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Choosing HD Video Switchers for Webcasting--UPDATED!

This article is the fourth in a series on webcast video production and discusses video switchers, including the cost and features that differentiate several popular models.

Sony MCS8M Compact Audio Video Mixing Switcher ($5,395)

With 8 HD inputs (4 HD-SDI, 3 HDMI, 1 DVI) and 4 HD outputs (1 HD-SDI and 1 DVI program output and 2 AUX HD-SDI outputs), the Sony MCS8M (below) is the first of the traditional video switchers that I would consider for my own needs. I really like built-in audio delay feature.

Sony MCS8M Compact Audio Video Mixing Switcher

Sony MCS8M Compact Audio Video Mixing Switcher

Audio inputs are always a challenge and consideration for video mixers and the Sony does not disappoint. It features both embedded HD-SDI and HDMI audio channels as well as a variety of mic and line-level XLR, 1/4", and RCA audio inputs.

Panasonic AG-HMX100 Digital AV Mixer ($5,711)

This Panasonic AG-HMX100 (below) is very similar to the Sony MCS8M in terms of features but offers one fewer HDMI video input and one fewer Aux bus. The HMX100 does have four pairs of XLR inputs, which is three more than the single pair on the Sony MCS8M but, overall, I feel the Sony model offers a better value.

Panasonic AG-HMX100 Digital AV Mixer

Panasonic AG-HMX100

Roland V-440HD ($9,995)

The Roland V-440HD (below) is really two-in-one: An SD switcher on the left and an HD switcher on the right. What makes this switcher so special is that you can upconvert an SD signal on the left to the HD side. I think this workflow had its place a few years ago but I'd add an external upconverter to one of the less expensive previous models and pocket the difference or buy an audio mixer with it, as the V-440HD doesn't have any audio controls.

Roland V-440HD

Roland V-440HD

The V-400HD is the only model on the list with a VGA input, but it's worth noting that the V440-HD lacks HDMI or DVI inputs so you will have to adapt a modern computer signal with a simple HDMI to HD-SDI converter. The V-440HD also lacks a multi-view output, so you'll need an HD-SDI monitor for each input.

Final Thoughts

Sorting through all the video switchers available to webcasters can be very complicated and I hope this article helps to sort out some of the differences. In terms of important features, I have found that having multiple program and Aux outputs was very important for my various live production and webast workflows, and that audio mixing capabilities should not be overlooked when comparing video mixers.

Author's Note and Update

Keeping on top of all the various models of HD video switchers is no easy task as technology changes at such a rapid rate. So when Roland announced a new HD video switcher that merits inclusion in this article on the very day that this article was published, I wasn't too surprised, especially seeing that their only other model that made this list dates back to 2005, which is an eternity in the video production business. The thought of having my latest article be instantly out of date was too much for me to bear, so I'm adding a summary of Roland's new model:

Roland V-40HD Multi-Format Video Switcher ($4,495 MSRP)

In the above article I mention that no model on my list has both VGA and HDMI inputs, which are important when working with the variety of computers and their respective connections. The Roland V-40HD (below) fills this need, although it does lack HD-SDI inputs. 

Roland V-40HD Multi-Format Video Switcher

A look at the Program and Preview Buses reveals four input channels but the Roland V-40HD is actually a 12-channel video mixer as each input channel can have an HDMI, VGA, and Composite connection and the input can be selected by one of the three Input Selector buttons above the Program and Preview Bus selector. Each input can either accept or be scaled to a maximum resolution of 1080 60P, making this the only 1080/60p video mixer on the list. Additionally each input can be duplicated and then independently scaled so that a single wide camera input can act as both a close-up and a wide angle—Roland calls this feature Multi-Zoom. A Quad View HDMI output provides an easy way to see the active video inputs on each of the four input channels on a single monitor. 

Audio inputs come via external 1/4" connections, which then get embedded in the two HDMI outputs. A small three-LED display (Over, -18dB, and -48dB) helps to ensure you don't clip audio but otherwise begs for additional intervals. Audio delay for proper lip sync and Tally light outputs round out the features on the V-40HD. The Roland V-40HD will ship in January 2013.

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