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Review: Switcher Studio

If you're looking for an iDevice-based video mixing solution, Switcher Studio should be on at the top of your short list.

Switcher Studio is an iDevice-based app that can mix up to four inputs and stream them to any RTMP-based service, with templates for common outputs like Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Livestream, and Ustream.tv. The software is exceptionally simple to use while offering features like picture-in-picture and graphic overlay, and performed well on the iPad Mini 2 A1490 that I tested on. The service costs $25/month, with a free 7-day trial, or you can pay $299 for an entire year.

For the record, though Switcher Studio can operate on an iPhone, the company recommends mixing on an iPad, and they supplied the iPad Mini 2 for my tests. According to the Apple specs, the Mini 2 comes with a 1.3 GHz Cyclone CPU with PowerVR G6430 quad-core graphics.

How Switcher Studio Works

Figure 1 (below) shows the program, which looks and works like most video mixers. On the top right is the live feed that’s streamed and recorded; on the top left is the preview feed. On the bottom left are the four inputs I worked with during my tests, while the bottom right contains all configuration options and major controls.

Figure 1. Switcher Studio with four inputs. Click the image to see it at full size.

In terms of input sources, if you’re not an Apple aficionado, your options are exceptionally limited, since the only inputs are iOS devices and Macs. Input 1 is the front-facing camera of the iPad I’m running the software on, which has to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network as all other video sources.

Figure 2 (below) is a PowerPoint screen from the display of a Mac also running on the same network, which can serve as an input source courtesy of a free download called Switcher Cast. In addition to the Mac’s screen, you can input a webcam from a connected Mac, which is input 4. Completing the picture, input 3 is from an iPhone on the same Wi-Fi network, enabled by installing Switcher Studio onto the phone.

Figure 2. Choosing your inputs

General Operation

General operation is simple and follows well-established norms. Specifically, to input a source into the preview window, you touch it. To take it live, you touch the Preview to Live text on the bottom left of the preview window. That’s pretty much it.

For setup, you access most effects and controls via the toolbar on the bottom right, with the first icon controlling inputs (Figure 2).

To connect to an iDevice, you have to type in the iDevice’s URL, which is displayed by the Switcher Studio app once you place it in remote camera mode. Because you’re running on an internal network, it’s usually a simple string like 10.0.0.149, and once it’s entered, you can select it for future uses. The screen and webcam inputs from the Mac simply appear, all you have to do is enable them.

The second icon controls your outputs, which you can setup from the Switcher Studio website or within the program itself (Figure 3, below). The software has presets for most popular services; for these, all you have to do is log in and choose some service-specific parameters, and a quality level. With custom RTMP services, you can create your own encoding parameters. Of course, you can run Speedtest from Switcher Studio and it will test your bandwidth and choose the appropriate configuration.

Figure 3. Choosing your output

When switching between camera angles, Switcher Studio lets you choose from one of four transitions, cross-dissolve, wipe, cube, and twist, which you can customize by duration, or simply use a cut. More exciting is the ability to create the picture-in-picture shown in Figure 4 (below), or otherwise display two cameras simultaneously in side-by-side and several other modes. In the picture-in-picture mode shown, you can move and resize the video window freely using gesture controls while setting the shot up in the preview window. It’s a pretty sexy feature which the iPad I tested on pulled off without a hitch.

Figure 4. The software supports a picture-in-picture mode. Click the image to see it at full size.

The next icon on the bottom right enables camera adjustment controls for focus, exposure, white balance, and the like, should you decide to go manual. The next shows audio levels from the iDevice hosting the software, and all other inputs. Note that the only audio stream that you can push with the live video stream is that captured by the host device itself, not the audio from any of the remote feeds. This works well for a concert or other event with centralized audio near the switching station, but not for events where remote commentary or other remote audio input is desired.

The final icon is a repository for full frame or overlay images (Figure 5, below), which you can import from the device’s photo library or photo stream. Switcher Studio offers several presets like that shown in the figure that will be useful for all productions.

Figure 5. You can insert pictures (but not VOD videos) into the stream or position them as overlays. Click the image to see it at full size.

Switcher Studio can’t currently incorporate VOD videos from the mixer device, though you can play a video on a Mac and broadcast it that way. However, the company plans to include this feature, plus some enhancements to the camera controls, in an upcoming release that should be available by March 2017.

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