Our first-look photos of Apple’s new Mac Pro and the Pro Display XDR

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Today, Apple introduced two very expensive pieces of pro-targeted hardware: the Mac Pro, and the Pro Display XDR. While we were not offered an opportunity to get any hands-on time with them, we did see behind-closed-doors live demonstrations and get an opportunity to photograph them both.

Apple is positioning these as direct competitors to the sort of video editing bay hardware that costs tens of thousands of dollars, not as mass-market consumer products.

Judged on that scale, these seem like great bargains, albeit only for a few people in specialized fields.

The big surprise is the modular Mac Pro, so let’s start there.

Mac Pro

We almost couldn’t believe it when we saw it announced—it seems practically un-Apple at this point, but the Mac Pro is a tower PC with modular components. It has a cheese-grater-like design that, as noted, harkens back to the previous Mac tower from many years ago.

That grater design comes with a function, not just a form: it’s critical to the machine’s cooling system. This system-wide solution (that is to say, there’s no separate cooling on the GPU) places three giant fans on the front and a blower on the other side; there are two isolated thermal zones. There is, however, a very large, separate heatsink for the CPU. When idle, the Mac Pro is quieter than an iMac Pro. We saw it connected to two Pro Display XDR monitors playing two 6K videos, and it was inaudible to us over the quiet air conditioning vent in the room.

The Mac Pro doubles the number of PCIe expansion slots over that classic tower, with a total of eight. But the Mac Pro isn’t  like a PC desktop in that it’s all about modules made by Apple’s partners. You can load it up with MPX modules containing hardware made by partners like AMD and its competitors, and it’s not just for PCIe cards: Apple showed us another MPX module with a RAID array in it.

It’s kind of a middle ground solution. It still won’t please everyone, but it’s likely a step up over the 2013 trash can model.

The Mac Pro comes in configurations ranging from 8 to 28 cores as well as memory up to 1.5 TB with six memory channels and 12 DIMM slots. The price is undeniably steep; the product earns its Pro name, with ultra-expensive features specifically designed for creative professionals in fields like video editing and 3D modeling. Apple isn’t thinking about the Mac Pro in terms of selling it to consumers—not even power users.

Pro Display XDR

And then there’s the Pro Display XDR. This is an odd one, at least to most onlookers. The XDR’s base price of $4,999 probably seems absolutely outrageous to most consumers (and that doesn’t even include the $999 stand_. But there’s reason behind this apparent madness. First of all, the XDR is not a consumer display by any stretch. In reality, it competes on the low-end with high-end displays used by graphic designers and the like—these displays typically go for $2,000 to $6,000. But it also competes directly with professional reference displays that cost 30, 40, or even 50 thousand dollars.

And the choice in stand makes sense, too, despite the price. Some target users will want to wall-mount it, others have a proprietary solution, and others will want the stand. Why make them choose? You just have to be ready to spend  of money to have your pick—more than most people are going to want to spend.

Unfortunately, consumers can’t get a display of this quality, but it is nevertheless potentially revolutionary for its target market. Even at $5,000, the XDR is priced such that every person along every step of the path from a shoot to the final color correction in a video or film production can have it. Normally, only the last person in that chain has the ultra-high-end monitor, which means they’ll be doing countless hours of work to correct image issues that were not visible to people earlier on in the process.

The Pro Display XDR has an edge-to-edge glass display with 576 blue LEDs, which are each modulated at 10 times the display’s refresh rate. Typically, displays like this use white LEDs because hitting a high level of brightness is critical for mastering HDR content. But blue LEDs are easier to control, so Apple has opted for them instead, and a color correction sheet in the display changes what you see back to white light.

Also inside this display: a diffuser plate that directs light back into the cavity. This ought to allow you to better mix and shape the display before you see the final image.

The Pro Display XDR hits a maximum of 1,600 nits of brightness, but it can maintain 1,000 for a long time. That’s a far cry from those professional reference displays, which often dim after a while because they can’t maintain that, creating a workflow problem for the pros working on them.

And then there’s the 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. I own an OLED television, and since I bought it, I kind of cringe at every LED TV and monitor I see. The black levels are too high, to my eyes, and the blooming on dark backgrounds behind bright objects like text drives me crazy. I closely inspected the Pro Display XDR in a dark room, and while it does not  reach the black levels and contrast of my OLED TV, it is more than close enough, and it is far closer than I’ve ever seen in any consumer display.

Again, the grater look makes a difference here, as it allows the display to quietly vent heat out the back. There’s a fan, but it runs at seven decibels, which is pretty much inaudible.

The Pro Display XDR is so specialized that it’s not really a product we typically review at Ars. But we’re enthusiastic to get more time with it when it arrives later this year.

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