Blackmagic Design Studio Equipment

Synergy. 1 of 2.

Yes. Today we use a title such an abstract concept that describes those situations in which the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Let’s see how many benefits we can derive as we combine the right pieces of this puzzle, and how interesting it can be from a profitability point of view. By Luis Pavía

 

This will be a slightly more extensive, somewhat different lab as compared to the usual ones. We will split it into two parts because in addition to discussing the equipment and their possibilities individually, we will go a little further by delving into everything that is possible to achieve, the synergies that we can derive when using them in combination. And we can already tell you that the tour will be extensive and rewarding.

For this, we have relied on three elements: two that are fairly new, presented this year; and one that has been a little longer on the market, all of them from Blackmagic Design. The most recent ones are the ATEM TV Studio HD8 ISO mixer and the Studio Camera 6k Pro camera, to which we add an ATEM Camera Control Panel.

Thinking about the appropriate configuration for a real live environment, naturally more cameras will be required- as well as other additional elements of different types- to carry out the different projects that we undertake in the best conditions.

But this basic kit is enough to develop this laboratory that, thanks to the range of prices to which Blackmagic has got us used to, opens the possibility of setting up a studio or a live performance in places where until now were just unthinkable in view of technical complexity and/or budget-related reasons.

 

We will devote this first part mostly to the mixer and its possibilities; while the camera, the panel and all the possible synergies and new markets will be make up the second part. Let’s go for it!

Communication, and all the ways to carry it out, continue to thrive, and even more so in these times where the internet and the immediacy of access to all kinds of information are decisive elements when it comes to spreading our message to our audience. Whatever the message, and whatever the audience, the better the quality and care put into its creation or broadcast, the easier it will be to keep our audience with us. And even better if we manage to increase it.

Therefore, having the possibility of setting up a television studio with all its functionalities, all the necessary tools to generate quality content, and being able to do it at a more than competitive price, is the reason why this set opens possibilities not only to producers with more limited budgets, but also makes it accessible to dozens of entities, institutions and organizations that probably had it on their list of unattainable dreams. And if we also make it portable, we will have a mobile unit in the trunk of a regular car! This opens an interesting field for additional forms of monetization of on-demand services for small producers and organizations.

Going into the descriptions of the equipment, the mixer is the core of any production study. It is the main hub where all our signals arrive to be corrected, synchronized, sequenced, mixed, superimposed and to do everything that is necessary, before their release as a broadcast. These signals can come from cameras, computers, recorders with prepared contents, various additional sound sources such as microphones, players or mixers. And the purpose is to create the final image that we want to broadcast. Either by adding effects, layers, labels or any other element that will be enriching for our content.

Although when we go into more detail, we will see that not only do we have the functionalities that can be expected in an advanced mixer such as returns and tally, but also many more such as an integrated audio mixer, the possibility of remote control and management of cameras, direct broadcast in streaming formats or the ability to record the signals to further edit the broadcast at a later stage.

 

The camera, the set of cameras in a real studio, is also essential, but in reality it is only one of the sources of information that we are going to use, and we will also need to have those other sources available to incorporate all these additional contents. And not just contribute content to central control. For a studio camera to be really useful, it must have additional equipment or functionalities so that operators can carry out their work. These functions include the return of the program signal, the broadcast indicator usually known as “tally” and some means of intercommunication between operators and central control. Some of these tasks are also linked to or directly handled by the mixer.

Then, another item that improves production efficiency, and which we have also counted on, is the remote camera control panel. A device traditionally known in television lingo as RCP (Remote Control Panel). Not to be confused with CCU (Camera Control Unit) which may have some functions in common. Its mission is to enable a single professional to take care of all the image and color settings for all the cameras from the central control, thus providing visual unity and allowing the operator of each camera to concentrate on the framing, focus and follow-up of the action.

Once the three elements that make up our scene have been appropriately defined, let’s go with the general presentation of camera and remote, since we will analyze the mixer in this article too.

The camera was introduced as a novelty earlier this year, shortly before Las Vegas NAB 2023, as an evolution of its 4k Pro predecessor. This model retains the 7-inch HDR screen with parasol and touch functionality to directly manage all menu and configuration options. It also retains the SDI In/Out and HDMI Out connections, Ethernet with PoE+ power in addition to video, audio, intercom, tally and two-way control through a single cable, the two USB-C ports with various uses, the two analog audio XLR inputs, the 5-pin for intercom, and the mini jacks for micro and headphones.

In addition to all these features in common with its predecessor, this model can be distinguished by its super-35 size 6k sensor, which clearly improves sensitivity and detail, as well as providing a different visual narrative. The bayonet changes to an EF type, for which we have a greater variety of optics available on the market. It features electronically operated ND filters that are adjustable both from the on-screen menu and from the optional zoom and focus remote controls, or most ATEM equipment.

 

Among the novelties to highlight, the USB ports now allow 6k signals up to 60p in raw format to be recorded on external disks, which will later allow a live show to be further edited with maximum quality. The Ethernet port allows to directly encode the camera signal to broadcast platforms. But also towards ATEM mixers through data networks with return, tally and intercom, thus creating a network of remote connections in a very simple and efficient way.

