When I first got married back in 2001 (A Space Odyssey – cue the monolith and a hairy Martyn throwing a bone into the air), we spent the majority of our honeymoon backpacking around New Zealand which, at the time, was in the midst of making the first of the Lord of the Rings movies – the Fellowship of the Ring.

Though they didn’t make too big a fuss of the filming or even the mention of Lord of the Rings in the country, the merchandising was slowly beginning to creep in. I bought my copy of the official movie tie-in branded Lord of the Rings book from a NZ bookstore hoping to have something to read on the plane home.

I did start the book while flying home, but never finished it. It’d take me a good few more years until I had the patience to sit down and read it in its entirety (and even then, on a Kindle) and likewise for The Hobbit. But the movies were the first time I was exposed to J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterworks and it was an absolute blast.

I already own the extended editions of all six movies on iTunes, and I got it at a very good price when there was a sale on. But they don’t include all the extras. Plus, as you’ll have no doubt read my other posts – Apple and their content providers can remove purchased content from your library at any time, and for any reason. So I needed a back up anyway.

So I splashed out the £55 at Amazon and I’ve got say I’m very impressed with the packaging. A good while back I purchased the Breaking Bad Complete Series box set which contained a fair number of Blu-Ray discs which were all stored in scratchy cardboard sleeves (which, unsurprisingly, resulted in scratched discs on delivery and the whole thing had to be sent back – I now have the iTunes version which comes with all the extras, including audio commentaries – a first for an iTunes TV show package). Before sending the discs back to the retailer, I asked Sony, who distribute Breaking Bad on physical media, if they’d replace them. Nope. So why design such a poor storage system when you KNOW they’re going to get scratched? Sony are idiots, and doubly so when you consider they invented Blu-Ray discs in the first place.

Warner Bros., on the other hand, have done a fantastic job with storage – each movie comes in its own Amray case where the discs sit on a spindle and the disc’s surface is not exposed to a scratchy surface such as plastic or cardboard. This system ensures that your Blu-Rays will last a good while.

Speaking of Blu-Ray storage. Disney can join Sony in the doghouse because I’ve seen reviews of the £200 UltraHD/4K release of the Star Wars Skywalker saga where they store all the discs in cardboard or thick paper sleeves within a glossy and gorgeously designed book. Yes, it’s an impressive book, but it’s absolute shit for storing physical Blu-Ray media. And that price. I’m giving that one a massive pass. Plus I get the 4K/UltraHD versions of Star Wars on Disney+ if so desired. I already own a decent Blu-Ray set of the movies anyway – all stored in decent cases.

FInally, I am more hopeful for physical media these days. The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, when released, both will come with UltraHD Blu-Ray drives which means that people are more likely to have these in their homes than dedicated UltraHD players from Sony, etc. And this, in turn, should boost physical disc sales. (Though I always take that with a pinch of salt – streaming services are still the most popular way of consuming movie content – but assuming movie studios add value to the physical media in the way of extra content, maybe it’ll work out in the end.)

I have recently bought the single biggest mechanical hard drive I have ever owned, or want to own. The reason for this is simple. Apple’s Media Services is a state of flux, dithering between downloads and streaming. It sells movies that you can stream from any of your Apple devices. Anywhere. Anytime. Going where there is no internet? Download it!

Surely Apple doesn’t expect you to download ALL your movies and TV shows – it takes up so much space?! With internal drives for MacBook Pros costing up to £2k for 8Tb, nobody is going to have all that money to keep their digital movie and TV collection on their Mac, safe and sound?

Apple recommends that you download your purchases because they told me (but they never make it clear in any of their advertising, nor through the user interfaces of their online stores) that titles can be pulled from the local iTunes store for a variety of reasons and unless you’ve downloaded your purchase, you’ll lose it forever. This, despite people buying digital content and streaming content directly from Apple’s servers – as this is the easiest way, and indeed, the way it was designed to be so. Rarely does a computer enter into the whole purchase thing. Got an Apple TV device? Just buy straight from your armchair. Buy from your iPhone or iPad. Easy.

