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All in One: Sony’s Anycast Touch: Meet the Live Production Switcher That Records and Streams Content

The Sony Anycast Touch AWS-750 is a portable, all-in-one production switcher that acts like a studio console but can stream and record live content from any location. Multiple camera sources and other feeds can be switched live, while adding transitions, titles, graphics and pre-recorded clips.

With the all-in-one style featuring a double touchscreen, Anycast Touch enables intuitive, easy operation, and eliminates the cumbersome setup and signal adjustment process typically required when connecting various devices.

Anycast Touch’s final output can be streamed live on the web and also recorded for VOD or as a high-resolution file for future editing.

Features

The unit weighs about 14 lb. and is roughly the size of an early model laptop computer. However, it is a fully functioning studio-in-a-box, with no other outboard equipment needed for live production, recording or streaming.

Anycast Touch has input modules for six video sources, with the versatility to handle a variety of cameras. There are a total of four SDI, two HDMI and two composite inputs, as well as two RGB computer connections.

Sources can be mixed, matched and cropped appropriately for output. The system settings are 1080i/59.94 Hz, 1080i/50 Hz, 480i/59.94 Hz and 576i/50 Hz. Content can be output via HD/SD-SDI, HDMI or RGB for simultaneous large-screen display.

One of the primary functions of Anycast Touch is to stream live content on the web. You can choose to stream the output to a URL and simultaneously record a VOD version for later streaming, but it functions equally well as a recording device. You can select the HQ recording mode, which creates an XDCAM MPEG HD file at 35 Mb/s, suitable for use in any NLE.

Perhaps the biggest breakthrough offered by Anycast Touch is its superb user interface. Tedious menu trees and lists have been replaced by images and, as the name implies, touchscreens to make operation intuitive and tactile.

The top (main) screen displays the live program controls (switching live video sources, cueing graphics, clips, stills, etc.).

The Anycast Touch unit opens up into two screens that separate creative and technical functions. The top (main) screen displays the live program controls (switching live video sources, cueing graphics, clips, stills, etc.) and the bottom (sub) screen displays technical controls, settings and an audio mixer.

Tapping on different tabs on the sub screen brings up displays for setting up and managing inputs, streaming, recording and the playback library. Each screen is designed for visual clarity. For example, the tools menu displays nine large boxes, with clear icons indicating their contents.

The main screen is neatly laid out. Input sources are lined up on the left, preview and program monitors are in the middle, and the right-hand panel can be configured to handle transitions, titles or graphic overlays. All inputs have high-resolution thumbnail images that behave like miniature studio monitors to facilitate setting up camera shots. Switching is accomplished by simply touching the thumbnail image to place it in the preview window, then touching the “Take” button to send it to the program screen for output.

Anycast Touch has an easy, yet sophisticated title creation application with a wide variety of templates to speed up the process. It even includes the ability to create composite videos with picture-in-picture or chromakey.

The bottom (sub) screen displays technical controls, settings and an audio mixer.

For more complex events, Anycast Touch is equipped with remote camera control. You can daisy-chain up to seven VISCA-compatible cameras and remotely control pan, tilt, zoom and other aspects, while saving the actions as presets for later use. This allows very comprehensive coverage of live events such as concerts, sporting events and performances.

Streaming is encoded in real time using Flash (H.264, AAC). The unit includes an internal 192 GB mSATA SSD, which can hold about ten hours of recorded video. You can import video and audio files for insertion into a live program by connecting a USB drive.

Anycast Touch also has impressive audio capability. There are four XLR mic/line inputs and two RCA inputs. The sub screen converts into a five-channel virtual mixing board. Each stereo channel includes a fader, input trim, filter (high/low pass), equalizer, limiter, compressor and pan.

In Use

Connecting Devices

The first thing I noticed was how well Anycast Touch is designed for ease of use. The top of the unit swivels up to reveal a large LCD screen and a second screen below it. The second screen handles audio mixing, system configuration and media management.

