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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

TriCasterTCXD300 Hands On Review

The TriCaster TCXD300 works in a similar fashion to the previous five incarnations of the TriCaster but NewTek has taken all the user input and tweaked the user interface quite a bit. There is an entirely new paradigm for the virtual set that is a vast improvement to the way they were sort of tacked onto the standard def units.

The TriCaster TCXD300 has a thirteen input switcher with three video inputs, a DDR to play media clips, a network input to use with iVGA or LiveText, a CG input, a still store, a black channel and five 'virtual' inputs. More about these later. The video inputs will accept composite, S-Video or component analog and SDI digital video. You can mix and match SD and HD sources. The TriCaster has matching outputs and can simultaneously output SD and HD.

The switcher includes hundreds of transitions. The assortment is varied but more tasteful then previous NewTek products. A touch of whimsy is still evident though as a sheep transition is included.

The top of the user interface screen is dominated by the video preview windows. The default config is a large program output window on the right with eight smaller previews for the three cameras, network input, still store, CG, DDR and a preview bus.

There are three tabs so that you can re-configure the previews so you get large Program, Preview and Waveform Monitor/Vectorscope windows or large Program Preview and Effects bus windows. This preview section on the main interface can also be re-sized or removed allowing more room for the tabbed panels in the lower part of the screen.

You are free to remove the previews because the DVI output on the back of the TCXD300 can be configured as a preview output. You have a choice of a number of different layouts including all sources, full screen preview, preview and WFM/Vectorscope etc.

One of the biggest improvements to the interface is the addition of little 'gear' icons sprinkled about. When these are clicked configuration panels pop up so it's easy to quickly access a particular feature's settings without the interface being cluttered with rarely used controls.

The other big interface change is the way the LiveSets (NewTek's virtual set system) is configured and used. Previously the LiveSets were sort of integrated into the chroma keyer but in the TCXD300 the switcher has now sprouted five new virtual inputs. These virtual inputs are configured using tabbed panels just below the switcher. On this panel you'll find what amounts to a mix/effects bus.

Here you can select two sources that will be used by the virtual input with individual positioning and scaling controls so you could, for example, create a picture in picture effect by resizing and positioning one of sources. Or you can load one of the included virtual sets and insert your talent into a virtual environment. Some of these environments include on-set 'TVs' which are fed from the second input source.

NewTek has made improvements to Live Sets so they can now be zoomed in real time so you can do a nice smooth zoom between the presets. The presets can also be easily modified just by dragging little sliders this all makes the LiveSets much more flexible. Over a dozen sets are included plus several split screen effects and a PiP preset. The new sets are really slick looking and include multiple camera angles, double boxes, over the shoulders, stand-ups and closeups.

In addition to the two input sources each virtual input has an overlay channel. In a big change from previous NewTek products you can use any of the switcher sources as an overlay and again, the overlay is both positionable and scalable. Another new feature is the ability to use any of the transitions to bring the overlay on and off.

On top of the upstream overlays in the virtual inputs NewTek has also included in the TCXD300 two downstream keyers. Any of the switcher sources can be re-sized, positioned and brought on and off with any of the transitions. A cool feature lets you selectively lock the two independent overlays together so that they can be simultaneously activated or by locking them when one is active and the second isn't - toggle between them. Multiple downstream keyers has been a requested feature since forever and it's great to finally get it.

One of the weaknesses of the standard def TriCasters was the audio section. The TCXD300 has two balanced (XLR/TSR combo jacks) inputs with switchable phantom power, and two four channel balanced line level inputs_1/4" TSR jacks) and three, four-channel AES/EBU digital inputs (BNC jacks) and it also accepts embedded SDI audio. You can't use all the various line and digital inputs simultaneously but you can mix and match them to a certain extent.

The mic pres have enough gain to make my Shure SM-2 headset microphones work like champs, unlike the preamps on my TC Studio. Input and output levels are a good match for a Mackie mixer. Like the Mackies the levels sort of split the difference between the -10dBu consumer and +4dBV pro standards. As an audio engineer I'd prefer they were switchable between the two standards but this is a workable compromise.

The TCXD300 sports both analog and AES/EBU audio outputs, both four channel. And a 1/4" headphone jack with enough oomph to actually drive real headphones is right there on the front. A great new audio feature is the assignable aux out. You can now choose between the DDR,the Still store (which can double as and audio player - go figure), both or the main mix to be output on dedicated connectors. You'd mainly do this to feed audio generated by the TriCaster to a house mixer which on previous TriCasters required soloing the DDR and feeding the headphone output to the external mixer.

The audio mixer interface has nice big meters and level 'sliders' for each of the inputs plus independent output level controls for the stream and aux outputs and a volume control for the headphones.

This review could probably go on for a couple more pages but I need to cut it short so I'll skip details on audio follows video, improvements to iVGA, one click preset loading in the DDR, audio, titles and still panels and SpeedEDIT2 and probably a dozen other things.

The TriCaster TCXD300 is one heck of a machine, it's a lot more then just an "HD TriCaster". I've been running it  for several months and it's been rock solid. It seems to be well built and the user interface is well thought out. The only real limitation is the number of video inputs. But if you can make do with three cameras you'll be able to use the TCXD300 to produce video of the highest caliber. If not NewTek is going to be shipping the TCXD850 with eight video inputs in July.

Updated with pictures

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