Buying a new computer can be a very tiring process, with technical terms, configuration varieties, and ever-changing macOS and Windows operating systems. Whether it’s understanding the importance of a GPU, CPU, RAM, or SSD, we hope this article provides some relief in your new computer search!
First: The Basics
When investing in a new computer you may see some of the following terms. We understand they might be confusing. Let’s break down 4 of the most important hardware terms to know!
The CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the main engine of your computer. It handles most of the processing tasks of your operating system and applications.
The GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) is a specialized processor that takes care of all of the graphics processing tasks, which in the case of ProPresenter consists primarily of drawing images, video, and text on each of your screens.
RAM (Random-access Memory) holds the information for everything that is happening on the computer “right now”. In a very basic sense, it allows apps (and files) to temporarily be stored in, recalled, and used by the computer as needed.
Hard Drives (Storage)
Hard Drives are where your files, apps, and OS components are stored. For many years, the traditional hard drive included with computers was a mechanical spinning disk hard drive, which were rather slow. Now, the most popular hard drive is a solid-state drive or SSD, which is far faster. Frankly, it’s a strong argument that SSDs are at the heart of the biggest jump in overall computer performance of the last decade. In general, you’re going to want to focus on finding a computer with an SSD for ProPresenter.
Graphics and Video Outputs
Not only can a DeckLink card be used to output video signals, but it can also be used to input video from a camera for your live stream.We want you to be familiar with two terms that are often used interchangeably, but have a significant difference:
Graphics Outputs: Your computer will likely come with one or more “graphics” outputs, such as HDMI, DVI, or DisplayPort. When connected to a projector or a computer display, the computer’s operating system will send a signal to these outputs just as it does your main operator display.
Video Outputs: ProPresenter can make use of video devices (PCIe cards and Thunderbolt equipment) that provide SDI outputs. These are video devices and will not show up in the operating system unlike the graphics outputs. Video outputs are only usable by software written for them, such as ProPresenter. We often reference the DeckLink Duo2 (4 SDI connectors) and DeckLink Quad 2 (8 SDI connectors) as two inexpensive ways to add outputs to your computer. These are PCIe cards, so if you’re using a desktop computer and have an appropriate PCIe slot available, you can install it internally. If you are using a laptop, or computer hardware with Thunderbolt, you can use an external PCIe chassis connected to Thunderbolt 3 or 4 ports and put the DeckLink card inside of the chassis.
Note that DeckLink cards are not a replacement for the computer’s GPU. They simply give you additional inputs and outputs. You still want a higher-powered GPU when running multiple screens.
What’s the Best Computer to Run ProPresenter?
It’s easy to answer the question ’what’s the best computer to run ProPresenter?’… any $20,000+ Mac or PC should do the trick. I suspect that answer isn’t satisfying for most people, so we have to dive a bit deeper to find the right machine for the budget that you have.
The reason we don’t just come out and say “buy this computer” for anyone that asks is because there is no “one size fits all” solution. We have to recommend a solution based on what you’re trying to accomplish, what your budget is, and what features you plan to use.
No matter your setup, with ProPresenter we recommend using an SSD for your device’s main hard drive (meaning, the drive that will have your operating system running on it). This doesn’t have to be large… you could start with a smaller SSD to save on the cost from your computer’s manufacture and add on an external SSD or HDD for extra files later on.
More RAM can also help your machine run faster because when the computer runs out of memory, it begins using the hard drive, which can slow processes down dramatically. While RAM comes in different speeds, the amount of RAM you have will likely play a bigger role in how fast your computer performs more-so than the speed of the RAM. That said, it’s good practice to find out the fastest RAM speed your computer supports and aim to get that or something close!
Should I get a Mac or PC?
That’s a loaded question! macOS computers are all made and warranted by Apple, and are known for stability, ease of use, and a higher price for an equivalent configuration. PCs running Windows are known for flexibility at a lower cost. Both have strengths, and both can perform well in live productions! If you’re looking for a reliable setup and have the budget for a Mac, that could be the solution for you. If you’re looking to save some money or have specific needs for which there are no cost-effective macOS computers made, you might choose a PC. Choosing a PC does not necessarily mean your setup won’t be reliable, but there are far more variables on the Windows platform since there are so many different component manufacturers. Today the main questions to consider are: ‘Which OS are your volunteers and staff going to be more comfortable with?’ and ‘How much flexibility in hardware do you want?’, and the always important ‘What is your budget?’
If you have a need for more than 4 screens (including the operator display) and plan to make use of most of the features in ProPresenter, a PC will likely offer you a price advantage. If you have volunteers who are used to the macOS and you value the reliability of the Apple ecosystem, then go with a Mac! While Mac vs PC used to be an easy question to answer for stability and reliability, it has now become a far more subjective question due to advances in modern technology.
EDIT TO REPRESENT CHANGES IN THE HARDWARE INDUSTRY IN 2020*
In 2020 Apple released Apple Silicon as an alternative to Intel within Mac computers. With the introduction of this, Mac computers became significantly less cost for the performance levels vs the previous Intel-based machines. Now several generations of Apple Silicon like the M1 and M2 have been released allowing for Mac computers to be competitive or even cheaper than many PC setups. Consider this when choosing between PC and Mac as the previous idea the Apple products being more expensive for the same level of hardware has essentially gone out the window and flipped the conversation completely.
