|An A/V mixer is very different from a standard video mixer in that it has an audio component to it. The Roland VR-3EX is no exception. On the left side, it has a full audio console with many inputs, including XLR inputs, 1/4” inputs, RCA stereo inputs, and mini 3.5mm stereo inputs. The 3.5mm inputs means you can take in an analog computer input and you can also take audio from embedded HDMI signals as well. It’s a very versatile, full-fledged audio mixer.
As for the video side, one issue I want to address right from the beginning is, “Why is the VR-3EX a standard-definition video switcher in the year 2014?” There’s a very good reason for that. There’s still a need for video switchers that operate in standard-definition.
What’s more, the up-res 1080p output on this video switcher is exceptionally high quality. This is, in large part, due to the fact that we’re using HDMI digital inputs, as opposed to analog inputs. Analog composite and VGA inputs are available on this switcher, but if you can avoid using them, please do so because the digital-to-digital conversion is not a conversion per se. There’s scaling involved, going from 480p to 1080p, but it provides much higher-quality output than you’d get if you started out with analog video inputs.
That, in itself, is one of the main reasons why Roland updated the VR3 with the VR-3EX video switcher: to add HDMI digital video input that wasn’t available on the VR3, making the VR-3EX a full-fledged digital video switcher with a digital-to-digital workflow, while retaining the ability to de-embed the audio from those HDMI video inputs and bring it in from a different audio source.
Let’s delve a bit further into the audio functionality of this A/V mixer. For starters, you can see below that there’s an array of knobs and sliders, just as you’d expect to see in any audio mixer. Roland has a rich legacy of audio mixers, so it should come as no surprise that they’ve done a really good job of laying out the audio controls on this A/V mixer. There are 4 primary sliders that correspond to the XLR/TRS inputs that you’ll find on the side. In the video tutorial I produced to accompany this article, I mic’d myself up using one XLR from my wireless lav, which plugs into the side of the VR-3EX unit. For each of the 4 XLR inputs there’s a gain knob at the top, as well as a 3-band equalizer for highs, mids, and lows. The VR-3EX also features 2 internal microphones, located on the top left and top right of the console.
The first input I’m going to adjust is the XLR input for my lav microphone. We start off by adjusting the slider by raising it to the parity mark, which is about midway point where there’s no volume gain or attenuation. That leaves me free to adjust the gain. If I adjust the gain too high, I’ll get some clipping that will be visible in the audio monitor.
Using the Audio Setup Menu
The tendency to clip suggests the need to tweak some items in the setup menu. To address that, I click the SETUP button under the appropriate audio input. This brings up a menu where I’ll see two adjustments, Gate and Compressor. These are two very useful audio level tools. The Gate enables you to eliminate any hum or other noise in the background by setting a noise floor level. Anything that falls under than noise floor threefold will be attenuated. The Compressor allows you to attenuate audio once it reaches a certain threshold. If I adjust the levels, I can make sure I’m not clipping my audio. Other controls used in tandem with the Gate and Compressor allow you to extend your usable audio range.
During the audio setup and testing phase, the Solo and Mute buttons allow me to isolate individual audio inputs so I don’t have to adjust the sliders; I can just toggle between them.
Finally, in the bottom-right corner of the Audio Setup menu is the Delay. Audio doesn’t always arrive at the same time as the video. This may be due to the fact that the speed of light is faster than the speed of sound; or, due to audio processing, some audio signals may arrive a little sooner than others. When I was producing the video tutorial that accompanies this article, the HDMI audio came in with a little delay compared to the XLR audio source plugged directly into the switcher, causing a bit of an echo with both sources in the mix. To compensate for this, I add a slight delay to the XLR audio source to match the delay on the HDMI source. That’s one of the techniques you can use if you experience this type of echo effect. It’s nice that the Roland VR-3EX has that type of audio delay functionality built right into the video switcher.
