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Review: Blackmagic Design ATEM SDI Extreme ISO and ATEM Mini Extreme ISO

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Control Panel Buttons

I counted 201 buttons on the control panel (Figure 6, below). Each button has backlights with familiar white, red, and green indicating the active buttons. I tend to use the Software Control panel software for initial setup and then switch to the Hardware Control panel for operation.

Figure 6. The ATEM SDI Extreme ISO’s 201-button control panel

The control panel has audio control buttons for analog audio, embedded HDMI or SDI audio, and headphone audio. When paired with supported Blackmagic cameras (directly or via a Micro Converter BiDirectional SDI/HDMI), there are camera control buttons for gain, focus, black level, and shutter speed.

The bottom row of buttons is where most switcher operators will spend the majority of their time. There is a dedicated button for each of the eight inputs, as well as for the two media player still source buttons, a SuperSource button, and a Black Source button. There are also buttons for the transition duration; transition effect, including DVE effects; straight cut; auto transition; and fade to black.

SuperSource is one of the standout features on the ATEM Extreme models, as it allows you to composite a multilayer program output with up to four sources scaled and cropped side by side, with foreground and background layers for graphics. (See my tutorial on the SuperSource feature at go2sm.com/supersource). Because SuperSource is so powerful, I often overlook the picture-in-picture presets, which resize Input 1 over the active input.

The Extreme models also have a picture-by-picture preset that uses Inputs 1 and 2 as dual sources, side by side. The panel button presets are locked, but using the Software Control panel, you can create different looks by recording a series of selections and recalling them using a Macro button. The control panel has buttons to recall six different macros, but you can recall even more using the Blackmagic software control panel or on an Elgato Stream Deck.

The Select Bus row of buttons is used to assign sources for effects processing and keyers. One of the main use cases is to switch the camera angle while maintaining the same key. There are also dedicated buttons for Upstream Keyer 1 and Downstream Keyer 1.

The Video Out buttons allow you to change the Aux Output 1 from Program to Inputs 1–8, clean, preview, and multiview. Keep in mind that the true program output is via the USB-C output, and the two HDMI or four SDI outputs are Aux outputs that can be programmed. I like to assign the multiview output on my Aux 2 or higher so that I can use the hardware buttons to quickly change the Aux 1 output. Changing the Aux output source is done with a straight cut, unlike the program outputs that can transition with an effect.

The last two sets of buttons on the Extreme control panels are Record and Stream, which you can use to start or stop the recording and stream and that glow red when the recording is active or the stream is on air. When you connect a USB-C drive to the ATEM ISO models, you can record each input and the program output as synchronized MP4 video files. A project file is also created that lets you recut the program in DaVinci Resolve. Each ISO recording is recorded to a VIDEO ISO folder and contains the master program audio. Graphics from the media pool and audio recordings in a WAV format are saved in separate folders called Media Files and Audio Files.

Software Control Panel

The Software Control panel (with all of its pages) has even more controls than the buttons on the Hardware Control panel (Figure 7, below). Previous ATEM users will be familiar with the Software Control panel that dates back to the first generation of ATEM switchers in 2011, but I want to highlight a few newer or more advanced features.

Figure 7. The Blackmagic ATEM Software Control panel

The multiview layout can be customized with four, seven, 10, 13, or 16 views. In addition to the preview, program, and eight inputs, you can also display in the multiview, media player, streaming status, record status, and audio levels. Audio level meters for each input can be individually toggled on or off.

The Streaming and Recording bitrates have six different quality options, but you can select only one setting that applies to both the streaming and recording. If you want a higher-quality program recording than the stream, the workaround is to record the program output with an external video capture card. I tested the Capture Video workflow on a Windows laptop connected to a Blackmagic DeckLink Duo card that was housed in a Thunderbolt 3 enclosure. The Capture Setup let me select the recording directory on the laptop and name the file, and it had options for AVI 8-bit, 10-bit, Motion JPEG, and DPX codecs. I imagine that Mac OS users would see similar QuickTime options. The advantage of the Capture Video workflow is that your recording controls are right in the Software Control panel, and you do not need to launch another recording program for the recording.

In addition to the media pool for graphics, you can also use a connected HyperDeck for pre-recorded video playback or recording the Aux outputs. The video signal still requires an SDI or HDMI input or output on the ATEM switcher, and the HyperDeck needs to be connected to the same network as the switcher with an Ethernet cable, but HyperDeck can be controlled by the Software Control panel.

The ATEM Extreme ISO supports both a fixed IP address or DHCP for a dynamic IP address. When connecting with an ATEM hardware panel, either method can be used, and you can look up the switcher’s IP address in the ATEM Setup’s network settings.

ATEM Streaming Bridge

The ATEM Streaming Bridge lets you stream your program output locally or remotely. There are three connection options:

  • Direct Connection: This is useful when you want to send the program video and audio locally across shorter distances—ATEM Extreme > Ethernet > ATEM Streaming Bridge > HDMI > HDMI monitor. In the Software Control panel under Live Stream, select ATEM Streaming Bridge and then ON AIR.

  • Network Connection: This is useful when you want to send the program video and audio locally across a local network. Connect the ATEM Extreme and ATEM Streaming Bridge to the same network. The Streaming Bridge also supports DHCP for easy setup, but it can also be assigned a manual IP address. A streaming key can be generated for additional security over a shared network. Connect the Streaming Bridge to a monitor.

  • Internet Connection: This method is useful when broadcasting to a remote location. It requires a fixed public IP address and uses port forwarding. The Streaming Bridge is remotely located and connected to a remote monitor.

Final Thoughts and Summary

Even the most expensive model, the $1,495 ATEM SDI Extreme ISO, is relatively inexpensive compared to other video switchers and the combined cost of additional gear that it may render unnecessary to an end-to-end production workflow. Blackmagic has set a new standard for an affordable and professional all-in-one HD video switcher, and the biggest consideration is which model fits your workflows. For me, the SDI line is the obvious choice, because SDI connectors are a more professional connection, and you get twice as many Aux outputs on the SDI models compared to the Mini/HDMI models.

I also can’t find much I would do differently with this model if I were the product manager, which says a lot. My biggest critiques were the dual 3.5mm audio inputs versus a single XLR connector and the naming mechanism on the Mini/HDMI line. The only real suggestion I could offer to make this even better would be to add a slider or T-bar to control the transition speed or put a single HDMI Aux output on the SDI model for ease of connection with an HDMI monitor, but I also get why those aren’t available at this price point and this form factor.

So, Blackmagic, I’m good—and your ATEM Mini and ATEM SDI switchers are good with me too.

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