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Review: Roland V-1SDI 3G-SDI Video Switcher

Roland punches above its weight class with the diminutive but feature-packed Roland V-1SDI all-in-one hardware audio and video switcher.

Roland punches above its weight class with the diminutive but feature-packed Roland V-1SDI all-in-one hardware audio and video switcher (Figure 1, below). I’m going to call the V-1SDI a winner by TKO because there are some drawbacks to selecting a welterweight-priced video switcher to compete against heavyweight-priced competition, but this rookie has new features in its corner that let it compete punch-for-punch with veteran video switcher models--some of which are a little past their prime.

Figure 1. The Roland V-1SDI in action. Click the image to see it at full size.

The knockout features that the V-1SDI sports are support for 1080 60P workflows, the ability to mix 1080 60i and 1080 60P signals in that workflow, a practical mix of SDI and HDMI inputs and outputs--including an internal scaler on one of the HDMI inputs--a dedicated preview output, and the ability to mix and output or embed both embedded and external audio.

Circumventing the Control Panel Dilemma

I’ve never really understood why video switcher control panels cost so much. NewTek’s TriCaster Mini Control Surface costs $2,495, and Blackmagic Design’s ATEM 1 M/E Broadcast Panel costs $4,995. Now let me be clear--those prices don’t include the actual video switcher and are for the hardware control panel that contains the buttons and T-bar that you use to operate a rack-mounted or standalone video switcher.

The common workaround outside of studio installations is to control the video switcher using a software control panel, often a manufacturer-specific software application run from a laptop and connected to the video switcher via USB or Ethernet. The benefit of this workflow is that this software is usually free but the trade-off is that keyboards and mice were designed for word processing and controlling GUIs, not switching live video. The bottom line is that most video-switcher operators prefer to work with hardware controls designed specifically for video switching and this typically includes a T-bar.

Because of the lack of affordable hardware control panel solutions, a secondary market has emerged. One company refurbishes old Grass Valley GVG100/110 control panels and modifies new, more affordable $499 Datavideo RMC 260 control panels, with custom-designed control interfaces. With new control interfaces, these control panels can be paired with Blackmagic rackmount video switchers. Another option, again using Blackmagic switchers, is to use an X-Keys XKE T-Bar control panel with the JustMacros application. There are pros and cons to each of these solutions that I won’t get into here, but let’s just say all this customization with non-OEM equipment makes all-in-one audio and video switchers look that much more appealing.

The entry-point for the previous generation of professional all-in-one audio and video switchers is the $5,500 Sony MCS8M. It is still a fine video switcher except that like many previous generation switchers, it processes video in either 1080 60i or 720P modes (1.5G HD-SDI), and not in 1080 60P (3G HD-SDI), or even 3840x2160 30P (6G HD-SDI). I will also mention that the new $1,499 Datavideo SE-1200MU switcher that pairs with the aforementioned RMC 260, is also limited to 1080 60i/720P modes.

The Roland V-1SDI can punch above its price point because there is a lack of affordable professional HD video switchers that have a hardware T-bar on a hardware control panel, that can work natively in the 1080 60P HD video format, and that can mix embedded and external audio channels. With a MSRP of $1,495, the V-1SDI is without direct competition that can satisfy these three requirements--other the even more affordable $995 Roland V-1HD video switcher. Because Michael Rendulic just reviewed the Roland V-1HD, I’m not going repeat much of what is similar between both Roland video switcher models, so I would encourage you to also read that review as a companion to this one and I will focus on the main differences.

Differences Between the V-1HD and the V-1SDI

While both the V-1HD and V-1SDI look very similar, they do have some important differences (Figure 2, below). Both models have 4 HD video inputs but while the V-1HD has only HDMI video inputs, the V-SDI has 2 HD-SDI inputs, 1 switchable HD-SDI/HDMI input, and 1 HDMI input with a built-in scaler. I prefer HD-SDI connections for my camera feeds, especially when the cable is longer than 25', and I prefer not to have to use converters as they introduce one more thing that can go wrong and a slight conversion delay.

Figure 2. From the top, the V-1SDI looks similar to the V-1HD. Click the image to see it at full size.

The V-1SDI allows you to set the output resolution between 720 60P, 1080 60i, and 1080 60P. If you select 720P, then your inputs 1-3 need to match, but the 1080i and 1080P output setting can be used with any combination of 1080 60i and 1080 60P inputs. You can also use the internal scaler on HDMI input 4 if you have a single input that doesn’t match your 720 or 1080 workflow. As a Blackmagic ATEM owner, one of my biggest frustrations with that line of video switchers is that every input has to perfectly match the output resolution and frame rate as ATEM switchers do not have signal conversion or scaling abilities.

Of course, ATEM users solve this by adding an external format converter like the $995 Roland VC-1-SC or $295 Decimator MD-HX for each input that requires conversion but this adds additional cost and connections. The fact that the V-1SDI includes deinterlacing on all inputs, and whatever you call the opposite--when you take a progressive signal and output it as an interlaced one--plus an internal scaler, makes the connections simpler, and less prone to connection issues.

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