The Swiss Army Knife of Video Converters

Posted by Jason Jenkins on 30th Nov 2016

I've been carrying a Swiss Army Knife around with me for more than 25 years. I use it daily to open packages, remove food from my teeth and to trim annoying hangnails. In high school, it was also good for loosening screws that hold together a locker door or a classroom desk. :) It's so handy I can't imagine living without it. In fact, I lost it once, back in high school, and I was so distraught that I drew up a reward poster and plastered it all over the school. "Have you seen this knife? 5 Dollar Reward!". I asked everyone I saw if they had seen my missing knife. It only took a day for someone to anonymously turn it in to the office. I'm carrying that same knife today. It gives me a sense of confidence; an assurance of preparedness––a readiness-for-anything-the-day-throws-at-me.

As I ponder on my experiences in the realm of live, multi-camera video production, there is another device that holds a similar position of unparalleled utility and supernal usefulness.

The Decimator MD-HX––this is a device that I don't want to be without, whether in the DVEstore studio, on-location for a multi-camera shoot, or for an installation job. This is one of those products that tends to sell itself when it's understood that they are capable of solving so many problems. So that is my purpose––to share with you how the Decimator has solved problems for me and become an indispensable "Swiss Army Knife" in my video tool kit.

Decimator Design makes  six different mini converters, but for the purpose of this blog post, I'll be focusing on the affordable Decimator MD-HX HDMI/SDI cross converter. Let's start with what comes in the box:

Decimator MD-HX breakdown

Click to enlarge

Pictured above is the red Decimator MD-HX unit itself surrounded by the included accessories. On the left is the power supply, with a locking barrel connector. Above the power supply are the power adapters for using the Decimator in any country around the world. On top is an adapter plate that allows rack mounting the Decimator. On the right is a USB cable [for computer based control] and a full-to-full HDMI cable. Not pictured is the 9 page operating manual.

The four basic operating modes of the  Decimator MD-HX are as follows:

  1. HDMI to SDI while simultaneously converting SDI to HDMI
  2. HDMI to HDMI while simultaneously converting SDI to SDI
  3. HDMI to HDMI and HDMI
  4. SDI to SDI and HDMI

Decimator MD-HX Signal Flow graph

The flow chart above can be helpful for visualizing the signal flow possibilities

As you can see, with the Decimator MD-HX, you have the ability to perform two conversions simultaneously, which means you are essentially getting two converters in one! This functionality is essential if you need to match two cameras to the frame rate of your switcher. ATEM switchers, for example, don't have any built in conversion or scaling, and if you feed it the wrong frame size or frame rate, you'll get no signal at the switcher.

This brings me to another point: It is extremely helpful to have a quick way to verify the signal on a given HDMI or SDI feed. With the Decimator MD-HX, you can plug in your cable and get an instant readout on frame size and frame rate! I can't emphasize enough how helpful this is when you are renting cameras that you may not be 100% familiar with [or you've hired a camera person who brings their own camera]. In a perfect production world, we'd have cameras that match exactly and we'd be perfectly familiar with every piece of gear on the scene. But how often does that happen?

Decimator MD-HX screen interface

On the MD-HX display "S" represents the SDI input signal; "H" represents the HDMI input signal; "D" represents the Down Up Cross Converter status. In the image on the right, a camera is plugged into the HDMI input, and the signal is recognized as 1920x1080 interlaced, at 59.94 frames per second.

Like any piece of gear, the Decimator MD-HX does have its limitations. It won't do 4K. It's also digital only. I recently got a call from a fellow working a new job at a city hall. He was trying to integrate a new switcher with the existing PTZ cameras in the council chambers. He had purchased a Roland V-1HD and a couple of Decimator MD-HX's from Sounds like a recipe for success, right? Well, he was having trouble seeing the signal from the cameras. He was plugging the BNC feeds right into the Decimators––and nothing. I asked him for the model number of the cameras, and a quick google search revealed that these cameras were putting out standard definition, analog composite video!

I tried not to make him feel bad about it, but I did mention that a call to me, before purchasing, would have saved him a serious headache. I initiated a return of his purchases and got him set up with a Roland V-4EX, which will work with those SD PTZ's. I would love to help him upgrade to some PTZoptics HD PTZ's in the future!

Bottom Line: 

It's good to know what you're working with, but it's even better to be prepared for surprises too. I have found the Decimator MD-HX to be an indispensable SDI/HDMI converter, scaler, distribution amplifier, signal sniffer! All that functionality can be accessed by the four buttons on the front panel, but I recommend using the USB Control Panel utility first for getting familiar with the settings. 

Decimator software interface

True Story:

Just as I was finishing up this blog post, I got a call from Alex Lopez in Miami. He asked if DVEstore carries  Decimator Design products. I said "Yes, indeed!". He then went on and on about how Decimators have saved his bacon, (tofu for any vegans out there), time and time again while doing large music concerts with multiple cameras and IMAG. Alex knows the value of being prepared with the right tools and he will soon be upping the value of his 'Decimator insurance policy' if you know what I mean.