Apple iTunes Store movie purchases are only downloadable up to HD quality only. Any advertised features such as 4K and iTunes Extras cannot be downloaded – they’re streamable only.

Still, I have nearly 500 movies in my collection which would be a considerable pain in the arse to store as physical media in the small house I live in. So I really ought to back up everything I got. Having something is better than nothing.

I looked at a number of options:

  • NAS device with at least 8Tb capacity, in RAID 1 configuration to ensure that both drives are mirrored simulataneously in case one drive fails.
  • Multiple WD Passport bus-powered 5Tb drives, splitting movies and TV shows across each device, and backing each one up to Amazon’s S3 Deep Glacier which charges just $1/Tb per month.
  • Single big drive, along with multiple WD Passport bus-powered drives to back up movies and TV shows separately as a backup.

The problem with the NAS device is that the enclosure alone is pricey. And that’s without any disks. Add the disks and it becomes very expensive. And the disks themselves are not going to be fast. So copying nearly 4Tb of data off the WD Passport 4Tb bus-powered, 5,400RPM drive I was using to back up everything was not going to be fast.

I looked at the Western Digital MyBook Duo range of drives, eyeing up a massive 24Tb beast. The advantage here is that the drives are WD Reds which are best designed for long term use, plus with the MyBook Duo enclosure, you can swap the drives out easily – and even upgrade. Downside was that the enclosure is plastic, plus there were many reports of it overheating as a result of that (though these reports go back to 2017/2018), and it was noisy. Plus they wanted £530 for it. And the disk performance wasn’t exactly great, either.

I started looking at Western Digital’s new WD_BLACK range. These are designed primarily for gamers, incorporating fast storage and plenty of capacity. What really caught my eye with the WD_Black D10 Game Drive for the Xbox One: 7,200RPM 3.5″ drive rated up to 250MB/S and a USB 3.2 gen 1 interface. The drive can be positioned horizontally (it has rubber feet) or vertically (comes with a stand).

WD_BLACK D10 Game Drive for Xbox One. Xbox One is purely optional.

Interestingly, the type of drives installed in these units appear to be datacentre-grade drives that are typically found in servers (Ultrastar DC 500 series drives, apparently). This means that they will keep up with demanding performance from reading/writing, and for a long time. And it was a bargain at £262. The only downside is that the drive comes with a 3-year limited warranty rather than the Ultrastar’s typical 5-year warranty.

So I bought one. Plus it came with 3 months Xbox One Game Pass Ultimate, so that’s extended my subscription to February 2021 (in case anybody’s wondering: the Xbox One Game pass is very much worthwhile if you’re an Xbox owner).

And I absolutely love the drive. The downside was that the WD Passport drive was so slow in transferring data, it was quicker to download the whole 4Tb from Apple’s servers. That took 2 days. But the drive performance is indeed excellent, reaching up to around 215MB/S write and 235MB/S read during my own tests.

3.9Tb of iTunes Store movie and TV show purchases

Apple’s Apple TV app on macOS Catalina is a massive pain in the arse, however. It’s so fragile about where data is stored. Get something every so slightly wrong and you’d need to download the movie/TV show again even if it exists on the filesystem. As I don’t have the drive going all the time, I created a new library by pressing the Option key down when opening the Apple TV app. I created a new library on the external drive and downloaded everything from there. The Mac and the drive were on for two solid days, and the D10 drive never once felt hot. Warm, yes, but never hot – and this is in the horizontal position.

What I need to remember is if I want to use the Apple TV app when the external drive is off, I need to press Option whilst opening the app to select the local internal SSD library. However, Apple TV seems very insistent on holding on to an internal database file which results in this:

This crops up (even in macOS Catalina 10.15.5) when Apple TV app isn’t running

and the only way to get around is to determine the process ID of whatever is holding onto the TV library database and kill it off:

I love UNIX.

which then allows me to open the other library. I’m not sure what effect killing off the process like that has on the internal Apple TV library, but so far I’ve found no ill effects. But it does suggest that maybe Apple needs to spend a bit more time working on closing files when the application closes..

