In recent years, there's been an ever-increasing demand for high-resolution video mixers designed for the live presentation market. The primary niche of these mixers is the ability to handle many different resolutions from a variety of sources (often computer, HD, and SD) and then scale all inputs to a uniform high-res output (typically VGA or DVI) for projection and LED walls. Most have a pedigree emerging from scalers and scan conversion, with a simple cross-fade A/B bus strategy. If you're lucky, you'll also have one keyer and/or PIP. Companies such as Barco (Folsom Research), Extron, Analog Way, TV One, and, most recently, Edirol have been the primary players in this relatively new market.
The drawback to many products is that they frequently lack some features we've come to expect from a more rigorous SD broadcast switcher, such as multiple keys and 3D-capable DVE. Conversely, very few broadcast video mixers can handle the scaling and signal processing required for so-called “universal inputs,” at least not without requiring a second mortgage. Because of the fundamental differences between these two pedigrees, the two respective markets have thus far peacefully coexisted, until now.
Thomson Grass Valley, a respected frontrunner in the broadcast market, recently began shipping the Indigo AV HR mixer, designed from the ground up to serve the needs of live presentations. The Indigo takes all the best features from its SD digital switchers lineage and adds high-res I/O via DVI-I and HD-SDI, making it highly suitable for today's presentation demands. Surprisingly, this all comes at an affordable price of $14,000 in a smart, genuinely compact form.
After eight weeks of real-world field-testing of the Indigo AV HR in the role of visualist on a concert tour, I can say the mixer packs a tremendous amount of bang for the buck. It has the perfect balance of I/O, controlled by a versatile and reliable operating system, along with dozens of features simply unavailable on any presentation switcher thus far.
The backplane of the Indigo is packed with connectors, including analog and digital, as well as SD and high-res I/O. At first, the routing of signals within the Indigo can be difficult to grasp. The standard-definition and high-resolution busses exist in parallel and can run independently or together. High-res sources are automatically downscaled to the SD side and, likewise, SD sources are automatically upscaled to the high-res side. To get a full understanding of this paradigm, you only need to look as far as Indigo's installation guide available from the company website.
The Indigo offers a total of 12 simultaneous video input channels and six discrete output channels with a plethora of signal types: six analog SD channels, six digital SDI channels, two DVI-I, two HD-SDI, and even two FireWire 1394 connectors that are user-assignable as either inputs or outputs. One particular feature that sets Indigo apart from the rest of the field is the inclusion of three AUX SD video outputs in composite and SDI format (mirrored), allowing for easy multi-projector setups, matrix routing, or ultra-flexible monitoring. With both analog and SDI formats, Indigo is ideal as a bridge between analog and digital gear. Audio I/O is robust, allowing for embedded SDI audio, AES/EBU, XLR mic inputs, and multiple RCA and TRS stereo inputs, as well as main, sub, and two phone output channels. Rounding out the I/O are a number of control connectors you would expect to find on a pro broadcast mixer, including GPI/Tally, RS-232, and RJ-45 for using networked control such as the GVG 200 or BVW75 protocols.
The user interface and ergonomics are perhaps my favorite features. The interface panel is a combination of “hard” buttons wired to the most important features (bus delegation, E-MEM storage, audio faders, T-bar, joystick, etc.), but more ingenious is the large touchscreen working with four “digipots,” rotary knobs that are context-sensitive to the parameters currently on display. The touchscreen can also serve as a preview monitor at the touch of a button. The mixer runs on an embedded OS built on Linux and is field-upgradeable via a Compact Flash card. Grass Valley has released no less than two updates since I first received the mixer, and each time I've been pleasantly surprised to find new features and effects added. I am particularly impressed with the software interface, which is laid out thoughtfully, is easy to navigate, and extremely consistent throughout. I often find myself controlling the mixer through the touchscreen, instead of the hardware buttons, during a show, which is a testament to its good design.
Under the hood, the real power is that all of Indigo's features can be freely reconfigured (and saved) by the operator, and not just on a global level but on a per E-MEM basis. For example, inputs and outputs can be assigned in different orders on each bus. The audio mixer has full EQ processing and can adapt to different line-level signals. The DVE engine has hundreds of effects, with two fully customizable DSK buses that allow for 3D transforms, mattes and masks, and, my personal favorite, the ability to set different key versus key-fill sources (for traveling mattes).
The bottom line is that Grass Valley has paid much attention to building an open system, customizable to each individual's needs. It is truly one of the first presentation mixers that can adapt and change according to the situation instead of being locked into a very limited feature set. With its strong broadcast features, Indigo is equally suited for broadcast, educational, and editing suites, especially in situations where a variety of sources and resolutions are involved.
For additional information, visit http://thomsongrassvalley.com/products/switchers/indigo/.
Johnny DeKam is a video director and VJ based in no particular city. He is currently working on Dream Theatre's Systematic Chaos World Tour. Visit his website at http://node.net/.