MacBook Pro (Late 2021)
Image courtesy: Apple

Apple’s new MacBook Pro hit the shelves in late October, and this one is promised to be a game-changer. It is available in 14-inch and 16-inch displays and two different finishes. More exciting, it’s powered by the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, which are the first pro chips designed for the MacOS. According to Apple, the new MacBook Pro features “groundbreaking processing, graphics, and machine learning (ML) performance” while plugged in or running on battery. Additionally, the new MacBook Pro has an impressive battery life, a crystal-clear Liquid Retina XDR display and many other noteworthy features that make it an extremely powerful machine. 

We here at Videomaker got a first look at the 16-inch model of the new MacBook Pro powered by the all-new M1 Max chip. We’ll dive deeper into what we liked and what we didn’t like throughout this review. The new MacBook Pro underwent several tests of day-to-day use, as well as efficiency tests for editing video and audio. First, we’ll talk about some of the most notable features the MacBook Pro has to offer. Then, we’ll get into how it performed during testing. At the end of this review, we will discuss the pricing and availability for this new machine. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

Lightweight sleek, modern design

The new MacBook Pro has a sleek and modern design. This particular model (16-inch display with M1 Max chip) weighs about 4.8 lbs (2.2 kg). It’s also surprisingly slim — 0.66 inches tall when closed. This of course is a slight increase in weight and thickness from its predecessor, the 16-inch 2019 MacBook Pro. That system weighed 4.3 lbs (2.0 kg) with a thickness of 0.64 inches when closed. The increase is minimal and the size still offers convenience when taking your work on the go. This can be important to some editors and other creative professionals who need a powerful, portable machine.

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Connectivity

This update features three Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) ports. Each has charging capabilities and can connect to external drives and devices with speeds of up to 40 Gb/s. This is a slight downgrade from the previous model of the MacBook Pro, which had four Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) ports. Other ports on the new MacBook Pro include an HDMI port for connecting to external displays, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a MagSafe 3 port for quick and efficient charging, and a built-in SDXC card reader. The SD card reader is especially helpful to videographers; most of us dread carrying around extra bits and pieces like external card readers. 

Thorough and effective cooling

Another notable feature of the design of the 2021 MacBook Pro is the new ventilation and cooling system. Air intake vents are located on three sides of the device. This lets the fans to “move 50% more air, even at lower fan speeds,” according to Apple. The fans seldom turn on for most daily tasks. It’s safe to say that overheating as we know it would be extremely rare for this machine.

Death of the touch bar

One thing we immediately noticed about the new MacBook Pro was the absence of the signature Touch Bar. Apple made a splash with the release of the 2016 MacBook Pro by introducing the Touch Bar. It’s a small strip of touch screen located right above the keyboard, replacing the row of function keys. According to Apple, the Touch Bar was intended to create a dynamic, interactive user experience. After five years, Apple has decided to do away with the novelty feature.

The Touch Bar seemed like an interesting concept during its initial release, but Apple did very little to follow up with it. There hasn’t been a single MacOS update that included added features or updates for the Touch Bar. Many MacBook Pro users felt the feature was bothersome, and some even sought to completely disable it. Because of its placement and other factors, it proved to be rather annoying for some people. We feel it was the right move for Apple to exclude it from the 2021 MacBook Pro. Its absence makes for a much cleaner, minimalistic design. 

Magic keyboard and trackpad

MacBook Pro top view

Updates to the Magic Keyboard for the 2021 MacBook Pro include a line of full-height tactile function keys where the Touch Bar used to be. There’s also a wider Escape key and a power button that supports Touch ID. The entire keyboard rests on a black backdrop that highlights the backlit keys beautifully. This is a real “no-nonsense” approach to the new keyboard.

Additionally, the Force Touch trackpad has pressure-sensing capabilities that support force clicks, accelerators, pressure-sensitive drawing, and multi-touch gestures. Most video editors have figured out that an external mouse is generally a better workflow for editing. However, the large, pressure-sensing trackpad makes for a great alternative when navigating websites and performing other non-editing functions. 