So the drive is proving itself worthy. But isn’t it a single point of failure? Yes. But I intend to buy another one and clone this drive to it, keeping the second drive as a backup. And maybe later down the road, getting a MyBook Duo or NAS as an additional backup. Speed won’t matter too much, and it’ll just sit in the corner being idle for large amounts of time.

Speaking of backups, Apple’s Time Machine has become a massive pain in the arse, and I’ve stopped using it. In its place I’m using Acronis’ True Image 2020 which is so much faster, provides versioning and tidying up of versions older than X days/months old. It backs up to the 12Tb drive, naturally, and gives me plenty of space for a good while alongside the media library.

Acronis True Image 2020 for Mac – a better Time Machine replacement

As we enter yet another week of lockdown, I’ve been all too successful at remaining indoors. While Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Ocado, Waitrose and all other grocery stores online delivery services are completely out of bounds, Amazon Prime Now has proven itself worthy over and over again. Best £7.99/month I’ve ever spent.

I’ve managed to keep up stocks of the regular staples including bread and main meals regularly over the past few weeks without too many issues. One has to keep checking available slots, but usually something turns up every few hours. This is in stock contrast to Sainsbury’s which is only delivering to the most vulnerable. Click and Collect is always unavailable.

The big problem with the main supermarkets is that they make the assumption that everybody drives and has a car. I don’t. The bus service where I live has reduced its services to about one bus per hour rather than the usual 10 minutes when they were operating normally. So it could take several hours for me to go grocery shopping each week – and bear in mind that I’d have to cart everything back by myself.

Virtual Music Concerts

I’ve not been to many music concerts in my life (I can count on one hand – The Divine Comedy at The University of East Anglia (UEA) back in the late 90’s, Last Night of the Proms at Hyde Park in the mid 2000’s, and similarly one trip to Guilfest in 2006), but as we’re all still in lockdown, new ways are being found to provide the concert-going experience at home.

Fortnite, the wildly popular video game, recently put on a virtual concert for Travis Scott. The event, called Astronomical, showcased a few of his existing songs as well as previewing a new track. It was rather spectacular – and more importantly, provided a virtual mosh pit where you could jump and run around and, in some cases, swim and fly. The Xbox controller’s haptic feedback engine vibrate in time to the music often.

I’ve put together a few highlights here.

It was a wildly successful event, and I have no doubt that we’ll be seeing more of these things in the future – lockdown or not.

Replacing the daily commute with a webcam

One of the most difficult things I had trouble sourcing when work asked us to start working from home was a webcam. Every other bugger was buying them as well. But I’ve finally managed to get my hands on one, albeit it at a cost which closely matches that of my monthly commute via South Western Railways. It is a 4K webcam, though, and designed for streaming.

Work has a regular weekly meeting with all employees, and a daily virtual coffee/chinwag in which using video is highly encouraged. My 16″ MacBook Pro is hooked up to my new 27″ BenQ monitor, and the lid is closed, so I can’t use the webcam there (and besides which it’s only 720p because Apple has seriously skimped on what is now a vital resource). I’ve used the 2018 iPad Pro temporarily, but the angle is such that it looks up my nose and just isn’t flattering at all. With the new Logitech Brio 4K Stream camera, it’ll sit on top of the monitor and will provide viewers with a much better angle, and at a much better quality.

I imagine that realistically, we won’t be back in the office much until June/July time, so it seems worthwhile making the investment now. Given the potential for reinfection, we may be using video conferencing a lot more.

Photo slideshows and video editing

I’ve started experimenting with Apple Photos’ slideshow functions to put together a few slideshows of various things. One thing that I put together was a tribute to the family cat, Lupin, who sadly passed away last month. It’s quite interesting that looking back on the photos, I took a LOT of pictures of that cat. But alas, it’s not great, so I won’t embed it here.

