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Review: Blackmagic Design ATEM Constellation 8K

The Blackmagic Design Constellation 8K Ultra HD Live Production Switcher, with its support for up to 10 7680x4320/60p inputs isn't targeted at small live event producers as much as newsrooms and large-scale productions with complicated video routing needs.

It has been eight years since I first reviewed and then purchased the Blackmagic ATEM 1 M/E video switcher, which was launched in 2011, along with the ATEM Television Studio. The 1 M/E became a key part of my kit and earned me a lot of money over the years. I loved it for its combination of HDMI, SDI, and XLR inputs with dedicated multiview, program, and several aux outputs. Over the years, the 1080/60i resolution didn’t match my progressive HD and 4K workflows, and the lack of internal scalers meant I often had to run several external format converters. Ultimately, the lack of an affordable control surface meant that I gravitated to my hardware switchers more often, instead of feeling limited by using a software control panel only.

The ATEM Television Studio Pro 4K is now my go-to Blackmagic video switcher as it is an all-in-one switcher and control surface with scalers on each input. I have multiple switcher solutions, depending on the requirements of the particular live event that I am producing on a given day. We also have the ability to produce multiple events on a given day–sometimes running multiple video switchers for the same client in different rooms and other times for different clients at different locations. Ultimately, my software-based solutions see more action and are generally used on every production, sometimes paired with a hardware switcher as recorders, streaming encoders, and for advanced compositing and graphics. Hardware switchers are still required on my productions when I need low latency for a projector IMAG and where physicals switcher controls are preferred over software controls.

When I was given the opportunity to review the ATEM Constellation 8K in my workflows, I was initially hesitant because I don’t currently have any 8K video cameras, and this switcher doesn’t have a dedicated control panel. You definitely can purchase an ATEM hardware control panel, but the combined cost and size is overkill for my needs.

The Constellation 8K (Figure 1, below) isn’t targeted at small live event producers like myself. It’s more likely to be used by newsrooms and larger productions with more complicated video routing needs.

Figure 1. The Blackmagic Design ATEM Constellation 8K

ATEM Constellation 8K I/O

Before I get to far into this review, allow me to take a moment to highlight that the Constellation 8K supports 7680x4320/60p inputs and outputs. Now that I got that important detail out of the way, let me now say that I am glad that didn’t stop me from reviewing this product because there is a lot more under the hood with the Constellation 8K than just being an 8K upgrade on an existing model, and it’s good for me to start to work with products that might form part of my future workflows.

The front of the switcher has 40 buttons that you can use to control the preview and program outs with straight cuts or an auto take on your default transition. Yes, there are 40 inputs and this matches the 40-input HD-SDI spigots on the back (Figure 2, below), each of which is capable of processing 12G-SDI UHD 4K video inputs. The 8K part comes in if you use the 12G-SDI inputs as quad-link and then you can connect 10 8K inputs.

Figure 2. Rear-panel 8K on the Constellation 8K

On the output side you have six 8K outputs. There is also a single 8K Multiview output that can be used as 4 UHD 4k Multiview outputs. While all the other ATEM switcher models can display 8 inputs on the Multiview, along with the preview and program, the Constellation 8K with its 40 external video input options, can display 4, 7, 13, or 16 different inputs on each Multiview output. And yes, you can also display internally generated video inputs on the Multiview from sources like the internal media players, clean output versions, and your aux outputs.

At some point I need to point out that despite there being 40 SDI inputs, there is not a single HDMI input or output. There isn’t even one for the multiview monitor output. Obviously, converting the SDI to HDMI is an easy conversion, but I was still surprised that there wasn’t a single one.

Setup and Connectivity

The Constellation 8K is comfortable as a table-top unit but is designed to be rackmounted and has a 2U height. The large-front LCD monitor with visible audio meters is helpful for testing and confirming inputs sources during setup. Once you are all set up and connected to software or hardware control panels you can lock the switcher panel to avoid accidental switches.

Like all rackmount ATEM switchers, the Constellation 8K is designed to be connected to a hardware panel or a software control panel with ethernet. You can connect a single switcher to multiple control panels and this is useful when you have multiple operators assigned to different roles like audio, graphics, camera control (with supported BMD video cameras), and switching the main program outputs. ATEM hardware control panels have two ethernet ports so you can either connect an additional device to the second ethernet port on the panel or introduce a network switch in your workflow to connect multiple software control panels together.

Users of previous ATEM models will notice that the main difference between the software control panel when paired with the Constellation 8K is that you have multiple switcher tabs for the 4 M/E buses, and a lot more inputs that you can select from. The M/E bus comes into play when you use the Supersource for advanced compositing.

ATEM switchers default to having a fixed IP address of 192.168.10.240. You can change this if you are connecting to an existing network and have operators who are remotely located somewhere else where direct connection to the switcher isn’t possible or convenient. But for simplicity, let’s assume that you leave the IP address set to its default value. You then need to manually set the IP address on connected devices to match the network IP address range and with a unique ending numerical value.

Typically your first control panel (software or hardware) would be set to 192.168.10.50. Each connected device requires a unique IP address so your second device should be set to 192.168.10.51 and subsequent devices with a different unique ending numerical value within the network IP range.

Unlike other ATEM models, the outputs are not labelled with the traditional Program, Preview, and Aux labels. This is because you can route any source to each of the 24 outputs for HD or 4K workflows or 6 4320P quad-link outputs in 8K mode. Or another way to look at it is that the Constellation 8K has a program output and 23 Aux outputs in 4K/HD model.

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