Today Apple announced a number of new products including updates to their iPad lineup, a new Mac Mini, and a brand new iMac – which may be one of the best 4K editing systems you can get your hands on. The MacPro is undeniably still going to be a faster computer, but for the majority of editors having a 5K display built right into their system may be more beneficial than having the extra speed that the MacPro offers.
I run a couple of different systems for my editorial work and general business use, with the majority of the workload being done on my 12-core MacPro tower. This system was bought in 2012 and to this day is still running beautifully, considering the amount of use that it gets and the type of work that I throw at it. The only real complaint that I have with it at this point is that it doesn’t have a Thunderbolt port or USB 3, which is a pain when I need to utilize those connections. Even though the system is working very well at the moment though, I know that eventually I am going to need to upgrade as I am getting more and more 4K/5K projects and the demands of any individual production that I am currently working on are far greater than they were a couple years back when I bought this computer.
Up until this point, I had my heart set on the new MacPro. There was no question that it was going to be the best option for my needs, and my intention was to pick one up this winter… I have been waiting on a refresh and gave myself until December/January to see if they update it, otherwise I was planning on buying the current model. Today however, when the new iMac was released I started to consider it as a viable option for my work and a potential alternative to the MacPro.
For those of you that want to get up to speed on the new iMac, here is a clip from today’s event:
For more on the new iMac, be sure to visit apple.com
How Offline/Online Editing Has Changed
Before I go into why I think the iMac is going to be the go-to choice for many editors, I want to quickly preface things by looking at how the offline/online editorial system has changed over the years.
Up until very recently, an offline/online process meant something very different than it does today. In the early film days, and offline edit was achieved by cutting together a lower quality film print (a copy of the original of course), and then the online edit involved re-cutting that material from the original print, to maintain optimal quality. Once things went digital, that process naturally evolved so that the offline edit was done with a proxy version of the original file (and usually being cut on a slower machine), and the online edit was done on a faster machine with the original source footage… This generally mirrored what was done in the film days, but just replacing film stocks with digital assets.
Over the past few years though, things have slowly and silently changed with regards to the offline/online process. In fact, they have changed so much that even skilled and experienced producers often get the terminology incorrect and aren’t fully aware of what happens in each stage.
Today, a relatively inexpensive laptop is capable of cutting native 4K footage (it just might require that the editing software is set to 1/2 or 1/4 quality), whereas just a few years ago that idea would have been ludicrous. As such, many editors now are regularly cutting RED, Alexa, and F55 footage on consumer level systems and are effectively bypassing what used to be the offline/online conforming process – Consequently blurring the lines between offline and online editor. If an editor wants to conform their timeline to full res, all they need to do is select ‘full quality’ in their NLE of choice (as opposed to 1/2 or 1/4), and render out that file. The only real issue is that they are likely unable to play back in full resolution 4K, and need to down-res (or render out) in order to see their work in full quality.
All that said, clearly the notion of ‘offline/online editing’ is very different from what it once was. In fact, I would say that the terms ‘editorial’ and ‘finishing’ are much more representative of what’s actually happening than ‘offline’ and ‘online’. The new iMac in many ways will serve the current approach to editing and finishing very well, by giving the editor a 4K ready system that can take their work all the way up to color correction and delivery.
Why The iMac Could Be The Ultimate 4K Workhorse
I’ve already gone over the fact that so many ‘offline editors’ are already cutting in 4K, and doing so by simply down-rezzing their footage within their NLE to be able to edit it. Imagine though, if those same editors had the ability to edit that footage in full resolution and even preview it back in 4K or 5K for their clients, and the affect that it might have on their work and the services that they could offer. That same offline editor that previously was limited to working at a lower resolution, can now offer their clients (usually producers/directors), a more thorough editorial process by keeping more of the pipeline internalized and not relying on another party to conform the footage and deal with as much of the workflow. For smaller productions, the same machine could be used to edit, color correct, and create deliverables, and on larger projects it could simply be used to create and prep the edit for the colorist/finishing team so that the pipeline is far more streamlined and efficient.
If nothing else, the iMac is an exceptionally powerful machine. For day to day usage, it is going to be more than fast enough to cut the majority of 4K/5K material natively and display that content beautifully and accurately. For me personally, it seems like the ultimate 4K machine in that it does so much right out of the box without the need for accessorizing or additional configuration.
All that said, I do still think the MacPro has an important place too. For me personally, I might use a MacPro more heavily for color grading/rendering as it will work faster and more efficiently, while the iMac might be my first choice for so called ‘offline editing’. That’s not to say that each system can’t be used for both editorial and finishing work, but just that one might be geared more towards editorial and the other towards finishing. Either way, both machines are capable of editing the vast majority of 4K material being shot today, and choosing between these two machines likely comes down to whether or not you need a 5K display, and how much (if any) rendering/color/fx work you’re doing.
If you missed my last post-related article, be sure to click here to read about how both FCP X and Premiere are now being used on major Hollywood feature films!
Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!