A few thoughts about the 2018 mid-range MacBook Pro 15″

Good grief, the SSD on this thing is fast.  Thanks to the T2 co-processor which offloads encryption and disk controller functions from the main CPU (amongst many other things), the SSD performance is the fastest I’ve ever encountered.  2.5G/bits write and close to 3G/bits read.

The keyboard feels a little spongier thanks to the debris-blocking membrane, but it’s still a good keyboard to work on.  Still won’t be everybody’s cup of tea.  Neither will the touch bar which remains only partially useful to me.  Partially because I keep the lid of the machine closed when it’s hooked up to the monitor and use an external keyboard and mouse.

CPU, cooling and throttling performance.  About as I would expect having used previous incarnations of the 2017, 2016 and older MacBook Pros.  Having 6 cores greatly improves everyday tasks.  Importing and sorting all my photos and videos (~11,000)  back into Apple’s Photos app was made faster by having that extra CPU power.  That plus the speed of the SSD.  When playing back video via YouTube, backing up to Backblaze and doing a Time Machine backup did cause the fans to spin up – but the noise wasn’t bothersome and kept the unit pretty cool around 69 degrees C.  I haven’t really pushed CPU-bound tasks yet.  Neither have I really bothered to check CPU frequencies.  But everything seems to be in order.

Additionally, wireless seems to be a lot more stable than the Alienware machine, despite having the latest and greatest Killer chipset.  Apple has apparently done very well with the placement and number of antennas in the Mac.  So there’s another positive right there.

Epic Megagames’ Fortnite, however, is a miserable failure on these 2018 MacBook Pros.  The AMD dedicated graphics card isn’t really meant for gaming.  But even so, I’d have expected average or better than average performance from the world’s most popular game.  For £600 more, one could purchase the Blackmagic Radeon Pro 580 with 8Gb graphics external GPU, but this is a bloody stupid idea for anybody wanting to play games.  I’ll stick with the Xbox One X, thanks.

iTunes is now a delight to use now that I’m back on MacOS.  It’s responsive, fast and does what it says on the tin.  Having access to the underlying BSD infrastructure is a great help with work – and it didn’t take me long to set-up everything that I need to work from home.

I do wish the MacBook Pro came with a couple more Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports either side to accommodate the many dongles that you may need to attach to the machine, but otherwise, connectivity is generally very good.  Here’s hoping the 2018 iPhone Whatever comes with a USB-C connector, or at the very least, USB-C cable rather than (or in addition to) a USB-A to Lightning cable.  Apple needs to make a bigger commitment to USB-C connectors.

The 2018 MacBook Pro mid-range 15″ model is a beast that is definitely going to last a good few years (we’re not going to see 10nm chips until late 2019 and Apple are unlikely to get those into production until mid-2020 at a minimum), but upgradability is limited through the USB-C connectors and any repairs will need an Apple specialist (I remember the good old days of the plastic MacBooks which allowed you to swap hard drives and memory – and even the battery – alas, those days are long gone).

Back to Apple’s luxury (throttled) prison

Nobody is going to be surprised by this blog post.

Windows is okay, but it’s no MacOS.  And as much as I enjoy playing Fortnite on the glorious Nvidia GeForce 1080 Ti, I much prefer to listen to my Apple Music, watch YouTube videos, trying to write madcap screenplays about ridiculous things, do things for work involving writing Bash and Perl scripts, testing images before they’re deployed to a variety of cloud environments, and generally doing .. well .. general things.  I really, really do not play games often enough to make the justification of such a high-end graphics card worthwhile.  I am bemused, even, as Nvidia’s game companion kicks in whenever I launch the Twitter app for Windows.

Then I miss having a decent text editor such as BBEdit for Mac.  Or Highland  2 (screenplay software, but can also be used to write any other kind of document in Fountain/markdown formatting) for Mac.  And although as much as I love the Linux subsystem of Windows – it isn’t perfect.  and as the number of Macs at work increase, I find as I spend my whole time around Windows that I begin to forget things Mac related.

But most of all I miss Apple’s Photos app and – yes, a big shock here, iCloud Photo Library.  It kept things organised and I could easily backup photos locally through Time Machine, Backblaze or manually copying the photos document bundle somewhere.

So, in short – the workflow was significantly better with MacOS.

So, having paid off the desktop PC I’m going back to the Mac.  The 2018 MacBook Pro, in fact.  But not the Core i9 model.  I don’t see much point of sticking in an overclockable processor in a chassis that has never been built to cool the processor down like you can a desktop PC.  So I’m sticking with the mid-range 15″ model with 1Tb SSD and 16Gb RAM.  This has to last me at least 3-4 years.  Having sold my previous 15″ MacBook Pro model last year to make up for lost wages as part of moving to a new job (remember folks: holiday entitlement costs you if you use it all up before moving to a new job!), it’s going to be nice to get better performance from the 13″ MacBook Pro I had earlier this year.

