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Ins & Outs of the ATEM Production Studio 4K

Ins & Outs of the ATEM Production Studio 4K

Guest blogger, Steve Oakley, reviews the BlackMagic Design  ATEM Production Studio 4K!

This is Steve Oakley for the DVE Store and in this video, we're going to take a look at the Blackmagic ATEM Production Studio 4K. Let's go check it out.

Okay. So in a video that's only a couple minutes long, I can't go through every feature of this unit. There's that thing that I know people really hate to use. It's called a, it's a bad word. It's manual. Yes, you're going to have to take a quick look through the manual. Highly, highly recommend it if you really want to get the most out of this unit. Now that said, I basically did what everybody else does. I installed the software and I was pretty much up and running in a few minutes. So let me go over the highlights of that. Now one thing that's really important when you first get the unit out of the box is you need to configure it and to do that, you have to use the USB port. The USB port is not for operational control of the switcher. In other words, clicking buttons, making things happen. It's pretty much strictly for configuring the unit and uploading and updating any firmware that it might need. 

So once you follow those directions, and this is really a place that you should take a quick look at the manual, which is basically how to set this unit up, because it talks to the computer using Ethernet. Now it was designed that way because they were thinking about big facility. You've got boxes put in one place. You've got control units in another. Everything's in separate rooms. So that might seem odd if you're, say, on location putting this onto a table and you've got a laptop and the unit right next to each other. If you're out on location and you have a MacBook Pro, especially a new one that doesn't have an Ethernet port, you're going to need to get yourself a USB to Ethernet adapter. You basically have to setup an IP address on the unit. Now you can use DHCP or you can manually set it. I prefer to set up everything manually just because it made things simpler for me and more consistent. It's pretty straightforward to get the whole thing working and once you do, you can launch the ATEM switcher software. If you've ever used a switcher before, then the software layout is pretty familiar. Now there are several hardware panels also available if you really prefer to have a tactile feel and that physical surface and if you do a lot of live event switching, whether it's broadcast or corporate events or whatever, having that control service might be a really worthwhile investment. 

Let's check out the software because I think that's how a lot of people are going to use this. There are a couple of keystrokes you want to know. One is space bar. That gives you cut and "Enter" gives you transition. So if you want to do fly on/fly off picture in picture effects and that sort of stuff, you're going to have to go to one of the higher ME models of the ATEM switchers. This is a basic switcher. So, it does dissolves. It does wipes. It does different types of keys including chroma key and it doesn't do any sort of DVE move, meaning picture in picture, anything that involves scaling or pushing the image on or off the screen. 

On this unit, you have a still store. You can upload those on the media page into the two media players and then use those just like any other video source. They are keyable. If you load a PNG, a TIFF, I think, a TGA file with an alpha channel, those will all work fine and they will be self-keying. You can use those both downstream and upstream. For example, you could use another laptop as a character generator for putting peoples' names on the screen.
So something new with the latest software update is the ability to use a HyperDeck as a virtual VTR. While not virtual, it is. It's just solid state. There's no tape involved. So when you set up a HyperDeck as a video source and route it into the switcher, when you take that effect, either with a cutter or transition, it will instantly go into play. Really cool. Great feature and I'm really happy that they added it. 

Let's talk about the USB port on this unit because there's a little bit of confusion out there. The standard HD older model ATEMs will actually output either H.264 compressed video or in one or two cases, uncompressed video out of the port. The 4K models don't do that. If you want to record for streaming, you're going to need to have a different interface to bring that into your laptop. For example, I actually have an UltraStudio Express. A cool option in the ATEM software is that you can actually capture from the UltraStudio within the interface. Go to the top right and select "Capture." Set your input up and capture away. 

One of the things that I really liked about this unit was the mix of inputs, particularly the HDMI ones. While I don't work with a lot of consumer cameras outside of maybe a GoPro or two, I do work with a lot of laptops for output of PowerPoint or some other type of presentation. It's easy to directly connect that right into one of the inputs. None of the inputs require, I guess if you're familiar with old school stuff, the time-based corrector. Everything has its own frame buffer for direct input. Now that said, here's something that's really important. You have to match the frame rate and the frame size identically across all the devices. 

None of the ATEM units have the ability to scale a video frame or convert frame rates on the inputs, so it's important to get every signal into the same format. Now a camera, for example, might actually be set to 1080/30p but the signal becomes PsF. That's Progressive Segmented Frame. Thank you, Sony, for that tongue twister. Which means that your progressor frame is split into fields. It goes down the wire as fields and then the switcher reintegrates it back as progressive once it's inside the box. So there are ways of getting progressive into the switcher simply by using an interlaced signal as a transport stream. You're not actually interlacing the image itself. The ATEM has a bunch of separate audio inputs which are pretty handy. Now if you feed audio into this unit say, from a mixer, if you're using SDI out of the cameras, you're processing delays, you're going to be about one line, so you're never going to see any sort of sync errors. However, if you're using HDMI out of a camera, you could have up to an entire frame of delay and that's caused by the camera and the nature of HDMI. It's not a fault of the switcher. So it's quite possible if you're using all HDMI cameras, that you might need to purchase an additional audio delay and delay the audio a half to one full frame to bring everything back into sync. 

Well, let's talk about these buttons on the front of the unit. Here's what they do. If you hit any of them, you can look at "Program." You can look at all your sources, your media players. Up on the screen, you'll see whatever's coming in or going out, depending on which one you picked. What this also does is it selects what video is being fed out the auxiliary output. That's pretty cool that this has an auxiliary output because it lets you do a couple of different things. One, you can do a nicer record. Two, if you wanted to do something really down and dirty bare bones, you could use the auxiliary output really, actually, as your program and do direct cuts between cameras on the front. Now you can only do cuts only and the unit really wasn't intended to be used as a switcher this way, but for certain things, it may get the job done. So it's a nice option to have available. 

So I hope I've given you a lot of good information about this and cleared up any of the fuzzy points that people sometimes have prior purchasing one and, yes, I actually do own one and I am using it for doing live events and I'm really happy with it. This has really been solid piece of gear to work with.

10th Nov 2016 Steve Oakley

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