Review: Blackmagic's pro gear for webcasters
Blackmagic Design recently introduced ATEM Television Studio HD, Hyperdeck Studio Mini and Web Presenter, pro products for webcasters. Michael Tiller shoots and streams local rugby matches in the north of England. Tiller and his team tested the gear in some real world scenarios
The first thing we noticed about the Blackmagic Design gear was the overall build quality of the equipment. It really is second to none. Lovely black, silky finish and very robust. The buttons and knobs all feel very solid and purposeful, unlike some other units that feel quite flimsy - and a tad cheap - considering how much you pay for them.
Included were Blackmagic’s new ATEM Television Studio HD, Hyperdeck Studio Mini and Web Presenter, as well as a Blackmagic’s Video Assist 4K.
First of all, we tested the Video Assist, perfect for a range of used, from dramas to documentaries. Nice touch-screen menus, but the only way we could change the menu was to put it in standby. It has two SD card high definition record slots which are probably a lot better quality than the built-in camera slots. It’s a pity that you can't change the quality as it would be great for sports to record backups at a lower rate.
The picture quality was second to none, and it does have a very good battery use feature. Also a very good feature is that the monitor will convert hdmi to SDI and vice versa.
ATEM Television Studio HD
The ATEM Television Studio HD is a live production switcher designed for both broadcasters and AV professionals. For the money, it is absolutely superb, with eight SDI inputs and four HDMI inputs, but you can only use eight at a time. We could only get the software to work on a Windows 10 laptop which gives you all the features you need audio from SDI or HDMI inputs.
One special feature is that channels 15 and 16 on the SDI can be used as talk back which makes it a very cost effective unit for live TV or university/college studio use, or even sports events. Resolution quality is up to full 1080p 60i.
The only gripe I have is that there is no HDMI out for the multi-screen output. With the software you can import graphics and control the sound from any SDI or HDMI input or an external left and right source, but if you were to use it portably then it would need to be in a flight case with the laptop for ease of use.
I bought my first vision mixer 25 years ago, and it was about the same price (without the laptop) and only had two composite video inputs. It was very difficult to do any graphics and the quality of the picture was only just watchable. Technology of course has come a long, long way. To buy a broadcast quality vision mixer at this price was unthinkable in the 90s. New students getting into the TV industry are now spoiled with this kind of equipment.
The ATEM Television Studio HD features a powerful digital video effects “DVE” processor that can position, resize and scale live video, all in real time. That means you can create professional picture-in-picture effects with customisable borders and drop shadows with lighting. Imagine using a picture-in-picture effect to superimpose a commentator when covering events such as sports, training videos, interviews and even gaming competitions.
You also get 17 DVE-powered transitions that you can use to squeeze and swoosh between sources, or to create graphic wipe transitions with your own graphics. Our operation could not do anything like this before for this kind of money.
New students getting into the TV industry are now spoiled with this kind of equipment
The only thing is it has so many different features, it will take a while to learn them all but, in a nut shell it can do everything you need in a studio - apart from instant replays, which was a bit disappointing for us.
The ATEM has so many software features, one has to be very PC literate to utilise them all. You can attach as many laptops as you like to control the ATEM. You can have one person on sound, one person on vision mixer cameras, one on remote SDI camera, settings and effects etc - or you can use it in a simple vision mixer with only. And it is very easy to use as a vision mixer.
On the output side, not only are there SDI outputs but you can use USB 2 or USB 3 to connect straight to a PC for recording or live streaming. The kit probably contains every single feature you would need to use in a studio or outside broadcast van environment. You will need something external to do replays, but all the SDI inputs have loop through so you can record each SDI inputs separately.
Another excellent feature is the ability to use one of the inputs for your graphics live or you can upload to the ATEM itself in the media pool. This is something that will require a bit of practice for broadcasting live.
When the sound manually, without a laptop I did find it difficult to select audio from one source, while using the picture from another souirce, but with more time with the gear I’m sure I would find it a lot easier.
The ATEM has a few different versions and it's up to you which one you decide to purchase but I found the lowest priced model more than adequate for everyday use if you don't need more than eight inputs.
HyperDeck Studio Mini
Billed as “the world’s smallest Ultra HD broadcast deck with professional 10bit recording and playback, dual SD/UHS-II card recorders, FTP media upload”, the HyperDeck Studio Mini is an amazing piece of equipment that is superb for high quality recording on SD cards.
We had less than 10 minutes before kick-off to set it up. It was the first time I had plugged it in. We had the cards formatted, managed to change the speed of recording, check everything and were recording within five minutes.
The HDMI output and SDI outputs were very useful and complimented the ATEM Television Studio perfectly. To put it bluntly, it does what it says on the tin. You can either record from SD card to SD card, to two consecutively or record two copies at the same time - say one for the director and one for the editor. Time coding can be changed as you wish.
For the price, this is an excellent piece of broadcast recording equipment, but the only input is SDI. We used it on standard fast SD cards. During testing, we took the SDI output from the Blackmagic monitor which was in turn taking the input from the HDMI from the camera and the picture quality was stunning.
The Blackmagic Web Presenter is a simple converter from SDI or HDMI to USB to stream on most platforms such as Skype, YouTube, and Facebook etc. It basically makes the PC think it’s detecting a webcam. As with the other mini Blackmagic devices it has a useful built-in monitor.
You still need a laptop or PC to connect to the internet but the quality is very good. There are other similar devices on the market, but they are a lot more expensive, mainly due to the fact that they don't require a laptop or PC and are more portable. That said, the Blackmagic equipment is all mains operated, very robust and more suitable for studio or outside broadcast situations where you have a mains power supply.
Having compared the Blackmagic mini-series equipment with other manufacturers, what stands out is the robust quality of the build, not a tacky plastic feel, just a solid metal quality and is within the same price bracket.
No other manufacturer I have had experience with features built-in monitors so you can see exactly what is going on at glance.
The only bugbear I have is that it’s all powered by mains, apart from the monitor, but I suppose that makes it stable. Some of the broadcasting we do is in remote or hard to reach locations, so to be able to mount some of this equipment into a manageable flight case with battery power would be amazing.
The camera operator's view
Russel Callaghan, camera operator and videographer, gives his take:
Having used the Blackmagic mini studio equipment for a few weeks you can't help but notice the build quality. As a sports camera operator the 4K monitor is a superb piece of kit. HDMI to SDI cross conversion and uncompressed recording straight out of any HDMI source is right up there. Although the monitor is controlled by swipes across the touch screen, I feel a menu toggle switch would be useful because at £700 you don't really want finger marks across the screen. That aside, the unit really is first class.
One feature across all the range I feel really misses a trick is the lack of the high quality H264 codec. This kit is all built with twin SD card slots the ability to have an smaller capacity file format for easy sharing and previewing on one of these would be a real asset.
The full range is very compact and could easily be built into a one flight case solution. Having said this it can be a bit fiddly to operate the small buttons on the switchers and recorder but if the software could be built into an iPad or tablet then you would have a win win situation.
These are by no way faults because the kit does everything it claims and for the price you won't beat it for performance or quality.