Sample Setups & Configurations
Here are some setups we’ve seen to be popular with our recommendation on where to start when looking at computer specs. CPUs can be confusing because more powerful processors may operate at lower clock speeds, and the “i7” chip from 8 years ago won’t be as powerful as the “i5” chip made today. It’s always best to ask a technical professional if you need help choosing which computer or processor is best for your setup.
In these sample setups we will assume you plan to output 1080p or 1080i HD video. If you plan to use 4k (UHD), keep in mind that one 4k screen is equivalent in pixels and performance requirements to four 1080p screens. If you don’t actually “need” 4k then try to stick to 1080. In almost every situation, viewers will not notice any difference visually between 4k and 1080 when projected in an auditorium.
Note: when we refer to a “Screen”, we are referring to an output from the ProPresenter computer. If you have two “screens” in your auditorium, but you are showing the same thing on them, you should use a distribution amplifier or “splitter” to drive these rather than a separate output on the computer. Also note that live streaming feeds should be counted as separate “screens”, even though they don’t have a hardware output from the computer.
Scenario 1: One HD Audience Screen and One HD Stage Display
This is by far the most-used ProPresenter configuration, and in 2022 we are comfortable saying that most any computer that can run the latest macOS or WindowsOS will likely be capable of working well in this configuration, provided that it has enough graphic outputs. That said, we recommend that you plan for the future by investing a bit more in your computer. On the PC side it may be possible to use a computer with an Intel Core i3 or AMD Ryzen 3 processor, it would be ideal to aim for at least an Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 processor. You could start off with 8gb of RAM, but if you plan to add on additional screens in the future, or make use of big features like live streaming & recording then you would be well-advised to get a computer that is at least capable of being upgraded to 16gb of RAM. On the Mac side any Mac with an M1 or newer processor with 8gb of RAM or more would work well. Keep in mind the screen limitations of Apple Silicon.
Scenario 2: Three HD Audience Screens and One HD Stage Display
In this setup just for one example, you may have a live stream output, announcement screen output going to your lobby, 1 main audience screen in your auditorium, and 1 stage screen for your talent. On the PC side It would be good to look for a computer with a newer Intel Core i7 or AMD Ryzen 7, 16gb of Ram, and a dedicated GPU that has 4gb+ of VRAM. On the Mac side, a base M1 or better with 16gb of RAM would get you where you need to be.
Scenario 3: Six HD Audience Screens and Two HD Stage Displays
We’ve gone over the top in this configuration to make a point — while this sounds like a far-fetched scenario, you’d be surprised how quickly your needs grow. In this setup for one example, you may have 1 output to go to 2 side screens, 3 outputs for a three-projector edge-blended screen, 1 output for a live stream, 1 output dedicated to announcements in your lobby, and 2 different stage display outputs for the people on stage.
At this point, I would recommend at least considering adding an additional computer and person to split the requirements between 2 computers instead of trying to do all of that from one. When possible, it is good to have someone focused and dedicated to a live stream, so offloading that to a 2nd computer might be of value, you could also offload the announcement layer output to that 2nd computer. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t expect a guitarist on the team to also be the keyboard player. If the band needs more people, they’d recruit more people. Do the same with the tech team!
That said, ProPresenter 7 can do all of what we mentioned at once, so for this configuration on the PC side, you’d be well advised to look for a desktop with a higher-end Intel (Core i7 or Intel Core i9), or AMD (Ryzen 7 or AMD Ryzen 9) processor. 32GB of RAM would also be advisable, as well as a high-end GPU with 8GB or more of VRAM. You’re also going to need a way to output all of those displays as you likely won’t have 8 built-in graphics outputs. The Blackmagic DeckLink Quad 2 can add 8 SDI video outputs to your computer cost-effectively.
On the Mac side, you’ll be looking at a Mac with an M1 Max or better and newer with 16gb or more of RAM. We’d also recommend the DeckLink Quad 2 here as well.
Keep in mind, these are our recommendations. That doesn’t mean that you may not find success with a lower performing computer for your setup, but if you want an ideal level of performance without going overboard on cost then these are some basic configurations that we’d recommend. You could also choose to go much higher on the specs then even what is listed here and spend more if you want to future proof your setup.
Some Other Considerations
The complexity of your setup
The more features of ProPresenter you start using, the more likely your CPU, RAM, & GPU usage is going to go up. The more “Looks” you use or Actions you trigger from one slide, the more computer resources you use. Starting to make use of MIDI, NDI, live streaming, or 4k video? All of these place more of a load on your computer. The more you do and the more complex your setup, the more resources you may need. If you’re maxing out every feature and trying to fit into one of those sample setups you may need to consider higher-end hardware or splitting your presentation computer into multiple positions. You may consider splitting up the graphics operator functions to more than one person. Sometimes we forget how much we are asking 1 person to do.
As there are a limited number of ports on your computer, you need to also consider how you can bring in camera feeds as an input. While there are some USB options available, the best performance for video inputs will be through the same Blackmagic Design devices used as outputs. The SDI connectors on the Decklink Duo 2 and Quad 2 cards can be alternatively used to input video from a camera for your live stream. The UltraStudio Monitor series from Blackmagic Design are all-in-one Thunderbolt devices that can be connected for additional video inputs and outputs for things like screens and cameras.