Review: Blackmagic ATEM Mini Video Switcher
Blackmagic has done it again. With their new ATEM Mini video switcher, they have packed thousands of dollars of value into a $295 appliance that costs less than buying many of its individual constituent parts. Although it’s packed with advanced features that in some ways outperform more expensive similar products, the ATEM Mini also comes with some trade-offs that you need to be aware of. In this review I am going to identify both the Mini’s standout features as well as some recommendations for working around its limitations.
The ATEM Mini (Figure 1, below) is an HD video switcher that has 4 HDMI inputs. With a maximum resolution of 1920x1080 at 60 frames per second, the ATEM Mini is suitable for switching HD signals from video cameras, gaming systems, computer presentations, and most anything else that has an HDMI output. Having 4 inputs is sufficient for most small to medium-sized workflows, especially considering the ATEM Mini has access to the media pool of a connected computer.
Figure 1. The Blackmagic ATEM Mini 4-input HD switcher
You won’t hear many complaints with regards to the inputs on the ATEM Mini. It even has two 3.5mm audio inputs that you can mix along with the 4 embeded HDMI audio signals (Figure 2, below). When designing a sub-$300 switcher you have to understand that there are going to be trade-offs, and Blackmagic has done an admirable job of strategically selecting which features to include at a basic level, which to omit, and which to include that go beyond the absolute minimum. The dual 3.5mm microphone inputs show that Blackmagic understands who their users are and what features they need.
Figure 2. The rear panel of the ATEM Mini with its 4 HDMI inputs and 2 3.5mm audio inputs
Blackmagic could have included only a single 3.5mm input but the second one opens up the possibility for users to add music from their smartphone, audio from a remote caller, a second microphone for a co-presenter, or even headset audio from a remote player in multiplayer gaming action. Sure, they could have included one or more SDI inputs, but that is a professional standard and—as much as I avoid HDMI in my own workflows whenever I can—an all-HDMI switcher is the right strategic choice for the ATEM Mini’s target audience.
I could also have asked for a balanced XLR with phantom power or even a ¼" TRS audio input, but if those things are important to you, then you can add a $68 Behringer UMC22 USB audio interface to your workflow or you might already have a similar USB audio interface like my new Roland Rubix, which also has a compressor/limiter and ground lift.
It is on the output side that most of the trade-offs and strategic decisions on the ATEM Mini were made. The decision to not include a multi-viewer output was a deliberate one. I don’t know if this decision was made to protect and differentiate the higher-end models in the ATEM line, because they just couldn’t include that feature at this price point, or because Blackmagic plans to announce a compatible 4-input ATEM HDMI multi-viewer, or an upgraded ATEM Mini Max model that does have this feature.
But what I do know is that for many ATEM Mini users, some of the 4 inputs they will be using will have their own displays. This is not as elegant a solution as a dedicated multi-viewer, but live producers have to be open to the fact that they don’t always need a multi-viewer. If you really can’t live without a multi-viewer or just want to see how you could get one working with the ATEM Mini, then read on.
The most obvious option is the Blackmagic MultiView4 HD ($185, Figure 3, below). This multi-viewer requires SDI inputs and doesn’t have any pass-throughs, so HDMI or SDI sources could use the $65 Micro Converter BiDirectional to convert and connect the signal to both the ATEM Mini and the MultiView4.
Figure 3. The Blackmagic MultiView4 HD
If you want to save few dollars and know you won’t need all HDMI inputs, a dedicated SDI source could also use a $45 Blackmagic Design Micro Converter SDI to HDMI. Total cost would be $365–445 depending on the ratio of HDMI to SDI sources and ignoring power supplies and video cables. Sure, this one accessory would cost more than the ATEM Mini and hobbyists would likely not bother, but I can tell you that most professionals already have multiple converters and likely even an unused multi-viewer they could use–I know I do. I will also challenge you to identify a similar 4-input video switcher with a multi-viewer that costs less than the $740 that this bundle would cost.
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