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Review: Blackmagic Design ATEM Television Studio

The ATEM Television Studio is a software-driven video and audio mixer that, for less than $1000 (US), allows you to mix up to six cameras down into a single output program feed, live. You can also add keys, masks, and titles, and it features a built-in H.264 encoder that puts this little stick of tricks firmly on the webcaster's radar.

My Wire-Up

So, with those two shortcomings noted, here is my wire-up:

  • 1-4 HDMI Video Sources (cameras/laptop)
  • 2-4 SDI (swapping with HDMI) inputs
  • Multiview monitor out connects to 7" HDMI LCD (SDI output also available). This brings up a lower-half 4x2 grid showing all feeds and 2 loaded media slots. The upper half has a Preview and Program feed view. 
  • USB connection to laptop for H.264/AAC feed. I run Livestream.com's Producer app, which talks directly to the ATEM, configures the DSP, and packetizes the stream, handing off to Livestream, using virtually no CPU on the laptop. 
  • IP connection from laptop to ATEM, which allows the control surface app to talk to the TV studio and control the mixing and the media slots, the keys, and the output standards. The device is very fussy about input-matching. There is no rescaling, so you have to configure the app properly to both get the sources to show up in the previews and to get the output to be what you need. 
  • There is also an HDMI and an SDI program feed out.

Blackmagic Design ATEM Television Studio
I/O options on the back right panel of the ATEM Television Studio

The Audio Mixer

The software control audio mixer is utterly intuitive.

Blackmagic Design ATEM Software Control
The ATEM Television Studio Audio Mixer

Having previously been used to A/B mixing, I am still acclimatizing to M/E mixing (although there is an option to change the UI to A/B mode, I'm keen to get with the times). This does, however, highlight the power of a software UI on what is otherwise a hardware device.

And to top this off, I discovered a little trick I'm very proud of. If you get yourself DisplayPad for your iPad and your MacBook, you can actually put the Blackmagic ATEM Television Studio UI on the iPad, leaving you with touch-control software mixing for the ATEM. Because the iPad is wireless you can wander around with the mixing desk in your hand. That's great if you're one guy operating three cameras on tripods, since you can suddenly be moving about repositioning off air cameras yourself while continuing to mix.

Blackmagic Design ATEM Control Panel
The Blackmagic Design ATEM Television Studio software UI

Having also run the Blackmagic ATEM mixer app on my Toughbook (which has a touchscreen), it's fantastic that it's now possible to move that fader bar in this tactile way, yet not have to carry a bulky physical video mixer to events.

The Way Forward

For me, this kind of ultra-light multi-angle shoot kit is the way forward, and if you need to stick to HD quality, then the Blackmagic ATEM's little stick of tricks will most likely give you a lot of pleasure, and—at $995 (US)—for a fraction of the price of the nearest "real" HDMI-capable six-camera video mixer.

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