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Review: The Roland V-160HD Hybrid Event Video Switcher

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In July, I was given the opportunity to review a pre-shipping model of the Roland V-160HD video switcher (Figure 1, below), which is marketed as a product that “sets a new standard in hybrid event switching.”

Figure 1. The top console of the Roland V-160HD switcher. Click the image to see it at full size.

Product-specific hype aside, hybrid event switching itself could become a new standard. As event organizers are allowed to open up venue spaces with in-person attendees, there will be an expectation to enable a virtual event experience for remote presenters and attendees.

While detailing every feature of this switcher is beyond the scope of the article, I’ll present the top 10 features that I fully appreciate on the Roland V-160HD, peppered with some constructive criticism for good measure.

Full disclosure: I’m a fan of Roland Pro A/V video switchers. My production company owns two Roland switchers, and I’ve written a review of the Roland V-60HD as well.

1. USB Output

To enable an experience for remote attendees, the Roland V-160HD switcher is certainly well-equipped to use the switcher’s output as a USB camera source in desktop operating systems and applications that support USB video class (UVC) and USB audio class (UAC), such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other conferencing applications. Many WebRTC web apps and hosting providers support capture from locally connected USB camera sources, and the Roland V-160HD can be used with those as well.

The Roland V-160HD has the newer USBC-style port (bottom row center in Figure 2, below), and you can use any number of USB 3-to-USB-C cables on computers without USB-C ports. The beauty of this simple USB camera source feature is that you no longer need to set up a dedicated SDI or HDMI output from the switcher to use with SDI or HDMI capture hardware on your computer, as I’ve had to do with other video switchers.

Figure 2. Inputs and outputs on the Roland V-160HD switcher

2. Input Assign

This feature refers to two enhancements in the V-160HD that I haven’t seen in previous Roland switchers I’ve used: eight independent HDMI and eight SDI inputs (on the right in Figure 2) and the ability to quickly assign the input source for each of the 10 cross-point buttons. For the former category, the SDI and HDMI input number on the back of the unit does not need to correlate to a specific switched crosspoint button on the console.

With older switchers, the SDI inputs were dedicated to specific console buttons, as were the HDMI inputs. If you didn’t have HDMI inputs, for example, those console buttons would never be used. With the V-160HD, however, you can mix and match any of the HDMI, SDI, or still-image bank resources to any of the 10 cross-point buttons. Perhaps even more importantly, you don’t need to dive into the console setup menu to hunt for the assignment of inputs. The V-160HD has a convenient Input Assign button on the console (just left of the T-bar in Figure 1). Hold this button, and use the PGM/A or PST/B buttons (lower left in Figure 1) to cycle through the various inputs for the desired cross-point button. This simple operation greatly cuts down your setup time for a live event.

3. Four PinP or Key Composition Layers

Do you want to insert four presenter headshots over a PowerPoint or Keynote slide deck or add a green screen ASL interpreter shot to a specific corner of the program feed? The V-160HD switcher can do it, and it has more console buttons to make input position, selection, preview, and program output effortless without (again) the need to dive into nested menu options. The switcher has all four PinP (picture-in-picture)/key compositors available on the console.

Like other Roland switchers I’ve used, PinP has the standard options for shape mattes and border effects. The keyer can use luminance (white or black) or chromakeys, and the V-160HD adds a sampling marker feature that enables you to pick a chromakey color directly from a selected keyer input.

4. Two DSK Overlays With Alpha Channel Support

The V-160HD switcher also features two independent Downstream Keyer (DSK) compositors. While the PinP/key compositors are designed to use specific regions of the output canvas, the DSK compositors can be used for input sources that need to overlay the whole screen, such as lower-thirds for presenter names/titles, game scoreboards, and more.

My favorite enhancement to DSK overlays is the ability to use PNG image sources with 24-bit transparency or alpha channels. With older Roland switchers, knocking out the background required you to output a BMP image asset with a chromakey background (e.g., lower-thirds on a green or blue background) and adjust the keyer settings. Now, you can have super-clean alpha channels created in tools like Adobe Photoshop to produce beautiful DSK overlays without any guesswork on chromakey settings.

Note that the demo unit supports FAT32 formatting only for USB memory. This limitation is the same on previous Roland switchers I’ve used. I was hoping to see exFAT support, as it’s the common format now for many external USB memory sticks and drives. For now, you’ll need to make sure your USB memory input is formatted as FAT32 in order for the V-160HD to recognize it.

5. Audio Inputs

The V-160HD switcher has a variety of audio inputs you can mix into your live feeds: two balanced XLR inputs, two RCA (left/right) inputs, a USB-C audio input, audio channels available in the SDI or HDMI inputs, and a new Bluetooth input (see Figure 2). The Bluetooth input enables you to connect output from just about any Bluetooth device to the V-160HD switcher. For example, you can play music from your smartphone to add as a background track to the rest of your feed.

One feature I miss from the V-60HD is the additional XLR inputs. While I usually use a professional audio mixer to pipe audio into any switcher, the ability to record independent wet/dry audio across four XLR inputs is a great asset for making postproduction tweaks to live event recordings. Like other Roland switchers, the V-160HD can output up to eight independent audio channels in the embedded audio output over HDMI/SDI, but you’ll only have two XLR input channels available.

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