan McMahan, senior digital colorist, Modern VideoFilm.

Some Background
4K is the term used to describe image frame sizes that are close to 4,000×2,500 pixels. 4K actually has a variety of different aspect ratios – Michael Cioni listed six off the top of his head – along with a variation of 4K called Ultra HD (UHD).

HDR is the term used to describe High Dynamic Range video, which provides more grayscale values than traditional video. HDR is described as more “life-like,” and is especially notable because it provides richer blacks and more vibrant highlights.

HDR generally requires RAW files using a bit depth of 12-bits or greater. This means that file sizes will be much larger than standard HD video files. Also, for best results, HDR images should not use a compressed video codec. Additionally, footage needs to be captured during production as HDR, you can’t add it to footage after the fact during post.

Wide Color Gamut is the term used to describe video with greater color saturation than traditional video. Not “different” colors, but richer, more saturated colors.

In the shorthand of the panel, these formats were described as: more pixels, more gray-scales and more saturation. These new image standards are described in a SMPTE spec called “Rec. 2020.” This is similar in concept, but not in values, to the Rec. 709 spec we use for HD or Rec. 601 we used for SD.

As Cioni said: “People often speak of 4K or HDR or Wide Color Gamut. But it isn’t “or,” it’s “and.” The video we’ll be editing in the future will contain higher-resolution images and greater dynamic range and wider color gamut. Think of it as three legs of a tripod supporting the video of the future.”

Making Adjustments
New video technology often requires making adjustments to support it, however from the artist’s perspective, those adjustments are fairly minor. As McMahan described, there’s no difference from the creative perspective when grading 4K video vs. 2K or HD. There may be more pixels to work with, but the techniques he uses still work.

There is, however, a difference between color grading HDR video vs. “SDR” (or “Standard Dynamic Range” video as Cioni called it). McMahan said it took him a day or two to get comfortable with the new HDR format.

Once McMahan became comfortable with the format, he said it took him about the same amount of time to color grade an HDR master as an SDR master. In fact, “I think I can do HDR a little faster than SDR, because I have a broader palette to work with.”

The big difference with HDR, all three panelists stressed, was not the workflow, but getting a monitor that properly displays HDR video. Here, prices are not cheap. While no specific brands were suggested, a color-grade-capable HDR monitor is in the $30,000 price range.

Which brought up a key question for me: “Where’s the money?”

Who’s Buying?
Of the three panelists, only Cioni is directly involved in client prospecting and billing. So he and I talked about how editors and post houses would make money in this new format.

Cioni charges a “little bit” more for editing 4K video and “more” for HDR. We didn’t get into specific pricing.

Then he surprised me by saying, “The money for HDR and 4K won’t come from broadcasters or cable. They are a long way from updating their infrastructure to support this technology because the upgrades are expensive and time consuming. The market is broadband companies — Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Microsoft and Apple — who are able to instantly deliver 4K media directly to the home via the Internet.”

This agrees with trends I’ve been seeing. Traditional broadcast audiences are declining for everything but live events, while audiences for Internet-based video delivery are skyrocketing. The money is still in the older distribution formats, but the audiences are on the web.

Can You See the Difference, and Does It Matter?
We had a long discussion on whether the typical audience can actually see the image improvements of 4K. While panel members felt that 4K is instantly perceptible, I am less sure. On the other hand, if editing 4K allows editors to get more work, I’m in favor of it whether anyone can see the difference or not.

Where the panel was all in agreement was that the differences in HDR were massively better than traditional HD video. As Bryan said: “Once you’ve seen a properly graded HDR image, going back to SDR looks flat and lifeless.”

At this point, Cioni made an interesting comment: “It is easy to make a 2K, even a 1080 version of a 4K master file. Those conversion transforms are well known and don’t damage the image. With HDR, there’s no easy way to convert from HDR to SDR. For those cases, you’ll need to create two different color grades of your material.”

