QLab 5GeneralSystem Recommendations

System Recommendations

QLab 5 is a Mac-only program. It requires macOS Big Sur (macOS 11) or higher, and can run on any Mac that can run macOS Big Sur or higher. QLab 5 runs natively on both Apple Silicon processors and Intel processors. While it is technically possible to run QLab in a virtual machine or on a home-built “hackintosh,” these configurations have unpredictable problems and are neither recommended nor supported.

Apple tends to refer to technical specs in non-technical language, such as “processor” instead of “CPU” and “memory” instead of “RAM.” While reasonable people may differ on whether this decreases or increases confusion, this manual will attempt to match Apple’s terminology where possible in hopes of making it easier to compare Apple’s published specifications against the experience of QLab users.

Mindset

QLab is designed to be as flexible as possible so that it can be useful in a wide range of settings. As a consequence, it can be difficult to lay down strict rules about how much computing power QLab needs to run well. This section of the manual aims to discuss general concepts surrounding processor, graphics, memory, and storage as they pertain to QLab, and should be read not as directions about what to do, but as recommendations about what to consider.

Processor (CPU)

Processor power has the most straightforward relationship to QLab performance; the more work QLab needs to do, the more processor power it will use. These things all have a substantial impact on the amount of processor power needed by QLab:

  • The number of simultaneously running cues.
  • The resolution, frame rate, and bitrate of video files played by Video cues.
  • The sample rate, bit depth, and number of channels of audio files played by Audio cues.
  • The number of lighting instruments used in Light cues.
  • The use of live audio and video effects.
  • The use of blend modes in Video cues.
  • The complexity of AppleScripts run by Script cues.

Conversely, here are some things which generally do not have much of an impact on the amount of processor power needed by QLab:

  • The total number of cues in a workspace.
  • The file size of media targeted by Audio and Video cues. (The file size per se is not important, although higher resolution, sample rate, and bitrate often go hand in hand with larger file sizes.)
  • Using a single media file as the target of multiple cues.
  • Playing whole files for cues versus setting custom start times and end times.
  • The number of slice markers in a cue.

The upshot

Macs are available today with several types of processors which can be categorized as follows:

  • i3 and i5 processors can handle simple shows,
  • i7 and i9 processors are much better at running multiple simultaneous cues and live effects,
  • Xeon, Apple Silicon M1, and M2 processors offer superb performance,
  • Apple Silicon M1 Pro, M1 Max, and M1 Ultra processors offer the best possible performance.

Memory (RAM)

Loading and playing cues uses memory, so the more audio or video that needs to be loaded at any given moment, the higher the memory requirement will be. 4 GB should be considered the minimum for even the simplest of shows, and 8 GB should be considered the minimum for shows of middling complexity or higher. As with processing power, more complex shows can benefit from (and may require) more memory. QLab is able to address as much memory as your Mac provides.

Intel-based Macs and Apple Silicon-based Macs handle memory very differently. It appears to be true that Apple Silicon-based Macs need less memory to run the same software as an equivalent Intel-based Mac, but as of the writing of this manual there is not enough information to provide more specific guidance.

Storage (disk space)

The most important aspect of storage is thankfully the simplest; you need to have a sufficient amount of storage installed in your Mac to hold the data needed for your show. QLab workspaces are generally very small, so the real determining factor is the total size of all the media files used by your workspace.

The second most important aspect of storage is the read speed, which is the speed at which the Mac is able to gather data from storage. Nearly all Macs today use solid state drives (SSD), the very slowest of which is still awfully fast.

For best performance, we recommend using a Mac with an SSD, and keeping your workspace and its media stored internally on that Mac. If you must store your data on an external drive, it should be an SSD or a very fast, enterprise-class hard disk, and should be connected to your Mac via Thunderbolt, USB4, or USB 3.2.

For those who are pushing the limits of what is possible, the best possible performance comes from PCIe-based storage cards in modern Mac Pros, the built-in SSDs in Mac Studios, and the built-in SSDs in MacBook Pros with M1 Pro and M1 Max processors.

Graphics (GPU)

If you use QLab for anything besides video, you almost definitely do not need to worry about the graphics performance of your Mac. QLab does make use of graphics processing for non-video related things, notably drawing the waveform view in the Time & Loops tab of the inspector and updating the Light Dashboard, but any reasonably modern Mac has sufficient graphics processing power for these tasks.

If you use QLab for video, however, the graphics processing capability of your Mac is very important and in keeping with the theme of this section of the manual, what you need depends entirely upon what you’re trying to accomplish.

Intel-based Macs

The Intel-based Mac Mini and MacBook Air have a single, integrated graphics processor which is able to connect to a maximum of two displays; one for your operator and one for your audience. Since the two displays share the graphics processor, you can improve overall performance by lowering the resolution on your operator’s display; the computer will be doing less work for the operator’s display, which means more power is available for video crunching. These Macs can work for very simple video needs.

The 2017-2019 13” MacBook Pro came in various models, all of which used an integrated graphics processor, similar to the Mac Mini and MacBook Air though more powerful. These Macs can work well for simple video needs.

