Roland VR-5 A/V Mixer and Recorder Review

Sep 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Brandon Hickey



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The VR-5 features touchscreen operation and easily managed audio controls.

The VR-5 features touchscreen operation and easily managed audio controls.

The boom in streaming video has opened up all kinds of new opportunities for audio professionals, and the tools are coming out to make quality audio-based video productions. Case in point: The Roland VR-5 provides a simple, one-box strategy for full-on, multi-camera video production with audio. The features not only negate needing a generous complement of hardware, but also a specialized set of skills and knowledge. With applications ranging from multi-camera capture of live events to live switching of video displays during concerts or church services, the VR-5 can capture a production to an SDHC card, generate live analog or HDMI video, or connect through USB to a computer for instant streaming on the Web.

The VR-5 provides a five-source video switcher, an audio mixer and an onboard player/recorder. Small LCDs for preview and program monitoring are built into the top of the unit. The video switcher is impressive on its own. Three different analog video sources can be connected with either BNC composite connections or S-Video 4-pin mini-DIN-style connectors. This obviously rules out the possibility of HD connections, and to that end, the unit is designed to operate in a maximum resolution of 480p. In addition to its video inputs, the VR-5 has a PC input using a 15-pin D-Sub-style connection. It can receive higher-definition resolutions (up to 1,600x1,200 at 60 Hz) but will automatically conform this to the native 480p operation inherent to the unit. Also, the unit can switch over to playback of files from the built-in SDHC card reader or the USB jack. While the five sources are toggled, the integrated frame synchronizer relieves you of any need to synchronize the refresh rates of the sources in advance, providing seamless switching between feeds.

Each of the five sources can include its own audio, with each of the video connections being accompanied by L/R RCA inputs, or 1/8-inch mini-TRS in the case of the PC input. Also, a separate pair of analog inputs are available, using ¼-inch TRS or XLR connections to accommodate either an additional pair of stereo lines or microphone signals. Each of these signals, as well as the audio output of the built-in player, feed an audio mixer featuring four stereo faders (sources 1 through 3 and the onboard player), two mono faders for the auxiliary inputs and a potentiometer to balance the PC input. The main output level control is also a potentiometer.

Along with the built-in video monitors, BNC-style outputs connect the program and the preview monitor to outboard displays. Secondary connectors for programs using BNC, S-Video and HDMI allow the finished product to run to an external recorder. These connections would also be useful in feeding the picture to a video matrix that feeds large in-house displays in a house of worship, for example. Meanwhile, audio outputs include the built-in headphone amplifier with a convenient connector and level control tucked neatly under the lip of the front edge. The program output simultaneously feeds a pair of unbalanced RCAs and balanced XLRs, and passes through the HDMI output. MP4 video with MP3 audio can be recorded to the integrated SDHC recorder at 480i/60 Hz or 576i/50 Hz in qualities ranging from 2 Mbps to 6 Mbps, falling shy of DVD quality but providing quality that is certainly sufficient for Web distribution.

Streaming through the USB connection does not allow you to record the program directly to an external hard drive. Instead, video-capture software running on a computer can be used to collect or Webcast the video with only a minimal delay. It’s hard to finger the culprit, but streaming video into QuickTime Pro crashed repeatedly on the QuickTime side. In cases where it was successful, QuickTime recorded for long durations with pleasing quality. Fortunately, the unit could simultaneously stream through the USB output and record to the internal SD card, so for me QuickTime was just a backup.

The video mixer couldn’t be easier to use. The LCD preview monitor is touchscreen-operable and allows you to point and touch what you want to see. Otherwise, buttons aligned below the corresponding audio faders do the job, redundantly. The transition between shots is selectable between a hard cut, crossfade or wipe. The wipes and crossfades offer different duration settings, but no manual, fader-style control. There is not a great deal of extra real estate on the control panel to offer that type of control, but I’d have settled for a potentiometer. I loved the option to slave audio switching to automatically follow video switching. In that case, audio crossfades coincide with video crossfades while switching sources, or hard cuts are accompanied by hard audio switches.

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