Apantac UE-4-II-K. Tangible multi-visualization, it’s possible!
Test performed by Pablo Martínez
They are with us in our day-to-day routines, being one of the technical elements without which we could not carry out our work in the modern and minimalist controls for production and present-day mobile units. They have always had their staunch opponents and advocates in our technical production market; however, we cannot deny their necessity and efficiency in production environments. Yes, we are referring to multiscreens, the so-called multiviewers. Long gone are the monitoring bridges made up of countless independent display monitors, huge arrays that, without ever realizing, we transform into multiple display systems on a single screen, which allows us to be much more efficient both as regards of both space and consumption.
This lab will be devoted to analyzing the UE-4-II-K model from manufacturer Apantac. With a proven track record in the broadcast equipment industry and a large product portfolio, the innovation they show in their products is at the forefront of development in an industry like ours. An industry that demands scalability of technical solutions by leaps and bounds.
The truth be told: In theory, the features of this piece of equipment are unbeatable, but once in my hands, and before including it in a model to perform a battery of tests in a real environment, the possibilities it offers are enormous; power of imagination.
We are not dealing with a mere multiviewer even though it is the little one in the “Crescent UE Multiviewers” family. The possibilities it offers can drastically simplify the visualization of our signals and to the fullest thanks to its ‘secret weapon’: It features a KVM system that takes it at a higher level of integration, with excellent response times.
The UE-4-II-K gives us the ability to work concurrently with four HDMI 2.0 UHD inputs featuring auto-detection and audio decoding (up to eight channels per input). This will enable us to work with different signal resolution settings on the same system. As an example, we would avoid having to configure the screen output on different computers to a specific resolution for display.
We have two HDMI outputs with a maximum resolution of 4096x2160p (4:4:4). It also has two SDI BNC outputs, one a 12g SDI, and 3G SDI the other. As for the control and interaction part, it features four USB type-B connectors for connection with the computers that we monitor. Work can be carried out directly from the multiviewer by connecting a mouse and a keyboard in the two silk-screened USB type-A connectors.
With regards to the rest of I/O system, we have a RJ45 connector for control and configuration connection from the Apantac jDirector software, a RJ45 connector for the RS232 interface connection, and four RJ50 connectors, two for interaction via RS232 (1 in, 1 out) and two for GPI interaction (eight for each connector).
An important factor that we always consider when evaluating new equipment is reliability. Although the testing period is ‘finite’, it always provides us with very relevant information in the face of future unexpected behavior. Hence the ‘stress’ test. As in previous occasions, we will conduct this test focusing on the equipment’s behavior versus temperature changes and intensive handling over a short period of time. Its technical features indicate that it can work within the temperature range of 0 – 45ºC. The test configuration was performed on an insulated rack with independent temperature control, the equipment was powered by an unstabilized power outlet (220v/44-52Hz), connecting four HDMI input signals, three of which were 3840×2160 resolution and one 1920×1080 resolution. All sources come from four computers which connect via USB to the UE-4II-K in order to use its integrated KVM. The output monitor on which we will watch the behavior during the test is set to 3840×2160 resolution (9ms response time), which is the standard resolution allowed by the equipment.
We planned a 3x24h test, with a weighted variation of the ambient temperature in the closed environment of 10 – 40 ºC in steps of one hour variation and one hour constant temperature. During this period the four computers are looping high-resolution videos. Two of them are full screen. In this case no UMD associated with the temperature alarm is configured, but if it is included in each window of the multiview; the signal failure alarm identifiers and four audio channels are associated with each window.
Once the test has started, a KVM control test is performed from the multiview on each PC every four hours. The video on playback is modified and the menu of the computer is navigated for two minutes. Also, it switches between different presets that we have previously defined in its configuration in order to alter the order and display of the different windows. Each multiview input is also set on full screen; in this case the interaction times of each process were measured in order to ‘calibrate’ the system response.
After three days of testing and with the data obtained, we can say that this is a robust piece of equipment that will not create any problems in 24/7 controlled environments. With regards to the values analyzed, the temperature inside the unit was kept within the working margins, especially thanks to the built-in forced front ventilation system. As for usability and response times under these conditions, there was no apparent decrease in functionality. Response times between preset changes were around 1.7 – 1.9 seconds and KVM operation to take control of each computer was accurate and unchanged.
Once the ‘stress’ test was completed, we were already clear in which environment we should implement the unit. I refer to what I said at the beginning of this lab review, multiview allows us to maintain minimalist workspaces. Surely, many readers will find themselves in situations similar to ours: Little space and mandatory control of two or more computers from a single operating position in the control post or in the mobile unit. In that case, the UE-4-II-K is our loyal ally.
Due to the idiosyncrasy of the playout system that we have in our production controls, they necessarily need two screens for each computer as well as two PCs sorted by playout position (main and backup). This means that, at best, as long as we have ‘room’, we must have four displays of at least 17” with two keyboards and two mice, or, alternatively, two displays associated with an external KVM for fast switching between computers (although in this case, and depending on the configuration and operating system, this can be a problem due to the delay in switching the video signal that is caused by a dual output KVM on a single computer). This second option is the one we have implemented currently, so the test in a real environment was clear. The two 17-inch screens were replaced by a 32-inch monitor, setting a main working preset with four windows including ID UMD and two-channel audio UMD for each window. All other presets were configured for 2:2 and 1:1 layouts. This was possible thanks to the keyboard shortcut provided by the UE-4II-K (Ctrl->Ctrl->Fxx) for changing the preset. Ease of use of the jDirector configuration software is worth highlighting. It allows performing virtually any combination of windows, including UMD of the type label, clock, temperature, audio level and logo.
We performed a broadcast parallel during two programs using it as a display and control element on a single monitor. At the same time its SDI output was integrated into one of the windows of the control’s general multiview, which allowed the producer and assistant to have a reference of the playout schedule. Simplicity and operability proved unbeatable. First of all, thanks to the possibility to monitor all four signals concurrently. And secondly, by the possibility to switch between working views (presets) according to the operator’s needs.
As a second test in a production environment, it was configured to be used as a display for monitoring events and warnings in the systems department. The use of the multiview enabled an automated control of four computers. The different concurrent processes were displayed on a single screen. It was also shown, in case of need to interact with the computer just in case it might generate errors, a full-screen display on the multiview. For this test, a main preset was made that comprised four windows, a digital clock synchronized by means of an NTP server and four labels showing each window’s ID. It was kept in parallel with the current system to verify its functioning while its behavior was being analyzed by colleagues in the department. Very positive comments were reported regarding accessibility, ease-of-use and efficiency of the equipment for this type of control environment.
What can we miss here?
To name one, I am missing a power switch, both for primary power and for redundant power, built into the chassis. Technically it is not complicated, and operationally, for maintenance tasks and operation outdoors, it is of great help.