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Redefining Multi-Tasking: An Overview of Multiviewers

Multiviewers empower multi-tasking. They redefine how we manage, broadcast, and control audio and visual information.

Imagine a news production room, or the inside of a broadcasting studio for a mega-church. In the past, a room like this might contain many whirring monitors, their fans working overtime to prevent overheating.

Monitoring and control room environments, however, have changed drastically over the past decade.

They have moved from traditional Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) based monitor stacks to a modern solution that eliminates the need for cumbersome, inflexible, and environmentally unfriendly systems.

For those who are unfamiliar with multiviewers, they are, in short, modular machines that allow individual monitors to display a number of different video and/or computer inputs.

Prior to the advent of multi-image display monitoring solutions, each video channel would be designated its own individual CRT monitor. The rigidity of this monitor stack arrangement meant that the location of sources rarely—if ever—changed. Information available about a particular source would be printed on a physical label under the monitor (UMD). The monitor stack was clumsy and functionally limited.

With multiviewers, professionals from all fields can avoid overheating monitors, static structures, and picture discrepancy (when two different monitors display identical pictures differently).

Professionals have the convenience and flexibility to reconfigure inputs immediately, as well as the capability to allocate more display space for important feeds and reduce space for less important inputs.

Multiviewer options range from a simple quad-split (with four inputs from video or computer feeds) to up to 64 inputs or more with on-screen, versatile UMDs. Furthermore, multiviewers are quickly evolving to become increasingly space-efficient.

Companies are releasing modules that are progressively more compact and lightweight and use less energy. Recently, a fanless multiviewer has also emerged in the market, thereby enhancing and broadening monitoring capabilities.

Multiviewers are often offered as peripheral add-ons, tech upgrades to large audio-visual setups, or upgrade cards for routers and servers, but a handful of companies now focus solely on designing and manufacturing these solutions to multi-image monitoring concerns.

There are three general approaches to multiviewers.

The first arrangement places the multiviewer in between the router and the display. Originally, this set-up only offered simple and evenly spaced screen splitters, such as a simple quad split. Users plug in video sources to a studio router, which would then redirect the sources to a multiviewer, and then the display.

The disadvantage of this arrangement is that users must carefully ensure control compatibility by choosing the appropriate multiviewer and router. However, this system is favorable for operations requiring a large number of displays, especially if the displays carry out different functions or are used by different operators.

The second arrangement involves routers with integrated multiviewers. In this setup, the routing is internal, so the integrated multiviewers offer only a limited, fixed number of display outputs over group inputs (for example, 64 inputs over 4 displays). This system is highly compact and offers a greater flexibility with easy control.

The third arrangement consists of integrating multiviewer capabilities within the monitor displays. This set-up is especially successful in an Outside Broadcast (OB) production environment, which favors a small number of sources per display (typically a simple quad-split). 

When purchasing a multiviewer, it is important to discuss your needs at length with a representative.

Some key basics to look for are image quality, flexibility of configuration (such as the usage and versatility of inputs and UMDs), redundancy and functionality (a No Single Point of Failure architecture, for example, which dictates that in the unlikely event one multiviewer in a cascaded system fails, the entire system remains preserved and running), and price.

The future of multiviewers lies in expanding the target audience beyond specialized markets. No longer only relevant in large broadcasting studios or media newsrooms, multiviewers are slowly encroaching on the popular consumer base, as well.

The advent of compact, personalizable, and plug-and-play modules that are user-friendly and especially easy to use opens a channel that was previously unexplored.

For example, there is currently a strong potential for multiviewer designers to foray into integrating multi-image solutions into an average corporate setting. In this venue, however, multiviewers must be designed with a primarily nontechnical customer—such as the average businessman—in mind.

Although multiviewers already use fairly straightforward technology, the challenge is to simplify the process even further so that anyone might only need to log in to a computer to bring up multiple inputs with a click of the mouse.

And, what's the next big step? There is talk of integrating touchscreens into the equation, creating powerful maneuverability for even a small meeting room.

This article is courtesy of Avitech International Corporation, www.avitechvideo.com.

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