Roland VR-5 A/V Mixer and Recorder Review

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



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The back of the unit is packed with a variety of I/O and a V-Link connection to other Roland gear.

The back of the unit is packed with a variety of I/O and a V-Link connection to other Roland gear.

The video mixer features advanced functions like compositing and even a built-in chrominance or luminance keying section. With the compositing function, two sources can share the screen in a variety of ways. For one, a split-screen option allowed the screen to be divided in half, showing a different source on each half. The split could take place vertically or horizontally, with a variety of stretching or cropping options selectable through menus. Another picture-in-picture style of compositing offered a good amount of size and positioning options. With the chroma-keying, green or blue backgrounds could be selectively extracted, and with the luma-keying, either black or white backgrounds could be removed. These effects could be applied to either the video signal arriving at the PC input, video or graphics off of the SD Card, or the “user logo” stored in the system’s onboard memory. This was very useful as I was able to make a series of title slides in Apple Keynote and superimpose them on top of the video backgrounds during production.

With so much going on, I found it helpful to have a connected external video monitor showing the live program output. While the small onboard screen is a blessing, it’s very hard to accurately gauge what you are putting out while viewing the 2-inch display. Also, the boundaries of the onboard display seemed to fall short of the actual program output. The small screen for previewing the four selectable sources, however, seemed sufficient to judge whether a camera was ready to go live. It could also be taken over by a “PC Preview”; in other words, displaying the graphics being outputted by the connected laptop. One disappointment regarding this feature was the inability to preview the chroma- or luma-keying functions. If the gain control on the keying circuit is not set just right, cheesy artifacts result. Not being able to double-check the keyed version of the graphics before going live was nerve-wracking.

I was impressed with the VR-5’s sound quality. The integrated mixer was clean and didn’t seem to impart noticeable noise or coloration. The mic preamps were similarly clean and transparent. Simple dynamics processing is offered across each input, including a highpass filter, high-frequency EQ and low-frequency EQ, each at preset frequencies unlisted in the manual. The highpass filter was helpful for removing handling noise and AC rumble, and I would guess its drop-off point to be near 120 Hz. The onboard noise gate on each channel was also useful. It was a simple more-or-less control with a range of 0 to 127. For speech, whether through a lavalier mic, handheld or stand-mounted dynamic mic, the preset attack and release were well-thought-out. They certainly served to remove unwanted background noise without being noticeable. I believe there is also an undocumented brickwall output limiter across the output of each mic pre, as well. Loud spikes due to laughter or movement sounded compressed rather than outwardly distorting.

In addition to the input channel processing, the main mix offers a number of dynamics processes. Noise suppression, harmonic enhancement and 2-band frequency-based compression allow you to put some finishing touches on the mix before leaving the box. It was clear that these processors are targeted toward easy operation for video-centric users without cutting corners on sonic quality.

There is no question that this unit is fun to use. I felt very comfortable in an area where my foundations were shaky. The VR-5 made the technical side of things user-friendly, allowing me to focus on the creative vision rather than the execution. For the most part, the interface and layout of controls were clear and ergonomic, providing easy access to key features.

The overall quality of sound and picture are absolutely on par with the intended use, which I believe to be readying materials for online use. While the compressed video and sound, as stored on the SD card, did not hold up that well on a full-sized TV, the live, uncompressed output was certainly of sufficient quality to step beyond the Web.

As engineers, we’re always looking to add marketable new skills to our bag of tricks, and I could see this helping many people in a variety of ways. Studios, engineers, front-of-house mixers, educators, houses of worship and A/V pros should consider this a strong way to extend their “brand” in our Web-centric world. Any opportunity to create exciting, up-to-the-minute, Web-ready content should be welcome, and this little unit is certainly opening the doors.

Brandon Hickey is an audio engineer, film sound professional and educator.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Roland VR-5 product page.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Roland VR-5 product page.

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