Roland VR-1HD AV Streaming Mixer Review
In default mode, audio follows video, so if you have your mics connected to the cameras, only the audio from the currently selected camera makes it to the output channel. If that isn’t what you want, you can easily correct this via the menu system in the Audio Follows Video menu.
The unit comes with four audio effects that you can apply by clicking the buttons on the upper left of the panel. The voice changer lets you broadly adjust the voice, like male to female or vice versa. Background music (BGM) lets you play a loaded music file in the background, which is nice for atmosphere and breaks. Special Effects (SE) let you play a loaded audio file, with a polite applause track loaded by default. Reverb lets you apply the eponymous effect to the incoming audio.
Note that while you can apply reverb to any incoming audio track, you can deploy the voice changer only to inputs from microphones 1 and 2. More seriously, you can apply other audio effects like noise gate, compressor, limiter, and high-pass filter only to mics 1 and 2, though you can equalize all incoming audio tracks.
You can also apply some effects to the Main and Auxiliary audio bus outputs and the USB stream, including the ability to resync audio and video and apply echo cancellation to correct audio from a speaker picked up by a separate microphone. This is just an overview of the unit’s audio capabilities; if sophisticated mixing and control is critical to your use I suggest that you download the manual and check for yourself.
Saving the Setup
Once you’ve completed your audio/video setup, you can save it to the USB memory stick so you can pick up where you left off for the next production.
Roland supplies a software program, VR-1HD RCS, which is free to download on the Roland website. To get up and running, you install the software, click CONNECT (green button, upper left) and the program will connect to the unit. If you press CONNECT and it fails, you probably have an older firmware version on the hardware mixer which you’ll have to upgrade (as we did). The upgrade and instructions are also in the Downloads section.
Although configuring scenes like pictures-in-pictures with the hardware setup was straightforward, it’s both faster and easier in the software. As mentioned above, the software provides better access to multiple still images for keying purposes (see Key near the top of Figure 5, so if you want to switch titles during a production, the software is for you. You also have direct access to controls like key color and transition time that you would have to access from the menu system in hardware.
Figure 5. The VR-1HD RCS software mimics hardware functionality with better access to features and configuration options.
One huge advantage of the software was a full audio mixer as shown in Figure 6; in the hardware, you only get the three controls on the extreme left. The software can also map these audio controls and video transition controls to external MIDI devices, giving you hardware control over these operations. Overall, even for simple productions, the RCS software is a convenience, but for more complicated musically oriented productions it’s fabulous.
Figure 6. The software also delivers a full audio mixer which you can map to MIDI devices.
The VR-1HD offers three auto-mixing functions, as shown in Figure 7; Auto scan, beat sync, and video follows audio. By auto-mixing, this means automatically changing the video to different live inputs and scenes based upon what’s happening with the audio or other factors.
Figure 7. The three auto-mixing options and controls for Video Follows Audio
With auto scan, you set durations for each input and scene and the mixer automatically switches on the set durations, either in order or randomly. In contrast, beat sync switches the inputs and scenes based upon a music beat from a specified input. To configure this feature, you choose the source of the music and the number of beats that trigger a switch, plus whether the unit switches in order or randomly. These techniques both seem straightforward and I didn’t test either.
Video Follows Audio switches video inputs based upon incoming audio, but only works with input from Mics 1 and 2, which means you have to connect your mics audio directly to the VR-1HD, not to your cameras. Not a huge deal, but this may be different from how you’re working today.
Note that there are four conditions with input/scene options, which are the bottom four configurations in Figure 3. That is, you choose which input/scene to display when only Mic 1 has audio, when only Mic 2 has audio, when both inputs have audio (Mic1+Mic2), and when neither input have audio (silent select). I tested this feature in a conversation with my wife upon threat of death if I publish the video (which explains why it’s not embedded right here for the world to see).
I started out in the configuration shown in Figure 7, with scene C being a side-by-side shot of my wife and me. In this configuration, I noticed a lot of very fast switching to and from the side-by-side view for very short durations.
Later, I turned the two bottom conditions off, which forced camera switching only when she or I spoke. In my relatively quiet office, this worked really well, which bodes well for studio operation. In a noisy environment, you might have to play with the Mic sensitivity to prevent needless changes, but overall operation was sound.
Later I returned to this feature and adjusted the Time value shown in Figure 7, which pauses audio detection for the specified period. So, if the unit switched to scene C during a silent period, it would delay another switch for the specified period, which should eliminate any twitchiness. You’ll want to spend plenty of time testing before you take this feature live but it definitely has tons of promise for producers of multiple-camera interviews and similar productions.
As mentioned above, the VR-1HD broadcasts by sending a configurable (up to 1080p/29.97/25p) USB-C stream via a USB 3.0B connector out to a computer which inputs it like a webcam or camera (Figure 8). During my tests, I successfully input video from the VR-1HD into OBS, vMix, and Wirecast. From there, the programs processed the video just like any input and I could stream or record the video as normal.
Figure 8. Inputting the VR-1HD into OBS
If you’re recording your events, rather than streaming, Roland provides a simple utility for recording utility that runs on Windows and the Mac. On Windows, you can save the incoming video file as an MP4 encoded with H.264; on the Mac you also have a ProRes/MOV option.
Overall, with the VR-1HD, Roland has crafted a product simple enough for non-technical users, and especially those working both sides of the camera as interviewer/producers. With the addition of the software, the unit is functional enough for sophisticated productions at an extremely attractive price point. This makes it a win/win for a broad swath of potential users.
[This article appears in the July/August 2019 issue of Streaming Media Magazine as "Review: Roland VR-1HD AV Streaming Mixer."]
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