This setup basically mimics the setup of the standard studio switcher and audio board. The obvious difference is that Anycast’s sub screen is a virtual audio board that, with the touch of a tab, transforms into other displays that manage recording, camera and microphone setup, pre-recorded material and graphics creation.

To test the system, I simulated a live production with three camera sources and a pre-recorded clip.

I connected a Sony prosumer camera to input 1 via the RCA composite connector. Then I connected an HD camera, a Panasonic AG-HMC150, to the HDMI link on input 2 and, finally, a Canon EOS Rebel T2i DSLR (also HD) through an HDMI link on input 4. The SDI and HDMI connections carry embedded audio. For the composite camera, I connected its analog audio to two RCA inputs.

Given the hodgepodge of camera connections, I was impressed by how easily Anycast Touch handled the variety of inputs. Configuring connections was simple and graphic.

After connecting my cameras, I brought up a graphic interface on the sub screen that showed pictures of the available connections on each input. I touched the images for the composite connector on input 1 and the HDMI connectors on inputs 2 and 4, and my setup was complete.

The signals from each camera were automatically displayed in the input column on the left of the main screen. Touching any of the camera source thumbnails places that input in the preview screen (called “next” on Anycast). A tap on the Take button sends the video source to the program screen for output. You can choose an appropriate transition: cut, dissolve or select something else from an assortment of wipes.

Adding pre-recorded material to a live program was equally simple. Anycast Touch has a well designed import/export interface arranged with graphic clarity.

After plugging in a USB hard drive, its files were displayed on the sub screen. I imported a file and assigned it to one of my program inputs. It was now ready to be inserted into the live program with a single touch.

In fact, Anycast Touch allows you to add any kind of media into your program. You can add still images, logos, titles, and any video in a recognizable file format. The beauty is that it is all done with graphic simplicity.

The AWS-750 Anycast Touch offers simple operation with an intuitive dual touchscreen interface. Its tilt screen function enables users to operate Anycast Touch as one large flat screen, or tilted to employ dual screens that separate creative and technical functions.

Configuring the audio mixer was equally visual and intuitive. Each audio input on the mixing board displays available inputs, which you select with a tap of the finger. I took stereo audio from the HDMI-connected cameras, analog from the RCA inputs, and added a microphone through one of the XLR inputs for narration.

I attempted to work with the chromakey feature and found it to be one area that needs some improvement. It’s complicated to set up in terms of figuring out which image keys over the other. If Sony can figure out a way to simplify this process, it would make the chromakey function much more useful, particularly considering that it’s likely to be used in a fast-paced situation.

Within a short time I was ready to simulate a live streaming program. I brought up a title and started switching among my three cameras as I introduced the previously recorded clip. As soon as I pressed Take on the cued clip, it played flawlessly. Anycast Touch is not only easy to use, it also allows an entire production to be managed by a single person.

Once your program is set up to produce, you have three options: stream it live, stream and record it simultaneously as a VOD clip, or record it as a high-quality 35 Mb/s file for future use. I recorded the program in HQ mode (35 Mb/s MPEG HD); it looked excellent when played back on an HD monitor.

Summary

Sony Anycast Touch is one of the most efficient and beautifully designed video products I have encountered in years. It is a joy to use because it harnesses almost every existing technology to simplify operations without sacrificing quality. It has a very logical design that essentially separates the creative workflow of production from the technical requirements of operation.

The touchscreens, combined with clear graphic images, allow the user to work quickly and intuitively, and the technical quality is first-rate. Sony really got this one right.  

Product:Sony Anycast Touch AWS-750
Score:

Pros: The touchscreens, combined with clear graphic images, allow the user to work fast and intuitively.
Cons: Could use a few more SDI inputs.
Bottom Line: This is a superb live content production console for a wide range of applications including live streaming, recording and events display.
MSRP: $19,995

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