Unless you're one of those videographers who just loves crawling around on hands and knees, searching in the shadows for that one invaluable cable that will actually get your editing suite up and running, you'll want to think about using a router, distribution amplifier, or other switching device to move audio and video around in today's multi-format production environment.
Even if you use only one video format (hands up . . . anyone?), chances are you have several devices that video has to get in and out of. Some suites have dedicated computers for editing, rendering, or graphic animation work. Some have both video and computer monitors for display purposes; some have dubbing or duplication VCRs, DVD burners, or DVD duplication towers.
It's not just cable-finding that makes developing an effective video-distribution strategy worthwhile. With the right piece of equipment matched to your needs, you can add flexibility, enhance productivity, and increase profitability.
So how do you get there?
Planning Your Route
Sometimes, you can use a simple video mixer. Even if you don't do any mixing, products like the Edirol LVS-400, the Videonics/Focus Enhancements MX 4, or Datavideo's SE-500 have multiple inputs and usually more than one output. But even they might not be enough to eliminate having to swap cables when using different pieces of gear—especially over long runs, or though multiple devices.
If the mixer/switcher doesn't meet all needs, then consider a patch panel or a router.
Mechanical (or passive) routers usually have one input selection, and they route that signal through one output; they do provide the signal integrity to send video to its destination. Matrix routers are built to send as clean a signal as possible to multiple destinations. They may be "active" in the sense of having signal amplification or other processing abilities built in.
The matrix router does as its name suggests, steering signals over multiple connections. Routers are often described as "8x8" or "24x24"; these designations indicate that the unit has 8 or 24 sets of inputs and outputs, respectively, each with matching video and audio input/outputs.
Up from the router is the distribution amplifier (DA). It not only splits and directs the video signal from one source to two or more, it always amplifies the signal so it maintains its original strength and quality during its travels. DAs also enhance features for signals such as peaking and leveling. High-quality DAs have a buffer to ensure that the original signal's clarity and strength is always available, even when split.
Whether you need a switcher, router, or DA, you will want to answer some basic questions about your own situation:
• How can I benefit from better signal routing and distribution?
• What type of signal(s) needs to be distributed?
• How many input/outputs are needed?
• How long are the cable runs?
• Where can the distribution device be mounted?
• How much space is available for the device?
• How much money can I spend?
As always, there are a number of manufacturers, vendors, and products out there to help shape your answers, from the $20 mechanical switchers found at Radio Shack or the Source to very high-end broadcast routers priced in the thousands.
If you are a real do-it-yourselfer, you may be interested in a now freely available 1994 patent from Panasonic United States Patent 5,485,630 describes an "audio/video distribution system" for either analog or digital signals with filtering, amplification, distribution, and conversion. For plans and schematics, see www.freepatentsonline.com.
Otherwise, you should check out some ready-to-go distribution devices.
Sign Video has several distribution products available; its FW16 FireWire Patch Panel is a handy way to move FireWire signals around your video studio. Sixteen IEEE 1394 ports (both 4- and 6-pin FireWire connections are available) on the rear of the panel connect directly to 16 ports on the front. The connections are separate, and they do not interfere with each other. Just use FireWire cables to patch one to another (10" cables are included, in various pin configurations). Rackmounts are also included; the unit is priced at $300.
The Sign Video SV88 S-Video routing switcher, with 8 in, 8 out Y/C connections and stereo audio, costs around $1,000 for the desktop device; add a hundred dollars or so for a rackmount unit. It lets you set separate paths for the audio and video signals, so they can be routed from any piece of audio or video gear through any piece of processing equipment (like an audio mixer, time base corrector, or video proc amp) to any other device, such as an audio cassette recorder or DVD burner.
Laird Telemedia's LTM-DVDA5 FireWire DA ($295) is handy when you need to split DV signals and send them for monitoring, duplication, mastering, or hard drive cloning. All IEEE 1394 protocol specifications are maintained in a transparent throughput operation, across five outputs with full data control up to 400Mbps. There are two selectable inputs, and port activity status indicators.
Two units fit into one rack unit; adapters are included.
Datavideo's VP-332 is a 6-port, 2-way DV repeater and DA, also supporting transfer rates up to 400Mbps. The tiny, almost pocket-sized (4" x 2" x 3/4") unit weighs just 2.5 oz, and operates self-powered or with an included DC adapter.
Priced at less than $100, it comes with a workaround solution for some Apple OS X editing environments that do not support multiple DV exports, such as from FCP to two DVD recorders simultaneously.
Sierra Video is now shipping a routing switcher designed specifically for nonlinear editing facilities. It's an 8x8 matrix switcher in a compact 3RU frame, capable of moving SDI, composite, S-Video (Y/C), component (YUV), and/or RGsB signals around, with either balanced analog stereo (or two balanced analog mono) and/or AES/EBU digital audio.
If a Sierra NLE switcher is fully configured, users can connect up to three video signals; composite video takes one, S-Video (Y/C) takes two, while component video (YUV) and RGsB each take up three video levels or inputs. An SDI video signal, an AES/EBU digital audio signal, and either a balanced stereo audio signal or two mono audio signals can be connected to the same input simultaneously.
The MediaFlex RS16x16HB from Knox Video accepts and routes up to 16 composite, Y/C, or component video (including off-air and non-time base corrected) inputs, as well as corresponding mono or stereo audio. Video and audio inputs can be routed independently to one of 16 outputs; they do not have to have the same destination.
The composite video models come with paired input connectors for true loop-thru; you can pass input signals to a downstream device if needed. Users operate the unit by front-panel keypad, or using software via an RS232.
The 16x16 RSII VO model is priced around $2,195; the S-video with balanced stereo is around $3,500.
AJA's Io family of routing and distribution products is specifically designed to work with Apple's Final Cut Pro (recently approved for FCP 5) on a Mac G4 or G5. With a single FireWire connection, any Io provides audio and video I/O, connection to VTRs, genlock, and integrated Final Cut Pro drivers.
A standalone control panel gives the user full control, changing Io from an "everything in, everything out" frame synchronizer to a standalone A/D converter, D/A converter, SDI audio mux/de-muxer, and more. Pricing ranges from $1,200-$2,000+.
For those needing to move serial digital and/or international format video around, there are high-end solutions from manufacturers like Leitch, Utah Scientific, and Miranda. The Leitch HSM-1600, for example—priced at $3,695—acts as both a distribution hub and converter, with outputs for NTSC or PAL analog composite, RGBS/YUV analog component, and 4:2:2 component at 270Mbps.