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Review: Blackmagic Television Studio Pro HD

This is the first ATEM model that isn't a rackmount switcher but rather an all-in-one switcher with hardware control panel.

Working with software video switchers and hardware switchers with software control panels used to offer advantages over traditional all-in-one hardware switchers with integrated hardware control panels or hardware switchers with dedicated and connected hardware control panels. The most obvious advantage of software solutions used to be cost, as hardware control panels often cost more than the hardware switchers they control. I understand that hardware controls are a very niche specialty product, and I know this isn’t a fair comparison, but to me it often felt like a keyboard and mouse costing more than the computer that they’re connected to. But I also recognize the benefits of using the right solution for the job, and there are huge benefits to using hardware controls.

For a while, it seemed as if there was not much happening on the hardware video switching front in the sub-$7,500 market. Companies like Panasonic and Sony weren’t releasing new versions of their popular all-in-one solutions to add support for progressive or 4K UHD workflows. Roland did release the hardware V-1HD and V-1SDI video switcher models that offered four inputs each. While these would fit the bill for 75% of my own workflows, I still needed a solution for my more complicated productions.

This is the reason I maintain a roster of five different video switching solutions:

  1. I use the ATEM 1 M/E when I need multiple Aux outputs and DVE effects, such as picture-in-picture.
  2. I use the ATEM Production Studio 4K when I need progressive or UHD 4K workflows and don’t need more than one Aux output.
  3. I use the Roland V1-HD when I don’t need any Aux outputs or don’t need more than four inputs.
  4. I use a vMix-based custom-build mobile webcast studio with an eight-input Blackmagic DeckLink Quad 2 capture card and an AKAI APC Mini controller for when I’m webcasting and I don’t need low-latency IMAG.
  5. I have two vMix laptop solutions with Magewell USB 3.0 capture cards for when I am webcasting or doing a simple live switch and record and have only two camera or computer inputs.

In other words, it’s complicated. Maintaining multiple video switcher solutions works for me because I might be running multiple jobs on a single day and one of the solutions lives at a client site and another with one of my contractors.

I’m always on the lookout for a proper all-in-one video switcher solution that I can use on my more complicated productions. I feel that the pain point for technical directors is a video switcher that has at least six HD progressive HD-SDI video inputs, XLR audio inputs, hardware controls, and an Aux output. This might not sound like a complicated wish list but there are very few solutions that can satisfy these requirements. Regretfully, I have had to give up hardware controls in order to satisfy the other requirements on my list that were less negotiable.

I recently had the opportunity to review the Blackmagic Design ATEM Television Studio Pro HD (http://go2sm.com/atem). Here is how Blackmagic promotes it: “The world’s first all in one live production switcher for broadcast and AV professionals with integrated hardware control panel, 4 SDI and 4 HDMI inputs, DVE, keyers, talkback, multiview and more!”

Advancing the ATEM Line

Many of the capabilities in the ATEM TVS Pro HD (Figure 1, below) are similar to all models in the ATEM line. I won’t get into comparing the capabilities of each of the models, but I do want to point out some of the key differences. The ATEM Pro HD is an HD video switcher that supports 3G-SDI video inputs and the corresponding HD resolution of 1920x1080/60P. This is an upgrade over the first generation of ATEM switchers that max out at 1.5G-SDI and 1080/60i, and intuitively is a downgrade from the 4K models that support 6G-SDI at 2160/30P and 12G-SDI at 2160/60P.

Figure 1. The ATEM TVS Pro HD in a live productiom. Click the image to see it at full size.

Like all ATEM models, all HD or 4K UHD inputs and outputs must be the same resolution and frame rate, meaning there are no internal up/down/cross-converters. The only exception is the availability of HD-SDI program outputs on some models. It is not uncommon for producers to bring additional up/down/cross-converters into an ATEM workflow. Given that ATEM switchers and converters are so affordable, this is more of a workflow consideration than a cost limitation. For me, this limitation comes into play most often when working with non-drop frame computer signals from connected laptops or presentation switchers from other service providers.

Comparing the experience of switching on a hardware control panel to that of switching on a software control panel is hardly fair. It is almost always easier to change settings and dive deep into menus using software control panels, but for switching camera inputs, hardware switchers—thanks to their dedicated buttons—are simply the right tool for the job. The ATEM TVS Pro HD has so many dedicated buttons that in many cases you can punch in the controls that you want, and when you pair this with the LCD screen on the hardware switcher that allows you to dive deep into the control menus, you don’t have to run the software control panel at the same time if you don’t want to.

Traditionally, a hardware control panel has a T-bar that can be used to switch the preview signal to the program signal, using a transition. On the ATEM TVS Pro HD, Blackmagic went with a slider instead. In some ways this is a good idea for mobile applications because the part that sticks out the most is the most likely to get broken. In video cameras, this is usually the mic holder; on video switchers, it’s often the T-bar.

Related Articles
The ATEM Television Studio is a software-driven video and audio mixer that, for less than $1000 (US), allows you to mix up to six cameras down into a single output program feed, live. You can also add keys, masks, and titles, and it features a built-in H.264 encoder that puts this little stick of tricks firmly on the webcaster's radar.
Shawn Lam discusses the new ATEM Production Studio 4K and 6Gb SDI with Blackmagic Design's Stuart Ashton an NAB 2013.
Blackmagic Design unveiled 3 key new products at a press event on Monday, among them the Hyperdeck Studio Mini media player and recorder, an HD model of the entry-level ATEM Television Studio, and Blackmagic Web Presenter, a new device that converts UHD signals to streaming-ready 720p.
Streaming Media Producer's Shawn Lam and Blackmagic Design President Dan May discuss the Streaming Media Best of NAB award-winning ATEM Television Studio Pro HD at NAB 2017