Hardware Needs
If an editor is successfully editing 1080 video, they can probably step up to 4K without needing to buy much new gear. Clearly, 4K requires more storage space and a 4K video monitor if you need to see your images pixel accurately. But for most creative editing, seeing the image at full resolution is not necessary, which means that editors don’t need a 4K monitor to do the creative cut.

However, as Michael Whipple pointed out, it is important to see the image at full resolution at some point during the edit just to make sure shots are in focus. Viewing images in less than full resolution tends to hide focus problems.

HDR and Wide Color Gamut video requires vastly larger storage due to the size of the source files, plus video monitoring gear that allows display of the extended color range images.

The big gating factor, as McMahan pointed out, is that an HDR monitor suitable for color grading is about $30,000. Which means we need to find ways to charge more to cover the costs of the gear required.

NOTE: Currently, Avid Media Composer, Premiere Pro CC and Final Cut Pro X don’t support HDR, except in a very rudimentary fashion.

Future Proofing
I decided to put Cioni on the spot by asking: “We are currently shooting 4K, 5K, even 6K images. NHK in Japan is planning on airing 8K images next year and 16K was demonstrated at NAB last spring. Should we just wait for three months for all the resolution specs to change again?”

Michael replied: “I expect 4K to be a standard delivery format for the next 10 years. While resolutions we use in production will continue to increase, the resolution we deliver will remain constant for a while. This means that editorial houses can standardize on a 4K deliverable.”

“HDR will take longer to develop because we need to get HDR-capable TV sets into the home to drive demand. The interesting thing about HDR is that it looks great regardless of the resolution of the video. HD, even SD, looks much better when displayed using HDR.”

Summary
It was a fascinating discussion, which made me realize that both high-resolutions and HDR/Wide Color Gamut are in our future. Bu maybe not today, due to a lack of widespread software support and companies focused on streaming to the web.

But, the future evolves faster than we think and last night’s discussion gave me a good idea of where we are headed. Thanks to KeyCode for allowing me to be a part of this discussion.

A video of the complete panel is below.

Larry Jordan is a producer, director, editor, writer, consultant and trainer who has worked in media for more than 40 years. He runs the LarryJordan.com and DigitalProductionBuzz.com websites.

‘Creative Storage’ panel to address challenges, opportunities in post

The upcoming 2015 Creative Storage Conference will feature a session on digital storage in professional post production called “Putting it Together: Storage Challenges and Opportunities in Post Production.”

The session will examine the challenges facing post, such as the demand for networked and online storage and archiving working content, as well as semiconductor storage to speed performance. In addition, it will cover the fact that post production requires streaming video quality and latencies that are very different from traditional enterprise storage.

Larry Jordan (pictured) of Digital Production Buzz will moderate the session, which will include reports from end users and storage developers. The panel comprises Paul Speciale of Scality, Brian Campanotti of Oracle, Victor Pacheco of Promise Technology and Bernard Lamborelle of Tiger Technology.

The one-day Creative Storage Conference takes place Tuesday, June 30 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Culver City, California. The conference agenda and registration are available online at www.creativestorage.org. Registration closes June 26.

Larry Jordan offers discounted and tailored training to schools, students

By Randi Altman

Agoura Hills, California-based Larry Jordan & Associates, headed by industry vet and long-time trainer Larry Jordan, is now offering educational institutions as well as students discounted pricing and specially tailored training.

These discounts apply to tools professional editors are using out there in the world, including Apple Final Cut Pro X and Adobe Premiere Pro. Jordan and company will also make additional educational support materials available as well as the training.

On the heels of this announcement, we reached out to Jordan for some details.

Continue reading

Quick Chat: Larry Jordan on NAB 2014

By Randi Altman

As we approach NAB 2014, postPerspective thought it would be fun to throw a few questions at Larry Jordan (www.larryjordan.biz), who will once again be at the show with his podcast Digital Production Buzz,  (@DPBuZZ).

What do you think will be the hot topic at NAB this year?
Clearly, 4K is all the rage. We’ll see 4K everywhere — cameras, monitors, software… What’s interesting to me, though, is that computers are essentially 4K-capable already. The real Continue reading