Microsoft Surface Pro, an Ideal Mobile Video Editing Machine?

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Conceptually speaking, the Microsoft Surface Pro might be the leading example of what modern computing has become, with many users not needing a full-fledged desktop setup, and others requiring just a bit more than what your average tablet can provide. The Surface Pro, now in its sixth iteration, is an interesting in-between option that may be perfect for many of today’s workers. I’m not exactly an average user, however, since I often use a MacBook Air to perform light video-editing duties that my iPad Pro cannot (such as running full applications—for instance, DaVinci Resolve), and I have been dreaming of the day when they could bring the two products into a single cohesive unit so I can stop carrying both, or choosing between one or the other before I leave for the day. I’m hoping the Surface Pro will be that ideal commuting machine.

A Lot of Style

Though some of you may disagree, I enjoy the look of the Surface Pro, especially when you add on the optional Signature Type Cover, with its soft Alcantara material. It’s something I enjoy carrying around, the 12.3" size is perfect for everyday carry, and the keyboard itself is properly sized, though I will always miss the keypad whenever I use a laptop to tablet—but that’s another story. To get back to the point, it is a sleek machine, and there are just enough ports on it to keep most of us happy. Personally, I do wish that the Surface Pro had a USB Type-C and/or Thunderbolt™ 3 port, either in addition to the USB 3.0 ports or to replace the Mini DisplayPort, because many current computers in this price range now offer it as a standard feature. The microSD slot could’ve been full size, but I know these are just some of the issues when you start to slim down and miniaturize these devices.

One thing that I think Microsoft nailed is the 12.3" PixelSense display, with outstanding 2736 x 1824 resolution for 267 ppi. It is sharp, bright, and very accurate when set to the sRGB profile. I do want to note that there is an “Enhanced” profile that tweaks these colors for better visuals, but I wouldn’t use it for color-critical work like video and photo editing, even if it is more pleasing to the eye. To top it all off, it is a 10-point touchscreen, as well, making it perfectly suitable to use as a tablet for quick browsing or reviewing of videos and images. When it comes to tablets and laptops, the screen is perhaps the most important aspect, since it takes up some real estate and can’t just be replaced in a year. If I had to ask for more here, I would want wider color gamuts, such as support for Adobe RGB or DCI-P3, or even HDR, but I understand those are still technologies that haven’t yet become ultra-widespread. Side note: the latest Surface Pen is highly functional, too, with excellent sensitivity and responsiveness, and it is a huge bonus for this display if you prefer a stylus for creative work.

As a tablet running a full OS, the Surface Pro is one of the top in the market for sure. Unfortunately, I do have to take it to task for its use as a laptop. First, the keyboard isn’t included, so unless you are upgrading (and don’t want the newer, nicer keyboard) you will need to purchase one. Second, to stand up, it requires the use of a kickstand on the back. It is a handy kickstand and is great for use in tablet mode, but it gets annoying if you, like me when I take the train to and from work, want to use it on your lap and may occasionally need to move it around and can’t necessarily keep it upright and balanced on your legs at every moment. As a final thought, if you really want to go back and forth between tablet mode and laptop mode, you will have to watch out for fingerprints, or have a decent cleaning cloth on hand at all times. Once again, it proves there is no simple solution when you start combining multiple product types.

Just Enough Power?

After admiring the design for a bit, I booted it up and put it to the video-editing test in the best way I knew how, running some compressed UHD 4K footage through DaVinci Resolve. This is a stress test for any computer; however, I was hoping that the new quad-core processor in the Surface Pro 6 would translate to superior performance over its predecessors. This is a good way for me to judge its ability to handle what is a fairly standard workflow for my videos.

For the test footage, I took some extra shots I had lying around from my Sony a7R III, so it was XAVC S 8-bit 4:2:0 at 100 Mbps. Loading everything up was nice and easy. The Surface Pro can easily handle the latest version of the software. I placed about a minute of footage on a timeline and applied some contrast and saturation to bring back the S-Log3 video, and besides an ever-so-slight delay loading the scopes on the color page as I adjusted, it did perform admirably. I wish this held true throughout, so let me tell you where the hiccups started popping up.

In a surprising move, the Surface Pro did manage close to real-time playback of UHD 4K footage when using the Proxy Mode. Before grading, it could hit about 16-18 fps and, after, it was about 8-10 fps. At export for YouTube 2160p, it averaged about 6-8 fps consistently, outputting a minute-long file in about 4-5 minutes, a notable improvement over the 2017 model. Though it may not be blazing-fast, it was reliably chugging through the work. Everything changed when I loaded up some Full HD video, however, because it could keep up most of the time with only minor stutters when heavier grades were applied. Granted, I know this is a tough test for a hybrid machine, though it was admirable. If you are working with Full HD, I would say it’s a perfectly acceptable mobile editing option. For 4K, I would say maybe if you wanted to use it to review footage or lay out an early draft of a timeline before moving to a more powerful workstation, the Surface Pro would be wonderful.

I want to take a second and illustrate how far the Surface Pro has come. Justin Dise used the Surface Pro 3 a few years ago and did very similar tests, though at that point it was still Full HD, exclusively. We are seeing reliable performance and even the ability to do work in 4K, a definite improvement in just a few years. I think this could easily replace my tablet for everyday carry, and mean fewer days of having the laptop on me, as well, though I am certainly not going to be getting rid of my more powerful machines to do the heavy lifting. There is just enough power in this to satisfy those who are always on the go.

Final Thoughts

In 2019, the Surface Pro is an ideal example of a hybrid machine done right, with plenty of power to handle some professional tasks, along with a design that is beautiful and functional. Also, Windows 10 comes with a ton of new features and is the best version of Microsoft’s operating system yet. The added cameras on the Surface Pro are nice too, and I must admit I was super impressed with the facial recognition log in and enjoyed using Cortana. Is it absolutely perfect, depends on what you need, but if you want one device to serve as an everyday tool, this certainly is one of the best out there. Now, you won’t be editing a feature in 4K on this, but for standard Full HD and potentially 4K projects with edit-ready codes, I would highly recommend it.

What do you think about the Surface Pro as a video editing tool? Any specific questions about performance? Be sure to let us know in the Comments section, below!

2 Comments

Nice article, I myself have bought the Surface Pro and loved that it's simple to use and it is perfect for office use or for those who are constantly on the go. No worrying about transferring data files from a workstation or worrying about laptop cables. Just pick it up and go. However, as a CG Generalist, the dual-core simply does not cut it and ended up getting a dedicated laptop with a quad-core instead. I personally don't recommend this laptop if you're doing any heavy renders or deep compositing. And I did frown a bit when I booted up Autodesk Maya and Photoshop at the same time only to see both of them crashing all the time...Not as advertised...Hmm... But really it's not really designed for heavy work and it is a great option for those who are constantly fumbling around documents, or if you are a simple 2D graphics Designer who works in Illustrator. Price is pretty pricey considering other options but still, that Pen responsiveness is on-point pretty much all the time.

I have to agree 100% with your experience. Great for on-the-go use and limited editing, but quickly bogged down when you start doing more serious work. I find it fine for HD video work with limited grading, 4K was a stretch though. It really is great as an everyday tool, especially if you appreciate the pen and want to use it as a tablet too for more day-to-day tasks like writing emails and browsing the web and only occasionally need it to handle your editing.

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