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What’s Next for Your Workflow?: Production Technology Predictions for 2017

The next year will certainly be an interesting one—not only because of the forces of innovation, but also those of politics.

The next year will certainly be an interesting one—not only because of the forces of innovation, but also those of politics. With the new president vowing to use the bully pulpit to entice, encourage or cajole U.S. corporations to bring their offshore manufacturing back to the United States, it seems pretty clear that companies in the media industries will be affected. The likely targets will be storage, camera and computer manufacturers. I presume that Apple will be the most visible and vocal of these, but that remains to be seen.

At present, Apple is more of an engineering design and services company than a manufacturer, the exception being the Mac Pro computer. Given the volume of shipments and the specialized expertise of suppliers like Foxconn, it’s hard to see how moving iPhone production to the United States would be feasible or cost-effective; however, low-volume products like the 2013 Mac Pro model are a better fit, which is why that product is assembled in Austin, Texas. Of course, there’s plenty of speculation that the “trash can” Mac isn’t long for this world. It’s sorely in need of a refresh and has been largely overshadowed by the new MacBook Pro models. From a business perspective, I think Apple would just as soon drop it, although the Mac Pro does have the advantage of servicing creative media professionals, a market segment Apple likes to be associated with. If you take the political climate into account, it’s a good counterpoint to say that Apple’s highest-end product is made in America.

Apple’s Mac Pro is assembled in Austin, Texas.

Factoring all that in, I predict that we’ll see at least one more iteration of the Mac Pro computer. I don’t expect a form factor change, but I would expect newer Intel Xeon chips, when available, and a shift to the Thunderbolt 3 protocol with USB-C plugs, which will make it compatible with the same peripherals used by new MacBook Pros. The same will be true of the next iMac models.

I also expect to see at least one more version of the Mac mini, a small device that many use as server machines. It will sport new Xeon or new Intel Core i7 chips and Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports. Once these new Mac minis hit the market, however, there are plenty of signs to suggest they will be the last of their kind, leaving Apple with just two products—iMacs and laptops—in their macOS line. But that’s a couple of years out.

If tariffs and revised trade agreements become public policy, then imported products will become more expensive. I see this legislation having the greatest impact on camera sales, as so many (nearly all) are produced by foreign-owned companies, such as Sony, Canon and ARRI. This may well be a positive development for a company like RED Digital Cinema, which is based in Irvine, Calif. If all of a sudden Alexas become a lot more expensive compared to RED Epics, Weapons and the other RED cameras, then you might just see a shift in sales numbers. Of course, a lot of these predictions are just reading the tea leaves, but if politics were ever a driver of sales, this would be the year we’d see it.

Avid Media Composer interface

Another continuing trend will be mergers and acquisitions, as weaker companies consolidate with stronger competitors. The ripest of these targets is Avid Technology. That company’s financial issues have spilled over into business news, and it’s hard to see how it can dig itself out of current holes with such lackluster sales. The smart money predicts a breakup or sell-off. If this occurs, the predictions (with which I agree) would have Pro Tools audio products going to Dolby, and Media Composer (and maybe also Avid’s storage products) going to Blackmagic Design. The rest, including Interplay, the Media Central Platform and the Orad products, would go elsewhere or just be closed down.

The obvious question is, Why would Blackmagic Design want Media Composer? After all, Blackmagic is already developing DaVinci Resolve into an NLE in its own right. By picking up Media Composer, Blackmagic adds a highly respected editing application to its portfolio and thus buys into existing market share, just as it did in color correction. Once acquired, I’m fairly confident that Blackmagic’s software engineers, together with the staff retained from Avid, would quickly clean up and improve Media Composer from its current state. Only Blackmagic seems to have the will to suffer the complaints from loyalists that such a move may engender—Avid editors are legendary in their reluctance to accept changes to the interface.

Adobe Premiere Pro is gaining prominence in the entertainment, broadcast and corporate media markets.

When it comes to nonlinear editing applications, I continue to see a rosy future for Adobe. Premiere Pro is gaining prominence in the entertainment, broadcast and corporate media markets, which had been Avid’s stronghold. While Avid is still performing well in these areas, the company seems to be selling to existing customers and not growing its base. Adobe, on the other hand, is pulling users from Avid and Apple, plus attracting new ones. While there was a lot of grousing when Adobe launched its subscription pricing model, most users seem OK with it now and are happy to be able to keep their software current with each Creative Cloud update.

Likewise, Apple is doing well with Final Cut Pro X. Apple’s user base seems to include more individuals and “creative enthusiasts” than does Adobe’s. FCP X also seems to be doing well internationally. Since Apple has another five years to go on its public commitment to FCP X development, I only see more growth for this application.

There’s a lot of enthusiasm for Microsoft’s Surface Studio.

Apple has long held an outsized percentage of the creative market as compared to its share of the overall market of computer users. However, it doesn’t take much sleuthing to see the enthusiasm expressed for the Microsoft Surface Studio. In my own travels, I see a lot of Surface tablets in regular use. Thus far the ones I encounter are used for general computing, but that will change. Since these devices run Windows, any application that can run under Windows will run on Surface. As Surface hardware becomes more powerful, I fully expect to see creatives routinely running all of the Adobe apps, Avid Media Composer, Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve, EditShare Lightworks and others without difficulty. Some users look forward to cutting the Apple cord, and I predict the Surface and Surface Studio are just the tools to enable that move. Add to that the innovative menu control knob that Microsoft introduced with Surface Studio and you can see that creative design thinking isn’t limited to Cupertino.

Thunderbolt 3 cable with USB-C connector

For storage products, I see two shifts. The first is to the Thunderbolt 3 protocol. If you’ve invested heavily in Thunderbolt 2 or USB 3.0 devices, the technology has just leapfrogged you. While Thunderbolt 2 and USB 3.0 products will continue to be useful and supported through legacy ports or docks and adapters, storage manufacturers will embrace Thunderbolt 3 for direct-attached products. The shared storage providers will continue down the 10 gigabit and 40 gigabit Ethernet route for a while, until Thunderbolt 3 networking really becomes viable. We aren’t there yet, but I can’t see why it won’t happen soon. Right now, if you have two to ten users, a low-cost shared storage environment is pretty easy to set up. The hitch is controlling the application permissions in the software being used. Avid had a lock on that, but there are now ways to enable Avid bin-locking for a few hundred dollars per seat. There’s no longer any need to buy expensive storage and pay annual support contracts.

With Adobe Team Projects, teams will be able to work together on shared sequences and comps in real time. 

Along these lines is Adobe’s project sharing through Team Projects (currently in beta testing). Once Adobe gets get the kinks worked out, Team and Enterprise accounts will be able to work collaboratively and simultaneously on the same production. I see it as only a matter of time before Apple offers a similar capability with Final Cut Pro X. It certainly seems like all the hooks are there under the hood to make it possible. So maybe 2017 will be the year that project sharing comes to Final Cut users. Once both Adobe and Apple can offer reliable project collaboration in a fashion that rivals Avid, you’ll see an even more substantial shift away from Media Composer within the film and broadcast editing communities.

As laptops grow in power, expect an even faster demise of the desktop workstation PC. More and more, people want to be mobile. It’s a requirement to have a computer that can connect to all the bells and whistles at your base station edit suite, but now that computer also needs to be able to unplug and go where you need to be. This is the future for many post professionals. Wrapping this up, remember, these predictions are free and worth just what you paid for them!