FireWire feedback from readers and Apple

Christina Warren
C. Warren|10.16.08

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Christina Warren
October 16th, 2008
FireWire feedback from readers and Apple

Yesterday's discussion post about the exclusion of FireWire from the newest MacBooks generated a tremendous amount of reader feedback and discussion. We decided to take an unscientific straw Twitter poll which generated a large response, underscoring that for the Mac community, FireWire is a big deal.

The responses to the blog post were largely in support of my thesis: that losing FireWire from the MacBook is a big deal and a potential (or actual) deal-breaker for many, many users. This was to be expected, as people who are upset about FireWire's disappearance are more likely to respond to an article sharing that sentiment. On Twitter, however, when we just asked, "Is the lack of FireWire on the new unibody MacBook a deal-breaker for you, yes or no?" the data was less skewed.

A majority of the Twitter users that responded to our poll said "no, it is not a deal-breaker." Many commented that the loss is disappointing, but ultimately it won't prevent them from buying a new MacBook. Still, more than one third of the responses were "yes, this is a deal-breaker." Many users are considering putting off upgrading altogether; others expressed discomfort with being forced to buy a MacBook Pro (either the new units, or the now heavily-discounted older units).

A note to concerned future MacBook Pro users: you can get an inexpensive cable with FW400 on one end and FW800 on the other -- no adapter needed, just a new cord for your camera or audio device. Be warned, however, that the presence of a FW400 device in the chain will drop the speed of any FW800 devices to the older standard.

Reader David sent Steve Jobs (or an e-mail, expressing his disappointment by the lack of FireWire on new MacBooks. The response (which David forwarded and we verified had the correct mail-header information), is pretty interesting...

"Actually, all the new HD camcorders of the past few years use USB 2."

You know, I really don't want to get too pedantic about that statement, but that simply is not true. It is true that the industry standard for consumer HD video has emerged in the form of AVCHD. Because that format is either stored on a hard disk or on flash media (and in its original incarnation, burned directly to a DVD), it's accessible via USB 2.0. It is also true that AVCHD is still not completely supported for native editing by most popular software packages. In fact, Adobe Premeire Pro didn't even support the format until CS4, which was released yesterday. iMovie '08, Final Cut Express 4 and Final Cut Studio can edit AVCHD footage, but it has to be converted to the Apple Intermediate Codec on the fly (or batch converted with the VoltaicHD tool, which adds the bonus of allowing PPC machines to work with the format).

Furthermore, although it has lagged behind AVCHD in popularity, HDV cameras are still sold, and because HDV uses MiniDV tapes, it is a popular choice for consumers who either bought HD cameras early, or still want to be able to play back their MiniDV footage. XDCAM EX and DVCPRO HD have supplanted HDV in the professional market, but many of the better prosumer cameras are HDV, not AVCHD. Even with the USB 2 port found on most DVCPRO HD cams, you still can't capture footage from tape with it; that's a job for FireWire.

But fine, for the sake of argument, let's assume that every HD consumer camera sold in the last year was AVCHD (I won't even acknowledge "few years" because iMovie didn't even support AVCHD until August of 2007). That still leaves a lot of users, a lot of consumers with MiniDV cameras. Obviously older technology cannot and should not be supported forever, but we are hardly at the tipping point for mass replacement of every MiniDV camera, right?

David sent an additional response, raising the question of cost of the new USB 2.0 cameras. The Apple response this time, "The new HD camcorders start around $500." So I suppose Apple's position is that we are at that tipping point. Fair enough, it still leaves lots of us with a decision to make: upgrade the camera and computer, buy the more expensive computer or just hold off on upgrading altogether.

I don't think I would be so confused if this wasn't the interface that Apple has touted and encouraged for so many years. It would also be less upsetting if users were at least given an alternative. Most PC laptops come with Express Card slots as a standard feature. Then, you could just buy a FireWire card. No problem. The same goes for the iMac, whenever they eventually phase out FireWire. On a PC, you can add a PCI-Express card. On the iMac, you're out of luck.

All I can say, is that if you are a Mac user who has no intention on buying a Mac Pro or a MacBook Pro, I would seriously reconsider buying any FireWire devices in the future. It is clear that as far as the consumer lineup is concerned, FireWire 400 or 800 is on the way out, and chances are the equipment won't work with your next hardware upgrade.
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