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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.

Recording to USB

As I have alluded to above, the program output is the signal that you live stream and/or record. You can connect an HFS+ or ExFAT-formatted USB hard drive to the ATEM Mini Pro’s USB-C connection, and this is your recording destination. You can even connect a USB hub and multiple external hard drives and be able to hot-switch your destination. The recording is a standard MP4 video file with an audio format that is supported for direct upload to popular video hosting destinations.

Tally Light and Camera Control

When you connect the ATEM Mini Pro to a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4K or 6K, you can unlock some really powerful features and controls usually reserved for higher-end systems. The tally light feature controls the front light on the PCC4K/6K. The light changes from red to green when the corresponding connected camera’s input on the ATEM Mini Pro changes from program to preview. It also turns off when it isn’t the preview or program. A tally light is really helpful for talent and operator alike to know when their camera is live and can be used in conjunction or instead of cues from the director.

The camera control feature is similar to how higher-end Blackmagic Design URSA cameras can be controlled by ATEM switchers over SDI but on the ATEM Mini Pro, the camera connects to the Mini Pro over HDMI. Not only can you control the iris, gain/iso, color temp, zoom, and toggle the autofocus, you also have full DaVinci color shader controls or a more traditional CCU tint control.

Matching multiple cameras is one of the biggest challenges in live event production when you aren’t using broadcast cameras with camera control units. I know I struggle with this all the time when I try to match the 4 different Sony models of camcorders, digital cine cameras, and mirrorless digital cameras that I use in my own business. We even have challenges when matching same-model cameras with different lenses. Color shading using internal camera menus is so much more difficult than shading with proper HLS.

I was so blown away by this integration that I am actively looking into acquiring additional PCC4K/6K cameras to add to my own live-switch offerings. This is saying a lot because I’m heavily invested in Sony camera and Sony lens workflows and the MFT and Canon lens mounts on the PCC4K and PCC6K mean that I would have to re-invest in new lenses to make this work. It also says a lot about the value proposition of the PCC4K/6K when paired with the ATEM Mini Pro when the bodies and switcher are no-brainers with exceptional value and the items that require more financial consideration are the third-party lenses.

ATEM Mini Pro Multiviewer

The ATEM Multiviewer (Figure 6, below) has a larger Preview & Program, and 8 smaller source or monitor windows. With only 4 HDMI inputs, that leaves 4 extra windows in the bottom row. The bottom left corner shows the media player 1 asset. The next window shows the live stream status window with a large ON AIR status with time, bitrate, cache, and destination. The following window shows the recording status and remaining time on the two possible drive destinations. The final window shows the audio VU meters for each of the inputs and the outputs at a glance. While you can toggle the VU meters on or off for each of the 4 camera inputs in their respective windows, having all the audio at a glance is a feature that I hope finds its way to the ATEM Multiview options for the rest of the ATEM line.

Figure 6. ATEM Mini Pro Multiviewer

The one feature noticeably missing from the ATEM Mini Pro is an audio output. It doesn’t have a headphone jack, which forces you to monitor the audio downstream. This isn’t a big deal on the ATEM Mini because you normally would connect it to a computer via USB-C and use software to stream and record the program output--and you would simply monitor the audio signal at this point.

With the ATEM Mini Pro, because it has an internal encoder and you might be using the USB-C to record to an external hard drive, you don’t have the option to listen to this signal. The best way to monitor the audio is to connect the HDMI output to a broadcast or computer monitor that has internal speakers or a headphone output. This feature isn’t something that I typically use with all the computer monitors that I take on the road with me, although I do know that some of them do support this functionally--so plan accordingly.

Conclusion

I think that the 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. But even categorizing it primarily as a 4-input switcher undersells the possibilities, because the ATEM Mini also competes against and can replace other dedicated hardware tools like an HDMI scaler, HDMI to USB-C capture card, streaming encoder, HD recorder, camera control unit, color shader, multiview monitor, audio mixer, 6-band equalizer, audio compressor, audio limiter, tally light generator, and so much more.

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