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Review: Blackmagic Television Studio Pro HD

This is the first ATEM model that isn't a rackmount switcher but rather an all-in-one switcher with hardware control panel.

All-in-One

As a dedicated hardware all-in-one HD video switcher, the ATEM TVS Pro HD, with an MSRP of $2,295, compares favorably to the previous generation of more expensive video switchers that offer between six and eight HD inputs but are limited to 1080/60i resolutions. There are newer competitors that support progressive HD resolutions, but most of them are limited to only four inputs. The Blackmagic ATEM TVS Pro HD is in a class by itself for hardware video switchers: It has an exceptional feature set at an unprecedented price point.

The $2,995 Roland V-60HD will be its first real competitor. Although the V-60HD is more expensive, it offers a different value proposition for those who can live with only six inputs, aren’t working with Blackmagic video cameras, and want dedicated Aux controls and proper audio pre-amps.

If you’re working with Blackmagic Design video cameras that support tally, talkback, and color correction, you will absolutely love working with the TVS Pro HD because it replaces equipment that would cost several thousand dollars if you had to get separate tally, intercom, and camera control units.

Like all ATEM switchers, you can mix embedded HDMI and HD-SDI audio with external XLR (or on some models AES-EBU). ATEM switchers don’t have pre-amps for adjusting the gain on individual inputs, just volume levels, so unless you have a really strong line-level input for external sources, I’ve found that it’s always a good idea to add a small portable soundboard to give me more control over my audio levels.

Aux Controls

The last thing I want to discuss are the aux controls. Normally, you use the program output to send your main switch to your recorder, projector, or webcast encoder. Aux outputs are used when you need to send a second output to one of those devices that is different from the program output. I often use Aux to send computer signals to the projector and the program to switch between the cameras and the computer signals for my recording and webcast. Another common signal flow is that when clients request two screens—one for live video IMAG and the other for computer inputs—I need the ability to output two different mixes (Figure 2, below).

Figure 2. My live switch on a recent shoot, including Aux record

One common limitation to using the Aux output is that, while you can use transitions in your program feed, you generally can do only straight-cut between available inputs on an Aux output. If you don’t need transitions in either feed, you might be able to use the preview output for one feed and the program output to a second feed, and straight-punch between them.

Ultimately, having an Aux output is important in my workflows but what is also important is that switching the Aux output is easy to do. On the Blackmagic software control panel, you need to use a mouse to click the Aux drop-down menu and then select the desired output. This is a two-step process. On several ATEM models with front controls, you can switch the Aux with a single button-push on the front panel and even see the output on the LCD, which is way more convenient.

My big beef with this workflow is that it uses the original input number and doesn’t respect any routing that you might do on the program side. This is unfortunate because I like to route my primary camera to button 1 and not the default button 5 that corresponds with the first SDI input on the video switcher (HDMI occupies 1–4 and SDI 5–8). I also like to disable any inputs that I am not using to prevent me from accidentally switching to an input that doesn’t have anything connected to it.

Knowing this, I was really interested to find out how the ATEM Television Pro HD handled Aux controls and button routing. I was able to properly route the inputs to specific buttons on the software control panel, but these changes did not transfer to the hardware controls, which I found somewhat discouraging. A bit of white tape and a Sharpie to create labels (Figure 3, below) helped to temper my disappointment in the hopes that the Aux handling would be better, but it wasn’t.

Figure 3. A bit of labeling helped temper my disappointment with the ATEM TVS Pro HD’s Aux handling.

The controls weren’t properly documented in the ATEM Operation Manual. I hope this will change with future firmware updates. I did figure out how to push the Aux button and then use a control knob to select the Aux output, but this workflow involved too many steps and took too long during a live-switched webcast. I wanted a better solution to be able to punch in my desired Aux input.

I contacted my Blackmagic rep for support and she told me that I could push both the Shift keys to lock the preview and program rows to Aux mode and then could use the input buttons to select the desired Aux output (Figure 4, below). Except there was one problem: Blackmagic currently provides no documentation as to which button controls what. After a bit of testing, I determined that I needed to punch 4 to select the program output and 7 to switch to the input that corresponded with the slide input. Then, to return the switcher to the default switching mode with preview and program controls, I needed to push the two Shift buttons at the same time again.

Figure 4. Pressing both shift keys at once to lock the preview and program rows to Aux mode

Ultimately, I did not like losing the ability to switch my cameras quickly on the preview and program bus while in Aux mode, so I resorted to using the software control panel to switch the Aux and the hardware to switch the cameras. At the end of the day, I found that for workflows where I needed quicker Aux output controls, I was better off using an ATEM model with front-panel Aux controls and switching the program output using the software control panel.

Although it’s not perfect for all applications, the ATEM TVS Pro HD is a very competent HD hardware video switcher that outperforms many more expensive models while being priced so low that it is less expensive than most software solutions.

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