Mac vs. PC - The Dilemma of a Small, One-Man-Band Production House

We are faced with decisions daily. Pepsi or Coke? Short-sleeves or long-sleeves? Mac or PC?

But as a small production company, the answer to the last question is not as easy as it might sound.

Let me first give you some background. I started my own production company in May 2011, with the following goal: to provide affordable, personable, and highly professional video production for medium to large businesses. To deliver a professional product to my clients, I needed to find a way to get the best editing equipment I could, but at a fraction of the cost of a huge editing suite.

Here are some of the challenges I needed to address:

  1. Speed: I need files to transfer fast. I need uncompressed video to not stutter on playback. I need the computer to rocket through an encode batch like a Maserati.

  2. Compatibility: I have a dream team, not employees. They work like freelancers with me. I need to know that no matter who I have working on any project, I’m not going to have technical problems down the line. I need things to just work.

  3. Price: I don’t have unlimited resources like some of the big production houses. Each purchase has to be carefully researched and must work within my workflow.

The Mac versus PC debate is raging more now than ever. Macs have the edge in popularity, but the unknown future of the Mac Pro tower can be scary for many production companies. PCs have different bugs, but may be more compatible with enterprise systems and they can be cheaper.

I use both a MacBook Pro and a Dell E-Series laptop, so I’ve had the benefit of seeing the war from both fronts. You might ask, “how can you use both Mac and PC?” For my workflow, it’s perfect. In fact, I could argue you need both these days. But I’ll get back to that later.

Let’s start with the Mac.

Pros: THUNDERBOLT. THUNDERBOLT. THUNDERBOLT. I am all about Thunderbolt. This is one of my biggest pain points in post-production right now. There just are not enough Thunderbolt hard drives. Blackmagic Design and AJA are doing a great job bringing us revolutionary monitoring devices, but where are the portable Thunderbolt hard drives? Why can’t someone break the Apple code with Intel and make a laptop with Thunderbolt on it? This is a major advantage for Apple right now. I bought a few Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt drives to test and the speed is unbelievable, especially because my MacBook Pro is a little older and does not have USB 3.0. Manufacturers, if you are listening, we need Thunderbolt ports on PCs. If you don’t think normal consumers will use them and that’s the hang-up, you’re wrong.

Other benefits of the Mac include the ability to have Final Cut Pro 7 if you have Final Cut project files, the option to have FireWire 800 like on my older Mac (which many PCs do not), its sleek look and mobility of even an iMac, which one of my team members brings over to my studio in a hard case.

Cons: Macs might look like this sleek, sexy beast, but at the same time, they are inherently flawed. There are many Mac lovers out there, and you aren’t doing anything wrong, but only having a Mac does not work for my personal workflow. The laptop I have has a weak graphics card. Apple doesn’t really give you a beefy option until you go to the tower. I have to use ENPS in some of my work for Northwestern University athletics, and I don’t want to use VMWare or Parallels. Finally, my Mac only gives me two USB ports when I sometimes need three. Basically, the Mac laptop doesn’t always give me what I need for a project. The tower would, but I need my computers to be mobile.

Now for the PCs.

Pros: Windows has a few things that are really big advantages for a small production company like mine. First, is price. You can get a loaded PC laptop for about 60% the cost of the same specs on a MacBook Pro. As I look at computers and upgrading, I look at turnover. Macs tend to last longer, but they also get outdated at the same rate as PCs, which doesn’t do me any good. I need the best technology at that moment for the lowest possible cost. I’m trying to stay ahead of the curve. I am always keeping my eyes peeled for the next big thing in technology and thinking about how I can utilize it to make my workflow easier.

Another advantage is flexibility. I can take a PC, customize it to my needs, add drives, add more drives, add hardware to it, and more. I can also do that with a Mac Pro, but for how long? And – this comes back to price – at what cost? As a small production company, savings of several hundred dollars could mean new gear for other parts of my workflow. I find it more important to have the proper hardware to shoot with on location than have a beautiful, yet costly beast in the edit room. That’s why I’m staying away from the Mac Pro.

Cons: PCs have this problem that people are still waiting to shake out. Windows 8. Nobody really knows when Windows 7 support will end, but it won’t be for a while. You can edit freely on Windows 7 or XP.

So what do I use?

A combination of both, and I would recommend trying it.

We can’t be tied to one operating system or one type of connection. As editors, producers, directors and videographers, we need to be more agnostic. I hear too often of people using Macs or only using PCs. The same thing goes for editing tools. It shouldn't be a question of either / or, it should be a question of what's the right tool for a particular job.

My workflow is to transfer my P2 from a camera to a Thunderbolt/USB 3.0 hard drive (or two) with a Firewire 800 5-bay Panasonic card reader. From there I’m able to edit on either Mac or PC because even though the drive is formatted for Mac, I use MacDrive on my PC and have purchased it for everyone on my dream team. It saves us transfer time, headaches and, as I like to say, everyone can play.

I use both because I can’t afford not to. My clients are on various platforms. My editors are using various NLEs. Sometimes I need the power of a PC. Sometimes I need the ability to export to ProRes on a Mac. I know my clients appreciate my flexibility. Ever since changing from a one system setup to both PC and Mac, I’ve seen increased efficiency, a more platform-agnostic workflow, and it has allowed me to give my clients whatever they need. As a small production company, I need to work on a small budget and I need to have a tool for every job. Editors and producers need to use both to utilize all the technology available today.

I would love to see someone find a way for Mac and PC to play ball. Now, the pessimist in me knows that’s not going to happen, but I would be first in line for a PC that comes readily available with Thunderbolt.

I would love to hear what you think about this subject as it pertains to your workflow. Tell me why you choose one way or another, or if you do what I do, and choose both.