So I’m going to be selling my Alienware machine to part fund the cost of the MacBook Pro.  I’m looking for around £1,650 and that includes a three-year on-site warranty.  If anybody is interested, please drop me an email.

Will I be moving back to the iPhone?  Probably.  In September my annual upgrade kicks in.  I’m going to probably move back to the original iPhone X to reduce costs while the new iPhones are released.  Then, next year, I can move up to the latest and greatest.  Here’s the thing with Apple – the latest and greatest usually means that you’ll have to wait a good couple of iterations until the software you’re using on the fancy new gadget is fully optimised.  So I’m not as eager to rush out to get the newest Apple doodad anymore.  Besides, the iPhone X wasn’t a bad phone at all, but if only Apple could put better cameras in their phones!  Google’s computational photography truly is wonderful.  I am rather enjoying Android right now, but after the EU’s ruling against Google with regards to bundling their own software with the OS (which is what the EU caught Microsoft doing – yet they’ve yet to go after Apple), things could change for the worse within the Android community.  Having an iPhone with a Mac also makes sense.  So we’ll see.

American Gods: Will it ever be released on UHD Blu-Ray or 4K UHD iTunes?

As much as I loved the first season of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods on Amazon Prime Video UK, I’m reluctant to buy it on Blu-Ray or it’s current version on iTunes for one particular reason: while it was shot in Ultra-High Definition (aka 4K), and I can watch it as often as I like on Amazon in UHD, I can’t buy it in any form in UHD – especially UHD Blu-Ray.

It’s a bit ironic that American Gods has a character called Technical Boy who “invites” people into his limousine via virtual reality.  In reality, however, I cannot easily buy a TV series in UHD.

The biggest problem with the TV industry at the moment is that only a subset of it (generally the two largest online streaming services – Netflix & Amazon Prime Video) is producing content in UHD.  It is also still costly to mass produce UHD content on physical media.  In the film industry, for example, not all films are given releases in UHD. Only the really big blockbuster movies are getting the UHD Blu-Ray treatment at the moment, and those cost between £20-£25 each, about £10-15 more than regular Blu-Ray.

Making UHD content available to buy via download or streaming is a different matter.  Though that too introduces some hurdles.   Do you really get to keep the content?  As I found out recently with the BBC Store – if that goes away, so does any content you’ve bought.  But thankfully the BBC refunded me entirely and even gave me a bit of a bonus to use with Amazon – for streaming content (whether to rent or buy – I used it to rent).

Apple is said to be announcing a 4K/UHD capable Apple TV next week.  This is all well and good, but unless Apple has 4K content to go with it, the upgrade won’t be worth it.  The 4th generation Apple TV has been okay for the most part, and practically all my HD content I’ve purchased (or rented) has been excellent (with the exception of Breaking Bad – we need iTunes Extra for TV shows, Apple!).  But the biggest problem with the Apple TV has been the lack of support from UK broadcasters.  I’m still waiting for ITV Hub, Channel 4, Channel 5 and other UK broadcasters to pull their fingers out of their bottoms and develop their catch-up apps for it.

But I still concede that iTunes/Apple TV is still the best method of buying and keeping content.  If Apple can get 4K/UHD on there, it’ll be a start.

I believe it’s about time that at least one broadcasting company steps up to bat and starts to invest in UHD outside of just making content and streaming it as part of a subscription service.  It has taken a very, very long time to get to UHD/4K televisions, and yet support for it outside the streaming ecosystem is still very poor.

Starz – please let me buy American Gods in UHD.  Either in UHD Blu-Ray or via iTunes (in 4K/UHD) when the hardware is available.  Or even both!

Digital video: renting vs buying, and why Apple is best for buying

With news that iTunes’ share of video sales and rentals are falling against competitors such as Amazon (Prime) Video and other services, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on why iTunes is the better platform for buying movies digitally, despite my brain screaming at me, “Look what happened to the digital BBC Store.”

iTunes offers iTunes Extras of which an increasing number of titles are including the same features as physical media.  Audio commentaries are regularly included, for example.  No other service offers this.

iTunes has one of the best device allowances of any service – and this includes the ability to download the content to a Mac, Windows PC, iPad and/or iPhone.