RIP Lupin Drake

After messing about with Apple Photos, I attempted to put together a slideshow of a trip I made to the Pacific Northwest I went on 5 years ago next month. I wanted to do something a bit special for the 5th anniversary. Alas, Apple Photos is a massive pain in the arse and, combined with my lack of organisational skills in managing the photos and date/time settings on the camera and iPhone, it’s all a bit of a mess. Re-ordering them in the slideshow caused significantly more problems.

I had even imported the exported slideshow into Final Cut Pro X, created some text overlays (with a flag for each country I visited) and polished the presentation. It looked good, apart from noticing the completely out of order photos which kept happening every time I messed about with the export function in Apple Photos. So I’d preview it in Apple Photos, see that it was okay, and got a completely different result from the export after putting all the effort in captioning and graphics and watching the results.

I think what I need to do is create an album, add the photos I want to add there, and then create the slideshow for that. I’ll give that a go soon, but having spent nearly 7 hours very early Saturday morning messing about with Apple Photos and Final Cut Pro X, I’m not in a rush to do so again too soon.

My Pacific Northwest travels of 2015

Sometimes I wonder about the wholesomeness of the games industry… perhaps this is why it’s called an Xbox (sponsored by Viagra for those that aren’t common achievers and are having problems “getting wood”).

As for Minecraft itself, it’s become far too horribly commercialised for what is essentially a kid’s game. The prompting for people to buy extra packs and add-ons at silly pricing is just wrong.

As we enter the third or fourth week of lockdown (to be honest, I can’t remember – I’ve been working from home since early at least early March), and with a good few more weeks to go (four, maybe even eight), I decided that I’d take some of the money that I’d be spending on commuting and upgrade some more of my home computing kit – particularly my monitor.

My old desk set-up – from the 1980’s! Multiplayer ZX Spectrum fun!

I’ve been using a Dell 24″ monitor for the past couple of years – it was something I bought for around £150 and has generally done me well. However, the 2018 15″ MacBook Pro and 2019 16″ MacBook Pro didn’t entirely get on well with it. iTunes/Apple TV would often complain that HDCP wasn’t available and refused to playback any of my 400+ iTunes movies and TV shows. Occasionally the screen would just blank for a few seconds too. I tried USB-C to HDMI cables, the £70 certified Apple adaptor and HDMI 2.0 certified cables – no joy.

Messy desk set-up prior to upgrade

I settled on a gaming monitor for the replacement. It may sound strange, but as the MacBook Pro can support higher refresh rates, supports AMD FreeSync for improved frame rates, it made sense. I went for a 27″ BenQ EX2780Q display.

New desktop set-up featuring 27″ monitor, Xbox One X and Jim Henson & Ava DuVernay Funko Pop Figures

It supports a 144Hz refresh rate (the higher the better), it has a native quad HD resolution which supports the 144Hz refresh rate – but can upscale to 4K resolution at 60Hz. The Mac will only see 2560×1440 – but this is a definitive improvement over 1920×1080 from the Dell. A bigger screen + resolution = more real estate for Terminal and Remote Desktop windows when working.

HDR is also supported, but this is a bit of a strange beast. Even now, HDR is still a bit of a mystery to me. My 60″ 4K TV doesn’t have it, but my iPhone and iPad Pro do (HDR10 and Dolby Vision support). This monitor has HDR support, though it isn’t very specific as to what it will support – though HDR10 on the Xbox One X seems to work just fine. On the Mac – no HDR mode is seemingly supported. But when playing on the Xbox One X, I do seem to notice more vibrant colours than before. There are options to change different HDR settings, but I’ve more or less left them alone and just accepted the defaults.

The monitor comes with a decent sound system built in – with a volume knob within easy reach. In fact, the controls for this monitor are excellent. Especially as it comes with its own remote control. I can change input settings easily – scroll through and make changes in the menu system all without touching the monitor itself. And speaking of inputs – it has support for USB-C, 2 x HDMI 2.0 ports and a DisplayPort. The Mac is hooked up via USB-C and the Xbox One X is connected via HDMI. Two presses on the remote control and I can switch between the Mac and Xbox with ease.

