Digital Video Mixer Review:Datavideo SE-800

$4,500

Datavideo Corporation

12300 – U East Washington Blvd.

Whittier, CA 90606

(562) 696-2324

www.datavideo-tek.com

The Datavideo SE-800 digital mixer allows you to switch between up to four analog or DV sources, and record the mixed output to a digital camera or recorder, or output a stable signal for live broadcast. The price and quality of construction of the SE-800 indicate that this product is targeted at corporations with video departments, educational institutions or public access stations who create live-switched programs on a regular basis. If you seek live-to-tape (or air) switching of multi-camera studio applications such as news or a talk show, or live output to a big-screen TV at a nightclub or in an auditorium, the SE-800 will do the job.

The Goods

The SE-800 can mix four separate audio and video channels, all synced by an internal TBC (time base corrector). Because you can connect almost any type of video, analog or digital, to any channel, the board gives you a huge range of flexibility in terms of sources.

We set up a simulated shoot in our studio with one camera trained on a host, and another on a talent against a green chromakey wall. Our third source came from a VHS deck, and our fourth from a DVD player.

The transcoding of various video sources and formats into a single real-time output is actually a pretty amazing feat of engineering wizardry. Video from our two camcorders went in as DV via FireWire, our VHS video went in an RCA port (we needed to use RCA-to-BNC adapters) and the DVD player went in through an S-Video input.

The digital inputs and outputs (all DV25) are especially nice. The SE-800 accepts DV input from up to four camcorders and outputs DV in real time to a recorder, maintaining the highest quality images possible. Long FireWire cables (60 feet /20m) are now available and videographers report that they work just fine.

After the hardware was connected, we turned on the SE-800 and began configuring the mixer. New users should allow some time to set up the SE-800 the first time; there are a lot of buttons to identify and functions to learn before you begin operating the unit. As of this writing, the manual is a work in progress, but the draft we received was informative and easy to understand. Among other things, you need to program the device to switch audio with video or tell it not to, and push a series of buttons to select the proper source (DV, S-Video or RCA) for each of the four inputs. The video input settings on the board are saved (along with other settings) when the power is turned off.

Each input channel has its own analog (BNC) output for previewing sources before selecting them to send out to the recorder. The system requires four monitors if you wish to have full-time previews of your sources. This five-monitor setup is fine for high end studio setups, but is impractical for location shoots such as recitals or weddings. For remote applications, Datavideo recommends using a separate four-input switcher to preview sources on a single monitor.

Effects and Transitions

Switching sources was a matter of a button press. The board is sturdy and we found that the buttons needed firm and decisive presses to operate. While this will prevent accidental switches, we found that our first press was sometimes not enough.

The unit packs a number of transitions, including fades, wipes and zooms. You can use the T-bar fader, but in practice, the automatic Play button was more effective. The SE-800 has 30 user-programmable effects presets to store your transitions and execute them with a single button press. We also played with the few animations and effects on the board (like strobe and mosaic) but, unless you are producing dance club videos or a Wayne’s World knockoff show, you probably won’t use them.

The chromakey effect was easy enough to set. We trained one camera on our talent against a green chroma-wall and cued our deck to the sub-source. We pressed the Chromakey button and used the incremental level buttons to get a decent key, pushing the button to step through the various key settings (there is also a color button for different colored keys). The source camera was a 3-CCD DV source via FireWire and our key was fair, but not great. You could distinctly tell that it was a chromakey effect. Of course, the quality of a key critically depends on your lighting. In our opinion, the keys we were able to create would be adequate for live projection at clubs or parties, but the unit did not offer us enough control to sufficiently key a weather person for a news broadcast.

Next, we set up a primary source and a sub-source to create a picture-in-picture (PiP) effect. We selected one of the preset border colors and widths, and chose one of two PiP window sizes. We used the number pad on the board to position the PiP in one of nine preset locations, but we really liked using the mini-joystick controller to freely slide the PiP around.

We also used the joystick to adjust the color of the video, which was mostly useful as another special effect. You could use this to correct the color, but there is no substitute for proper white balancing your source cameras. The final effects button on the board, the Animation Mode button, doesn’t do much as of this writing.

Although we weren’t able to test it, the SE-800 also has an SDI input for generating titles and overlays from a computer or other equipment with an appropriate SDI-out capability.

Audio

As an audio mixer, the SE-800 is convenient, but will not likely replace the need for a stand-alone audio mixer for programs requiring multiple mikes. We were able to mix the audio from camcorders connected via FireWire with four other audio sources (e.g. a CD player) connected via RCA or microphones via 1/4-inch plugs (there are no XLR mike inputs on board). The pots were sturdy and the sliders smooth, but the mixing was not as good as some of the smaller dedicated audio mixers we’ve seen.

When passing your audio and video through various pieces of equipment, it is possible to lose sync. The SE-800 has a feature that allows you to match the audio with the video, although this is a very challenging process. The output from the SE-800 is delayed by about 0.2 seconds, which can also complicate things. In our tests, however, we did not have audio syncing issues.

Mixing it Up

The technology inside the box is solid, and the device does a fine job of cutting between cameras. The DV-in/out functionality is a valuable option, and we expect this unit will be a fine choice for schools and cable access stations, as there are no other DV switchers at this price point. While the $4,500 price may seem steep to independent videographers, it will be a bargain for most institutions.

TECH SPECS

Digital Effects: 50+

Playback functions: 30

Edit Interface: RS-232

TBC: full frame, 4:2:2

Audio Mixing: 4 channel

Video Mixing: 4 channel

Audio Inputs: 6 stereo RCA channels

Audio Output: 4 x stereo RCA, stereo phono

Video Inputs: 4 channels (each): FireWire, S-video, composite or BNC component

Video Outputs: 2 channels: FireWire and S-video, composite, BNC component or SDI

Video Monitor: all 4 channels

Accessories: Aluminum carrying case, 4 x FireWire (short), 2 x FireWire (1m), 2 x S-Video, 2 x RCA

Dimensions (w x d x h): 17 x 18 x 6 inches(432 x 457 x 152 mm)

Weight: 13.8 lbs (5.5Kg)

STRENGTHS

  • Large variety of inputs
  • Internal transcoding

    WEAKNESSES

  • So-so audio mixing

    SUMMARY

    A fine choice for schools and cable access stations.

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