Help me buy the right Mac for video editing?
May 31, 2006 11:16 PM   Subscribe

Buying a new Macintosh to edit video, I could ask Apple, but I'm asking MeFi:

With a little money in the bank, and the opp'ty for a slight discount, I want to buy my girlfriend the machine she needs to edit video (that's her job)

What I'd like to know is, what's the minimum system setup to do some proper video editing? Not iMovie level stuff, but not the super-high-end stuff either.

Further, I just can't believe that they released the Intel Macs without Final Cut available... does that mean that I should just wait for them to release that? Won't that drive down the costs of the G5 towers radically?

Finally, she travels quite a lot and could benefit from having her machine with her -- do any of you think a tricked-out Mini could be a proper video editor? How does a $2000 G5 tower compare to a $2000 MacBook, for these purposes?

And won't I have to buy all new super-expensive versions of Final Cut for the Intel-base, when they even come out with it?

Anyway, I know there's a lot of places to turn for this info, but any personal information you've got is valuable.
posted by cloudscratcher to Computers & Internet (19 answers total)
Final Cut Universal Crossgrade works well even on MacBooks, you don't need a MacBook Pro. I read something about this a couple of days ago.
posted by evariste at 11:25 PM on May 31, 2006

posted by evariste at 11:26 PM on May 31, 2006

Final Cut Pro is now Universal. So if you buy a Universal application you can run it on both PPC and Intel Macintoshes.

The Mini has a slow hard drive and poor video card. If she needs to travel, maybe a 15" or 17" MacBook Pro with a faster hard drive is the best setup.

A quad G5 tower with SATA drives will be faster than the MacBook Pro but is obviously not portable.
posted by Mr. Six at 11:27 PM on May 31, 2006

The chart there is exactly what you asked for, btw: G5 Tower vs. MacBook and MacBook Pro. Apple is officially "not supporting" MacBooks to run Final Cut, but it works just fine anyway. If you're not worried about Apple "supporting" it (all that means is that they'll answer your questions about it on the phone, and honestly, who cares?) then buy her a MacBook. There's really not much reason to buy a MacBook Pro considering how little you get over and above what the MacBook gets you.
posted by evariste at 11:29 PM on May 31, 2006

does that mean that I should just wait for them to release that?

They did! I missed that part of your question.
posted by evariste at 11:30 PM on May 31, 2006

The Macbook Pros aren't much faster than the Macbooks. But they have a bigger screen, which is really important for video editing...
posted by pollystark at 2:46 AM on June 1, 2006

Checkit: Apple are still offering the universal crossgrade cheap - if you can find yourself a secondhand standalone version of FCP4 or HD you can get Final Cut Studio 5.1 (which runs on both intel and regular systems) which includes DVD Studio Pro, Motion etc for a couple of hundred bucks.

You really need a lot of screen real estate to work comfortably editing - I would strongly suggest a tower - I'm fairly sure most G4s and I know for certain the G5s allow you to run dual monitors (I picked up 2 19inch flatscreens for $400AUD each).
posted by strawberryviagra at 3:42 AM on June 1, 2006

Minimum Setup:
MacBook Pro or G5. Keep in mind, sometime between now and Dec. there will be the Intel Mac Pros.

The MacBook, iMac, macmini, while being able to run the software (and being now all intel machines), might not be able to continue to run the software.

The choice of the Mac here has zero to do with "can it run?"'s about "will it continue to run?"

Aperture ran in version 1.0 on powerbooks...and in 1.1 some of the powerbooks stopped being able to run it, due to video card problems.

A Macbook pro, equals the performance of a dual G5 - so, realistically, it does the job well, if you want a portable solutoion. Keep in mind, you're going to add ram. And if you wait for the desktop intels, your dollar will buy much a much faster computer. You pay the premium for portability.

Further, I just can't believe that they released the Intel Macs without Final Cut available... does that mean that I should just wait for them to release that? Won't that drive down the costs of the G5 towers radically

Whoever told you that it's not available, is poorly informed. Since March, Apple has had the Universal Binaries (runs on both G4/5 architecture and Intel architecture). The cost to crossgrade is $50 (the cost of the DVDs.) If you have just FCP (or a pair of the pro apps from prior versions) you'll be able to upgrade to Final Cut Studio (all the video Proapps) at a reduced fee. You can no longer buy FCP by itself.
posted by filmgeek at 3:50 AM on June 1, 2006

How much of a rush are you to buy a new system? In August (7-11th) Apple will be having their big developer conference of the year and will almost certainly release their Intel based Powermac line to replace the G5 based Powermacs. If you can, hold off until these are released as they will easily beat the pants off of the G5 systems.
posted by BioCSnerd at 5:13 AM on June 1, 2006

For what it's worth, my 733mhz G4--which I assume is far inferior to anything currently on the market--can handle video editing. I've editing a lot of short films on it, some semi-professionally. I run Final Cut Pro 4.5, and it works fine (at least with miniDV--I've never tried editing HD.) I'm sure that, at some point, Apple will release a version of CFP that won't run on my rig--but nobody forces you to buy new versions, now, do they?

That said, I'm getting a little tired of hitting "Render" and then going off to get a cup of tea for 20 minutes while my computer chugs along. So I for one plan on doing exactly what BioCSnerd suggests; I'm snatching up an Intel-based desktop mac as soon as they're released.

But what I'm saying is, if you're looking for the absolute cheapest Mac rig that will let you edit miniDV footage, I can testify that a 733mhz G4 will do the trick, and I bet you can buy 'em cheap on eBay. For anything more expensive, you will basically be paying more in order to spend less time staring at the progress bar while rendering or exporting.

