Product Review: Thompson Grass Valley’s Indigo A/V Mixer

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

Thompson Grass Valley, known in broadcast circles for their professional video gear, has introduced the Indigo–an a/v switcher with promise for churches needing reliable professional quality switching and digital video keys and effects.

Upon unboxing the Indigo, I noticed that there was quite a lot of functionality packed into a relatively small footprint. The Indigo is basically a 2 M/E, SD/HD (with the optional HD expansion card) switcher with three SD auxes, e-mems, and an audio mixer. Normally a broadcast switcher with dedicated buttons for the two M/E busses, the HD bus, and three busses would require a footprint of three or four times the compact size of the Indigo. This space conservation does come at a cost of convenience and visual feedback. To compensate, the Indigo adds an LCD touch screen interface which allows the user to tweak settings and preview output of effects, auxes, as well as preview and program busses.

The buttons, T-bar, and joystick were rugged and showed Grass Valley’s years of experience in the broadcast industry. The T-bar is smooth with even resistance throughout its range of motion. Discrete cut, auto-trans, and fade-to-black buttons provide quick access to each of the most often-used transitions in a director’s arsenal without the need to change transition. The only unfortunate thing about them is their placement above the top bus, making it necessary to keep your hand poised over buttons whose accidental pressing could cause undesired results.

The Indigo provides the possibility of transitioning with a single button press to either preview, m/e bus 1, or m/e bus 2 or any combination of them. This enables some fun possibilities like a single button press that transition from one camera to a graphical background with two PIPs embedded within it (what they call a “split box” in television news). I bring this up because it indicates the power and flexibility that Grass Valley has built into this switcher.

I was very impressed with this switcher. I’ve used a lot of switchers over the years, from prosumer to professional. The Grass Valley 110 was the first that I used during school, so I’ve always judged subsequent switchers by that bar. Until recently, the selection of switchers has been limited to prosumer SD or presentation switchers which used internal frame syncs or scalers (in the case of presentation switchers) to enable smooth switching between sources. This was a good temporary solution, but for a high-energy worship experience like the one at my church, a 2-second delay either between the time a source is put in preview or the transition button was pressed is really unacceptable.

I thought the only solution was a total reworking of our video system from the ground up with genlockable cameras, a black-burst generator, professional character generator, and waveform/vectrascope monitors. With the switch from SD to HD looming on the horizon, this seemed an expensive and temporary solution.

The Indigo solves that problem. There’s no perceptible lag for the sources during transition or when a new source is put into preview. None of the sources I used with this switcher are capable of genlock, but they all performed as if they had been synced together. What makes this feat all the more impressive is that the Indigo switches between SD analog (either composite or s-video) and digital (either firewire or SDI) sources seamlessly. With the optional HD card, you add the ability to upscale the SD sources and switch between computer sources as well.

That’s where limitations begin. While the delay to process and switch between SD sources is imperceptible, using the optional HD card causes a delay of between three and five frames. This is particularly troublesome for live venues that use this switcher for IMAG (image magnification). During the first week that we used this switcher, a few of my friends (completely untrained in video) noticed the delay. This was easily remedied by bi-passing the HD card, but that meant scan converting the computer feeds down to SD resolution.

There were also little things that could have easily been changed that would have added to the usability of the switcher. The buttons in the preview and program busses can’t be removed to be labeled with the source’s name as with other switchers; the solution of adding a dry erase strip under the preview bus isn’t all that helpful given it’s propensity to smudge.

The fact that the touch screen changes its interface to reflect options related to the last button pressed was added, and there is a little “lock icon” at the bottom left of the touchscreen which turns off the follow function and leaves it at whichever screen was last selected.

The addition of a small mixer might seem like a valuable addition, but the feature set is limited. Most users will find it to be too limited to use for more than basic tasks. Using an audio mixer like a Mackie 1202 outboard would provide the features most users would want that the audio mixer on the Indigo simply can’t provide. The space taken by this underpowered mixer could have been better used with an additional bus for effects or could have enabled the placement of the transition buttons in a more intuitive location.
Even with these limitations, I can’t get past the quality and adjustability of the luma and chroma keys. Depending on the situation either of these combined with the recently added alpha channel capability put this switcher on par with many much more expensive systems.

At my church, this switcher enables a single operator to control outputs sent to screens for IMAG, a confidence monitor, and our web venue. While the IMAG and web feeds are very similar, the auxes enable the director to mix in wider shots that wouldn’t be appropriate for IMAG. The confidence monitor can be switched between computer and other feeds.

Grass Valley’s Indigo isn’t perfect, but it provides the power and feel of more expensive systems requiring much more expensive professional video sources. The limitation of a multiple frame delay in the HD bus means that it won’t be a good choice for the future. The optional HD card would be something that most churches would be better served in replacing with an outboard scaler.

I can only hope that a future revision of the firmware will remove this limitation and make it the clear choice for churches that need the flexibility of a professional switcher without revamping an entire video system. I’m happy to have it at my church, but could only recommend it with reservation to most other churches.