It’s port talk time again.

As I suspected, Apple’s 17” MacBook Pro does get one additional port. You get 3 USB ports and one FireWire 800 port – though this means that, even though there’s almost no hardware that supports FW800, you’ll need an adapter for FW400 devices like HDV/DV cameras. At least unlike the non-Pro current-gen MacBook, you can use your video camera with that adapter, though, and three USB ports I think is more sensible.

The MBP does lose the dedicated FW400 port on the previous model, but because this shared the same bus, you didn’t get a performance gain out of it. What I have heard from some concerned users is that Apple changed the FireWire chipset on the new MacBook Pro. That hasn’t yielded any specific problems yet that I’ve seen, but keep an eye out.

Apple being Apple has to go over the top talking about “Ports with possibilities” and “If it has a cable, there’s a place for it” as if this is different from any commodity PC (or even their previous models). They also puzzlingly say “MacBook Pro even recognizes what you plug in, so you don’t have to install new drivers.” I’m assuming they’re talking about class-compliant devices there, but that’s not all devices. If they’re talking about Windows’ annoying habit of reinstalling drivers when you switch ports, well, that’s a bandwagon I’ll get aboard.

Visualists, this MBP, like the other new MacBooks, has no analog TV out. The Mini DisplayPort allows hookup to VGA, DVI, and HDMI, but not S-Video. And I’m still unhappy that Apple uses a different connector than everyone else when DisplayPort is trying desperately to get off the ground.

I still can’t help but notice that the Asus laptop I just picked up in an emergency when a computer died is only 15.4”, has FW400, DVI, VGA, S-Video, and four USB ports, plus a standard NVIDIA 9500M GT, for $950. Even saying that, though, S-Video doesn’t look long for this world anywhere.

Full specs:

MacBook Pro

Lest I see like a perpetual grinch, I think the 17” MacBook Pro is an incredible machine. The case is gorgeous, the screen is fantastic. And the big news is that they’ve gotten a superior LED backlight onto a 17” screen. On top of that, you can get 7-8 hours of battery life. It supports the dual NVIDIA 9400M + 9600M graphics card combination, which while not the fastest GPU out there is nothing to sneeze at. The US$2799 price is likely to put it out of range for some people, but I can’t help but admire it as a machine. In the meantime, my dirty-cheap Asus, older MacBook, and I will get along fine for now.

  • James Webster

    Let us all know what the Asus machine you bought was… and more about how it works out for you.

  • Peter Kirn

    Sure! It's an ASUS M51-Sn. Good: absurd number of graphics outs, 3 GB RAM, obscenely liberal replacement plan, nice warranty, snappy, great drivers, 9500M GT is a nice little graphics card, long battery life on the extended battery, feels very solid, great keyboard.

    Bad: T5750 CPU is a bit dated, I think the model itself is now discontinued (and ASUS' product line is overcomplicated), a 9600 would have been a better GPU as on their newer machines, and it has lousy color on its otherwise crisp LCD. I also had some silly crapware on there though it didn't take long to wipe it. And I wish vendors would ship Business or Ultimate and not Home Premium.

    But all in all, I love this little thing. And since it has DVI, at home I run through a big display.

    And I keep coming back to that $950 thing. They even threw in a case.

  • ernesto

    I'm not a visualist, yet I love this site just as much as CDMusic. There's no way in the world I would buy this machine.

    The thing is very simple.

    Outside the US… you know… in something called the rest of the world, there are lots of people like me that work in environments with no electricity. That doesn't mean poor environments… quite the opposite, rich natural places, or very beautiful traditional places where you require to swap the batteries constantly to keep on recording audio or video for days, even weeks.

    For people like us, this beautiful machine is completely useless…. let alone recording with the FW interface to the FW HD. oh yeah, the same FW devices apple recommended us to use for PROfessional tasks….

    No matter how much I look to it, even under the "influence", can I understand the motivation under such senseless acts of industrial violence.

  • beatfix

    I'm curious to know what people think the dominant standard will eventually be for digital video out from laptops – DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort, USB3(?) My gut says HDMI right now – I think Apple's decision to go proprietary will ultimately relegate DisplayPort to niche status, and the standard DVI plug is kind of big and clunky for mobile use. Plus HDMI is already popular on HDTVs, and with the ongoing convergence between computers and TVs, I think that may count for a lot down the road. I'm curious to see how this shakes out as I consider my next laptop purchase down the road…

  • Peter Kirn

    Well, Apple probably hasn't entirely doomed DisplayPort with the connector — the signal, as far as I know, is the same. And given the outrageous prices retailers are charging for HDMI cables, I think they may sniff a business opportunity in new formats. But yes, still waiting to actually see this on machines.