Top-notch display

Perhaps one of the most impressive new features of the 2021 MacBook Pro is the screen resolution. We were in awe at the bright, vivid colors and contrasting, dark shadows right out of the gate. This is a major update for the MacBook Pro — in fact, it is the biggest improvement to the MacBook’s screen resolution since 2013.

The new display on the MacBook Pro has been dubbed Liquid Retina XDR and consists of 10 layers. The first is a sturdy, 4mm display enclosure, followed by a layer consisting of thousands of Mini LEDs that are “grouped into individually controlled dimming zones.” This yields precision brightness and contrast. The Mini LEDs are then layered under seven films and diffusers that work together to “shape the light efficiently while enabling an ultrathin design.”

Finally, the Liquid Retina XDR Display is enclosed by an LCD panel that “integrates a high mobility oxide-TFT layer.” This allows pixels to “charge twice as fast as before,” enabling refresh rates of up to 120Hz. All of this makes for 1000 nits of sustained brightness, with 1600 nits of peak brightness.

Seamless workflow

Liquid Retina XDR is the same display we saw in the newest iPad Pro. Apple claims it offers the “best and brightest” screen resolution in the world. The fact that Apple is offering this same groundbreaking resolution on the new MacBook Pro makes for a seamless workflow across the two devices. For video editors, this means a bright and true color display for videos that will revolutionize color-correcting on mobile devices. This even applies for those who choose to edit video on a full touchscreen device such as the iPad Pro. Apple users can now rest assured that they are getting the best display possible for coloring their video. No more squinting and guessing when making color adjustments. 

The notch

The Liquid Retina XDR display was a much-needed update to the MacBook Pro. However, it does come with one slight drawback. The camera housing, or “notch” as critics have referred to it, has some inconsistencies. The “notch” refers to a black portion of the screen surrounding the built-in webcam. It takes up a small amount of real estate from the screen. When compared to previous versions of the MacBook Pro, the 2021 MacBook Pro does have significantly smaller bezels. Apple has suggested that the “notch” is an innovation to provide users with more screen space for their content. 

And it’s true. As a result of the thinner 3.5mm bezels, the entire screen is taller than on previous models. The menu bar has been moved up into that extra space, allowing more screen space for its users. With the extra space, the screen on the 16-inch model measures 16.2 inches and holds 7.7 million stunning pixels. But the “notch” has some minor issues. 

Upon its initial release, users would find that tabs added to the menu bar through iStat Menus were hidden behind the notch. Additionally, the same issue has been seen with certain apps with several menu tabs, such as Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve. Apple has since addressed the issue by informing users that there is a feature that will solve the problem. The “Scale to fit below built-in camera” feature helps for these situations. However, one might argue that this is not a real solution. Rather, it is a way to bypass the notch feature that would allow for more screen space. This just gives you an ordinary 16-inch display.

To be clear, the “notch” is not exactly a shortcoming to the new MacBook Pro; it is a bold move on Apple’s part. It has become somewhat of an iconic feature for newer Apple products such as the iPhone 13. Love it or hate it, time will tell if Apple continues to incorporate the “notch” into their future products. 

Audio that fills the room

The new MacBook Pro has the “best audio system ever in a notebook,” according to Apple. The audio system is designed with six speakers. This includes “four force-canceling woofers that reveal notes up to a half-octave deeper,” allowing for projection of 80% more bass than the previous MacBook Pro. It also has two high-performance tweeters that “project clearer, fuller vocals.” 

These updates to the internal speakers were extremely noticeable right out of the gate. The speakers projected much fuller, detailed sounds than we are used to hearing from ordinary internal speakers on laptops. At full volume, this six-speaker system can fill a room with sound and then some. It’s needless to say that this is another huge improvement from the 2019 MacBook Pro.

Best internal camera ever on a MacBook

Due to COVID-19, now more than ever, more and more people are working from home in some capacity. Working remotely has become a way of life for many professions including video post-production. Whether you are someone who works for a production house, marketing agency, or even as a freelancer, you may be expected to hop on a video call from time to time. That is why it is so important to have a reliable webcam built into your workstation. 

