A return to form, but don't call it a comeback. The 2021 MacBook Pros are the refresh that Apple users have wished for since they first got their hands on the Touch Bar and butterfly keyboards of the last generation (I think it's now safe to say that most people didn't like those changes). Now, with added power from the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, the current MacBook Pro is easily the best laptop for video editors.
The M1 Max chip adds hardware that specifically improves video editing workflows—especially for ProRes formats. Plus, the 16" model is less thermally limited than the 14" version and even offers a High Power mode for when you need the maximum in performance. Dedicated areas of the chip for video encode/decode—an extra one on the Max—will speed up video-editing tasks. Extra CPU cores will also help power through different video formats, such as raw.
All these features combined make it easy to recommend the 16" MacBook Pro with M1 Max for video editors.
They Have the Power
The main event must be the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. The move to Apple silicon is the biggest change for the MacBook Pro lineup and these new chips are far more powerful than the original M1. The Pro and Max are based on the same underlying architecture, they are just more of it. The original M1 split its eight cores between four performance cores designed for heavy-duty work and four efficiency cores that minimize draw for less intense tasks. Now, with the M1 Pro and Max, you are going up to 10 cores, with eight being performance cores and two being efficiency cores. The math makes it easy to say that these new chips are more powerful.
Early Geekbench results pin the M1 Pro (10-core) and Max in the mid 12,000s. That's impressive. To match that with other Macs you would have to go for a Mac Pro with at least 12 cores, and to beat it you'll be looking for 16 cores or more. Keep in mind that entire platform and processor bump is going to cost multiple times that of the MacBook Pro and be far more power hungry (plus, it's not a laptop). To compare to the standard M1, that only posts up in the mid 7,400s. The M1 Pro/Max are certainly giving you more power.
In real-world use, running DaVinci Resolve and Premiere Pro, we noticed smooth operations running with 4K footage, whether it was in a compressed format like H.265 or using ProRes. Exports and use of ProRes absolutely deserve another mention, though. The dedicated encoders/decoders for ProRes, especially the two of them on the M1 Max, make using ProRes incredibly smooth.
In my experience, I was able to run more than seven streams (I stopped adding at this point) of 4K All-I H.264 footage in Resolve without any dropped frames. Exporting a couple-minute clip to ProRes was an operation counted that took just seconds.
Compared to my M1 Mac mini and more aging 15" MacBook Pro, from 2016, these are all notable gains and make the new MacBook Pro a viable option for even my most intense projects.
Power Is Great, This Screen is Even Better
Refreshes of popular and powerful laptops are always good for video editing because they bring the latest chips—the M1 Pro and M1 Max being incredibly impressive—with huge power increases for faster performance. Still, power isn't everything. Honestly, what sold me on picking up the 2021 MacBook Pros for editing was the screen.
Labeled a "Pro Display XDR" by Apple, the screen on the MacBook Pro is, in real-world terms, based on mini-LED technology. This concept takes the idea of local dimming (using multiple light sources to backlight the screen, which can be independently controlled) and takes it up to 11. Using more than 10,000 LEDs, you can control incredibly small areas of the display, improving contrast dramatically. It's close to OLED in terms of performance but without risk of burn-in and a much brighter maximum. There is no gray screen when it should be black during video playback.
Speaking of specs, the MacBook Pro screen can hit a maximum sustained brightness of 1000 nits and a max peak of 1600 nits. In SDR (aka most use cases) it will hover at a still-good 500 nits. When HDR kicks in, however, you will see the extra contrast and brightness. Editing in DaVinci Resolve with HDR viewers turned on is an experience you have to see to understand.
Tack on brilliant color specs with essentially full support for all the important creative color profiles, thanks to true 10-bit rendering, and you have a screen perfectly optimized for video editing work.
Another note is the screen now adds ProMotion—Apple speak for 120 Hz and variable refresh rate. You can enjoy silky-smooth motion while still being able to lock down to more true frame rates to match your content. Another perk is that the MacBook Pro will dynamically ramp refresh rate up and down based on content. Reading a long PDF without much movement, it'll kick down to 24 Hz. Playing a game and you'll get the full 120 Hz. This will improve battery life by not running at full speed constantly.
Now, about blooming… This is a potential issue with mini-LED technology because it still relies on illuminating an area of pixels with a single light. If you have something bright white next to something that is completely black, you are going to have some slight bleed from the white area. Fortunately, it appears very well controlled; although there are moments when it is possible to see it, these will be edge cases. Average use won't see this as an issue.
Finally, let's talk about that notch. I see it. I went to settings, and I would say that with the taskbar on it becomes a non-issue—once your apps are updated. Resolve is ready and just moves its options across the notch. However, if you have a lot of stuff up in your menu bar, it could be an issue. Then again, I asked my wife to try the computer for a bit and do some work in Photoshop and After Effects and, after about an hour when I asked her about the notch, she said, "What notch?" Maybe the whole notch thing just doesn't matter to most people.
Long story short, the display on the MacBook Pro is an incredible upgrade.
