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Review: Brick House Callisto-P Video Mixer

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There are numerous prosumer analog video mixers out there that top out at four inputs: the venerable Panasonic MX-50, Sony, Edirol, Datavideo’s analog mixers, and plenty more. There are new digital mixers that offer more inputs, but seem to have forgotten about good, clean, composite NTSC video as delivered by products like the Grass Valley 100, the mainstay of broadcast mixers for decades. Problem is, many of those broadcast composite mixers require every source to be genlocked and each video frame to enter the mixer in lockstep.

What many of us need are composite mixers with more than four inputs that can handle asynchronous sources and match them up internally. With the increasing demand for webcasting, a solid composite mixer is still a very useful tool.

U.K.-based Brick House Video now brings the Callisto line of video mixers to U.S. shores. This solid line of mixers includes everything from the six-input portable Callisto-P model reviewed here to two rackmount models, the Callisto-F (an eight-input, single-rack unit with front-panel controls) and the Callisto-R (the same rackmount unit with no front-panel controls). The Callisto-R is designed to work with a remote panel almost identical to the Callisto-P. There is also the Callisto-HD, a soon-to-be-released hybrid HD/SD mixer that represents the company’s first step into the HDTV waters.

P is for Portable
The two-piece F, R, and HD units are designed just like most broadcast mixers, except both the single-rack mixer and the compact remote panel are far smaller than any broadcast system made. Even the HD unit retains the compact, single-rack unit controller.Here we’ll focus on the single-piece Callisto-P. The P stands for "portable," which the unit clearly is. It lacks the separate rackmount system and crams almost all that capability into the remote head itself. When you first handle the Callisto-P, you wonder where the rest of it is.

I put it next to the Datavideo SE-800DV mixer that I use regularly in my work and the Callisto-P is dwarfed. At only 7" deep, 3.75" high (at T-bar), and less than 12" wide, the 6 lb. steel box is a near-marvel of engineering. It even comes with a small power supply.

Mixing Functions
Obviously, the Callisto series mixers make no attempt at audio mixing (like many prosumer mixers do), but they do have the ability to handle audio embedded in SDI and there is an option to handle analog audio. By handle, I mean they delay the audio to compensate for the internal dual framestore synchronizers in order to keep whatever you feed the switchers in sync.

But even if you take away the audio portion the Callisto-P mixer still performs—offering internal, SDI-only, single-layer DSK with dedicated key/fill inputs (up to two of the six inputs on the switcher), GPI and RS-422 remote ports, 10-bit digital precision throughout, and dual standard 525/625. The unit also supports 4:3 as well as 16:9 (letterbox blanked and unblanked) operation.

You can select the video that is output to two jacks, allowing remote monitoring of program, preview, or any of the source feeds. In essence, you get an internal AV router inside a video mixer thoughout the Callisto line. As you can see, these are well thought-out mixers.

In testing, I connected multiple sources to the mixer. The Callisto-P will handle SDI as well as analog composite. Simply touching the Shift-Menu buttons allowed me to toggle between SDI and composite video inputs on the back of the switcher. Given that there are separate composite and SDI jacks, you can connect two different sources to the separate SDI and composite jacks for each input and toggle between them. This is a multi-step process, but when you need that "one more" input for something that will be used once or twice in a show, this provides a relatively easy way to facilitate it without any fumbling with wires during shooting.

Without reading the manual, I was able to get the mixer up and running fairly easily. That is a true test of how well a piece of gear conforms to traditional production standards. But to adjust certain parameters like wipe softness and border color, I had to open up the thin 11-page manual. It tells you what you need to know to do what you want to do. It does not take time to explain what a DSK is, as I’ve seen other manuals do. It assumes you already know what a mixer does and just need to know what buttons to push to choose the DSK key and fill on this mixer. That’s good for experienced users, less than helpful for newbies.

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