One really nice audio feature that Roland has added to the VR-3EX is the availability of an AUX send for audio. You’ve got 1/4” and RCA outputs, and for audio monitoring there’s a 3.5mm headphone output as well as the 1/4” output.
On the program monitor, you can see the individual audio levels for each of your inputs and outputs. It’s really useful when you’re trying to get the right audio level mix. You can see what inputs are working and have levels, and which ones don’t.
Video Console Features
Now let’s have a look at the video side of this A/V console. The touchscreen monitor on the Roland VR-3EX can be set up as a quad-view input monitor, as well as a program monitor that shows only the program output, or an input-and-output monitor that shows the 4 video inputs as well as the output in the center.
To select between the inputs, you can push the 4 buttons at the bottom. You can also use the touchscreen at the top. In addition to the 4 channels that are currently set up for input, if we go into the IN+OUT setup menu, we can route additional inputs that are located on the back of the unit, but may not be utilized right now, into the channel path.
The HDMI preview output can be programmed to be either a preview output or an additional send of the program.
The RCA output can either be a program output or an AUX send of channel 2. The program output on the VGA and HDMI are always going to be the program output, but the USB output can either be the program output or an AUX send of channel 4. Having AUX sends is really important when you want to have more than one program output. A lot of times you have to send a feed to a projector, which can be the VGA output, and the webcast can be a different feed than the program output, for times when you might want to send a slightly different signal to a different audience, and the Roland VR-3EX allows you to do that.
Wipes and Mixes
There are 3 different mixes you can select from, and 99 different wipes. To access the different wipes and mixes, you go to the Transitions Setup menu, choose Wipes, and you can toggle between them. The previews will appear in the monitor in black and white.
The same goes for the mix—you can choose among 3 different options as well. To execute them, simply select a different input, and you can see the effect as the VR-3EX switches from one input to another.
The VR-3EX has three different output controls that you’re going to want to know about. The first is the Freeze button that allows you to hold your current frame. The second is a fade to black or a fade to white dial.
There are 3 different Composition options. The first is picture-in-picture. When I click the Picture-in-Picture button, the VR-3EX prompts me to select the input source of the picture-in-picture (PiP). By default, the PiP appears in the bottom-right corner. You can also change that to a split-screen, or choose a quad view that allows you to show all of your inputs at once.
My input in the bottom-right corner is my laptop input that I’ve been saving for the final demonstration, which is keying. If I want to add a title onto this screen, I hit the Key button. I’ve already got my key set up on the Luma side, for keying out the black background behind my white text.
I can also key green or blue using the chroma key as well as black or white using the luma key. The key levels are adjustable using the Key Level knob to refine the edges.
USB Output for Streaming
The last thing I want to look at on the VR-3EX is the USB output. You can use it to capture, using the VR software from Roland, or you can use it for webcasting.
Before we proceed, it’s important to understand the difference between a square pixel and an anamorphic pixel. The NTSC standard is based on anamorphic pixels, which means that every pixel is non-square. In standard-definition 4:3, each pixel has a 0.9 pixel aspect ratio, meaning pixels are a bit taller than they are wide. Widescreen SD video has the same 720x480 resolution as 4:3 SD video does; the difference is that the pixels are now wider. A square-pixel equivalent needs to be calculated in order to properly webcast so that our images look correct anamorphically, and our viewers aren’t seeing squished or stretched images.
On Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder, 864x480 seems to work. Unfortunately, the input and the output don’t anamorphically adjust until we start webcasting. In, you can see the difference between the skinny version, which is anamorphically incorrect, and the proper wider-screen version.
A similar pixel-output problem happens using Ustream Producer, which is a white-label version of Wirecast. You’ll notice the same issue on Livestream Producer as well. You’ll need to go into the Asset Manager, select the VR-3EX, and change the device aspect ratio from the default square-pixel webcam to an anamorphic widescreen 720x486 input. Once you do this, the aspect ratio will appear correct.
So there you have it. This has been a tutorial for Videoguys.com of the Roland VR-3EX A/V mixing console and USB-class streaming appliance.