The UI of iTunes is much better than that of the competitors.  The Apple TV, not so much, but still considerably better than most.  Therefore it’s easier to manage existing titles.  And in all the years I’ve been buying movies from iTunes, I’ve never lost a single title due to film studios deciding to withdraw from the platform.  This could change, of course, but I’m sure if that happened, consumers would be lining up to lynch whoever decided it was a good idea to do so.

In terms of renting, Amazon (Prime) Video very narrowly outshines iTunes. There’s almost always a promotion which allows me to pay far less for renting an HD title via Amazon (Prime) Video than iTunes.  For example, I’ve just rented Hidden Figures (*superb* film) and T2: Trainspotting (also very good) – both in HD – £2.49 for both titles.  Amazon Video is baked into my LG television, making it very easy to access.

Don’t get me started on the UltraViolet digital platform.  It’s a completely useless pile of sputum devised by the film studios to make them look kind and generous by providing a non-physical digital copy of a film.  The truth is that it’s a massive pain in the arse to manage and I don’t bother with it anymore.   TalkTalk’s app (TalkTalk having bought Blinkbox which in turn is an UltraViolet partner) for LG televisions is awful.  I accept that one has to log in again occasionally, but the process is just stupid.  Look at what Google is doing for logging in to YouTube – much, much easier for televisions.  Entering a password via a remote control is the epitome of piss-poor user interface design.  But TalkTalk isn’t the only one guilty of this crime (NOW TV, Amazon, and even Netflix are guilty – but their TV apps allow for significantly long log in times).

BTW, I also hate the Amazon Prime Video UI too – it makes discovery difficult and it seems so random that I rarely watch anything on the service other than the really big TV productions.  I watched the German comedy, Toni Erdmann the other day (very, very funny – especially the nude party scene), but I had to manually enable the subtitles (found under CC for closed captioning – usually referencing subtitles for the hard of hearing – in my case, hard of not knowing enough German to understand the film without English subtitles).

The only other service I’ve purchased films from is Google Play.  I can watch the films on a tablet, my phone and even my TV through the YouTube app.  But those titles are generally either freebies or were heavily discounted.

Otherwise, I’ll be sticking with iTunes for future film purchases.  The next one, in fact, will probably be Hidden Figures because it was just such a great film, and there’s an audio commentary included in iTunes Extras which should give the film even more value.

BBC’s digital store to close in November

My biggest fear with buying digital only copies of films and television shows is if the provider goes away – whether it’s due to bankruptcy, change of direction – whatever.  As I’ve been sticking with the iTunes ecosystem for the majority of the time, I trust Apple to do the right thing and ensure I am able to download and watch my movies regardless of whatever happens to the movie or TV studio that supplied them with the content.  So far so good.

But, alas, the poor old BBC has announced that it’ll be shutting down its all digital BBC Store from 1st November 2017.  I’ve used BBC Store a number of times over the past 18 months, amassing a few titles here and there.  It was relatively cheap, and they often had many titles on sale.  My biggest complaint with the BBC Store, however, is actually watching the titles on my TV.  What a pain in the arse that was.  The BBC iPlayer baked into my LG TV, Apple TV, plus the games consoles I used to have, never supported BBC Store titles.  And there was no native BBC Store app for them either.  Thus I had to buy a Google Chromecast to be able to cast the content from my mobile phone to it.  No problem watching the content on my phone or tablet, but it’s not ideal – and this is why I think the BBC has failed – it felt as if it didn’t put enough resources into developing the BBC iPlayer integration or BBC Store apps across multiple platforms.

(Ironically, as the mega corporate AT&T is set to buy Time Warner, Inc. and take over HBO – AT&T’s boss has been semi-joking that he wants to provide 20 minute mobile friendly episodes of Game of Thrones – this sort of thing horrifies me – I’m all about choice, but the important thing is that television is television and should be viewed as (and on) such)

Another problem with BBC Store is that many of BBC’s titles are available on the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime.  The BBC has said that it wasn’t able to compete with these services, but I still say they just did not put enough effort or resources into making the content available across platforms as easily as Netflix or Amazon Prime (which, BTW, should be coming to Apple TV next month if rumours are true).

Ultimately it’s a slap in the face for digital TV and movie consumption.  But I also ask: is TV and film going the same way as music?  Do people actually prefer to pay a monthly subscription fee to consume as much content as possible, rather than simply buy a title outright?   While the BBC is refunding those of us for the content we’ve paid for (plus, very ironically, a £20 Amazon voucher for similar digital content), it doesn’t make it easy for us to be able to repurchase the content elsewhere.  With content providers bemoaning that piracy is ruining the entertainment industry – it forgets very easily that if more effort was made to make the content available quickly and cheaply, and across as many platforms as possible, their rhetoric might be a bit more believable!