Since using the BenQ monitor – no HDCP problems, no screen blanking – it’s been working perfectly. I think this has been one of the best electronic purchases in recent years (along with the 2019 16″ MacBook Pro) and will keep me going for the next 5 years or so.

Jim Henson (with Kermit) and Ava DuVernay – and the giant remote control
Updated media library/shelves

The other additions to the the upgrades include the Logitech MX Master 3 mouse. I’m an owner of the MX Master 2S, but found that the battery life wasn’t very good (at least at home) and that the scroll wheel was very noisy/not terribly smooth. The MX Master 3 fixes ALL these problems, and then some. It’s perfect for the Mac – and I’ve been going weeks – not days – with the MX Master 3 without recharging. I’m extraordinarily happy with it. The Apple mouse is being kept because MacBook Pros (and Mac Minis) seem to have real difficulty with wireless mice in firmware mode unless it’s an Apple mouse.

Finally, I bought an Xbox One X. I did own one a few years ago, but found I didn’t play it very much. So it’s a system I had already invested in. With the lockdown and not being able to get outside, I wanted something to stimulate me that wasn’t work related. I also wanted to get a controller that worked with iOS and iPadOS too – and the Xbox controllers will work with them. The Xbox One X is effectively a Windows 10 PC – but you just can’t run Microsofft Word on it. Yet. More games are supporting keyboard and mice – including Fortnite – though as I found out, you really need a USB keyboard and mouse to make it work. The Xbox One X doesn’t support Bluetooth.

It was rather difficult getting the console because everybody else seems to be having the same idea. But it arrived, and set-up was very easy. It sits on my desk opposite the Mac and if I feel the urge to cure people of Freddy Mercury-itis in Two Point Hospital, it’s there:

or futuristic football with cars (Rocket League), I can just jump quickly into a match:

I’ve taken out the Xbox Games Pass Ultimate which, for £10.99/month, gives me access to over 100 games (Rocket League and Two Point Hospital are just two examples). One game that truly stands out as part of the Xbox Games Pass is the wonderful Ori and the Will of the Wisps which is simply one of the most attractive looking and sounding games I’ve ever played:

Even on the easy mode, this is a difficult, difficult game. It’ll keep me occupied for many months to come.

The only other thing I really need to complete my home office (haha – as if the Xbox is part of the office – though one could say it’s a de-stresser) is a webcam. I used to have a Logitech 4K Brio, but sold that about a year ago. Now you can’t buy them for love nor money as everybody is practically working from home now. At least the iPad Pro’s built in camera is useful for video conferencing, so I’m using that as a workaround.

Not entirely sure how I feel about this one, because streaming video is undoubtedly a luxury versus the need to keep businesses running through video conferencing, voice over IP phone calls, and instant messaging.

The problem is that the likes of Netflix, YouTube, Amazon and even Apple have all been asked to reduce the bandwidth or resolution of their streaming services by the European Commission in order to reduce load on Internet Service Providers.

Here in the UK, despite the occasional spike, ISPs have generally stated that they’re able to cope with the extra demand of people streaming video now that social distancing is being put into practice. Yet Netflix has reduced the bitrate for their service to save bandwidth by 25%. The trouble with this is that their service was already very efficient with video compression – and the Premium level gives you the highest quality video (up to Ultra HD). People pay extra for this tier, so is Netflix intended on compensating people for the reduction in bitrate? And especially for those who are also paying extra for top tier ISP performance (G.Fast in particular at 100Mbs or above)?

Netflix and still a high bill

YouTube is another culprit. I’m paying them £11.99 for the Premium service, and expect to get the highest quality video where available (as well as the removal of adverts – I could just use an ad blocker, but there are a number of creators I want to support and going down this route seems the fairest route).

Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Britbox, BBC iPlayer, UK TV, All 4, ITV Player and Channel 5 On Demand only operate on one tier and you can’t really complain if they reduce the resolution or quality. However, Apple TV+ seems to have gone overboard. This has lead me to cancel my free year-long trial. I was rather enjoying Amazing Stories and Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet – but otherwise there isn’t much other content that interests me, and they don’t offer any extras at all – a good opportunity for Apple to showcase their own iTunes/Apple Extras. But I won’t let the buggers reduce quality to the point of blocky artefacts. Even if I’m not paying for it (and yet they expect people to pay up to $350 for an iPad Pro keyboard/trackpad?!).

Apple’s blowing us a big fat bowl of raspberries..

And what do you think is going to happen on Tuesday 24th March when Disney+ launches in the UK and other countries in Europe. You bet demand is going to go through the roof that day. Will Disney be joining others in reducing bandwidth or resolution?

And furthermore, what’s happening with the US studios plan on releasing titles that were intended for cinema to be available to rent on streaming services such as iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, etc.? Will those titles – which cost around £15-20 to rent have their bandwidth or resolution restricted? If so, you can bet that piracy is going to outpace the legitimate version – further hurting the film industry.

Super high-res cinema brought down to sub-par resolution and bitrate

(While I’m at it – given that practically everybody in the world is now social distancing and staying at home – what’s the point of separate domestic and international release windows for new releases? Why is there still a pre-order for Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker in the UK when it’s been released early in the US? Why does the country release window matter anymore? We’re all stuck indoors!)

These companies were asked to reduce bandwidth, not ordered to do so. But I expect there would have been consequences if they had not – that seems the way with the European Commission. I wonder if ISPs had ever been asked about the usage and their plans on monitoring and handling traffic accordingly.

Streaming video is a luxury – yes, but for some this is escapism given the solitary demands of social distancing. And what does the European Commission think of video game streaming, video games that communicate with servers for multiplayer games (Fortnite, for example) – the traffic should be fairly negligible (though I use 50Mbs for Nvidia GeForce NOW which is often significantly more than what my streaming habits consume) – but would the European Commission craack down on that too? What other services or protocols does it want to reduce the use of?

What I strongly object to are web sites that load and then autoplay video in a small window (or even if the video is embedded in the body of the page, autoplaying is bad!) alongside 20 billions adverts. Plus the 50 billion third party calls to external services just to make the bloody site work. Now THAT is a waste of bandwidth.

For my work, I just need voice over IP telephony (Zoom), the occasional online conference where we share screens, SSH access, RDP access, VPN access and your usual web based traffic. Face to face video conferencing is not needed for the most part (I can’t remember the last time I had to use it). I paid for a decent internet connection for the likes of streaming – I should be able to use it for it until such times I can’t afford to do so, or the plan I’m using isn’t available any more. I trust my ISP has the ability to manage the traffic accordingly. And if they asked me to reduce my usage, I would (though there would be some discussion about what I’m paying as a consequence of that). But I dislike the EU interfering without first doing some substantial research first.

I’m continuing to enjoy Fortnite through Nvidia’s GeForce NOW service. macOS Catalina’s graphic driver just doesn’t seem to be optimised for Epic Game’s masterpiece – at least not in 10.15.3. It takes forever to start playing after selecting the match and waiting for it to start – to the point where you end up automatically being kicked off the bus and falling somewhere you haven’t chosen to drop.

I’m working my way up the ranks. At the time of writing I’m at level 40 out of a possible 120-something. But I don’t do too bad. I still don’t have the fingering skills (ooer missus) good enough to rapidly build forts to protect myself against my fellow competitors. I can usually last until the last 10 people remaining or so.

I hatched an evil scheme to try and catch somebody coming out from the Shark Island spy lair. It involved building a wall around the escape route and planting remote detonators. Alas, nobody took the bait. Then then storm came. Then somebody got me as I was having a gentle cruise down the river. The swine.

Drat. Double drat. Catch that pigeon, etc.

