Tuesday, September 29, 2009

BlackMagic's Broadcast Convertors & VideoHub

Having bad-mouthed the BlackMagic UltraScope a couple of weeks ago (it really is a waste of time!) I approached a recent job with some trepidation. For reasons of economy the customer wanted to use BM for glue products as well as the 16x32 VideoHub matrix. The VideoHub I knew from previous jobs and in the past I'd viewed them as too unreliable for TX or dubbing work (the three we put into a facility in 2007 crashed daily). However, we'd heard from the UK importer that they've moved manufacturing, improved QC and re-written the control software to make a much more reliable product.
So - we put this one in and I intentionally hooked one of the outputs to a ForA multi-tile display which has an alarm when one of the inputs drops. In a week I didn't hear the ForA complain once but we'll have to see if the reliability really is there.
The software has improved much since I last put one in - you control the matrix over a USB connection, but the controlling PC/Mac can re-share over TCP/IP and you can use the client software on many machines. In effect you can have a matrix control panel on every Avid or FCP - even at home over the web (if you open a hole in the firewall).
I think the only critique is the old TX/RX cross-over in the RS422 path. Proper matrices (Probel, Quartz etc) know when a device is a controller (typ. an Avid) and when something is controlled (typ. a VTR). The BlackMagic refers to these as 'workstation' and 'deck' respectively but this is silly if you're using a two-VTR edit pair (the recorder is now a 'workstation'!) or using an Avid in VTR-emulate mode (so the Avid is a 'deck'). This is one area where the VideoHub looses out to a matrix in that is doesn't have that proper control system. However - at a quarter of the cost of a comparable 'proper' setup it's a small moan.

The Broadcast Converters are a 1u 'everything-in, everything-out' box that you can 'wrap-around' a BetaSP machine (typically) and have it look like a DigiBeta - analogue to digital (for both video and audio) and back again simultaneously for not much money (less than a grand). It's a ten bit device and has the added advantage of HDMI for displaying on modern HD panels. My only criticism would be that although you can select which embedded/de-embedded audio group you work with it only has stereo analogue i/o (but on XLRs mind you!). All levels and input standards (composite/s-video/component) are controlled over USB which probably allowed them to keep the cost down. It is quite usable and you could see it being used as a control panel (on the FCP's or Avid's desktop?) rather than just for the engineer to dip into with his laptop. They really are hard to beat on features/economy and I'm impressed with the quality of the analogue signal handling.

So, it's not all bad news from BlackMagic (but the UltraScope is still pretty useless!)

Stop Press! I've just discovered that the Broadcast Converters don't pass the vertical interval! So - no VITC, caption data, widescreen switching etc etc - just the kid of things a Broadcaster would need! So - not the perfect solution I hoped for.

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