The Blackmagic ATEM 1 M/E switcher: AMAZING
COW Library : Blackmagic Design : Bob Zelin : The Blackmagic ATEM 1 M/E switcher: AMAZING
I have installed a pre-release of the new Blackmagic ATEM 1 M/E video switcher for one of my clients. Words can hardly describe this incredible new product.
There is an optional conventional switcher control panel for this product, but at a retail cost of $5000, we wanted to try to avoid this cost, and use just the Blackmagic switcher electronics for $2495, and use a Mac laptop as the actual switcher.
You download the ATEM software from the Blackmagic website and run the installer. It is a tiny program. You plug in a USB cable and a standard Ethernet cable between the ATEM switcher and your Apple Mac computer, and run the ATEM Setup Utility program, which shows you the IP address of the ATEM switcher electronics. You can change this IP address to match your computer, or change the IP address of your computer (in System Preferences>Network). Once you accomplish this (all of 10 seconds), you click on ATEM Software Control, and the video switcher appears on your Mac.
Blackmagic Design ATEM 1 M/E video swticher at Matchpoint Studios in Tampa, FL
INPUTSThe switcher electronics has LOTS of inputs and outputs. There are eight discreet inputs - input 1 can be analog component HD or HDMI. Inputs 2, 3 and 4 are HDMI inputs. Inputs 5, 6, 7, and 8 are HD-SDI inputs. This means that if you have 8 cameras or HD-SDI sources, you will need to purchase inexpensive Blackmagic HD-SDI to HDMI converters, so you can get these HD-SDI sources (like cameras) into the first 4 inputs of the switcher. But with today's varied products on the market, it's nice that there is a wide varity of inputs available.
For the tests I did at Matchpoint Studios in Tampa, we used a JVC HDV camera with analog component HD outputs, a Canon EOS 5D with HDMI output, and a FCP edit system with an AJA Kona 3 card, that has HD-SDI ouputs. Because all inputs to the ATEM have frame synchronizers on them, there was no reason to genlock anything, and everything just locked up instantly.
There is a setting menu which allows you to set the video standard that you are working at. In the US, the choices are 720p and 1080i. You cannot "mix and match" 720p and 1080i sources, and you cannot work at 23.98 - so if the Canon camera is set for 23.98, you have to change it to 29.97. At the time I am writing this, you also cannot use SD-SDI standard definition sources - everything must be Hi Def Video. Blackmagic has converters that will take care of you if you need them.
MONITORINGOnce you plug in your sources, you need to see what you are doing. There is no video output displayed on the Mac computer screen. Instead, you can hook up an inexpensive LCD or Plasma display with an HDMI input to see all of your input sources, program and preview all on the same monitor. This is called the Multiviewer. There is a second multiviewer monitor output, which is HD-SDI, but this would require an expensive professional monitor, and since we are cheap, we used a computer monitor - which looked great!
OUTPUTSThere are lots of other outputs - specifically a program HD-SDI output, as well as 3 AUX outputs, which can be assigned by a menu to show program, preview, any of the input sources, or lots of other stuff.
One of the striking features of the ATEM, is that these menus are not "buried" or levels deep. Almost everything can be found at the top level of the screen, right in front of you, or just a click away in another screen menu. My point is that there is not hours or days of studying to get this working. It is very intuitive, and you figure all of this out very quickly. With the Aux output assignments for example, the 3 aux outs are assigned by the top menus of the Mac, which simply say "Aux 1, Aux 2, Aux 3" with dropdown windows that let you select what should go to these outputs. There is also a SD-SDI downconvert output.
It is important to note that the ATEM series of switchers do NOT have streaming web outputs. If you need to stream video live to the web, you will need an external box to do this, or a software program like Telestream Wirecast.
GETTING TO WORKThe switcher has 8 primary inputs, internal black, and internal color bars (so no need to purchase an external bar generator). It has a total of 6 keyers - 4 upstream keyers which can be chroma keyers, or luminance keyers, and 2 downstream keyers, which are only luminance keyers. The luminance keyers allow you to select a foreground source and background source, and can use an alpha channel. There is also a DVE (Digital Video Effects) unit built in, so you can do page flips, and "squeeze backs" for picture in picture.
We were initially discouraged that we could not manually move the DVE squeezed box around, but we were ultimately shown that if we would spend the money for the Blackmagic Control Panel ($5000) the joystick on the control panel would accomplish this task. We were also shown how to use X-Y coordinates to squeeze back the image to a specific location. Of course, we decided to consider this a "limitation" rather than to spend the 5 grand for the control panel.
The switch software allows you to "push the buttons" not only with the mouse or trackball, but with the keys of your computer keyboard. For example, if you hit the 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 keys, it will move the preview buss to buttons 1 - 2 - 3 - 4. If you hold the shift key down, and do the same thing, it will move the same buttons on the Program buss. So fast switching was very easy. And of course, there is an Auto Transition button, which will let you do very smooth fades and dissolves, as well as wipes, keys, and DVE moves.
