What many of us need are composite mixers with more than four inputs that can handle asynchronous sources and match them up internally. With the increasing demand for webcasting, a solid composite mixer is still a very useful tool.
U.K.-based Brick House Video now brings the Callisto line of video mixers to U.S. shores. This solid line of mixers includes everything from the six-input portable Callisto-P model reviewed here to two rackmount models, the Callisto-F (an eight-input, single-rack unit with front-panel controls) and the Callisto-R (the same rackmount unit with no front-panel controls). The Callisto-R is designed to work with a remote panel almost identical to the Callisto-P. There is also the Callisto-HD, a soon-to-be-released hybrid HD/SD mixer that represents the company's first step into the HDTV waters.
P is for Portable
The two-piece F, R, and HD units are designed just like most broadcast mixers, except both the single-rack mixer and the compact remote panel are far smaller than any broadcast system made. Even the HD unit retains the compact, single-rack unit controller.
Here we'll focus on the single-piece Callisto-P. The P stands for "portable," which the unit clearly is. It lacks the separate rackmount system and crams almost all that capability into the remote head itself. When you first handle the Callisto-P, you wonder where the rest of it is.
I put it next to the Datavideo SE-800DV mixer that I use regularly in my work and the Callisto-P is dwarfed. At only 7" deep, 3.75" high (at T-bar), and less than 12" wide, the 6 lb. steel box is a near-marvel of engineering. It even comes with a small power supply.
Obviously, the Callisto series mixers make no attempt at audio mixing (like many prosumer mixers do), but they do have the ability to handle audio embedded in SDI and there is an option to handle analog audio. By handle, I mean they delay the audio to compensate for the internal dual framestore synchronizers in order to keep whatever you feed the switchers in sync.
But even if you take away the audio portion the Callisto-P mixer still performs—offering internal, SDI-only, single-layer DSK with dedicated key/fill inputs (up to two of the six inputs on the switcher), GPI and RS-422 remote ports, 10-bit digital precision throughout, and dual standard 525/625. The unit also supports 4:3 as well as 16:9 (letterbox blanked and unblanked) operation.
You can select the video that is output to two jacks, allowing remote monitoring of program, preview, or any of the source feeds. In essence, you get an internal AV router inside a video mixer thoughout the Callisto line. As you can see, these are well-thought-out mixers.
In testing, I connected multiple sources to the mixer. The Callisto-P will handle SDI as well as analog composite. Simply touching the Shift-Menu buttons allowed me to toggle between SDI and composite video inputs on the back of the switcher. Given that there are separate composite and SDI jacks, you can connect two different sources to the separate SDI and composite jacks for each input and toggle between them. This is a multi-step process, but when you need that "one more" input for something that will be used once or twice in a show, this provides a relatively easy way to facilitate it without any fumbling with wires during shooting.
Without reading the manual, I was able to get the mixer up and running fairly easily. That is a true test of how well a piece of gear conforms to traditional production standards. But to adjust certain parameters like wipe softness and border color, I had to open up the thin, 11-page manual. It tells you what you need to know to do what you want to do. It does not take time to explain what a DSK is, as I've seen other manuals do. It assumes you already know what a mixer does and just need to know what buttons to push to choose the DSK key and fill on this mixer—not so helpful for newbies.
Another reason I had to go to the manual is that, with a serial number of 28, my Callisto-P is one of the early models. It lacks some of the silkscreen labeling on top that would indicate which button brings up the wipe border color. I am assured that regular production models have the silkscreening seen in the photos and discussed in the manual. Another feature my early model lacked is the ability to hot-punch between inputs on the program bus. Brick House says this is also going to be a standard feature—and a very useful one at that. Probably 95% of any switched program is just straight cuts.
Even in the absence of hot-punch capability, I found that hitting the next input up on the Preview bus and then hitting the Take button was nearly as easy. With two hands, it is nearly as fast, and leaves your right hand free to throw the mixer into a dissolve, wipe, or key mode. There's even a separate fade to black, so there's always a one-button solution to any faux pas that may happen on screen. The Callisto lets you adjust settings in the middle of transitions. You can use the T-bar to push a wipe half-way, and then leave it there while you change colors, softness, reverse, and wipe type. If there's a fault with the switcher it is that there is too little variation in these settings. The thin border is appropriately thin, but thick is nowhere near as chunky as it could be. I had to look carefully for the softness. It's there, but it only takes that one-pixel edge and makes it less edgy. It is certainly not a wide, soft wipe that can take up 1/8-1/4 of the frame.
I also found the lack of a moveable oval or box wipe to be conspicuous. While the Callisto switchers lack a joystick to move an oval to a particular part of the frame for picture-in-picture, it is one of the more useful and necessary wipes I have used over the years in corporate production. It allows you to put a close-up of a speaker or singer over a crowd shot. The Datavideo SE-800 installed in my studio has a rudimentary PIP that I use from time to time. The Callisto does have settings for three custom wipes, so there may be a way to select an upper right or left oval or box and have it embedded in these custom wipes.
I looked forward to the Callisto's internal DSK because most productions need the ability to key lower-third graphics over the video. I was unable to get the DSK to work because it is designed to work with SDI video only. This is similar to my Datavideo. When I find a PC card or USB device that can send SDI video out of a lightweight laptop, then this will be actually become a lot more useful for portable productions. This type of capability is one I consider essential in today's switchers.
Overall, I was impressed with the smoothness of the dissolves and wipes produced by the Callisto-P. They were linear and clean, and not at all jumpy. They started and stopped without any visible effect. This is the type of professional look to strive for.
I was able to punch quickly or slowly and there was never any time I felt hindered by the Callisto. Tactile feedback is excellent and the professional, durable colored buttons can be opened to insert labels if you are looking to use this in a permanent installation.
Prices for the switchers are on par with the uniqueness of their capability. The Philip-Cooke Company imports the Callisto mixers and other gear from Brick House Video for U.S. customers. Prices range from $8,495 for the Callisto-F to $10,695 for the Callisto-P. That's a little pricey in my book, but you are getting a quality piece of compact yet capable gear that feels built to last a good long while.
The ability to mix composite and SDI signals bridges the gap for productions that use high-end gear and need to add "one more thing" that always crops up at the very last minute. With the ability to toggle any input to composite, and the internal video synchronizers, you are finally able to handle greater than four inputs in these compact and easily transported mixers.
Anthony Burokas of IEBA Communications, a self-confessed "gadget guy," has been an event videographer for more than 15 years. He has shot award-winning video internationally and is technical director for the PBS series Flavors of America.