I noticed this advert on the train today and thought long and hard about it. The big feature with most gaming consoles and games is the ability to compete with other players online. The Nintendo Switch makes it possible to do this offline and on the go too.

It’s a very social console – my employer recently bought a Switch with multiple controllers for staff use (we have games nights here – whether it be classic console gaming or card games – something for everyone).

She’s going to lose the game – she’s too busy coyishly playing with her hair having noticed the gentleman sitting opposite her across the aisle! There goes her chances at the E-Sport Championships! Drat!

But when I looked at the advert, it felt more like an advert for a dating site than it does for a games console! The background characters make me chuckle – romance at the back of the bus and she’s looking completely unimpressed! I don’t know what’s special about that bus, but I’ll have whatever its having.

Maybe this is where I’ve been going wrong for the past 7-8 years – I need to buy a Nintendo Switch to find a wife! Though I do wonder what the divorce statistics are for couples that spend too much time playing computer games and not with each other (oo-er missus).

They say (and rightly so), that you don’t buy a Mac to play games. And yet, how do you explain Apple Arcade – the £4.99/month subscription service from Apple which provides a selection of high quality games (albeit no AAA titles) across iOS, iPadOS, tvOS and macOS devices?

On my old 2018 15″ MacBook Pro, I could play the same games I had on my iPhone on my Mac – and the performance wasn’t too bad. It’s even better on the 2019 16″ MacBook Pro, of course. But Macs weren’t really intended for heavy gaming – this has long been the dominance of games consoles such as the Playstation, Xbox, or the Nintendo Switch. And gaming PCs, of course – Nvidia graphics, quad/hexa/octa-core CPUs with 16Gb+ RAM and superfast SSD drives.

Yet modern Macs have quad/hexa/octa-core CPUs, 16Gb+ RAM and superfast SSD drives. Yet they can’t play AAA titles even if they were ported to macOS. In part this is due to the Nvidia vs AMD graphics. Nvidia has had a long established foothold in the graphics market on PCs – yet AMD’s graphics power the likes of the Xbox and Playstation (and will do with the next generation consoles coming this year).

Nvidia vs AMD

Macs did once have Nvidia GPUs, but due to a long running spat between Apple, Intel and Nvidia, things were never the same. This is not to say AMD produce inferior graphics chipsets – as we’ve seen, they’re used in today’s modern consoles alongside AMD CPUs too. And AMD has just released a 64-core CPU capable of 128 threads. This is a monster of a CPU (with a monster price – $4k for the CPU alone).

But Macs graphics have never been particularly powerful for gaming – primarily because Apple has been concentrating on more professional creative workflows than 3D gaming. And MacBook Pros have been very slender machines which makes designing thermals to keep the machine cooled a bit of a challenge.

Another problem with Macs is that now macOS Catalina has gone fully 64-bit, many 32-bit titles will not work. Goodbye Team Fortress 2 – many a wasted hour spent laughing long and hard playing that game.

But with the 16″ MacBook Pro with an Intel Core i9 processor and an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8Gb of video RAM, I can finally play Fortnite at reasonable framerates. The only downside is that with the release of macOS Catalina 10.15.3, the native Fortnite client takes around 4-5 minutes to load every time. With 10.15.2, it was near instantaneous. Also, with the newer thermal design, the CPU fans will ramp up and it does become quite noisy – so I revert to using headphones.

Nvidia’s GeForce Now – a potential solution to all Mac gamer problems?

Nvidia has a possible solution to the Mac/older PC problem. They have a subscription service which lets you play owned games (including Fortnite) by effectively providing a hosted virtual machine with one of their high end graphics cards. You’re effectively playing the game on their server and streaming the video back to your machine. This relies on:

  • Having a fast connection (50Mbs+ recommended)
  • Using ethernet rather than Wi-Fi
  • Low latency

You also need to own PC games. Fortnite is free to play, so as long as you have your Epic Games credentials, you’re all good. GeForce Now requires that you have logins for the games you’re playing. Nearly all games these days require some form of connection to the internet anyway, so this isn’t so much of a problem. Many of them are available from Steam anyway.

