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Review: Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro ISO and Streaming Bridge

So what do you get if you stretch another $300 and move up from the Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro to the ATEM Mini Pro ISO? The previous $300 stretch (from the ATEM Mini) got you a multiviewer, streaming, and program recording. For $300 more you get the ability to record each of the 4 inputs as an ISO recording and streaming to the ATEM Streaming Bridge.

If you have ever wondered how far you can stretch $300, you need not look any farther than the Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini video switcher lineup for extreme examples of exceptional value at different multiples. In this article, I’m going to summarize my previous reviews of the $295 ATEM Mini and $595 ATEM Mini Pro, and compare and contrast these two models with the new $895 ATEM Mini Pro ISO (Figure 1, below). Do read those previous two reviews to get a full picture of the entire lineup, because I’m not going to repeat everything.

Figure 1. The Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro ISO

Similarities and Differences between the ATEM Mini and the Mini Pros

All three ATEM Mini models feature the same 4 HDMI inputs that can input 720 and 1080 resolutions at 24p, 30p, 60i, or 60p, in both drop-frame and non-drop-frame rates. All three models have scalers on each input to scale and convert signals to your choice of HD 1080 progressive resolutions at 24/30/60p. All three models also have two 3.5mm audio inputs, and all lack a headphone output (Figure 2, below). Just as many modern cell phones no longer have headphone jacks and force users to hang a dongle from their charging port or listen to audio on a Bluetooth device, the entire ATEM Mini line forces operators to monitor audio downstream. The two options are via the HDMI output on a monitor that has speakers, or a headphone jack or downstream of the USB-C connection on a connected computer.

Figure 2. Mixing the audio levels from the embedded HDMI sources and 2x 3.5mm inputs. Monitoring is done downstream on a connected device as the ATEM Mini lacks a headphone output.

I would gladly trade one of the two 3.5mm inputs for a 3.5mm headphone output--and yes, this also means no ¼ or XLR audio inputs. This isn’t a deal breaker but it sure is annoying because both downstream options have the potential to add latency and, well, I just want a headphone jack on my video switcher because that is what I am used to and when troubleshooting, I like to be able to isolate exactly where an issue is originating.

The base model ATEM Mini is only $295 and I can best summarize my full review from March 2020 of this model by saying that it has an HDMI output that I’m going to call an AUX output and a USB-C output that I’m going to call the program output. The HDMI output can mirror the program output but it can also be assigned as a preview, pass-through of any of the 4 HDMI inputs, or a low-latency pass-through for the first HDMI input.

The USB-C output turns this video switcher into a video capture card. Any computer and workflow that can accept a USB webcam can recognize the ATEM Mini webcam output feed as if it were a UVC-compliant webcam. This means that the user doesn’t need to download, install, and maintain up-to-date software or drivers. It works equally well to send a program output directly to video communication services like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet; livestream services like Facebook Live, YouTube Live, and Vimeo Live; and for more advanced users, software like vMix and OBS, before streaming to RTMP destinations like IBM Video Streaming (Figure 3, below).

Figure 3. You can live stream directly from the ATEM Mini Pro and Mini Pro ISO to Facebook, Youtube, Twitter/Periscope, Restream.io, and Twitch.

The ATEM Mini doesn’t have a Multiview output. Not every workflow requires a multiviewer. Many of my current workflows involve pinning individual participants on Zoom calls on multiple laptops and outputting full-screen ISO feeds of those participants into a video switcher, as if they were local video camera feeds. In this workflow the connected laptop screen negates the need for a dedicated multiviewer.

If you want to preview your video signals, you can use the HDMI as a preview for one of the video inputs, but otherwise you need to stretch another $300 and move up to the ATEM Mini Pro. On the Mini Pro, you can assign the HDMI output as the Multiview output.

The ATEM Mini Pro also can record the program feed onto a connected hard drive as an MP4 file (Figure 4, below). There are 6 quality presets, described as high, medium, or low, and Hyperdeck or Streaming quality. In technical terms the Streaming low is 4Mbps, and the Hyperdeck High is 70Mbps at 1080p60. Assuming you have a USB hard drive connected to the ATEM, you can also connect via ethernet to a computer running the Blackmagic Software Control Panel. From the Software Control Panel you can assign a streaming destination from the available preset destinations of Facebook, Youtube, Twitch, Restream,io, and Twitter/Periscope.

Figure 4. The ATEM Mini Pro ISO allows you to record the program and ISO recordings of each video input on an attached USB hard drive.

While it’s convenient to be able to stream and record from the same device, there are some trade offs that you need to be aware of. The preset destinations can be conveniently accessed from the Software Control Panel but if you want to stream to another destination, you will need to locate and edit the XML file that contains the coding for this function. I wanted to try this workflow for this review, but even though I was provided with a set of instructions from Blackmagic, they were outdated and the location this file was written to had moved. Once I located it, I felt too intimidated once I opened the XML file whose instructions I was supposed to edit.

My own workflows rarely involve direct streaming from a video switcher as I use vMix for all my recording and streaming needs. This brings to mind the second trade off to consider--if you stream and record using the ATEM Mini Pro, you have to do so using the same quality preset. So while you might want to stream at a lower bitrate and record at a higher bitrate, you cannot. You have to pick one of the presets for both. The workaround if you want a higher-quality recording is to use another piece of software on your connected computer to handle one or both of the tasks of streaming and recording.

Why Go Pro ISO?

So what do you get if you stretch another $300 and move up to the ATEM Mini Pro ISO? The previous $300 stretch got you a multiviewer, streaming, and program recording. For $300 more you get the ability to record each of the 4 inputs as an ISO recording and streaming to the ATEM Streaming Bridge. If you thought the first two models offered exceptional value, you will have to agree that the ATEM Mini Pro ISO’s value proposition is even greater. The AJA Ki Pro GO is a 4-channel H.264 recorder that costs $3,995 and the ATEM Mini Pro ISO is a 5-channel H.264 recorder for $895. I’m not going to compare them directly other than to say that one costs more than 4x the other and these are the only two multi-channel hardware H.264 recorders that I am aware of.

Sometimes when you are switching live you get into a groove and the combination of your skills, rehearsals, and luck produce a flawless live switch. For all the other times it is nice to be able to revisit and re-edit your live switch decisions. The ATEM Mini Pro ISO creates a Davinci Resolve .PRD file that easily lets you re-cut your live-switch without having to deal with wrangling media from all the individual sources and syncing them. This is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic when your sources in many workflows are just as likely to be laptops connected to Zoom as they are video cameras with the ability to record internally. I absolutely love that when I opened the .PRD file even my choice of cut or dissolve transition was recorded.

Being able to record the program and 4 ISO channels means you can come back to your live switch and quickly re-edit your live switch with all your program and 4 ISO sources synced and ready to re-cut. If you pair the ATEM Mini Pro ISO with Pocket Cinema 4K or 6K cameras, you can use the H.264 recording as a proxy and replace it with an internally recorded higher-quality intraframe and/or RAW codec.