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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

TriCaster TCXD850 Hands On Review (part 1)

The TriCaster TCXD850 is NewTek's biggest and baddest product ever. The latest addition to the TriCaster line is also the heir to their premier production product - the recently discontinued VT[5]. The '850 shipped in December and the rev 2 software that was released at the end of January brings the switcher up to 24 inputs.That's eight cameras inputs, eight 'Virtual Inputs' (sort of M/E buses), two network inputs (LiveText or iVGA) plus assorted media player modules and frame buffers. The TCXD850's switcher also sports two down stream key channels.

The '850 is housed in a heavy duty 4U rack mount case with a large ventilation grill on the left side of a hinged front cover. Under the cover you'll find a couple of USB ports and four caddy-less removable drive bays. The top bay is populated with a two terrebyte hard drive while the three lower bays are empty but can be filled with standard 7200 RPM SATA hard drives to expand the on-board stoarage.

The front cooling fan is quite noisy but NewTek has a quieter fan available that can be installed by your dealer. I'd recommend this upgrade unless the '850 is going to reside in a machine room. The power supply is a redundant, hot swappable unit. If one of the PS units fails it can be removed and replace while the '850 remains powered up by the other supply.

At 42 pounds the TriCaster isn't exactly light but it's manageable. If your shopping for a portable rack be aware that the unit is about nineteen inches deep so you might need a custom built case. There are no cooling vents on the top or sides to worry about.

Encrusted with I/O

The eight camera inputs will accept standard def composite, S-Video, component or SDI signals or high def  component or SDI. You can mix and match any of the input types.

The TCXD850 has two main outputs with the same assortment of connections. The output format (HD/SD) is set when you initially configure your session  A third 'aux' output can be configured as either a third copy of the main out, optionally at a different resolution or as a dedicated output from the program, preview, utility buses or directly from any one of the switcher sources. The '850 also has a dedicated HDMI output so it's easy to connect a HD monitor or projector.

NewTek went all in with the audio. The back of the unit has sixteen xlr connectors that can be used with either line level sources or microphones. If using condenser mics you can even switch on phantom power. There are also eight AES/EBU digital audio inputs and you can also use embedded SDI audio. These inputs are grouped into stereo pairs for the XLRs while the digital inputs support four channels each.

You get two outputs again both XLR and digital plus an aux output that can be configured as a dedicated output from the DDRs etc. The audio is rounded out by an actual 1/4 inch headphone jack.

The '850 has two DVI monitor ports. One for the main user interface and the second for a 'multiview' monitor. The multiview can be configured as a deducted program/preview output or in a number of different setups with source previews, waveform monitors and output windows. One of the biggest new feature is the ability to monitor all switcher sources on screen. The multiview lets you spread those previews across two monitors.

There are four USB ports on the back and two more on the front. These are used for mouse, keyboard and other external controllers such as the TimeWarp, LC-11 or 850CS.

Main Switcher
The main switcher has a program and preview row that both have twenty-four input sources. The program row selects the source that will appear on the output while the preview row lets you select the source you are going to to go to next. You then can use either the T-bar or the Auto/Take buttons to switch the inputs.

Rev 2 of the software introduces a new video layer paradigm to the switcher.  These layers are from back to front:
  • Background - Your main source selected via the program bus of the switcher along with any transitions as you switch between sources.
  • DSK1 - The first down stream keyer, you can key any of the sources available with the exception of virtual inputs. This can be positioned, resized and rotated.
  • DSK2 - The second DSK with the same features as DSK 1.
  • FTB - Fade to black. This lets you to fade to black without making any changes to the other three layers.
The main T-bar's function is assigned by the four buttons just above it. You can use the T-bar to control any of the video layers. If you select more then one function you can actually do things like cross fade the DSKs and do a transition on the BKGD layer with one pull of the T-bar.

To the right of the T-Bar are controls for the video layers (Fade to black has no additional controls). Here you can select between fades and various transition  for a layer and in the case of the DSKs - position, size and rotate the layer. The Fade and Take buttons let you fade or take an individual layer regardless of how the T-Bar delegate is set.

The third row on the switcher is the utility row. This row is used to select the sources that appears on the two DSKs, the Aux output and the FX bus. There are delegate buttons that change the utility row's mode making it easy to manage these sources even during a live switch. Here too you can multi-select and assign the utility row to multiple functions.

Part 2 in a day or two

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