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Review: Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro

The Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro is worth several times its $595 price tag. It has so many professional features that it is a tough act to compete with in the crowded compact switcher market.

In late December 2019 I was offered the chance to review the Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini. You can read my full ATEM Mini review here and I encourage you to do so because I won’t be repeating much of the features that are common to the ATEM Mini and the ATEM Mini Pro, which is the subject of this review.

My thoughts about the original ATEM Mini have not changed much: For only $295, it offers value well beyond its low price point and it offers the functionality of several dedicated tools, many of which individually cost more than the ATEM Mini. It isn’t a perfect solution, and I outlined some of the trade-offs, including the lack of a multiviewer and headphone jack. I will re-address both of these items in this review from the perspective of the new ATEM Mini Pro (Figure 1, below). But first, let’s start with the new features and dive right in and see what the ATEM Mini Pro value proposition is like, with its $595 price.

Figure 1. The Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro

HDMI Output and the Multiviewer

The ATEM Mini Pro offers 6 Video Out buttons on its hardware control surface (Figure 2, below). These control the HDMI output, which--as I explained in my ATEM Mini review--is technically the auxiliary output, while the USB-C output is the Program output. The six options for the Aux bus are labelled 1-4, M/V, and PGM. Options 1-4 correspond to the 4 HDMI inputs, all of which have internal converters so you can mix and match 720p, 1080i, and 1080p input signals in 24, 30, and 60 frames per second (drop-frame and non-drop frame). The available switcher output formats are all 1080p and you can select from the same available input frame rates. Keep this in mind as you cannot output, stream, or record in 720p or 1080i with the ATEM Mini Pro.

Figure 2. The ATEM Mini Pro hardware control surface

The PGM button predictably sets the HDMI output to match the Program output and it is the the M/V button that really is something to get excited about. My main criticism of the ATEM Mini was the lack of a multiviewer, and I devoted a part of my ATEM Mini review to developing a workaround for workflows where a multiviewer was required. The multiviewer on the ATEM Mini Pro is much easier to implement than my cobbled together solution and offers 3 additional viewing windows that I will discuss later in this review.

The best part of having the multiviewer on the Aux bus, with dedicated button controls on the control surface, is that you can very easily switch the view from mutiviewer to any of the 4 HDMI inputs or the program input. Being able to see the inputs in full screen is important when you want to look critically at a given input in a larger view than you can see on a smaller multiviewer window. I also like being able to change the HDMI output to any of my inputs or the program output in case I want to use the Aux bus to show a different feed to say a projector, than I would to my webcast audience. All HDMI switches on this aux bus are done with hard cuts (Figure 3, below).

Figure 3. I/O on the ATEM Mini Pro

I will note at this point that there are 2 additional HDMI output options that are available in the software control panel, under the output menu, that you cannot access on the control panel. They are preview and Camera 1 direct. Unfortunately, you cannot assign the media player to the HDMI output independently. If you want to display the Media Player to the HDMI output, you have to show it as an input on the program feed. Camera 1 direct is simply a pass-through of the HDMI input, and is ideal when you want a low-latency return feed that is important to gamers.

Record and Stream

The ATEM Mini Pro also has buttons for Record (Stop & Rec) and Stream (Off & On Air). These are the hardware controls to start and stop the built-in hardware streaming encoder. The benefits of a hardware encoder vs. a laptop or computer to process a video signal, and then stream and record it, is that the ATEM Mini Pro does the heavy lifting of the video processing and you don’t need additional hardware to capture the video signal, software to encode, nor a high-powered dedicated graphic card (GPU) to not overwhelm your CPU.

You do still need a computer to run the free ATEM Software Control, but this computer only really needs to have an ethernet connection to share with the ATEM Mini Pro, using the ATEM Mini Pro’s own Ethernet connection to an available Ethernet on your computer, or to a network switch on the same network. My computer has two ethernet ports on it, and I tested both this method and connecting the ATEM Mini Pro to an available port on my network switch. I was able to stream successfully using both methods. Blackmagic also reports that you can share your ethernet connected computer’s WiFi connection with the ATEM Mini Pro. I tried a few times unsuccessfully until I realized that I needed to manually tell Windows to share my internet connection (Figure 4, below).

Figure 4. Setting up internet connection sharing

The Live Stream function supports only 3 platforms: Facebook, Twitch, and YouTube. My wish-list item for Blackmagic is that future updates allow me to stream to any RTMP address so I can live stream to IBM and Vimeo Live. I will note this mention on this note on their product page with instructions on how to hack the Mini Pro to change the RTMP address, although this doesn’t sound as easy to implement as being able to copy/paste it into the ATEM software control:

“If you're technically minded, you can even hack the detailed streaming profiles in the XML preference file and load new services.”

I still could use the ATEM Mini Pro as a USB-C webcam into a connected computer, in order to stream to a source other than the three presets, but presently not directly from the ATEM Mini Pro’s hardware encoder.

There are 6 bitrate presets to choose from:

• Hyperdeck High/Med/Low: 70/45/20Mbps
• Streaming High/Med/Low: 9/7/4Mbps at 1080/60p

If you reduce the frame rate to 30 or 24 frames per second, the same presets drop to 45/25/12 Mbps and 6/4.5/3 Mbps. The names for the presets, Hyperdeck and Streaming, are just convenient preset names, but what is important to remember is that the preset that you select in the Live Stream selection is the same that applies to your recording selection. You cannot independently choose a Streaming preset for the stream and a Hyperdeck preset for the recording at the same time.

I also noticed that there is no ability to record or stream in a resolution lower than 1080p. My test platform was Facebook Live and I decided to check their specifications. The Facebook for Business Specifications page has an expected resolution of 720/30p 4-6Mbps with audio up to 256 kbps.

These specifications are different than their recommendations here of max 1080/60p at 4Mbps with audio at 96 or 128Kbps.

It is a little bit frustrating when the two sources don’t agree on anything, other than the common and relatively low 4Mbps bitrate. So, I tried all the available presets to see what would happen. The Stream Health warnings (Figure 5, below) kept on reminding me that my resolution was too high at 1920x1080 and the expected resolution was 1280x720, but otherwise it carried on and I couldn’t see any issues with any of the streaming presets.

Figure 5. Stream Health warnings

The Hyperdeck low at 20Mbps carried the same resolution warning but it wasn’t until I tried pushing the Medium and High presets that I saw additional stream Health Warnings, including a bitrate warning that the maximum expected bitrate was 3276800.00 bytes/second (yes, without any commas or spacing) and my current bitrate was 4630188.48 bytes per second. Or otherwise expressed, I was pushing 37Mbps and the maximum recommendation was 26Mbps, which I consider a very high bitrate for a live stream. It’s multiples higher than the 4Mbps that was common in both the documentation that I pointed to.

So why did I go down this rabbit hole of bitrate presets and not leave using the Streaming presets good enough for live streaming and the Hyperdeck ones for only when you are recording to an attached USB hard drive? Mostly because this is the exact rabbit hole I went down but also because the ATEM Mini Pro doesn’t allow you to stream at 720p, and I wondered if this would be an issue in 2020.

At the same time, I wanted to know if I could both stream at a bitrate that a streaming server wouldn’t reject, and that would also be what I consider to be a minimum bitrate for an archive recording that I may want to edit. 20Mbps or Hyperdeck Low is where these two converge for 1080/60p or 25Mbps for Hyperdeck Medium at 1080/30p. Granted, I probably wouldn’t push this high a bitrate for streaming and, admittedly, this is more an academic discussion than it is a practical one.

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