The multiviewer can be set up to reconfigure the way the multiview screen is displayed on the LCD or Plasma screen. It also lets you quickly name all the crosspoints, so the name of Camera 1 can instantly become "George" if you so desire, to make it easy to know what camera is looking at what person. This of course applies to all crosspoints.
But wait - there's more ! There is a clip player, which lets you store 32 still frames, and two animation clips that can be played back. To get these clips to playback, all you do is import them into the list (like you import a file from FCP), and drag them into the clip list.
DRAWBACKS AND WORKAROUNDSThe animation player can only hold a total of 180 frames (6 seconds) and that's for BOTH animation clip players. So you can't have lots of movies ready to go at a moment's notice. AND the files must be in TARGA (.tga) or TIF file formats. No .mov or Quicktime files. We HATED this fact, as most people want to simply drag in their .psd Photoshop or .mov clips - but this will not work.
The process for getting clips imported, and then dragged into the clip player is a relatively slow process - but my client does a lot of political campaigns and trade shows, and needs to be able to call up different graphics very quickly, and. We found a great workaround.
Because the switcher electronics and the Mac computer are connected via an Ethernet cable, we put both the ATEM electronics and the Mac computer on a cheap Ethernet switch. We then plugged in another laptop, and loaded the ATEM switcher software onto that (and assigned a different static IP address for that new computer on the same subnet). When we launched the software, BOTH Mac computers showed the switcher control panel.
On the new computer, we were able to click on the Media Clip player menu, and one operator was able to load in the Targa graphics files into the clip player, while the other Mac computer was able to continue working, switching away. JUST LIKE HAVING A CHYRON GUY THERE, but using a cheap laptop for this purpose. Amazing.
Another feature which was not yet working was the USB3 output. This is NOT for streaming video, or creating an H.264 file. This is so that you can record the full res HD signal to a computer as uncompressed video. The only ATEM switcher that will offer a built in H.264 output in the future will be the small ATEM Television Studio ($995).
So, as of time of this writing, which is pre release of the product, what's not working is the USB3 output used to record the show to an external computer. As of this writing, the only inconveniences are no mixed HD formats, and no SD-SDI sources.
Everything else seems absolutely AMAZING.
AMAZINGCan other switches do this. Of course they can. Are any of them even remotely priced near $2495? ABSOLUTELY NOT.
In addition to the extremely low price for what you are getting, there is another single fact about this product that I cannot stress enough. This is the simplest video switcher to learn that I have ever seen. There are no hidden menus - no spending hours with a manual to try to figure out how to configure it. It plugs in, and works.
And if you weren't a cheapo like I am, you could have plugged in the Blackmagic Control Panel ($5000) with a single Ethernet cable, and gone to work within minutes, instead of the 90 minutes it took us to figure out how to do a lot of stuff - and still come out ahead of any other switcher out there.
The ONLY thing we sat and suffered with during the setup and testing of this new product was the clip player. We simply could not understand that this product wants to see Targa files, and streams of targa files for the animation clip player. We are so used to dragging in .psd or .mov files, that it confused us.
So a bulk of the "learning curve" was understanding how to use the clip player, and ultimately that we really needed to tie in a second Mac computer to load the clips, in order for things to get changed quickly for a live production.
Ultimately, my client will purchase the $995 Matrox Convert DVI, which will convert the output of a Mac laptop DVI port to an HD-SDI signal, so we can rapidly get lots of motion graphics instantly into the Blackmagic ATEM switch. The cost of the Matrox Convert DVI is cheaper than the DVI input option cards in most switchers anyway.
For a version 1 release of a product, the ATEM 1 M/E switcher is simply amazing, and an amazing value. For the money, there is nothing on the market even close to this product - not even on eBay.
A note from JP Manterola, Director at Matchpoint Studios
In September 2011, Matchpoint Studios will be making history as the first and only company to fully produce and transmit a presidential debate to a live web audience.
"Presidency 5," the national event sponsored by the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), will take place in the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL, and will conclude in a straw poll expected to predict the eventual Republican Presidential nominee. RPOF is enlisting the expertise of both FOX News and Matchpoint Studios to give the entire world a chance to see this historic event.
The 8 HD (1080i) cameras, both wireless and not, the TV set, and the 20+ crew members crucial to a successful transmission are all signs of high hopes and an overwhelming, almost pioneer-like air. However, none of those components would be of any use without the ease and high-end production quality of the Blackmagic Design ATEM 1 M/E Production Switcher.
The first to use it on a trial-basis, Matchpoint has been increasingly impressed with the small size, yet huge capabilities of the switcher, and is pleased to report successful testing so far. JP Manterola, director at Matchpoint Studios, along with video engineer Bob Zelin, praises the small, simple, and compact, couple-thousand-dollar piece of equipment, calling it "friendly, portable, and easy to use." It's also a huge money-saver, as producing the ground-breaking P5 Live project would cost thousands of dollars more had Matchpoint not been given the opportunity to use the device that is sure to generate a lot of approval once it becomes available in the general market. Matchpoint Studios is very thankful to Blackmagic, as one little box is now providing them with all the tools necessary to produce a quality, HD, live transmission.