For all of the above Macs, a portion of system memory is used as video memory. The size of this portion is based on the total amount of system memory installed, so the more memory you have, the more of it will be available for graphics-specific work. While we don’t recommend using these Macs for video-intensive shows, if you do use such a Mac we strongly encourage you to install the maximum possible amount of memory.

The 2017-2019 15” or 16” MacBook Pro came in various models, the best of which all supported multiple external displays at fairly high resolutions. These Macs work well for moderately complex video needs.

The 2013-2018 “Darth Vader’s wastebasket” Mac Pro drives up to six displays with a single graphics processor. Three options were available, and you had to select which you wanted at purchase time; the middling D300, the fairly-good-for-the-time D500, or the actually-quite-good D700. None of these Macs have a good relationship of price to performance, but buying used or renting a D500 or D700 model can provide good video performance for moderately complex video needs.

The 2019-2022 “return of cheese grater” Mac Pro allows you to install multiple video cards. Dedicating one modest video card for your operator display and one or more fancier cards for your audience-facing displays is a good strategy. These Macs work well for complex video needs, and the best of them (while terrifically expensive) work well for very complex video needs.

Intel-based Macs can use eGPUs, which are GPUs connected via Thunderbolt, and QLab can “see” and make use of them. While their total performance is limited by the speed of the Thunderbolt bus, that speed is quite good and the limitation is not terrible. eGPUs are a great way to add video outputs and video rendering power to an Intel-based Mac that isn’t a Mac Pro. If you’re using a Mac Pro, you should always use internally installed GPUs.

Apple Silicon-based Macs

All Apple Silicon Macs have integrated graphics processors, which means that the graphics processor is built into the same physical package as the regular processor and is therefore not removable or replaceable. Historically, integrated graphics processors offered fairly lackluster performance and were not recommended for serious video use. The Apple Silicon integrated graphics system, on the other hand, uses a novel design which is profoundly more powerful than Intel’s integrated graphics processors. Additionally, the M1 Pro, M1 Max, M1 Ultra, and M2 processors include dedicated circuitry for video decoding, making them the best possible choice for video performance.

If you need the best possible video performance with up to four audience-facing displays, a Mac Studio with an M1 Ultra is the best choice of any Mac whatsoever. A Mac Studio or MacBook Pro with an M1 Max processor is a very, very close second, still notably better than any other Mac.

If you need very good video performance with up to two audience-facing displays, a MacBook Pro with an M1 Pro processor will do very nicely.

If you only need a single audience-facing display, any Mac with an M1 or M2 processor is likely to provide enough graphics performance for even complex workspaces.

Apple Silicon-based Macs do not support eGPUs.

Audio Output

All Macs have a ⅛” (3.5 mm) stereo output jack, and if all you need is one- or two-channel output, this can be fine. This connection is unbalanced, so it is recommended that the length of the cable that you plug into this jack be no longer than six feet or 1.8 meters (metres) in order to minimize noise.

If you need more than two channels, balanced connections, or outputs in other physical formats (such as analogue XLR3, AES, MADI, etc.) you can use any Core Audio-compliant audio device, which is nearly every audio device that works with a Mac. Through Core Audio, QLab supports output at a resolution of 16 or 24 bits at sample rates up to 192 kHz, although sample rates above 48 kHz require substantially more processing power and are not recommended.

QLab also supports audio output over a network via Dante Virtual Soundcard and macOS’s built-in implementation of AVB. For Video and Camera cues which output to NDI, QLab can use NDI’s built in audio channels as well.

The use of more than two channels of audio output requires an audio license.

Video Output

QLab supports video output through the built-in connections on your Mac, including the connections on graphics cards installed Mac Pros with PCI slots, and connections on eGPUs used with Macs that support eGPUs (Intel-based Macs with Thunderbolt 3 connections.)

Most modern Macs utilize USB-C connectors to deliver video, usually via an adapter which provides a DisplayPort, Mini DisplayPort, HDMI, DVI, or VGA connection. Understanding USB-C and the various ways that it deals with video can be challenging. You can learn more about this topic in the section on understanding USB-C in this manual.

Using a video license, QLab can also output video via Blackmagic Design’s UltraStudio, DeckLink, and Intensity capture and playback devices; via Syphon; and over a network using NDI.

We do not recommend, nor do we support, video output via USB DisplayLink monitors or graphics adapters. While these devices can work, they are not compatible with hardware graphics acceleration and they have a history of spotty performance. Your mileage may vary, but our advice is to avoid them entirely. If you are not sure whether a device uses DisplayLink, the litmus test is this: if you need to install a driver or other special software to make the display work, then it’s probably DisplayLink.

Lighting Output

QLab can connect to DMX-controlled devices via Art-net and via a small list of specific USB-DMX adapters. QLab uses Art-net version 3, which means it’s compatible with any devices that use Art-net 3 or Art-net 4.

Ask Us

If you have specific questions about hardware choices or requirements, please email the QLab support team, and tell us about your show. We will be happy to help you.

Still have a question?

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