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Review: Roland VR-5 A/V Mixer

Roland's VR-5 A/V Mixer features multiple video inputs, an internal media player, computer input and conversion, a built-in audio mixer, two integrated LCD monitors to see video inputs, output and various device settings, and the ability to internally record your program output while also sending your program to a laptop for streaming--all for an MSRP of $4,995.

Video Playback

The VR-5 plays back standard-definition MP4 video clips recorded onto the SD card. Roland has published specifications and is making a video utility to facilitate making MP4 clips compliant with what the VR-5 needs to see. The quality of the video playback of SD material at 6Mbps is quite good with minimal, nearly invisible artifacting.

At the time of this writing, Roland's software was not finished. The instructions they had available for using third-party tools to make files the VR-5 would handle did not work for me. The playback hardware is very specific in what it wants to see. So I heartily look forward to dedicated software to do this as the hardware in the VR-5 has a narrow range of what it can handle.

There's a section of the VR-5 dedicated to markers in your video and audio. These are handy if the video clips you have to play are all smushed into one long file, but you need a way to quickly jump through them. There are transport controls immediately below the Marker section to let you change clips, and speed your way forward or backward through a clip. You can mark on the fly as a clip plays. These marks are stored on in an .mrk file in the same place as the video file on the SD card. The VR-5 jumps between marks almost instantly.

Roland VR-5 AV Mixer
The VR-5's Marker and video transport controls

You can cue up the clips manually by file, or visually on the Preview screen. Then you can set the VR-5 to automatically play them when you select the Player input. This is a nice feature. But even more useful is the VR-5's ability to have the video player file menu up on its preview LCD and still have the quad-split visible on the preview video output. This way you can directly access as many as 9 files with a touch (and a 3-second lag) and know what you are selecting with the thumbnail.

Roland VR-5 AV Mixer
The quad-split screen

The Output Monitor has an Info button below it. Hitting this brings up a horizontal stripe across the Output Monitor screen (over the video on the LCD, but not the actual Program Out) that displays the file you are playing, time, and the status (play/pause). Hitting the Info button a second time adds a visual progress indicator across the bottom of this stripe that tells you at a glance where you are in the clip-just like playing any video file on a computer. I find this handy enough to leave up all the time. Unfortunately, the progress indicator disappears when fastforwarding or rewinding clips.

Video playback is not without its idiosyncrasies. You can set a clip up to be cued, but if you want to preview it on the quad-split Preview, and with the audio slider down (an audio "Solo" button would be useful here) you have a challenge cuing it up again. If you hit pause, and then hit the "|<<" button to go back to the head of the clip, the VR-5 plays about a half second of the clip and then it pauses. When you select the Player for Program Out and expect the clip to autoplay, it doesn't. You now have to tell it to play manually. If you hit Stop while previewing the clip, the Player preview will go dark. Now, selecting the Player for Program Out will properly autoplay the clip. Either way, the horizontal Info stripe on the Output Monitor accurately tells you what's going on.

I think re-cuing the clip to the beginning (the first option described above) should sit on the first frame, in pause, and properly autoplay when the Player is selected. A firmware update should fix this.

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