For me, it's worth paying more money to save more time. Depending on how much money you've got and how much time your girlfriend has, the calculations may be different for you.

By the way, the main drawback to a laptop is that the hard drives tend to be small; video editing uses a LOT of hard drive space.
posted by yankeefog at 6:06 AM on June 1, 2006

The MacBook screen is pretty crappy -- bad tint, colour ghosting -- so I'd also tend towards the MBP for video editing on the move.
posted by bonaldi at 6:41 AM on June 1, 2006

One of the biggest impediments is hard drive space and i/o bandwidth. If you're thinking mini, think of getting an external firewire drive with a ton of space, heck get two, one for the OS and one for video footage. Make sure that the drive has a firewire through port and isn't just an endpoint.
posted by plinth at 6:48 AM on June 1, 2006

do you live in the nyc area? if so, talk to the folks at tekserve. unless some of them are mefites, I'd say your chances of getting better pricing/hardware/performance advice here are slim to none.

other than that, what folks have been saying above.
posted by shmegegge at 7:34 AM on June 1, 2006

Two things that no one else have seemed to mention. 1) Get the computer filled with as much memory as possible. 2) Make sure to get a fast hard drive or two (say 7200 RPM).

It's possible to edit in Final Cut on a G4, we did it at school. The thing is, in the long run, you'd probably be much better off buying something really nice now (say a shiny G5), and then not having to buy a new thing for several years. Especially since now it's possible to use fun software like Motion.
posted by drezdn at 7:48 AM on June 1, 2006

Response by poster: well, that's a lot of good advice

to the point of being able to edit on a G4, that's what she's been doing... indeed, it's the issues you guys have named. I've run out of tea to serve her while she waits for render. And then, her g4 is crap, in terms of actual hardware (lot of time in the shop).

As for the screens on the macbooks, in general, she just needs to get from one monitor to another... it's hard to edit on a little screen no matter how good it is.

But it sounds like a MacBook with FC Universal is the place to start. And that comparison chart link, evariste, is great. Exactly what I needed!

So... do I use a 15% discount to buy now or wait another few months for a price drop?
posted by cloudscratcher at 8:36 AM on June 1, 2006

Possible to edit on a G4? I used FCP2 on a G3. The practical limitation for anyone doing more than a one-off project is hard drive space, not horsepower. I know many people who have edited feature-length projects on G4 Powerbooks with a stack of firewire drives hanging off the side.

That being said... If she needs this computer for serious work, and portability is only a bonus and not a requirement, get the most powerful G5 you can afford. If that is not practical, then maybe this is a truly heartfelt gesture but not an appropriate gift - Perhaps the two of you can pool resources to get a really souped up system. Sorry to be something of a wet blanket, but buying behind the curve of technology is a recipe for dissatisfaction.

And even that being said, if you do decide to get a less than top-shelf system, she will absolutely be able to edit on it and get things done. FCP is resource aware, and pretty much runs fine on 90% of the available systems. The one exception being that I have heard running it on the mini is not great. I know someone very happily editing on a G5 iMac. As mentioned above, maxing out the RAM will be very helpful whichever system you end up with, and given the ever dropping cost of hard drives, and the fact that they are easily purchasable as needed (and possibly billed to clients), a RAM upgrade would be the first modification I would make.

Also, crossgrading from a second-hand version of FCP, while an excellent way to get a supported serial number, is not legit or in the spirit of the offer:
Qualifying products must be purchased from Apple or an Apple Authorized Reseller located in the 50 United States, the District of Columbia, or Canada.
It might feel better to be giving Apple some money, but its probably not more legal than than if you just download the program or "borrow" an installer.
posted by mzurer at 8:51 AM on June 1, 2006

I can't see any legal issues if you buy a legitimate second hand copy - it was, afterall originally purchased from Apple. All Apple ask for is the original install disc for the application in exchange for the crossgrade (I did it myself, although I already had the install discs that I paid in full).
posted by strawberryviagra at 4:21 PM on June 1, 2006

Hmmmm. Looking over the s/w license agreement and the crossgrade form, I think you may be right - I read the quoted text to mean the submitter must have purchased from Apple or Authorized Apple Reseller, but that's not neccesarily clear...
posted by mzurer at 5:21 PM on June 1, 2006

Some personal information regarding the subject:

I recently got my employer to buy me a 20" iMac Core Duo w/2GBs of RAM and the 256MB video card option. I'm running the Universal Binary Final Cut Studio 5.1, and it's running fast and smooth. I've got a cheapo 17" TFT connected to the mini-DVI port of the iMac for some more screen real estate.

I've never done serious computerized video editing before, so I'm just learning as I go, working through the supplied tutorials and some old digitized S-VHS footage I had lying around. But I certainly couldn't hope for any faster operation. I'm even running WinXP on Parallels Workstation RC2 on the side, with 512MB of memory allocated to it, with no resulting hiccups on the FCP/Motion side.

There's plenty enough room for the FCP interface on the 20" display, and whatever support material is needed on the 4:3 aspect ratio 17" one. If you were to attach a Cinema Display or another widescreen TFT as the secondary display, you'd be even better off.

So, I don't know about some truly hardcore editors, but I can see this setup filling all my needs long time into the future. The upcoming Mac Pros will naturally have more expansion options, but as long as I get an external 1GB Ethernet or Firewire connected RAID box on the side, I can't imagine needing anything else.

A MacBook Pro would be fine, too, I imagine, as both have Radeon GPUs. Just be sure to get the 2 gigs of RAM.
posted by lifeless at 12:14 AM on June 2, 2006

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