Thursday, March 28, 2013

Livestream announces new family of production switchers and a new trend: The DIY switcher

Two years ago, Blackmagic Design threw a grenade into the broadcast production switcher market with its repackaging and aggressive repricing of Echolab's Atem switchers, along with its introduction of the $995 Atem Television Studio. Since then, other switcher vendors have been trying to figure out how to respond; some have lowered prices or introduced new products, while others have ignored the competition, in the hope that it'll go away.

Now, there's a new trend that promises to drop prices even lower while increasing flexibility. For lack of a better term, I call it the "Do-It-Yourself," or DIY, switcher trend. You may recall that last year, Livestream announced a switcher, portable computer and display integrated into a single box, called the HD500, priced at $8,500. The HD500 combines custom-designed switching software written by Livestream with off-the-shelf audio/video I/O cards from Blackmagic Design. Then, earlier this year, Livestream unbundled its switcher software into a $1,999 package that requires a fairly powerful Windows PC but can work with any Blackmagic Design video capture cards and devices--it can even drive the company's Atem switchers.

Today, Livestream dramatically expanded its product line, starting with the $6,999 HD50--a switcher in a mini-PC chassis that uses Blackmagic Design Decklink Quad and Decklink Studio video cards to provide essentially the same functionality as the HD500 in a smaller package, without the built-in display. The HD50 competes directly with Newtek's $4,995 Tricaster 40, but the HD50 has a big advantage--all of its inputs can be HDMI or HD-SDI, while the Tricaster 40 is limited to component and composite inputs. In addition, Livestream launched two new rack-mounted switchers, the HD900, priced at $14,999 with 9 inputs, and the HD1700, priced at $24,999 with 17 inputs. The HD900 and HD1700 are based on rack-mounted PCs with off-the-shelf Blackmagic Design video cards and Livestream's proprietary software.

Livestream isn't the only company that's playing the DIY game: Telestream, whose Wirecast software has been used for several years for low-end, inexpensive switching solutions, has partnered much more closely with Matrox, and supports the Matrox family of video cards and devices in much the same way as Telestream does with Blackmagic. Finally, Blackmagic recently released an API that allows anyone to write software that drives its Atem switchers.

We're on our way to switchers that start as nothing more than tower PCs. They'll make it simple for groups of inputs to be added by inserting video capture cards. Need five more inputs? Drop in another video capture card. Need more functionality? There's an app store where you can buy add-ons from the switcher vendor or third-parties. What we don't have yet is a good selection of third-party switcher control surfaces, but they're likely to start showing up soon, possibly as early as next month's NAB conference.

There will always be a market for integrated switchers, especially in smaller sizes that are easy to connect to a notebook computer via Ethernet. However, for the middle ground between the huge switchers used in the largest studios and production centers, and the small, portable, integrated switchers, there's a lot of room for PC-based, easily expandable switchers.
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