And if told this way, as a mere enumeration of features, the scope of some of them may have gone unnoticed. Let’s explain: the fact that the mixer return signal has remote control, tally and intercom functions integrated in just one device results in a considerable simplified infrastructure.

Therefore, having all these functionalities in a fairly reasonable budget camera, through an infrastructure as simple and economical as an SDI cable, does facilitate the installation and even the mobility of these equipment units in places where previously, simply on account budget constraints, this would have been unthinkable. And that is where having a mixer that integrates them is one of the synergies that are worth highlighting.

Regarding the remote control of cameras, the Camera Control Panel that we had available for our laboratory is probably best known for having been on the market longer. This is the equipment that allows us to make all the adjustments related to lighting, quality and color response of the image, as well as the settings for optics if the selected lens supports this functionality. The 4 independent RCP controls allow handling up to 8 cameras, thus making it extremely easy and quick to change both the camera selection for each individual module, as well as the 4 of them together as one.

 

In this case, the peculiarity is to find a controller configuration with 4 physical modules integrated in the same console, when the usual configuration is to find them in independent modules. It may seem unnecessary, but the truth is that the price of this set is very similar to that of many individual modules, which multiplies efficiency and versatility without increasing purchase costs. In addition, the connection is extremely simple by means of a single Ethernet cable to the mixer. Again, the mixer continues to centralize efficiencies.

But let’s get into all the features and technical details of our powerhouse: the mixer.

The version in our laboratory is the Studio HD8 ISO, which features the possibility of internal and independent recording of each one of its 8 inputs. As a reference for those who may have other needs, there is a simpler variant (HD8) that dispenses with the possibility of internal recording, as well as a higher one for UHD signals (4K8), although it also dispenses with the possibility of internal recording. In any of the three instances, they are type 1 M/E models, with 8 SDI HD inputs on 20-port prior/program buses.

In addition to conventional operation by means of its own controls, the mixer can also be operated remotely from a computer (or several) thanks to the free control software ATEM Control, and which can be located on an adjacent table or distributed in distant locations, as long as both can connect over the internet.

We will analyze the software a little later, but it is important to note at this time that all image processing is always done on the dedicated hardware inside the mixer itself, thus avoiding delays and ensuring the quality of the result.

We have 8 SDI HD inputs that support resolutions up to 1080p60 , with their respective outputs that, as we have already mentioned, include program return, remote control, tally signal and intercom. All these extended functionalities are provided whenever we work with compatible equipment such as the Blackmagic Studio and URSA camera ranges.

In addition to the external inputs, up to 20 still images and up to 4 video sequences or motion graphics can be loaded into the mixer ready to select and launch from the two integrated players. These behave just like another input on the buses, as do the two color generators also built-in. And if the motion graphics have an alpha channel for transparency, we can use this alpha channel as a mask for other signals regardless of their original content.

 

Logically, if we have Hyperdeck type players, these will behave as another source of SDI signal on the buses, with the incentive of having the possibility of controlling them from the mixer itself.

As expected in equipment of these features, we also have connections for a synchronizer or an external time base, although this is not essential, since internally all signals will always be converted and synchronized to the output format without the need for this equipment. Again for further simplicity, but without creating restrictions if we need the functionality to synchronize with other equipment in a larger studio.

For monitoring at the central control we have an output, HDMI in this case, which directly generates the multiviewer. It can be configured to our liking by displaying between 4 and 16 screens simultaneously with any of the mixer contents.

In addition to the dual program signal SDI output, we have two auxiliary outputs that allow us to send up to two additional and different outputs in parallel to the main program. These auxiliary outputs will be of great help to us for multiple purposes, since they allow routing the signal from any internal or external input, the previous and program outputs, replicating the multiviewer, or making a clean signal output, without overprints.

Examples of interesting use would be, for example: sending the speaker of an auditorium the content being presented, even allowing a counter to be superimposed and making the image visible only on the speaker’s monitor, regardless of the program output. Or a direct camera output or an advance output. so that the colorist can make the adjustment on the cameras without interfering with the main production. Or to fine-tune the setting of a key in studios with virtual scenarios. Or have the signal without overprints to offer the broadcast through other channels in the group. Or to keep the program recorded “clean” by external devices. Or… for so many other uses.

 

 

Still in the image processing part, we have 4 keyers for input. What are they about? They are 4 additional independent layers that can be superimposed on the input images through the usual methods: luminance, chrominance or with cropping and/or scaling patterns. That they are input keyers means that they are linked to each entry at different times so that, for example, the composition of a person in their virtual stage or the overprinting of labels on people or places, appear and disappear together with their corresponding image.

Unlike output keyers, traditionally recognized by the DSK (Down Stream Keyers) acronym, of which we also have 2 more, whose distinct feature is that they remain superimposed even if we switch between the different inputs. This would be the classic example of a channel’s logo, which remains stable during broadcasts while switching between all the input signals.

