Panasonic Brings High-Quality HD to Low-Cost Switcher

By Carolyn Braff

As more college video departments make a commitment to high-definition video, investing in a high-quality HD switcher is at the top of their to-do list. Before making such a choice — especially in this economic climate — they should ask themselves three key questions.

“The very first thing you look at is how many inputs you’re going to need,” explains John Rhodes, Panasonic product line business manager for convertible cameras and switchers. “That includes cameras, graphics, inputs, playback machines, everything. The second thing is what the content is going to be, because that will help you determine the total cost of the system.”

The base price of a switcher, he cautions, does not take into account add-ons like extra monitors, which can quickly balloon the cost of the full system. At the beginning of the purchasing process, it’s critical to envision the entire system, not just the switcher.

The third question buyers should ask is how they are going to use the system — “not just what material they’re going to shoot but what kind of environment it’s going to be in,” Rhodes says. “Is it something that’s going to be moved around a lot? Something that’s going to go into a small room?”

For a switcher that needs to be mobile — shared among departments, for example — Panasonic offers the AV-HS400A multiformat HD/SD switcher with multiviewer. It’s a popular choice for educational flypacks, because universities can put the switcher on a rolling cart and multitask with it, moving seamlessly from a chemistry instructional show to the football field.

“The main thing that sets this switcher apart from the competition,” Rhodes explains, “is that it has a built-in multiviewer, which is a tremendous convenience for a small studio and small production facilities that are on a tight budget.

One of the costliest aspects of an HD upgrade is the monitor purchase, so, with that in mind, Panasonic built an HD multiviewer into the HS400A switcher to save clients space and money.

“You can see your six cameras, character generator, preview program, and key output all on one screen,” Rhodes says. “The multiviewer feeds HD-SDI, but a lot of people are using an adaptor box to feed a plasma or LCD.”

The HS400A is a true-HD switcher, using full high-definition 10-bit processing. Besides higher-quality picture output than other inexpensive switchers, it also provides smoother effects.

“On some switchers, if you do a fancy effect like a page turn, you’ll see jagged lines on the edges,” Rhodes points out. “For the most part, they’re down-sampling the signal when it comes into the switcher, processing it in a PC type of environment, and then, when they take the output, converting it back to HD, so you get some of those artifacts.”

Panasonic designed this switcher with educational environments in mind, but larger broadcasters have been buying it as well, putting it in flypacks for mobile uses.

“We’ve tried to make the basic functions very easy to use, so, if you have unskilled people like interns or students training on it, they can still use it,” Rhodes explains, noting that one feature is particularly geared toward the learning process.

“You can save all of your settings — layout, which inputs go where, types of effects — on a memory card,” he says. “If someone comes in and is playing around with it, you can reload the settings from the card and instantly be back to where you need to be.”

The base price on the HS400A is $11,890. For more information, visit

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