    HDMI is out, because the format used now doesn't accommodate higher resolutions (one of a number of problems DisplayPort was supposed to solve).

  • Zsolt

    Peter, I can't agree with your FW800/FW400 opinion. FW800 makes it possible to daisychain devices without clogging the FW bus, while with FW400, while possible, you'd have speed problems. In my case, I use an RME Fireface 800 + external FW drives. A single FW400 port couldn't handle both. Let me point out as well, that FW800 is required when somebody expands an audio/video system with additional units. In my case, adding a second Fireface 800 is possile only through an FW800 port, and this is the same for every other gear using lots of simultaneous inputs/outputs.

    Anybody who wants to use a FW400 device could easily do that via a converter cable costing a few dollars, since FW800 is backward compatible with FW400.

  • vjwunderkind

    Ernesto, why don't you get an express card with fw ports then? There are also some external batteries out there. I don't see why this would be a problem…

  • Peter Kirn

    @Zsolt: I don't think we disagree. Obviously, if you daisy-chain (or simply connect) FW800 devices, you're going to reap the benefits of FW800, and I have nothing against that. The problem is a) there's a limited selection of FW800 devices and b) the moment you daisy-chain a FW400 device into that chain (or on the old MBP, into the *adjacent* port) the speed of all your devices is limited to FW400.

    Incidentally, it is theoretically possible to successfully chain FW400 devices; I'm guessing if you couldn't, specifics of the controller on your computer and/or the controllers on any one of your devices may be to blame. But I've heard mixed results both ways.

    Anyway, I don't see any real disadvantage to the MBP's FW800 port other than needing a different cable or adapter, which is certainly not a deal breaker. I do think, though, given the premium on Apple's laptops, having to get the $2000 model to get any FireWire at all and the 17" just to get 3 USB ports is silly. But if that's the model you were looking at anyway, as I said, you do get an exceptional machine.

  • vade

    One can definitely daisy chain FW 400 devices. The issue with Daisy chaining FW 400 speed devices on an 800 bus is that the whole bus slows down to 400 speed. This is "not so good", but it works.

    And not to be pedantic Peter, the computer HAS analog out (VGA), it does not have a standard definition composite/svideo output :P

    As for predominant video output standard, im going to also guess HDMI, but full size (still small though) Displayport is becoming more popular, and many computer monitors are shipping with both connectors.

  • Peter Kirn

    @vade I should have said "analog TV" and once said "analog video" but was clear that the issue was S-Video. And it is still an issue because the number of devices that can deal with that input are fewer than those that can deal with the signals carried by composite and S-Video.

    The important implication of your comment, though, is that people's argument that this is about DRM is probably dead wrong. Outputting to VGA immediately means you break the protected content path. S-Video is probably being eliminated because of a lack of understanding of its importance to people for hooking up to things like analog TVs. (and people do that outside the VJ community, and the numbers from the current digital TV switch in North America suggest a LOT of people have analog TVs sitting around)

    As for "predominant," I think the question is where. HDMI is indeed predominant on flat panel TVs, but how many people are doing that versus hooking up to flat panel displays with higher resolutions (like 1920×1200) that are typically unsupported by HDMI?

    HDMI makes sense on consumer devices that hook up to TVs. DisplayPort makes sense on laptops. In fact, to cover the most common usage scenarios, two ports — DisplayPort (for VGA, DVI, and HDMI via adapters bought by the user) plus S-Video — would make the most sense. It's almost as though laptop makers tried to go do the opposite of what people would likely want.

  • vade

    Out of curiosity, how many VJs are VJing with content they do not own, or content/clips that use DRM?

    I do not think it is an issue, AT ALL, for VJs, unless you are VJing with two blue ray players…..

    And what are you talking about? HDMI supports resolutions far in excess of 1920×1080, more than Single link DVI and equal to Dual Link DVI iirc.

    If I recall correctly, display port is a) license free, and b) supports much higher throughput for higher resolutions.

    Check… and

  • vade

    Oh, also, dont forget the 'free' conversion between DVI and HDMI, thats not something to overlook.

    Plenty of Dell monitors are now shipping with VGA, DVI, HDMI and Display Port inputs :)

  • frischvergiftung

    heres a thread about this MDP to Composite issue:
    there seem to be quite some tested workarounds.

  • Wiley

    Well, I bit the bullet and got a macbook pro, with my 3 adapters for firewire 800 to 400, mini display to vga and vga to rca…


    Other than all the junk hanging off it for me to be able to do music and visuals, it's a lovely machine.