VIDEO CAMERA 1996

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MIX MASTER

 

INTRO

Panasonic used to be synonymous with digital video mixer, but lately they’ve faced some stiff competition. Now they’re fighting back, with the attractively-priced WJ-AVE55

 

COPY

It’s been a while since we last reviewed a Panasonic video mixer -- two and a half years to be exact -- they clearly believe the old maxim: if it ‘aint broke, why fix it? Nevertheless, the WJ-AVE55 digital AV mixer is more than just a routine replacement. Panasonic used to have the video mixer market virtually to themselves, now they’re facing some tough competition from the likes of VideoTech, Vivanco and Videonics. Panasonic are up against a new generation of mixers, with a range of advanced features, but more importantly, the new mixers have been keenly priced, with at least one model now selling for less than £800.

 

The WJ-AVE55 has a recommended retail price of £1100, that’s quite a bit cheaper than their previous digital mixers, and close to what most of the others are charging for theirs so it’s off to a reasonable start. It’s a two-channel (A/B) design, with four selectable source inputs, configured for composite and S-Video signals. The two input channels are digitally synchronised, they can be mixed together or singly with themselves, a background colour or title and treated to a range of effects, transitions and wipes.

 

There’s a total of 191 wipes, based around 20 basic patterns, that range from simple horizontal and vertical curtains, to an impressive array of tumbles, turns, twists and multiple picture inserts. It has a set of five fairly routine digital effects, they are: still, strobe, mosaic, paint and negative. In addition there’s luma and chroma keying; fade to or from black, white or a nominated colour; colour correction; colour and brightness level adjustment, and up to 4 effects can be stored in memory, for rapid selection. Most operations are controlled using a simple graphically-based on-screen display system.

 

It’s quite a size, and around a third of the top panel is taken up by what appears to be a rest for tired wrists, though the knobbly surface becomes quite uncomfortable after a while. The controls are neatly laid out, with the most frequently used keys at the front. The button group in the middle is the main input and bus selector. This enables a single input to be mixed with  a coloured background or itself, creating some very unusual effects. This facility can be used in its own right, or in the absence of a second input channel. To the left of the bus and input selectors there’s a joystick. This has a variety of functions, from adjusting colour balance, to moving a cursor, images and effects around the screen.

 

On the other side of the selector buttons there’s the main wipe/mix control slider, with a set of buttons and a knob for controlling the auto fade/wipe functions. The numerical keypad on the right side of the console is used to select effects, and move the cursor on the on-screen displays. Above that there’s the main function and on-screen display selector buttons; next to them, on the top left side, are the transition effect buttons.

 

All of the input and output sockets are on the back panel. Panasonic have kept is as simple as possible, using phono and S-Video connectors, grouped together for each channel. The only other sockets are for an optional external titler, that plugs into a socket on the front, and a minijack on the back, carrying the serial bus, that enables the mixer’s main functions to be controlled by a PC. There’s also a GPI trigger socket, that will allow a suitably equipped edit controller, say, to activate auto-take, or a stored effect event.

 

The audio mixing facilities are quite basic; each of the four input levels are controlled from the on-screen display, using coloured bar-graphs. The audio faders can be programmed independently, or set to follow video transitions.

 

IN USE

The instruction book is pretty dire; there’s plenty of diagrams but few words, and virtually no help whatsoever for anyone unfamiliar with the ins and outs of video mixing. Not that there’s much to learn, and to be fair to Panasonic, it’s unlikely many of these devices will be brought by novices, even so, a brief guided tour  wouldn’t have gone amiss.  

 

Fortunately it’s easy to get to grips with the mixer, thanks largely to the on-screen displays, which help you through the basics. However, the book is essential if you want to navigate through the multitude of wipe patterns and cut down on the time it takes to set up a particular transition. In addition to the basic wipe patterns, and multi-wipe variations, there’s a range of pre-set and user definable options. They include variable edge and border settings, colours for background and borders, and several zillion special modes and wipe combinations, that would take a couple of pages to itemise; you can take it as read there’s plenty to play around with...

 

PERFORMANCE

Signals pass cleanly through the mixer, with little or no evidence of the digital processing taking place. There’s no increase in noise, and only a slight and very subtle change in texture to show the signals have been messed around with. Whilst there’s no mention of a timebase corrector, it appears the analogue to digital, and digital back to analogue conversions that take place inside the mixer, have a beneficial effect on picture stability.

 

The effects are very clean, they’re sharp enough to be considered for serious and semi-professional applications. Edges are cleanly defined, the various other transitions are all smooth and progressive. The chroma and luma key effects are okay, not the best we’ve seen and they works best with simple, brightly-lit scenes, or subjects, but with care they can be used to create some eye-catching effects.

 

The audio facilities are a little rudimentary, and mixing cannot be done in real time, at the same time as video effect both systems share the on-screen display, but it should be sufficient for simple productions.

 

THE VERDICT

Technically the AVE55 is as good as any of the other mixers we’ve seen in the past year, and in some respects it’s even better. Some of the wipe patterns are rather exotic, but we can’t help wondering how often they’re going to be used, without them loosing their impact. Some simple or more accessible video adjustments would have been welcome, the on-screen display has a lot to do, and constantly switching between modes and effects can become tiresome. However, they’re relatively minor quibbles, the general feeling you get with this device is quality, both in terms of performance, and construction; it looks as though it’s built to last, and the price seems fair. There are cheaper mixers on the market, and some of them are very good, (and that includes older discounted Panasonic models), but given Panasonic’s track record in this market, and the loyal following previous models have built up amongst semi-professional users, we suspect the AVE55 will do well.  

 

THE RIVALS

If cost is a factor then the excellent VideoTech VMX410 at £800 deserves your very serious attention. Some of the facilities are not as sophisticated as the AVE55, and digital processing is possible on only one input channel, but the quality and range of the effects are outstanding. The Videonics MX1 is probably Panasonic’s chief rival in this segment of the market, and quite honestly we wouldn’t like to choose between the two products. Vivanco’s VM-500 (see April VC) is quite tempting too, but it’s a little dearer than the Panasonic or Videonics mixers. Watch out for a new mixer from Hama soon; until then you should really try to see them all, before you make up your mind.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model:                 Panasonic WJ-AVE55

Typical price:                 £1100

Features:                      2-channel video and audio mixer/processor

Effects:             191-wipe patterns and fade/mix to background colour or second input,  chroma and luma keying, 4 effect memory, auto fade (variable speed), colour correction, digital effects (still, strobe, mosaic, paint, pos/neg)

Sockets:                       AV in/out  (phono & S-Video), GPI trigger (phono), serial port (minijack), external titler (mini DIN), AC Power in 

Dimensions:                  420 x 300 x 88 mm

 

PERFORMANCE

Effects definition         very good

Effect  stability         very good

Audio mixing         very good

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money         ****

Ease of use                      ****

Performance                     ****

Features                        ****

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Ó R. Maybury 1996 1408

 

 


 

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