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Review: Blackmagic Design Web Presenter

Blackmagic Web Presenter ($495) is a standalone, dual-input capture device that can make SDI or HDMI sources look like a webcam for input into Skype or any livestreaming software program.

Switching Capabilities

To test the unit’s switching capabilities, I connected the HDMI output of my HP notebook to an HDMI-to-HD-SDI converter box and plugged that input into Web Presenter. Then I switched back and forth between the two inputs—one video, one PowerPoint—which the unit handled perfectly, despite the different input resolutions and frame rates. I captured some of the video during these experiments and input it into Adobe Premiere Pro. I saw that the switch between the two streams was accomplished in a single frame, with no tearing or other residue. Note that Web Presenter can’t configure the two inputs in a picture-in-picture or side-by-side view; you can only switch between them.

I next tried working with Web Presenter on the HP ZBook using the vMix live video mixer, which I use for multiple purposes, such as streaming to Facebook Live and producing webinars. Since I typically produce webinars using a 320x240 talking-head input, along with 4:3 aspect ratio PowerPoint slides, swapping in the 16:9 input from Web Presenter didn’t automatically work. Specifically, where the webcam input a 4:3 video that fit the input window perfectly, Web Presenter input a 16:9 image with letterboxes on top and on the bottom.

It took a few minutes of tinkering, but the fix was scaling the 16:9 image using vMix’s positioning controls to eliminate the letterboxes, and I was ready to go. This isn’t a problem inherent to Web Presenter, but if you’re swapping out a 4:3 webcam for the Blackmagic Design product, it’s an issue that you may experience as well.

The unit does a great job handling multiple disparate formats and scaling them down for the 720p video actually transferred to the computer. I asked about the 720p limitation and learned that it relates to installation simplicity: To make the unit look like and install like a webcam on the target range of devices, this was the best approach. This may be, but as a practical matter, Skype has gotten a lot more adept over the years at recognizing capture devices such as the Epiphan Video 4K for audio and video input, and of course this unit can input up to 4K video. Beyond Skype, live video mixers such as vMix or OBS can work with most capture devices.

What the and similarly priced capture devices can’t do is input and switch between multiple streams or input XLR audio. If your streaming application calls for these requirements, and 720p input is sufficient, Web Presenter is a perfect choice. If you’re looking for a general-purpose capture device for streaming, you may find the 720p limitation frustrating.

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