Apple Afterburner Accelerator Card

Afterburner on the new Mac Pro allows video editors to decode up to three streams of 8K ProRes RAW video and 12 streams of 4K ProRes RAW video in real time.
Source: Apple — Afterburner on the new Mac Pro

One of the most technically interesting aspects of the Mac Pro 2019 debut at WWDC was the Afterburner accelerator card. This is the first card of its kind produced by Apple, specifically and initially for ProRes acceleration.

There’s a lot we don’t know about Afterburner yet, but it’s a sign Apple is dedicated to the future of their ProRes family of codecs —especially with the early and slow adaptation of ProRes RAW.

From the Mac Pro 2019 Tech Specs page, Afterburner:

Supports playback of up to 3 streams of 8K ProRes RAW or up to 12 streams of 4K

It’s surprising that this product exists as ProRes was developed to be an efficient intraframe codec from the beginning. In the mid-2000s, when HDV and AVCHD video were new, computers had a hard time processing and editing native MPEG-2 and h.264 based footage without transcoding. I spent hours transcoding footage into the Apple Intermediate Codec (AIC) to edit in Final Cut Pro HD.

ProRes was a game changer when it debuted at NAB 2007 with Final Cut Studio 2 (Final Cut Pro 6). Even though the files were dramatically larger than the typical 4:2:0 8-bit LongGOP source footage, ProRes scrubbed effortlessly in comparison. The footage was usable.

Nearly my entire career in video production has utilized ProRes as an acquisition, production, and delivery format. Even when working with RED RAW R3D files, it’s easier to transcode into ProRes Proxy.

My hope is to see ProRes RAW adopted to the same degree as ProRes. The RAW video codec market is quite diverse with RED R3W, Canon RAW, Blackmagic RAW, etc. that an efficient, industry standard could be a game changer. And while the Atomos recorders are helping extend ProRes RAW across a handful of cameras, aside from the DJI Zenmuse X7, no cameras record ProRes RAW internally. That is and will continue to be a limiting factor.

Alright, so camera manufacturers aren’t there yet with ProRes RAW, it looks like Apple is doubling down on their codec family with Afterbuner.

I’m curious if the Apple Afterburner accelerator card is optimized specifically for the ProRes family codecs or AVFoundation. Either is a win-win. However, AVFoundation would benefit other app developers dramatically.

32-bit QuickTime frameworks (QTKit) need to go away. And soon they will with macOS Catalina.

Again, from the Tech Specs page, Afterburner:

Accelerates ProRes and ProRes RAW codecs in Final Cut Pro X, QuickTime Player X, and supported third-party apps

And from the Apple Press Release:

The new Mac Pro debuts Afterburner, featuring a programmable ASIC capable of decoding up to 6.3 billion pixels per second. With Afterburner, video editors using high-quality cameras that require the conversion of native file formats into proxies for easy editing can now use native formats right from the camera and decode up to three streams of 8K ProRes RAW video and 12 streams of 4K ProRes RAW video in real time, virtually eliminating proxy workflows.

I’m optimistic. I’d love to see an FPGA like this put in the next revision of the iMac Pro.