The new MacBook Pro has the best video quality we have seen from a built-in webcam. It features a 1080p HD FaceTime camera — an upgrade from that of the 2019 MacBook Pro which offered 720p resolution. “The camera system taps into the powerful Image Signal Processor (ISP) and Neural Engine of M1 Pro and M1 Max,” Apple says. This allows for sharper images with more natural-looking skin tones, even in low light. We put the internal webcam to the test with a video call, and can confidently say that the footage from the MacBook Pro was noticeably more clear. To our eyes, it looked better than its competitors.

A revolutionary chip for MacOS

MacBook Pro side view
Image courtesy: Apple

With the release of the 2021 MacBook Pro, Apple has released the all-new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips — the most advanced chips designed specifically for MacOS. If you are considering purchasing a new MacBook Pro, both the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips will make a world of difference for your new computer’s capabilities. And the same goes for the price tag. Here’s why.

M1 Pro

We’ll start with the M1 Pro chip. It is essentially a super-version of Apple’s M1 chip included in the 13-inch 2020 edition of the MacBook Pro. The M1 Pro has twice the number of performance cores and GPU cores and 2 fewer efficiency cores. This means a 10-core CPU and a 16-core GPU on the M1 Pro. Apple has rated the performance of the M1 Pro chip at 5.2 Teraflops. That’s exactly double that of the M1 chip, rated at 2.6 Teraflops. The video encoders and decoders are likely the same as they were with the M1 chip. However, Apple has included ProRes encoders and decoders in the M1 Pro. This makes the MacBook Pro with the M1 Pro chip the first of its kind. Encoding ProRes was not an available feature on any previous Mac device. 

How M1 chips use memory

In most computers, RAM is separate from the CPU and GPU chips. This adds extra latency since data has to travel through extra circuits to process. With the new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, Apple has streamlined this process and made it much more efficient. The memory is built into the main chip package. This makes for quicker processing and an ultimately smoother workflow. There is also dedicated RAM on each side of the chip, allowing both the CPU and GPU to work simultaneously without compromising processing time. Additionally, each dedicated RAM chip has its own 128-bit memory bus, meaning the M1 pro has a whopping 256-bit memory bus. This offers up to 200 Gb/s of memory bandwidth. That’s unheard of.

M1 Max

Considering all of the above information about the M1 Pro chip by Apple and how they have already revolutionized how we think about laptops with its release, let’s dive into the larger, more expensive, M1 Max chip. 

The M1 Max chip is about 75% larger than the M1 Pro, and Apple has essentially doubled up on the components and processing power with the M1 Max. They’ve doubled the GPU cores creating a 32-core GPU as well as doubled the number of RAM chips and 128-bit memory buses, creating a machine with an incredible 512-bit memory interface, allowing for up to 400 Gb/s of memory bandwidth. And because of the unified memory design, the RAM is fully accessible by the GPU. This means that the model we got to test out — with 64 Gb of RAM — essentially has up to 64 Gb of VRAM for the GPU to use.

You may be asking yourself, “If the M1 Pro chip has already revolutionized notebooks, isn’t the M1 Max chip overkill?” You may be right. Why would anyone need that much processing power? The answer is simple. Apple, being the tech giant that it is, has created an engineering masterpiece with the M1 Max chip. The company has always stayed ahead of the curve and completely outdid itself with this latest release, keeping its products at the top of any creative professional’s mind when choosing a new device to carry out their profession. Apple has effectively raised the bar high in the clouds for its competitors.

Impressive battery life

As the icing on the cake of all of these revolutionary updates, the 2021 MacBook Pro has outstanding battery life. Thanks to the efficiency of Apple silicon, users can enjoy up to 21 hours of video playback and up to 14 hours of wireless web browsing with the 16-inch model. And unlike its competitors, the MacBook Pro delivers “the same amazing performance whether it’s plugged in or not.”