The mixer function that allows to combine inputs would be located between the input (upstream) and output (downstream) keyers, which offers us all the usual means for fades, curtains and all usual and configurable effects in all the relevant settings, such as shape, size, blurring, edges, etc. depending on their type.

But we have a specific function that solves a situation that could otherwise turn out quite complicated. The so-called “supersource” allows us to compose and treat a background signal with 4 overlapping windows as a single channel. Of course, the five contents can be video images from any source and the windows are configured in size and position, although there are predefined templates that, again, greatly simplify the task. It is the image style that, for example, we see in e-sports sessions in which we are simultaneously viewing the action and up to 4 players.

In terms of audio, we also have a much more powerful and versatile built-in mixer than it might seem at first glance. In addition to each camera’s own audio that will be embedded with its relevant SDI signal, we have a couple of additional inputs in the two most common formats: XLR and RCA. What is not so common is adding another 16 extra stereo channels in MADI format to this set. That is, a set of dedicated digital audio channels that get there through a single SDI connector.

 

And what are they for? Well, the most efficient use will be to connect a set of microphones or other audio sources to a MADI converter/integrator, which provides us with all the channels available for individual handling but reaching us from the studio through a single SDI cable. Again, simplification and economy of resources without limiting functionality or versatility. By the way, Blackmagic also has a MADI integrator available in its catalogue.

In each and every one of the channels we have a parametric equalizer, as well as the compressors, expanders and filters that we could need to produce the best possible audio quality.

All these possibilities are managed from the panel itself, but this would be an instance of a function that will be easier and more intuitive for us to operate via software.

In addition, the same screen and button panel section that is used to control the audio mixer changes its functionality to control colorimetry, sensitivity, white balance, etc. of the cameras. And, if the lens allows so, also iris, focus and zoom.

The list continues to grow because we still have some important panel features to share. We have already mentioned that this “ISO” model that we have had the opportunity to test can independently record all inputs internally. ISO stems from “isolated”. If we decide to use this functionality, up to two internal SSD disks can be available for recording these contents.

But even better is the fact that, in addition to the inputs with their corresponding references and time codes, a production EDL is generated. This is recorded in a DaVinci Resolve “.drp” file, which facilitates two very important aspects: in the first place, being able to edit later to improve or correct any detail of a live production with minimal effort. And secondly but not less important: if we have recorded in parallel on each camera in native raw format, once the ingest has been made, the program can be remastered with a much higher quality and, again, with minimal effort.

Also noteworthy is the direct ability to stream. Simply by connecting it to a router with internet access, we will be able to broadcast our program without the need for any other equipment or additional software, just by configuring the address (URL) and entering the password for our channel or platform.

 

How do we connect it to the router? The mixer features a 4-port Ethernet switch that would allow us to significantly expand our configuration. In a simple case, in addition to the router for internet access, we would connect the camera control panel. And since the panel has two ports, the computer with the software would be in that position, thus leaving two Ethernet ports free. To these two ports we could connect some of the color panels, or other sources such as cameras or the output of other mixers.

Although it can also be used in the reverse direction, by connecting one of the USB ports on the panel so that any computer recognizes the program output as if it were a simple image source, such as a webcam.

On the panel we find a section dedicated to intercom functions, with its usual independent channels for the studio and engineering areas. Thanks to this, we have this function also covered without the need for additional equipment or infrastructure.

One last thing about the panel: the only aspect to comment that it is powered through 220v and/or a standard 4-pin XLR battery socket, which is useful both for powering the mixer and for using it as a backup/safety device when working in slightly more compromised environments. And, like other equipment units, it has no on/off switch. It is turned on or off simply by supplying or cutting off power.

Having said all this does not mean that we are done with its functionality, because virtually all functions can be performed from the software. And because the software performs the panel’s remote operation, while playing no part on signal processing, the response is always instantaneous. And this is the perfect time to remark some peculiarities.

While it is true that virtually all functions can be performed interchangeably, and even simultaneously and in parallel between the software and the panel, there are some very specific tasks that can only be achieved from the panel. Such as, for example, assigning a color to certain buttons. Others, on the other hand, can only be performed via software, such as uploading from a computer the files that are to be stored for use by the players.

 

As we can see, none is critical and they can be used to prevent, for example, the use of graphics other than those assigned if only access to the panel is possible. On the other hand, and since the functionality of the software is split between the four main blocks: video mixer, audio mixer, media access, and camera control, several computers can be connected simultaneously to have the tasks separated.

What is undoubtedly true is that there are certain functions that will be easy to carry out on panel, such as doing the production by means of the touch buttons without having to look away from the screen to place the mouse, if we do not have an assistant with us. Or via software, such as tweaking audio filters, where a graphical panel of frequencies and levels will be more descriptive than a simple numerical adjustment by means of a knob.

To finish with this first part, we will only add that the touch and feel of all the buttons and switches convey assurance and confidence, as well as a sense of long-term reliability. And in this regard, it should also be noted that the mixer being a compact unit in which the cables are connected directly to the panel itself, it is reassuring to know that there are spare parts for possible repairs in the event of an accident that could damage any of the internal plates.

To be continued.

 

Riedel Communication
Grass Valley to intr