Sony Reinvents Switchers with the Anycast Touch

The Sony Anycast Touch AWS-750 is a portable all-in-one production switcher that acts like a studio console but can stream and record live content from any location. Multiple camera sources and other feeds can be switched live, while adding transitions, titles, graphics and pre-recorded clips.

The Anycast Touch’s final output can be streamed live on the Web and also recorded for VOD or as a high-resolution file for future editing.

FEATURES

The Sony Anycast Touch weighs about 14 lbs. and is roughly the size of an early model laptop computer. However, it is a fully functioning studio-in-a-box, with no other outboard equipment needed for live production, recording or streaming. 

Anycast Touch has input modules for six video sources with the versatility to handle a variety of cameras. There are a total of four SDI, two HDMI and two composite inputs, and there are also two RGB computer connections.

Sources can be mixed, matched and cropped appropriately for output. The system settings are 1080i/59.94 Hz, 1080i/50 Hz, 480i/59.94 Hz, 576i/50 Hz, and content can be output via HD/SD SDI, HDMI or RGB for simultaneous large-screen display.

One of the primary functions of the Anycast Touch is to stream live content on the Web. You can choose to stream the output to a URL and simultaneously record a VOD version for later streaming, but it functions equally well as a recording device. You can select the HQ recording mode, which creates an XDCAM, MPEG-HD file at 35 Mbps, which is suitable for use in any NLE.

Perhaps the biggest breakthrough offered by the Anycast Touch is its superb graphic interface design. Tedious menu trees and lists have been replaced by images and, as the name implies, touch screens to make operations intuitive and tactile.

The Anycast Touch opens up into two screens that separate creative and technical functions. The top (Main) screen displays the live program controls (switching live video sources, cueing graphics, clips, stills, etc.) and the bottom (Sub) screen displays technical controls, settings and an audio mixer.

Tapping on different tabs on the Sub screen brings up displays for setting up and managing inputs, streaming, recording and the playback library. Each screen is designed for visual clarity. For example, the tools menu displays nine large boxes with clear icons indicating their contents.

The Main screen is neatly laid out with the input sources lined up on the left, preview and program monitors in the middle and a right hand panel that can be configured to handle transitions, titles or graphic overlays. All inputs have high-resolution thumbnail images that behave like mini studio monitors to facilitate setting up camera shots. Switching is accomplished by simply touching the thumbnail image to place it in the Preview window, then touching the “Take” button to send it to Program.

The Anycast Touch has an easy, yet sophisticated title creation application with a large variety of templates to speed up the process. It even includes the ability to create composite videos with picture-in-picture or chromakey.

For more complex events, Anycast Touch is equipped with remote camera control. You can daisy chain up to seven VISCA-compatible cameras and remotely control pan, tilt, zoom and other controls, while saving the actions as presets for later use. This allows very comprehensive coverage of live events, such as concerts, sports events and performances.

Streaming is encoded in real time using Flash (H.264, AAC). The unit includes an internal 192 GB mSATA SSD, which can hold about ten hours of recorded video. You can also import video and audio files for insertion into a live program by connecting a USB drive.

The Anycast Touch also has impressive audio capability. There are four XLR mic/line inputs and two RCA inputs. The bottom screen converts into a five-channel virtual mixing board. Each stereo channel includes a fader, input trim, filter (high/low pass), equalizer, limiter, compressor and pan.

IN USE

The first thing I noticed was how well the Anycast Touch is designed for ease-of-use. The top of the unit swivels up to unveil a large LCD screen and reveal a second screen below it, which can be used for audio mixing, system configuration and media management.

This basically mimics the set up of the standard studio switcher and audio board. The obvious difference is that the Sub screen is a virtual audio board that, with the touch of a tab, transforms into other displays that manage recording, camera and microphone setup, pre-recorded material and graphics creation.

To test the system, I simulated a live production with three camera sources and a pre-recorded clip.

The rear panel of the Sony Anycast Touch shows the input/output flexibility.

I connected a Sony prosumer camera to Input-1 via the RCA composite connector. Then I connected an HD camera, a Panasonic HMC-150, to the HDMI link on Input-2 and, finally, a Canon T2i DSLR (also HD) through an HDMI link on Input-4. The SDI and HDMI connections carry embedded audio. For the composite camera, I connected its analog audio to two RCA inputs.

Given the hodgepodge of camera connections, I was immediately impressed by how easily the Anycast Touch handled a variety of inputs. Configuring connections was simple and graphic.

After connecting my cameras, I brought up a graphic interface on the Sub screen that showed pictures of the available connections on each input. I touched the images for the composite connector on Input-1 and the HDMI connectors on Inputs-2 and -4, and my set up was complete.

The signals from each camera were automatically displayed in the Input column on the left of the Main screen. Touching any of the camera source thumbnails places that input in the preview screen (called Next on the Anycast). A tap on the “Take” button sends the video source to the Program screen for output. You can choose an appropriate transition: cut, dissolve or select something else from an assortment of wipes.

Adding pre-recorded material to a live program was equally simple. The Anycast Touch has a well-designed import-and-export interface arranged with graphic clarity.

After plugging in a USB hard drive, the files were displayed on the Sub screen. I imported a file and then assigned it to one of my program inputs. It was now ready to be inserted into the live program with a single touch.

In fact, Anycast Touch allows you to add any kind of media you have into your program. You can add still images, logos, titles, and any video in a recognizable file format. The beauty is that it is all done with graphic simplicity.

Configuring the audio mixer was equally visual and intuitive. Each audio input on the mixing board displays available inputs, which you select with a tap of the finger. I took stereo audio from the HDMI connected cameras, analog from the RCA inputs, and added a microphone through one of the XLR inputs for narration.

I attempted to work with the chromakey feature and found this to be one area that needs some improvement. It’s complicated to set up in terms of figuring out which image keys over the other. If Sony can figure out a way to simplify this process it would make it much more useful, particularly considering that it’s likely to be used in a hasty situation.

Within a short time I was ready to simulate a live streaming program. I brought up a title and started switching among my three cameras as I introduced the previously recorded clip. As soon as I pressed Take on the cued clip, it played flawlessly. This showed that the Anycast Touch is not only easy to use, but also allows an entire production to be managed by a single person.

Once your program is set up to produce, you have three options: stream it live, stream and record it simultaneously as a VOD clip, or record it as a high-quality 35 Mbps file for future use. In my case, I recorded the program in HQ mode (35 Mbps MPEG HD), and it looked excellent when played back on an HD monitor.

SUMMARY

The Sony Anycast Touch is one of the most efficient and beautifully designed video products I have encountered in years. It is a joy to use because it harnesses almost every existing technology to simplify operations without sacrificing quality. It’s a very logical design that essentially separates the creative workflow of production from the technical requirements of the operation.

The touch screens, combined with clear graphic images, allow the user to work fast and intuitively, and the technical quality is first-rate. Sony really got this one right.

Geoff Poister, Ph.D., is a member of the Film and Television faculty at Boston University and a regular contributor to Government Video’s sister publication, TV Technology. He can be reached at poister@bu.edu.

MORE INFO

Model: Sony Anycast Touch

List price: $19,995

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