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Tech Review: Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro Video Switcher (2023)

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On most Sunday mornings these days, I run the sound board at a church. If you've sifted through the previous posts here, you might have gleaned that I previously worked in live sound and have a curriculum vitae that includes some household names.

From time to time, my boss responsible for those great opportunities has been featured in national and local media, from trade publications to the local newspaper. The interviews sometimes mention the pride he has for employees that have moved on and up from his company, to work on even bigger jobs. I once got a shoutout (of sorts) in one of those articles, which mentioned one guy that went on to work as a "Grip" on the the show "CSI". That's me, only "CSI" is instead "NCIS" and "Grip" was "Post Production Assistant" at that time. It can be hard to keep track of all the specifics.

For about a decade, I had been out of the live sound business. Working in TV, I had started doing work that required using my eyes more than my ears. Nonetheless, with the pandemic ramping up in 2020, I was able to get a Sound Tech job at a church, working on Sunday mornings... and "Sound Tech" quickly became just one part of my job. We needed to pivot to live streaming, fast, so I was enlisted to research equipment and figure out the best way to make the services online look more professional.

Some members of the church are entertainment biz pros, and I consulted with a TV editor about some of my equipment discoveries. I found a great deal on some nice cameras, learned how to boost HDMI signals over long distances, and found that a new product, the Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro, could get us up and running at a great price.

ATEM Mini Pro video switcher is displayed - photo by KilmerMedia

The Mini Pro was about about $600. At that time (and still might all be the case), it featured 4 HDMI inputs and included software that makes the presentation look and sound even more professional, controllable by any computer you have on the local network. Also, and this was really important for us, the USB-C port could be hooked up directly to a computer, and Zoom would see it as a webcam. At that point, the services were entirely through Zoom anyhow, then "broadcast" on Facebook Live... so with the church being closed, we needed participants at home, reading The Lord's Prayer and offering reflections during "Communion Meditation", to join us via Zoom. This setup should have been awesome... but it wasn't, and the fault was with the Mini Pro switcher.

At first, the Mini Pro to Zoom to Facebook Live feed was flawless. Then, the computer started seeing the Mini Pro as a webcam only intermittently. I took the equipment home and ran a series of tests during the week, then more tests during the following week.

No ATEM found is shown while trying to connect a Mini Pro video switcher to a computer - photo by KilmerMedia

The video switcher was very finicky. I tried all kinds of cables and adapters and, eventually, I could only get Mac and Windows computers to recognize the Mini Pro when it was connected through a USB-C hub.

ATEM Mini Pro connected through a USB-C hub - photo by KilmerMedia

I contacted Blackmagic. They suggested some tests that I had already performed. Upon mailing them the ATEM Mini Pro, they sent me a new one. It worked fine at first. Then it didn't. The USB-C port slowly stopped working, again. Re-opening the thread with my Customer Service friends, we kicked around some outside-the-box ideas, like bad electrical wiring in the building, voltage surges, and the like. They didn't think the problem was electrical-related, and all of our gear is plugged into surge protecting power strips anyhow.

During this communication, the Customer Service team did hear from the techs that the USB-C port on the original unit was dead. After the port on the second unit died, we made another exchange. Guess what? The exact same thing happened on the third unit. It worked, then didn't. Clearly there's a design issue with this device.

Now, I will clarify here that you don't have to run the ATEM Mini Pro through a computer and through Zoom. Yet, the device-as-a-webcam is what was advertised and made the most sense for our workflow. It should just work. Otherwise, if you hook the device up via ethernet, you can control the live feed via another computer on the network and send that ethernet signal directly to Facebook Live, YouTube, or whatever your preferred streaming platform is.

Once the third unit unit crapped out, I convinced the church to upgrade to a different model: the ATEM Mini Extreme ISO, which has 8 HDMI inputs. Guess what happened. Again, the USB-C port stopped working.

Since that time, we have modified our workflow. I donated an old computer (a beast of a machine but circa 2009 - hit me up if you might want to donate any not-quite-as-old computers to a church/nonprofit), which can now be used as a direct feed to the 8-channel Mini Extreme ISO, during those rare times we have a presenter joining us from off-site via Zoom.

In conclusion, long ago now, the Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro and Mini Extreme ISO units stopped living up to the company's promises. The gear does offer a lot in a compact package, both on the hardware and software sides... but it's been a point of frustration for a long time, and the shoulder shrug, "we checked out your equipment, it doesn't work, and we don't know why" is unacceptable. A part of me loves the ATEM series, and a part of me has great disdain for it. In a consultant role, recommending these products would depend entirely on the workflow needs.

If you need any clarification for the issue described above, leave a comment below and/or watch through this video:


"Tech Review: Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro Video Switcher" (2023)

Written by: Justin Kilmer

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