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Review: Blackmagic Design Web Presenter

Blackmagic Web Presenter ($495) is a standalone, dual-input capture device that can make SDI or HDMI sources look like a webcam for input into Skype or any livestreaming software program.

Blackmagic Web Presenter ($495) is a standalone, dual-input capture device that can make SDI or HDMI sources look like a webcam for input into Skype or any livestreaming software program. The unit can switch between the two sources via cuts or other transitions and features RCA and XLR audio inputs, the latter without Phantom power.

The unit was simple to install and easy to work with, and it performed flawlessly during my tests. The only note of caution is that Web Presenter (Figure 1, below) tops out at 720p input; if you’re looking for 1080p or higher input, you’ll need another piece of hardware.

Figure 1. The front panel of Web Presenter with the Teranex Mini Smart Panel. Click the image to see it at full size.

Tech Specs

The unit itself is 5.5' wide, 6.7' deep, and 1.75' high, and you plug a standard three-prong power cord into it; there is no separate power supply to lug around. The unit has both HDMI and 12G-SDI inputs, with HDMI and SDI loop outs plus an SDI program out (Figure 2, below). There are left and right RCA connectors for audio input, plus an XLR connector for line or mic input. The back of the unit also has a USB connector labeled “USB Web Cam.” Initially, I thought this connector supported webcam input, but it’s actually the connector you use for output to your computer.

Figure 2. The back panel of Web Presenter. Does that USB Web Cam connector go to a webcam or your computer?

There’s another USB connector on the front panel for firmware updates, which I originally connected to my computer to no effect. It took a trip to the manual to sort things out. You won’t experience this problem if you review the documentation before installing, although perhaps the label “Connect to Computer” instead of “USB Web Cam” would have been more descriptive for the connector in question.

The unit can accept up to 2160p input for both HDMI and SDI, with internal circuitry scaling the inputs to the 720p that’s actually transmitted to the computer. I tested Web Presenter using Blackmagic’s Teranex Mini Smart Panel, an $85 option that replaces the front panel of Web Presenter and provides video preview, switching between the inputs, an audio meter, and several other button controls. The alternative is using mini-switches, which makes the Smart Panel a must-have option.

Blackmagic also sells a Mini Rack Shelf that lets you rackmount the unit. Also available for $85, the Mini Rack Shelf supports three modules so you can combine it with other Blackmagic products, such as ATEM Television Studio HD, HyperDeck Studio Mini, Blackmagic MultiView 4, or Teranex Mini converters.

Testing With Skype

Since the unit’s primary raison d’être is to replace a webcam, I started my tests in Skype. On my HP ZBook Windows notebook, Skype recognized the unit right away. On an older Mac Pro workstation, Skype didn’t recognize Web Presenter until I removed a Blackmagic Design DeckLink 3 capture card from the computer and uninstalled all related software. It’s not a problem many people will experience, but if you have other Blackmagic hardware or software installed on your computer and have trouble installing, you may have to remove it to get Web Presenter working.

For video, I connected Web Presenter to a Canon Vixia HFS10 consumer camcorder via HDMI and later connected my Sony a6300 DSLR. Web Presenter immediately recognized both units running in multiple video configurations without a problem.

When I attempted to connect a Shure lavaliere condenser microphone, I couldn’t find a Phantom power switch, so I asked Blackmagic support and confirmed that the unit does not supply Phantom power. Instead, I routed the audio through my PreSonus AudioBox 44VSL into the XLR input and was rewarded with absolutely flawless audio quality. In my experience, audio quality is a huge differentiator between amateur and professional Skype calls and webinars in particular. If you don’t have another option for easily inputting XLR audio into these types of presentations, Web Presenter is a great option.

As another benefit, Web Presenter (and the Teranex Mini Smart Panel) provides a volume meter on the front panel, which you can see in the low green in Figure 1. This is both a great way to monitor volume and to detect when you may have inadvertently configured multiple audio inputs, such as when you intend to input via XLR but forget to disable audio coming in via the HDMI and/or HD-SDI inputs.

After attaching my hardware, I started configuring Web Presenter via the buttons on the front panel (Figure 3, below). You start by clicking the Menu button, which cycles through the four menus: Video, where you can select the input; Transition, where you choose a transition between the two input feeds and transition duration; Audio Mixer, where you enable and disable inputs and choose XLR options such as Line/Mic and input level; and a setup screen for software updates and the like. Note that you can access the Video and Audio Mixer menus directly via buttons on the front of the unit.

Figure 3. Working with Web Presenter’s menu

My primary concern, of course, was disabling the audio coming in through HDMI input, which I did, and choosing Mic level input for the XLR port. In Skype itself, I configured Web Presenter as both the microphone and camera and was ready to go (Figure 4, below). I made several Skype calls, and the unit performed as advertised.

Figure 4. Configuring Web Presenter in Skype Mac

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