ATEM Television Studio - First Hands On Test

I've been lucky enough to get my hands on the first ATEM Television Studio switcher to make it to the UK. This post is just a collection of thoughts based on a half day of testing.

Opening the box the first thing that strikes you is how small the unit is - 1u rack format is small for a switcher, but it is the depth that is unbelievable - the whole unit including heatsink is less than 50mm deep! This ultra short depth allows you to mount the unit the 'wrong way' round on the back rackstrip of a standard flightcase allowing room for other equipment to mount in front of the switcher.

The front of the unit is very plain with just the Blackmagic logo and ATEM Television Studio text printed on the smart grey colour box. There is nothing else, not even an LED to show the power status so it is safe to assume that Blackmagic intend for this to be mounted backwards on the rear rack strip of your flightcase.

From left to right the rear panel has the following connections, 4x HDMI inputs, 4x HDSDI inputs, 1x Ref input, then the big central heatsink followed by the outputs, 1x USB output, 2x Program HDSDI, 1x Multiviewer HDSDI, 1x Multiviewer HDMI, 1x Program HDMI. Then we have the RJ45 network port for control followed by the power input on a standard DC jack and finally we get a single AES/EBU audio input.

Generally the connections feel sturdy enough, the presence of mounting screws by each HDMI socket is reassuring as these kind of domestic connectors are often somewhat flimsy, but here on the ATEM they seem to be high quality and well secured to the metal rack casing. The BNC connections are maybe not quite as high quality, they have no locking nut on the rear of the connector, but they do appear to be tightly clamped in position by the casing so I hope they will stand up the rigours of a PPU with constant repatching. The power connector is the biggest issue with the physical ergonomics of the switcher, it is a standard DC Jack connector which lacks any facility to secure the power cable, this is a really poor bit of design, I hope that future units may be improved with either a locking sleeve for the DJ jack or an industry standard XLR4 for 12v power.

There isn't much more to add to the physical description, the unit seems sturdy and well constructed. It does get rather hot when it has been on for a while so it may be an idea to invest in some kind of cooling system for the flightcase / rack that will house the main ATEM unit.

It's worth quickly mentioning the specs here for people who are not aware of the ATEM TV Studio functionality.
It can utilise upto 6 inputs. All these inputs MUST be the same resolution and framerate as each other. (no mixing 720p and 1080i sources, no mixing 25fps with 30fps) It has one upstream keyer and two downstream keyers. It has 2 media players which on the TV studio version can only hold still images. It has a built in 10 channel multiviewer.

So on to the operational side of things. The switcher can be controlled via the ATEM software control panel (a free download from the Blackmagic website) This software runs on both OSX and Windows and provides a simple GUI interface to control most of the functions. The software has a sensible selection of keyboard shortcuts allowing for basic live mixing functionality without needing to use the mouse, however it is nowhere near as nice as using a proper hardware switcher control surface. One issue with the software is that it needs quite a high resolution screen to run on. This rules out most of the netbooks / ultra compact laptops. (people familiar with other blackmagic software such as Media Express will already know the BM software designers like to give you a fixed size interface - i'd much prefer some kind of scalability so that users with lower resolutions screens could still make use of the software, and people with high resolutions screens could have more instant access to the various functions which are currently a bit hidden away due to the large number of tabbed options used in the software interface)

As well as the basic switching operation the software also allows you to load up stills into the ATEM media players - it seems to be happy with JPEGs, a transparent PNG file did cause some issues though as it failed to correctly interpret the alpha channel embedded in the PNG. Actually getting graphics into the media players with their correct alpha proved to be really quite difficult. It is possible (as the example files which ship with the switcher show) but it requires some extra steps in photoshop which are currently undocumented in the manual (actually the old Echolab ATEM manual gives a step by step method for creating the alpha channels - this is the same process required by the Blackmagic ATEMs). Another drawback of the media player implementation is there is seemingly no way to capture an input into the frame store, the Echolab units could capture a still frame from any input which was a very useful function and one i hope that Blackmagic will add in the future. A plugin for photoshop is provided which allows you to send images direct from photoshop to the ATEM, This works well and makes it easy to tweak graphics after having looked at them on your output monitor.