HDR Grading on a Laptop
Deserving of its own section is that the MacBook Pro might just be the first consumer laptop to offer ways to grade HDR content accurately and effectively without needing extra hardware and displays. At home with my HDR experiments, I used to need a Blackmagic DeckLink PCIe card in a Thunderbolt™ enclosure and an HDR TV—which still isn't ideal. Now, I can effectively get the same quality as that setup (or maybe better) without plugging anything in.
Thanks to some nice upgrades to DaVinci Resolve and Final Cut Pro, you can enjoy HDR video natively in your viewers with the Pro Display XDR.
Please note: Professional colorists will tell you (and be correct) that this is not an alternative to a proper color-managed workflow with various outputs and properly calibrated displays. The MacBook Pro isn't going to replace that $30,000 grading monitor for feature films. However, everyday use or for YouTube uploads the HDR capabilities will be brilliant since most people will consume those videos on less precise phone screens and TVs.
If you have ever wanted to try some HDR grading for your projects, personal or otherwise, then the MacBook Pro gives you all the tools you need.
Want to learn how to start doing your own HDR work? Let us know exactly what you want to know in the Comments section, below.
Return of the Ports
This is where many video editors will be happy—Apple has brought back the ports on the latest MacBook Pro. Here is what we have today:
- 3 x Thunderbolt™ 4/USB-C
- HDMI 2.0
- SD Card Slot (UHS-II)
- MagSafe 3
- 3.5mm audio (w/ support for high-impedance headphones)
Let's dig into what this means. We can start with the HDMI port, since external monitor support is an important question. The M1 Pro can support up to two 6K Pro Display XDRs, while the M1 Max can drive three Pro Display XDRs plus a 4K TV. You can plug in a complete edit suite. You will need to use a combination of Thunderbolt™ and HDMI to fully max it out.
You can now offload (some) media without a card reader, with the built-in SD slot. I'm sure many of you will enjoy that, but many "pro" cameras have moved on to new formats such as CFexpress, so YMMV.
Instead of four Thunderbolt™ ports we only have three this go-around. However, they are the better Thunderbolt™ 4/USB4 variety. It seems the last port was sacrificed to give us the remaining ports. There's nothing so new about this update so I won't spend too much time on it.
Now, MagSafe I will spend time on. It's back! That alone is cause for celebration. Apple has made this third-gen version even better with faster charging and a more secure magnet. Weirdly, this might be a case where the magnets could be too strong. In my limited testing, you could drag the laptop across a desk with the MagSafe cable. When kicked or suddenly pulled it would disconnect quickly, though. Still not 100% comfortable just kicking it all day, but it is nice to have it back. The MagSafe port will also support fast charging to 50% in just 30 minutes. Don't worry, though—if you are partial to USB-C charging, you can still do that.
Finally, the 3.5mm headphone jack continues to survive and thrive. Apple added support for high-impedance headphones—a nice tweak.
We discussed efficiency earlier and the clearest benefit of that is with battery life. While there isn't a perfect test of how good these are, Apple states up to 17 hours of video playback for the 14" model and 21 hours for the 16". Those are major improvements over the previous models—10 additional hours for the 16". In use, you can feel that the new MacBooks are lasting far longer than their predecessors. A full day of mixed-use work is certainly possible with the new MacBooks, although you can still drain the battery if you are solely doing intense video editing.
Something to keep in mind is that these battery-life figures are based on the base M1 Pro chips, not the supercharged M1 Max. The extra GPU cores and dedicated chip components will drain more of the battery over time, even when you aren't making full use of them. If you are going for the full-power M1 Max, you might not see the top-of-the-line battery life. Still, in our tests with the 32-core GPU model, you can get enough power for a regular workday jumping between web browsing, text documents, image editing, and video editing.
One other thing to note is that the 16" will offer a high-power mode if you want to ensure maximum performance while you work. If you are often able to plug in this high-power mode, it could save you some time.
I can confirm that compared to my older MacBook Pro (a 2016 15" version), the new laptop just sips power. Going a whole day with a mix of tasks is not a problem anymore.
One of the most visible changes to the MacBook Pro is that it is bigger. They are noticeably thicker than the last-gen MacBook Pros. There is also a little more weight. Apple seems content to let the Pro models breathe a little better, and the upgraded cooling design inside supports this. In many cases, the 16" MacBook Pro we are using didn't even audibly kick on the fan until we were doing longer renders when the chips were running at max for a few minutes straight.
A welcome change is the return of a more traditional scissor-switch keyboard on which it feels a lot better to type. Plus, the Touch Bar has vanished and been replaced with a full-height function key row. Touch ID is still around, though, in the same place. No more accidental taps or weird bugs on this model.
The trackpad remains the same, which has been very good for a long time already. It's nice and large and responsive. No complaints.
It is worth mentioning that Apple upgraded the internal speakers, as well, and they do sound great. The six-speaker array promises 80% more bass and a clearer soundstage. There is also support for new spatial audio formats. If you often use the built-in speakers, you will enjoy this change.
Overall, the new MacBook Pros feel more Pro. This comes with some added heft, but it appears that the benefits far outweigh this downside.
Do you have any more questions about how the latest MacBook Pros will work in your workflow? Or about what configuration is right for you? Let us know in the Comments section, below! To read more about the new MacBook Pro laptops, click here.