It is an unfortunate coincidence that the current government cash crunch is occurring at the same time the television industry is transitioning to high-definition television (HDTV) production. But that is the reality facing government video producers, and the only way for producers to deal with it is to try and get the best value for the money spent.
For those producers needing a new video switcher, balancing performance against price is more important than ever. That is why it makes sense to do careful shopping among the entry-level switchers currently available on the market.
The key is to find a switcher that offers all the video inputs and outputs that are needed by a production facility, plus a few extra to allow for growth. Ideally, it should also be an all-in-one unit that handles effects, has preset memories allowing for the creation and saving of custom templates for a range of productions and offers a host of features to ease the production process.
Some options for government producers include Panasonic’s AV-HS410, Snell’s Kahuna 360 and Utah Scientific’s MC-40 Master Control Switcher.
At $12,990, the Panasonic AV-HS410 is a highly versatile yet compact video switcher. Measuring 7-5/16 inches x 6-7/32 inches x 14-7/32 inches, the unit can fit into the most space-challenged of master control rooms.
Tech specs: The HS410 is outfitted with nine standard inputs, including eight high definition/standard definition-serial digital interface (HD/SD-SDI) inputs, a single digital visual interface (DVID) and five outputs (four HD/SD-SDI and a single DVI-D). The unit has two expansion slots for up to four additional inputs or outputs of various types. This switcher comes with a built-in eight-inch high-resolution preview screen that can be used to display up to 16 video windows at a time. The onscreen mix can include player video workstation (PVW) video, MultiViewer, menus settings and timelines.
The HS410 takes the ease-of-use and flexibility of Panasonic’s popular HS400A, and adds much in usability. The HS400A, which sells for $11,315, is outfitted with four standard inputs and outputs, and does not have an included preview screen built-in, John Rhodes, Panasonic product line manager, tells Government Video. The HS410 takes the HS400A’s user interface approach “and applies that to a new, ‘smart’ switcher platform with more inputs and outputs, clip player/recorders, timeline event editing, a built-in hi-res preview screen and an open architecture for the easy creation of custom plug-in programs,” he said.
Functionally, the HS410 is a 1ME switcher, and is equipped with four AUX Busses (one with dissolve) and a separate “Effects Preview” function. The unit has two 3D digital video effects (DVE), background and key, dual PinP and a Primatte Chroma Keyer. All those “help make the 410 a powerful creative tool and dedicated buttons for most common functions make it very easy to learn and use,” Rhodes said.
The HS410 also has lots of advanced features, including over 100 shot and event memories with timeline editing, up-conversion on four and 16-axis color correction on all eight HD/SD-SDI inputs, built-in waveform monitor and vectorscope, and an open Linux application programming interface (API) with a software development kit (SDK) available for the easy creation of custom “Plug-in” programs.
“These plug-ins can enable control of external devices—video servers, pan/tilt cameras—and remote control of hundred of HS410 functions via Internet protocol (IP) or serial connection,” Rhodes says. For instance, “Plug-in enables control from an Android tablet of Bus and Crosspoint selection, and even allows real-time drag-and-drop positioning of PinP windows,” he added.
Worth noting: The AV-HS410 does offer room to expand/scale, thanks to its two option card slots. Together, those slots “enable the use of any two of eight dual input/output (I/O) option cards,” Rhodes says. “This can provide up to 13 video inputs or nine outputs.” Cards are available to add HD/SD-SDI, HD/SD analog component, DVI, composite inputs; or HD/SD-SDI, Component, and DVI outputs.
“The HS410’s ease-of-use, powerful features, good value, reliability, scalable hardware, and open software architecture make it a good choice to satisfy both the current needs and future requirements of many government users,” Rhodes said. The unit “is a big, logical, and compatible next step in the evolution of our HS4 series live switchers already in use by hundreds of government video professionals, from the U.S. Congress to NASA, and beyond.”
Snell’s Kahuna 360
Snell says, “there is no set price” for the new Kahuna 360, but that it is more expensive than the Panasonic AV-HS410. However, the user gets more features and functionality, according to the company.