I tested a capture via the USB socket, Media Express running on my laptop was able to capture some very nice quality MP4 video. However I was unable to capture audio alongside my video as I do not have an audio mixer with AES/EBU outputs. (these digital outputs are becoming more common, but i would of preferred to see analogue audio inputs as these are much more widely used in the kind of low-budget productions the ATEM TVS is aimed at) Currently only Media Express can capture from the ATEM TVS - you cannot use the MP4 compressed USB output for live streaming to the internet. (hopefully this will change with the SDK release allowing 3rd party manufacturers to support the capture methods of the ATEM TVS)

So there we have it! The first hands on review of the ATEM Television Studio. I'm going to add additional information as well as videos and pictures in the next few days, but I wanted to get some text up quickly as I know many people have been anticipating this switcher for some time. So sorry for the somewhat limited look at the switcher, more information will be added as time goes on. If you have a specific questiobn or something you'd like me to try with the unit please leave a comment below.


Comments

My take on the ATEM Switchers

I love them! Blackmagic-design, you rock! I have used both the 1M/E and now also the TVS versions and the switching and image processing just works. There are some quirks I would like to point out though, but generally the ATEM line is extremely promising already!

Picture In Picture missing:
With TeleVision Studio (TVS) I'm currently recording a conference talk. This involves 2-3 cameras and input from VGA (converted to HDMI or SDI). Generally me and my staff agree strongly that the use of Picture-In-Picture for such occasions is very appropriate in order to show a small thumbnail of the speaker along with the slide. Unfortunately the TeleVision Studio have no way of providing this because the DVE (known from the 1M/E model) is disabled. This is close to being a deal-breaker for wide adoption of the TVS model in educational environments where the low pricetag otherwise opens the door to widespread implementation. I really hope that Blackmagic-Design will consider adding a picture-in-picture feature in TVS!

About Audio:
- I have purchased a Behringer DEQ-2496 UltraCurve. This unit will work with both the ATEM 1M/E and TVS models. For 1M/E it will take analogue in, delay it 100 ms for you and spit it out again in analogue. For TVS it will do the same but give you AES/EBU out (so, performing the AD conversion for you). The unit can do much more, but you may like to just bypass all that. For TVS I just made a simple cable from balanced AES/EBU to Unbalanced by connecting grounds and + while leaving the - open (or grounded).Although this is not a proper way, it turned out to work with a short cable. Pragmatic.

H.264 and Media Express:
I'm sorry, but I must say that this works horribly - if at all! The biggest problem simply is, that QuickTime cannot play back the generated MP4 file with a steady framerate. Strangely enough, Media Express itself can do it, but QuickTime cannot. Since the H.264 functionality is intended to produce a web-ready file, this is obviously a problem that must be fixed. For now, we still use the H.264 output to record the file in the highest possible bitrate and then re-compressing it afterwards for the web. Another problem is, that Media Express spends a lot of processing power on re-compressing the USB-input for the preview window - this seems a bit odd! And on a small macbook we even got a corrupted file when recording a 1080i input. Why you ask yourself... it should be no problem for a small laptop to just save the incoming data stream without any sweat. So for the H.264 functionality in TVS (as well as the H.264 Pro Recorder product which has the same issues) there is unfortunately a long way to go.

I think I will create a new post with a list of improvements and ideas for the ATEM switchers which I have already posted to BMD in Europe. But now also to inspire the public and see your comments and ideas for improvement.

About the PIP - this isn't

About the PIP - this isn't 'missing' it has never claimed it would do PIP, and as far as i know it never will do PIP as it doesn't have the DVE resources to do this effect, it is not 'disabled' it simply can't do it.

Interesting report about the audio processing with the Behringer Ultracurve. Personally I've been using a Focusrite Saffire Pro 14 running in standalone mode to convert analogue to AES - this works nicely but doesn't provide a delay facility (though the TVS doesn't need a delay) I will start a list of devices which have been tested and found useful for ATEM workflows.

I don't have the same issue with mediaexpress, it works well on my machines (windows i5 laptop, i7 desktop) the h264 plays fine for me in mediaplayerclassic or VLC, perhaps you can try VLC on the Mac?

Some Comments

Hi,

I would not worry about heat. Its just the chassis spreads the heat out from the heat sink, and so the unit can feel warm, but it's not a problem. We run some quite harsh testing on the design. We are currently working on the UI to reduce it's width to fit onto the smaller screens. The new Media Express 3 included with the ATEM TV Studio supports fully scaling it's screen size, so that limitation has been removed. Its a much nicer Media Express.

