Lots of VPT readers write to me to ask about a simple, inexpensive way to put together a video production studio. The Datavideo SE-500 video switcher, which also comes as a kit with monitors, is a good choice to build a simple and inexpensive studio around. In fact, the SE-500 is one of the simplest and least expensive video switchers on the market, but is enough to get the job done for many of the people who write to me with these questions.
The SE-500 alone is $960 and the kit runs $2,005 from B&H, which is actually less than Datavideo charges for it. Since monitors, of course, are required for the studio production process, most people opt for the kit. Everything is designed to work together. The duel 7″ LCD monitors have a quad function so are real nice. (Meaning they can handle 4 inputs, which you can see in the picture.)
First, if you want to learn more about the pros and cons of studio video production, click this link. In short, studio production is a much faster way of cranking out major quantities of video content. A studio has multiple cameras and microphones and everything is edited live, on the fly. Compared to basic field production, with one camera and lots of time-consuming post production editing, studio production is fast, easy and cheap.
Using a switcher is sometimes called spontaneous editing and the time savings over post production editing is HUGE. Let’s say you’re doing a 30 minute show. If you’re doing it studio technique, 30 minutes after starting you have a completely finished show. On the other hand, editing a 30 minute show out of raw footage in any video editing program would take hours, even days or weeks. In the professional world, we always allow AT LEAST one hour of post-production time for every finished minute of video. 30 minute show = 30 hours of editing MINIMUM.
Churches, small eCommerce sites, and schools would all be good candidates for a video studio using a machine like the SE-500 kit.
WHAT IS A VIDEO SWITCHER AND WHAT DOES IT DO?
A video switcher is the heart of any TV studio. Every single video source in your studio is plugged into the video switcher. The person operating the switcher (usually the director) controls which video source is seen at any one time by punching and controlling the various buttons, knobs and levers.
The director can also use the switcher to add some basic special effects and either cut, dissolve or select any number of wipes. Some switchers have green screen capability and some do not. The more expensive ones includes lots of special effects but the inexpensive one are limited.
In a large TV studio operations, you would need a switcher with 20, or even 40 inputs. You have all the cameras, multiple graphics generators, special effects generators, multiple video tape decks, multiple weather maps, satellites, etc. all plugged into the video switcher. This picture is an example of a switcher with a possible total of 31 inputs, the For-A HVS-3800 HS. It retails for $66,999.95 at B&H Photo Supply. Here’s a picture of it.
Compare that massive beast to the subject of today’s post, the humble Datavideo SE-500, which has four inputs. Any four video sources can be plugged into it. Let’s say you have two cameras, a graphics generator and a video playback deck for inserting videos. Or, you could have three cameras and a graphics generator. For simple video productions, this is enough. A small switcher like this is also limited in terms of special effects but it doesn’t cost 67 grand either!
FEATURES OF THE DATA VIDEO
In addition to the four video inputs, the SE-500 has three audio inputs, two for microphones and the third for a CD player or tape deck. Each input has a slider control. Theoretically this means you can get by without buying a separate audio board. However, most people do, especially if you are doing talk shows with five or six people who all need a mic. It is also a bit easier logistically to have the audio and video under separate controls operated by two people and not just one.
One drawback of this unit is that it only handles SD (standard def) video and not HD (High Definition). However, SD with good lighting looks better than HD with crummy lighting and few people seem to understand that! SD is still good for a lot of things, especially internet use where you do not want gigantic files.
If you want HD, you can move up to the Datavideo HS-2000. It not only handles HD, it comes with head sets and handles more inputs. Downside to all of that of course is money. The HS-2000 cost about 4 times as much.
One cool feature is that the SE-500 also has a quad split monitor output. This means the user can preview each input on one single monitor that is split into quarters. This is really convenient, less expensive and takes up less space than having a separate monitor for each and every video source. If you get it with the duel monitor rack that comes as part of the kit, you can have one of those screens show 4 inputs. Look carefully at the pictures above and you can see that the one on the left is showing 4 inputs.
MORE FEATURES AND A USER EXPERIENCE
The SE-500 can’t do green screen, but it can do picture-in-picture. Picture in Picture transitions can even be programmed to position in various parts of the frame.
Here is a quote from a satisfied user of the Datavideo SE-500 Live Production Switcher:
Using this in a church setting. Works great. We currently run two inputs, 1) Camera, 2) Media Shout.(Church and worship niche specific software)
Purchased kit with the dual 7″ LCD display panel. The unit has several different abilities for PIP (Picture in Picture), which is nice if you want to place the media shout slides down in one corner as the videos are running through.
There is an audio control as well, where you can run the audio from say your sound board to the unit as it then heads out of the unit to its final destination (in our case, several Lobby TV’s and an encoding server).
The slider handle feels good in the hand (some have mentioned it did not feel as if it had “weight” to it). There is enough resistance that it allows for smooth transition.
All in all, we are quite happy with it. Would like to have gone with HD (this unit supports SD only), but that bumps you up several thousand more.
Only down side, the documentation could have been a bit better on hooking everything up for a first time user.
All in all, the Datavideo SE-500 is an excellent choice for folks on a budget. Schools, churches, or small internet operations would probably all be pleased with the results from using this video switcher. Granted it does not have all the bells and whistles, so if you’ve got more money, go with something more advanced. But if you’re on a budget, this is a good choice.
Datavideo is a quality supplier of video equipment and I have used tons of stuff from them over the years. Never had an issue with any of it.
Thanks for reading Video Production Tips!