If you have been around in the tech world for a while you would have probably heard of Blackmagic, if not Blackmagic is in some ways the Behringer of the video world. The common devices most techs will come in contact with are their convertors and the ATEM switchers. The ATEM switchers (bar one) are in some ways similar to the ever-popular fader less compact iPad controllable rack mixers.
The most common way a lot of techs use them is with the free PC software, quite often with a touch screen laptop. Although there is a hardware panel available the cost of these is rather hire compared with the ATEM switcher.
For the last two years I have been privileged to work on CVM’s The Gathering, for Extreme Production Group as the video engineer, working closely with Jon Sweeney. Jon is ex BBC and is well respected within the broadcast industry for his project management and technical skills and volunteers his time as technical manager for The Gathering.
Both years we designed the video system around a Blackmagic ATEM 1 ME 4K as the video switcher. The 1 ME 4K has a 9 inputs along with 6 outputs (program, preview, Aux 1-3, and the multi view). This year we were asked if it was possible to provide a hardware panel. Unless you own a hardware panel hiring one is not overly easy as very few firms seem to offer this. With the events budget already allocated we decided to look at other options. Other options included, 3rd party controllers, touch screen monitors, and a midi control system. I’m going to say not that none of this will ever be as good as using the actual hardware panel Blackmagic offer, what they do offer is a cheaper, cost effective solution.
Touch screen to midi to OSC
One of the easiest things to do in many ways would be to offer a touch screen linked to the pc software. Now don’t get me wrong, touch screens work well but they lack resistance. If you have ever used an Ipad to control a sound desk you tend to have to look down more as to make sure you are pressing the right button or moving the right fader. In a video environment you need to focus on the multi view / camera previews to check camera shots. Being able to feel the buttons makes things much easier and allows you to stay focused much more.
This led me on to looking at midi and OSC type systems. My initial thoughts were that it needed to be fairly off the shelf, not require much programming, and be fairly inexpensive. I came across several options but settled on one called atemOSC. atemOSC is a free piece of software written for apple macs and provides a gateway between ATEM switchers and OSC control software. A popular piece of software many use in conjunction with atemOSC is OSCulator. Unfortunately OSCulator is not free but is very cheap, at the current time of writing it is around £19.
There are lots of pad type midi controllers on the market but very few have a fader. After a bit of research and hunting around we decided to purchase the iRig Pads controller. This unit has 16 pads in 4 rows with a single fader. Built wise it is fairly plastic buy with large buttons / pads. The slider was The pads can be globally set to different velocity’s. For our use I set it to the hardest meaning a light touch would not trigger it. Once the pad was connected it was not time to program.
How does it all work?
As already mentioned the atemOSC software acts as a gateway program between the Atem and OSCulator. The first time I set it up I watched 2 YouTube videos (video 1, video 2) and semi followed them. I initially found the two pieces of software would not talk to each other which turned out to be the port numbers of the two programs not right and having issues. Once this was working and the midi controller was connected I could start programming.
The system works in the following way
Midi -> triggers command in OSCulator -> sends OSC message to atemOSC -> sends command to ATEM
This might sound a bit confusing but atemOSC provides more or less all the OSC coding in it’s help menu and if you get stuck they have a fairly good amount of info on github if you read the readme file.
Rather than describe the coding side here are two links to videos I found helpful when setting it up.
Does it work well?
For low cost solution it is really good, but it has its downfalls.
1) You need an Apple Mac. Luckily we had several Apple macs and iMacs available but if you don’t what can be seen as a cheap option can turn out expensive.
2) No feedback from the controller. Many midi pads have colour changing pads that light up. Ideally it would be helpful if the pads could stay lit to show you what input you have selected.
3)It’s open source. As much as I love open source software there will come a time when the person will give it up. That may be years away or that maybe tomorrow. This also means there is always likely to be bugs. in theory the more people who use it the quicker the bugs get found and hopefully fixed.
So what are the good points?
1) Its a cheap solution and means you dot need to use a mouse or touch screen (it’s also cheaper than a touch screen)
2) There is a lot of flexibility in how you use the midi controller and code it. We decided to do both cut and preview buttons along with a tbar this meant the operators could mix or cut really easily.
The final thing I want to add is don’t try it in a field 2 days before an event. Due to time scales and working patterns this was setup in a field and tested onsite. Ideally this is not something I would suggest as it can add more stress. Luckily I had done a fair amount of playing and research before. Also as an experienced event production and IT engineer I have a wide knowledge base that I have learnt.
What I will say is DO play, DO experiment and DO trial.