We are currently also working on adding button remapping, more file formats supported, and lots of other features. When we purchased EchoLab we found lots of quality issues, and so there has been some delay as we completely rewrote the software, and did a lot of wok on the hardware. This has meant some old ATEM features are not currently there, but there has also been quite a lot of new features added as well. We are working through it. I think the new ATEMs are about 70% completely new. Its been a lot of work, but a lot of fun too!

There is a lot more to come. We will let you know when the next software update comes.

Regards,

Grant
Blackmagic Design

Thanks, keep em' coming!

Personally, I'm interested in how the ATEM could integrate with software such as BoinxTV and / or Wirecast. I have little hope for the BM software of being rich enough in features to truly provide what one needs.

That being said, BoinxTV and Wirecast are both lacking and only really seem like they are for people with single cameras doing web-based production and not for those who might want to do live, multi camera editing in the field.

I guess all of this stuff is fairly new, and I just need to be patient. I'm hoping I can eventually get a lightweight setup (with my ATEM TVS being part of it) so I can roll with my MacBook Pro, ATEM TVS and 6x Cam's to produce high-quality video from events ON-THE-FLY!

:)

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Automation

I liked the idea of adding Applescript to the application and thats a good idea. We will have an SDK, but thats a bit extreme, so something like Applescript would be a really good idea. We should add that.

Hi Grant Firstly thanks for

Hi Grant

Firstly thanks for your post, it makes me very happy that you've joined our little community here ;)

Secondly thanks for Blackmagic - really almost every product you have ever released has set new standards for cost / performance and we are very thankful for that!!

The idea of applescript in the ATEM control panel is nice and could maybe be produced in a shorter time span than a full SDK. However can I ask that the SDK is not put on hold or cancelled in favour of apple script. Really I'm very excited about the prospect of directly sending UDP commands to the ATEM(s) both from creative coding environments such as MAX/MSP and Quartz Composer, and from DIY hardware devices such as the Arduino. The possible uses of such techniques are limitless and opening up the control protocol will see the ATEM platform widely adopted in the digital media arts scene.

I'm really exited about the direction this could go in, and am very pleased that Blackmagic seem open to ideas from the user community.

Thanks
Tom

Applescript example to automate switching

Hi all,

I have been working on a some AppleScript to automate the switching.
But because I don't have a ATEM Television Studio (it is on the wish list) I am wondering if you guys could test it.

Save this to ATEM_Switch_Automate.applescript on your desktop
tell application "System Events"
do shell script ("~/Desktop/GetCurrentKeyModifiers")
set n to result as number
set _capslocked to n
if _capslocked is 1024 then
tell application "ATEM Software Control" to activate
repeat until _capslocked is 0
keystroke "1"
delay 7
keystroke "2"
delay 7
keystroke "3"
delay 7
keystroke "4"
delay 10
do shell script ("~/Desktop/GetCurrentKeyModifiers")
set n to result as number
set _capslocked to n
end repeat
end if
return 1
end tell

The AppleScipt call for a C scipt that must be made to read the status of the Capslock key.

Please save the undelinening code to GetCurrentKeyModifiers.c on your Desktop.
#include <Carbon/Carbon.h>

int main (int argc, const char * argv[]) {
unsigned int m = GetCurrentKeyModifiers();
printf("%u", m);
return 0;
}

https://discussions.apple.com/thread/2423664?threadID=2423664

You will have to "build" this using your computer (yeah your first build :) !), open "Terminal.app" and do the following.
cd ~/Desktop
gcc -framework Carbon -o GetCurrentKeyModifiers GetCurrentKeyModifiers.c

If you have done all the above and that run the ATEM_Switch_Automate.applescript file you would be able to do automated switching if you start with the caps-lock key on. If you swicth the caps-lock status to off then the auto switching will end.

I hope this works. If you want to change the video inputs or time delays then you can edit the ATEM_Switch_Automate.applescript file to your liking. Also the location of the GetCurrentKeyModifiers file can be changed there.

Greets http://twitter.com/Kjeld

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Small screens big opportunities!

Can we start a thread for this?

This is really interesting and ties into something i've been doing to control the ATEM, Can we move this conversation to the forum? I've made a thread to discuss these ideas here http://atemuser.com/forums/atem-vision-mixers/blackmagic-atems/controlli...

Thanks
Tom