Let me preface this post by saying one thing: I do not believe there’s such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to video production if money is any object. Any product out there is going to focus on one main aspect, be it versatility, image quality, price or any number of other things. For the type of streams we tend to do, however, I believe we’ve truly found our Elysium: the Roland VR-50HD.
I’ve written about this unit a couple of times now in various capacities, but while I’d tested and played with it in-house, last night marked the first time I used it in a production. We were tasked with streaming HD video for a SEO meetup in Seattle, WA being hosted by Add3, featuring a presentation by Matt Brown of MOZ. If you’re interested in seeing the presentation/stream itself, click here to see the archived shoot.
When doing other shoots in the past for Adobe or the Final Cut Pro User Group meetings, we’ve typically used the Blackmagic ATEM family with varying levels of success. The image quality is top notch, the price point is fantastic and it does offer a lot of power. The main issues we had with this setup, however, came when trying to import the presentation computer directly into the switcher, and pass it back out to the projector. We’ve used the Edirol VC-300HD, AJA ROI and even an Atlona converter, and depending on the computer used itself, sometimes we still couldn’t accomplish this.
So, for this one, we needed to ensure it went off perfectly, and at the last minute decided we’d go with the Roland (still bringing all the converters, just in case). Our standard setup time for a 3 camera + computer source shoot is usually around 1.5 – 2 hours, and again, sometimes we still didn’t fully succeed. So, we arrived 2 hours early with every piece of gear we thought we could potentially need. Using the VR-50HD, setup only took 20-30 minutes with everything working and fully tested. If you consider that there were 4 employees on sight for this production, saving at least an hour on set up per shoot could begin to make up the extra price tag very quickly.
So for this shoot, our cameras were: Blackmagic Cinema Camera 4k, Blackmagic Cinema Camera EF Mount, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera (room cam), and one source for the presentation computer (Macbook). The whole stream was brought into the Sound Devices Pix 240i via SDI, and then passed-through to our streaming computer using a Blackmagic Design Quad card and uploaded via Livestream Producer. The weird thing about this particular setup is that the VR-50HD doesn’t work in standard 24 or 30 fps formats, instead using 59.94 or 50. The Blackmagic Design cameras don’t have a native 50 or 59.94 frame rate, and in this case we could only get them to work when set to 25p. It was almost enough to make us switch back to an ATEM, but ended up not being an issue. Still, it’s something to consider if you have a producer that demands 24p, for example.
Finally, for the presentation computer we had experience with another issue in the past; even if we found a converter that nicely brought in the computer signal to the switcher, often times it kicked it out to the projector with a green or pink washout of all the color. What this is telling you is that the color space being used by the converter isn’t translating to the projector correctly. Using the VR-50HD, this happened at first, but within the menu you can manually tell it which color space to output, in our case we needed RGB 0-255 instead of whatever the automatic was setting it to, and by pressing maybe 3 buttons we had a perfect signal on the projector as well as for the stream.
Again, it’s my opinion that there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all answer (unless you can drop $50k-$100k on an ultra-pro switcher), but considering many of the headaches we’d encountered for productions like this, we’ve finally found our solution for this. Of course, when it’s time to use more than 4 sources we’ll be back to the Blackmagic, as the VR-50HD can only run 4 active at one time (though you can switch between inputs on each channel).
All in all, I’m really just hoping some of this information helps anyone out there, and if you have specific questions about the switcher, production, or anything else mentioned, please drop me a line!