Performance analysis

As we do with all of our reviews, we performed several tests on the new MacBook Pro and were blown away with the results. To reiterate, our demo unit is the 16-inch model with 64 Gb of unified memory and 2 TB of SSD storage. This particular configuration retails for $4,299.00 and is considered to be near the top of the line among the new MacBook Pro notebooks.

To no surprise, this model of the new MacBook Pro had no problems handling multiple layers of 4K footage in the latest version of Adobe Premiere Pro. We imported a project that was initially edited on a PC, and the MacBook Pro spent little to no time opening the project and generating peak files for the entire timeline. Keep in mind, this was about an hour-long video with multiple tracks of layered 4K footage, and about a dozen audio tracks. We were blown away at the detailed screen resolution on the MacBook Pro compared to that of the Windows system this project was initially edited on, as well as the quality of the internal speakers.

The processing time was extraordinary. Some video editors may get used to some lagging during playback directly in the timeline and opt for ½ or ¼ of playback resolution to make things go more smoothly. We found that with the new MacBook Pro, we were able to experience smooth playback at full resolution without wasting time by rendering the timeline beforehand. 

Heat test

Some systems can overheat when running multiple applications at once, so we tested the new MacBook Pro’s cooling system in this scenario. While editing a project in Adobe Premiere Pro, we opened Adobe Audition to edit multiple audio tracks from the Premiere Pro timeline. The MacBook Pro had no problem performing this task and did so without the fans kicking into high gear. 

When exporting a video at 4K at the highest quality render settings, the Apple MacBook Pro blew all of the competition away, exporting in a small fraction of the time it took to export the same project on a Windows system. At the end of the render, the bottom of the MacBook Pro was slightly warm to the touch as expected to be, with the fans running very low if even at all. 

Pricing and configuration options

Like any previous release of the MacBook Pro, there are several configurations to choose from with several different price tags. Which one you get is entirely up to you and what you want out of your computer. But after careful analysis, it’s safe to say that you can’t go wrong with an M1 Pro or M1 Max machine. They are both top-of-the-line notebooks that have revolutionized the way we think about laptops. The base model of the MacBook Pro is the 14-inch model with the M1 Pro chip and retails for $1999.00. Upgrades like additional internal storage will bring the price up, so it’s important to do your research to find which model will work best for you. The base price of the 16-inch model with the M1 Pro chip is $2,499.00, and the base price model for the M1 Max chip is $3,499.00.

Final thoughts

Overall, the 2021 Apple Macbook Pro M1 Max proved to be an impressive machine. From all ways you look at it, this new update has revolutionized how we think about notebooks. It may be worthwhile for videographers and content creators to upgrade to the 2021 Macbook Pro. So many exciting new features set this notebook apart from its competitors, and with numerous configurations available, there is a Macbook Pro for nearly any budget.

Specs

ProcessorApple M1 Max
Memory TypeEmbedded DRAM
GPUUp to 32-core GPU
CPU 10-core CPU with 8 performance cores and 2 efficiency cores
Memory bandwidthup to 400GB/s
DisplayLiquid Retina XDR display
Size16.2-inch (diagonal)
Resolution3456-by-2234 native resolution at 254 pixels per inch
Brightness1000 nits sustained (full-screen) brightness, 1600 nits peak brightness
Contrast ratio1,000,000:1 contrast ratio
Color 1 billion colors
Wide color (P3)
True Tone technology
Refresh ratesUp to 120Hz
Fixed refresh rates47.95Hz, 48.00Hz, 50.00Hz, 59.94Hz, 60.00Hz
MemoryUp to 64 GB unified memory
Battery100-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
StorageUp to 8 TB
Charging and expansionSDXC card slot
HDMI port
3.5 mm headphone jack
MagSafe 3 port
Three Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) ports
Height0.66 inches
Width14.01 inches
Depth9.77 inches
Operating systemmacOS

Tony Morales is a cinematographer, film editor and producer from Northern California. He is an Avid Certified Professional who enjoys writing and creating documentary and theatrical films as well as commercial videos.