Choosing a video switcher is central to your video ministry’s ability (or lack thereof) to produce high-quality ministry projection and programming. At a recent event in Seattle, WA I had a “close encounter of the switcher kind” with the Panasonic AV-HS400AN multiformat digital video switcher, my first real hands-on opportunity with this unit.
The AV-HS400AN is an (up to) 8-input digital video switcher capable of handling both SD and HD formats and takes a modular approach allowing for custom configurations based on your video format I/O needs. HD and SD-SDI formats are supported as a standard feature for the input and output signals and up to 7 video signal line outputs are supported with option cards. The unit I used was configured with two DVI/VGA inputs plus two SDI inputs in addition to the standard 4 inputs. Under the standard specifications there are three SDI lines for the output signals which can be increased to seven lines (PGM, PVW, AUX KEYOUT and multi view display).
Street price for a basic unit with 4 SD/HD-SDI inputs and 4 SD/HD-SDI outputs is approx. $10,000. The optional AV-HS04M1 SDI input board with a two SDI inputs/outputs adds approx. $2,000 (street). Here are my observations of the unit’s features and operation.
For those churches which incorporate video switching, many are moving towards large (42-50”) fl at screens for monitoring all their preview and program video sources/outputs on a single screen. The AV-HS400AN’s multiview display function makes this possible and it can handle up to 10 lines of program video, preview video and input video signals displayed simultaneously on the same screen. The unit provides several different multiview modes including a 10-division mode, an 8-division mode and a 4-division mode. This is a VERY nice feature and I am going to do everything possible to ensure that the next video switcher I purchase has multi view display.
Another great feature is the unit’s built-in frame synchronizer which does an excellent job of handling asynchronous (nongenlocked) video sources. It is also possible to use this unit with a genlock configuration using external sync signals. Most ministries will benefit greatly from the ease of use and less complex system configuration afforded via frame synch switching.
Panasonic did a good job of packing a lot of functionality into a relatively small footprint with the AV-HS400AN (16-9/16” x 5-3/16” x 16-1/16”; 15.9 lbs. With all options installed). The button layout is very straightforward and logical, as are the LCD menu options. All of the features and settings I needed could be accessed in a short amount of time without having to navigate through a confusing array of menu options. Here’s a quick glance at the unit’s primary areas of operation.
The Crosspoint area of the panel contains three rows of 10 signal selection buttons plus seven AUX bus selector buttons. These are professional lighted buttons using different colored lights to indicate the status of the signal selected. I found these buttons to be very responsive and user friendly.
The Transition area of the panel includes dedicated cut and auto buttons, fader lever (T-bar), down stream keyer (DSK), fade to black (FTB) button, two wipe direction buttons along with mix, wipe, and PinP (Picture in Picture) buttons. The performance of each of these functions and features was flawless and provided all the functionality needed and expected.
The switcher panel has a wipe pattern area which includes all the “usual suspects” of transition effects (wipes and transitions) plus buttons for time, color, key, freeze, PinP, memory, Xpt, system, function, key pattern and background pattern.
The LCD menu area includes 5 dials called rotary encoders (F1-F5) which are used to quickly set all the parameter displayed on the menus. These rotary encoders can also make selections and set parameters by being pressed.
The Positioner area of the panel includes two controls, one rotary encoder dial for setting the PinP size or chroma key area and second positioner for setting the PinP position, wipe start position, chroma key area, and pan-tilt camera control.
The AV-HS400AN has an SD memory card slot for importing still images although 24-bit uncompressed BMP (bitmap) is the only supported file format (the free “A” upgrade now supports JPEG as well.) The switcher’s memory data can also be saved to SD cards. I did not have the opportunity to use the SD memory card slot but it is a nice feature for assigning a “home” or “theme” graphic to an input without the need for a computer.
The menu screen is superimposed on the preview output or multiview display output. I found that displaying the menu on the multiview display to be the easiest and quickest approach.
There are extensive key operations and features with the ability to layer Key, PinP and DSK for combining multiple images/sources on a single screen. Luminance, Linear and Chroma keying are provided. A shadow or other type of edge can be added to DSK (DSK decorations).
PinP can be previewed and the user can select whether to output the PinP preview image to the preview output. Another nice touch is the ability to add a border or soft edge effect to the PinP.
I liked the switcher’s ability to freeze any of the input signals and the option of freezing an image field by field or frame by frame. There are two internal frame memories in which still images can be stored. The unit’s ability to up to 10 panel settings in memory is a nice feature and would prove helpful storing different user settings.
I did not find the Panasonic AV-HS400AN “lacking” in any major way but there are a few “tweaks” I would like to see improved. The LCD is adequate but small and not what I would consider “bright” or exceptionally easy to read.
The SD memory cards limited ability to read/import only one file format (24-bit uncompressed) seems a bit 20th century in this era of ever-expanding image file formats. The addition of .jpg image format compatibility would be a good start. This was done with the free “A” upgrade, which also added the ability to import and autosize JPEG, TIFF, and PNG from a PC via Ethernet.
Better yet, an internal memory, even 4 or 8 gigabytes, would be a boon. Sure it would be nice if it came in at a lower price point but as all things in life you get what you pay for and when you pay for the Panasonic AVHS400N you get a LOT. Seamless (dare I say elegant?)
Operation and workflow is one of this unit’s definite strengths. A rich feature set, flexible I/O configuration options, very responsive operations, and adjustable multiview displays, are all packed into a compact unit. This is a truly professional video switcher that will serve any ministry’s multi-format video switching needs for years to come. If your church is considering investing in a high-end, long-term video switching solution, you should definitely consider the Panasonic AV-HS400AN.
Note: There is a free HS400 to 400A upgrade offer, which is still in effect. The upgrade adds a number of new features to HS400 switchers and is very simple to perform. Added functions include 3D DVE effects for the keyer (including “flying key”), enhanced keyer, MultiViewer, and SD card functions, and the ability to quickly and easily transfer graphics from any PC to the switcher via Ethernet.
Users can request a free HS400/400A upgrade by calling 1-800-524-1448.