“The Kahuna 360 is built to simultaneously support the widest range of distribution platforms,” says John Carter, Snell’s Switcher Product Group product manager. “With up to six full Mix Effects, seven keyers per M/E and unique Make M/E technology enabling 16 split sub level switchers, Kahuna 360 gives operators all the functionality they need to target a broader audience over a greater number of distribution platforms,” he said. The basic Kahuna 360 video switcher comes with 12 SD/HD SI inputs and eight SD/HD SDI outputs, and it can work with SD 525/625; HD 1080i, 720p and 1080p.
The number of inputs can be expanded (in groups of 12) up to 120. “Any of these primary inputs can be backgrounds, Key Fill or Key signals,” Carter says. “These inputs can then be mapped to a crosspoint so each M/E can mix together SD, HD and 1080p in one M/E.”
The Kahuna 360’s outputs can similarly be scaled up (in groups of eight) to 64. “Each one of the outputs can be configured to route any of the internal sources available to Kahuna 360,” Carter said. Another Kahuna 360 feature is FormatFusion3, a technology that provides the ability to mix HD, SD and even single link 1080p sources in a single production and provide multiple outputs of SD, HD and 1080p, he says.
In addition, the Kahuna 360 can control a large number of third party external devices from robotic cameras to VTRs, from slow-motion to multiviewers, and from servers to graphic systems. “Kahuna 360 also benefits from an extensive range of Snell workflow tools including automated still image and audio file conversion, back up and file sharing tools, newsroom automation interfacing and event list execution,” Carter says.
“The Kahuna 360 raises the bar for increased production power, creative freedom, reduced cost, flexibility of format handling, scalability, reliability and intuitive operation,” Carter says. “Best of all, the Kahuna 360 is so powerful that you can operate multiple studios—or trucks—for the price of one, delivering tangible resource efficiencies.”
Utah Scientific’s MC-40
Utah Scientific’s MC-40 standalone master control switcher is a useful for creating a program stream from various sources including audio/video playout devices, graphics systems, and audio-only sources, according to Scott Bosen, Utah Scientific’s director of marketing.
The MC-40 Master Control Switcher can be used as a standalone device or in conjunction with an external router where additional source devices are needed, Bosen said. The switcher offers two keyers, which can be fed from external graphics systems or by internally stored log files. Audio processing uses the embedded audio carried on the video streams from the sources with full mixing, shuffling, and volume control capabilities. In addition, an external audio input is provided to add “voiceover” announcements or inserting audio messages such as EAS announcements, etc., he added.
Bosen says the switcher has plenty to offer to government users, including those who are responsible for creating an audio/video program stream from various signal sources. They can use a master control switcher as the central point for creating and monitoring the stream and controlling the source equipment.
In addition, the MC-40 is said to be scalable in most applications, Bosen said. One master control switcher is required for each program stream. Scalability comes into play when multiple simultaneous streams must be created. In these cases, the master control switcher for each channel can be fed from a shared routing switcher, allowing each channel to have access to all of the sources so the switchers can be reassigned among the channels to accommodate maintenance to emergency operation. Multichannel control panels can be used to make the assignment of the channels among a number of operator positions, allowing the operational setup to be easily reassigned according to the specific requirements of the individual channel schedules, he said.
Lastly, the MC-40 can be a good choice for government users because of its reliable operation in either manual mode or under automation control, Bosen said. Such reliability is essential for creating a clean, professional on-air look for the output stream, whether it is for commercial or government service, he said.
So how does a video production professional decide which switcher to buy; either from those that have been profiled, or from the many others available?
The answer is producers need to determine the production facility’s needs. Questions that need to be asked are: is the producer simply replacing the facility’s current analog switcher with a digital equivalent? Is the transition an opportunity to add more capacity? Is there an expectation of doing more complex work in the future including mixing not just to cable TV and DVD, but possibly to the web and mobile devices as well? The responses can be translated into numbers of inputs and outputs, presents and effects/mixing capabilities.
Once that information has been ascertained, shop around carefully. Do not just look for the best price, but also factor in scalability, support and supplier reputation. Remember, the video switcher acquired will likely have to last for years, so choose thoughtfully and carefully in order to get the best bang for the money spent.