The downside to this is:

  • You’re giving credentials to a third-party service (Nvidia) which stores those credentials on their platform. The logins are usually connected to accounts where credit/debit card details are stored.
  • On a Mac, some symbols are only accessible via the option key – if you have a particularly complex password, good luck trying to enter them via the GeForce Now Mac client. Oh yes, copy and paste between the Mac and the client isn’t supported.
  • Nvidia does not support any form of two-factor authentication on their accounts. This is very bad.

So you’ve got to be very trusting that Nvidia will keep your credentials safe. And you’ll need to ensure that your GeForce Now account’s password is a strong one. Nvidia really need to get their arse into gear and deploy 2FA as soon as they bloody well can. They also need to fix their SPF and DMARC record, because all Nvidia store email goes to spam as a result. This is basic, basic stuff.

Nvidia needs to go back to email school and learn all about SPF and DMARC

Fortnite under GeForce now is very good. Initially it felt as if there was a little bit of lag (latency) when running under the Balanced setting, though it seems to have passed and gaming feels as good as running it locally. As I run my 16″ MBP via an external monitor – it’s limited to 1920×1080 which is a decent setting to run most games on high mode. GeForce Now Fortnite runs well with the high settings enabled and connected to Zen Internet via ethernet at 300Mbs download/50Mbs upload.

Fortnite using Nvidia’s GeForce Now on a Mac. High framerates! (Match sped up x 2)

In terms of loading speeds, GeForce Now and Fortnite are considerably faster than the native macOS Fortnite client. And the Mac’s fans never ramp up at all during gameplay. But I’d ideally still like to play Fortnite natively – if only the loading time issues can be resolved.

Can’t run Team Fortress 2 on macOS Catalina because of 32-bitness? GeForce NOW *can*.

The biggest bugbear is that GeForce Now doesn’t support one of the biggest titles in the past 7 years – Grand Theft Auto V.

GeForce now has two subscription tiers: free, with one hour sessions, and a limited edition Founder’s level which gives longer sessions and priority access (whatever that means). That said, it is £4.99/month with a 90 day trial before your card is charged, which is the cheapest and most generous I’ve seen.

Beware of the Shadows

There are alternatives to Nvidia’s video game streaming. One of them is Shadow. I’ve tried them before. They essentially provide you with a fully virtual Windows PC with Nvidia Geforce graphics card. You’d install games as you would under Windows. Unlike Nvidia’s GeForce Now, you have disk space and, as such, a quota to work with.

The biggest stumbling block I found with Shadow was the latency and overall streaming performance. Despite ethernet or Wi-Fi connection, the lag was very noticeable. And it was extremely expensive for what it is. You’d be better off saving the money towards a console or middle-end gaming PC. Even now, you have pre-order – with some specifications unavailable until 2021.

There’s also Google’s Stadia. Another streaming platform, designed to work across TVs, laptops and tablets. From what I understand you’ll need to buy hardware (at the very least a controller) and a subscription. From what I understand from the web site, you need to buy the games directly from Google to play with Stadia rather than bringing your existing library into it. That kind of limits things somewhat, and makes everything more expensive if you already own titles held on a different platform.

My recommendation

The current range of consoles – especially with Microsoft’s Xbox – are shaping up nicely as a good all round gaming system. Xbox has introduced mouse and keyboard support which when developers take advantage of, give PC-like gaming at a fraction of a cost. The next generation of consoles will also introduce SSDs for storage, which means much faster loading times. It’s also possible to stream from the console to a Mac or PC over local LAN, should you so wish.

But for the Mac user, regardless of whatever model you may be using, a combination of Apple Arcade and GeForce Now may be good option. Providing Nvidia continue to add titles, fix bugs, add essential features (as I mentioned earlier – copying and pasting between environments, and 2FA protection of Nvidia accounts).