This past week has given us some exciting new product announcements, including the new Sony Alpha A9, in the lead up to the NAB Show which kicked off today. Though the show is focused on broadcast technology, a few manufacturers have announced some great new products that both digi techs and photographers who work with a lot of video will find relevant as well. I am a huge fan of OWC, and they have decided to use NAB as a platform to announce so many awesome new products that I felt it necessary to dedicate this entire post to them, but I would be remiss if I didn't at least point you towards the insane new Eizo CG3145 4K HDR display.
After nearly two decades of dedicated service to creative professionals, OWC continues to impress with some of the innovative solutions they have released in the past few years and 2017 is no exception. In addition to announcing four new products for NAB, they are also showing off the latest version of the new DEC that they revealed at the NAMM show back in January.
Note that all of these new products utilize Thunderbolt 3, which may make the decision to buy a new Touch Bar MacBook Pro a bit easier for holdouts like me.
The one we've been waiting for: a Thunderbolt 3 powered PCIe expansion chassis capable of driving a workstation class graphics card!
When Thunderbolt debuted in 2011 and opened up the possibility of external PCIe expansion for laptops, many were eager to know whether or not it would support an external graphics card. And when the current Mac Pro was released in late 2013 with Thunderbolt 2 and non user serviceable GPUs, the lingering question became an urgent request. The problem: both Thunderbolt 1 and 2 were nowhere near fast enough to support the 16 lane PCIe 3.0 connection required by most professional graphics cards. While Thunderbolt 3 transfer rates are still not quite as fast as a 16 lane PCIe 3.0 connection, Thunderbolt 3's 40Gb/s maximum transfer rate makes the idea of using an external GPU over Thunderbolt a reality.
The technology isn't perfect yet, but pretty soon GPU limitations will be an issue of the past for pros who opt for an iMac or MacBook Pro. And while it definitely doesn't make sense to lug this box around with your streamlined location setup, it makes a MacBook Pro a much more powerful contender as a studio capture or post machine, so the next Mac Pro definitely has some catching up to do!
Though this is not the first dedicated Thunderbolt 3 GPU enclosure to come to market, the fact that OWC is interested in pursuing this technology is promising and demonstrates their commitment to the professional Mac community. With competitor products priced between $299 and $499, we can expect OWC's pricing to be very competitive.
The Mercury Viper is a Thunderbolt 3 external SSD which promises ludicrous read speeds up to 4678 MB/s. Unlike some other portable Thunderbolt drives, the Viper also allows for daisy chaining with other Thunderbolt devices. No word yet on what is inside this thing that allows it to accomplish such jaw dropping speeds, but if I had to guess I would say that it is probably running a combination of PCIe based SSDs in a RAID-like configuration. We are still waiting on info on price, configurations, or availability but I will be keeping my eye on this one as a bootable backup and Capture One work drive! One thing is certain: you can expect this one to be on the expensive side.
Envoy Pro EX Thunderbolt 3
The Envoy Pro from OWC is a fantastic line of external PCIe SSDs that offer great performance at reasonable prices. Though the Envoy line so far has been limited to USB 3.0 connectivity, the new Thunderbolt 3 version should be a great option for Touch Bar MacBook Pro users who need a decent amount of speed in a compact package. I love using the Envoy as a temporary scratch disk for files processed out of Capture One, freeing up internal disk for other tasks while offering improved write performance over a normal SSD. OWC have not released any info on drive speeds yet, but the previous Envoy series was prone to USB bottlenecks, so hopefully we'll see some improved performance with Thunderbolt 3. The black finish is also a nice touch!
I have been super satisfied with the pair of 16TB OWC Thunderbay IV's that I have been using for primary storage for a few years now, but they get closer and closer to filling up by the day and soon I will be looking at expansion options. For users who have ever-growing storage requirements, the Thunderbay 6 is a welcome addition to the Thunderbay lineup that should offer a fantastic platform for insanely fast RAID configurations and future expansion. Though the Thunderbay series lacks hardware RAID, a number of RAID configurations are still possible using SoftRAID.
The DEC aims to be a bolt on expansion unit for Touch Bar MacBook Pros that restores some of the functionality of the previous generation while offering expanded hard drive capacity and a few other purported features that OWC is still working on. While the idea of this type of expansion unit gets me really excited, I do have some complaints about the direction we've seen the project go in thus far and some ideas for additional features and refinements.
First up, the ports. If I'm going to bolt something this size on the bottom of my computer, I'm clearly looking for raw performance over aesthetics. To that end, I wish that the DEC had more ports. While 3 USB ports is a great start, my typical on-set workflow requires at least 4 USB ports, so one extra port would make hubs completely obsolete for me. I also wish that they would include a standard Thunderbolt 2 port (or two), which would make existing Thunderbolt devices and FireWire adapters easier to use. While a FireWire port itself would complete the package, the decreasing commonality of FireWire devices these days means that I don't think it would be missed.
A dedicated USB C power port on the DEC itself would also be a welcome addition. MagSafe would be even better, but I don't have high hopes that Apple will reverse their policy on MagSafe licensing any time soon. All of this would require more bandwidth coming from the computer, but perhaps the device could be connected via 2 thunderbolt 3 ports. I certainly wouldn't mind losing another one.
My other big complaint: as of right now, there is no option for a battery. While some users certainly could use the up to 6TB of storage space made possible by the DEC, I would much rather have a battery instead knowing that my on set workflow requires 10+ hours of continuous use and rarely uses more than 1TB of data over the course of a job. All of the extra bulk of the DEC makes little sense for me if it means that I still have to carry Versa Batteries.
Nonetheless, I think that the DEC is a fantastic idea and I'm a bit surprised that no other manufacturers have announced a competing product yet. This is another one that I am closely monitoring, and depending on the final specs might make or break my decision to switch over to the Touch Bar MacBook Pro.
What new products from NAB are you most excited about? Let me know in the comments!