Barco PDS-902

in Road Tests

Barco PDS-902I’ve been on a switcher binge as of late. Multi-format switchers, that is. Besides an output source, the absolute heart of any rig is the switcher. In the production world, there has been an arms race of sorts, the race to cram more into less. The 1RU form factor is the de facto size, and there are only a few issues we need to overcome in order to make this the sweet spot for switching.

First off, you can only fit so many connections on the back. In a touring rack, space is at a premium anyway, and clients aren’t going to bring less gear. Second, there’s a relatively small amount of available real estate on the front. Little tiny cell-phone sized soft keys aren’t going to cut it when it comes to the rigors of a production. Today’s easy-to-use 1RU switchers have to accomplish a lot with very little. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Barco’s offerings, both switchers and projectors, so I was excited to put my hands on the flagship of their new line of switchers, the PDS-902. Like it’s smaller siblings, the 901 and 701, the PDS-902 is a 1RU seamless presentation switcher capable of multiple format switching goodness. It has nine inputs, two outputs (Preview and Program). The 901 has nine inputs, one output. The 701 has seven inputs, one output.
The Hardware
The unit is at the top of the line because it has preview capability, and I couldn’t help but feel like I was driving a souped-up ImagePro with some tricks up its sleeve. To begin with, there are four DVI-I inputs, four universal analog inputs (on DB15), and one 3G/HD/SD SDI. There’s also Preview and Program, both with DB15 and DVI. The Preview and Program outs are simultaneous and as a bonus, the Preview can be configured to the same or different resolution than Program. There’s also a DB9 serial and RJ-45 Ethernet connector for external control. Around the front are buttons for the nine inputs as well as a Logo button. In the Effects block, you have Freeze, Black, and an as-yet unused button. All are controlled by the separate, red Take control button. The adjustment area features the familiar Barco four-line display with SEL and ESC as well as an Adjust knob. All are NKK-style lit buttons that switch with a satisfying “click” and light accordingly. There’s a USB port on the front for upgrading the firmware (also done via the web when connected). While we’re on control, the PDS series can be controlled via a web browser with a GUI that replicates the front panel of the unit exactly. After configuring a small network, I was able to connect with ease and access everything. It’s also capable of mobile device control, including phones and pads. Switching was super easy and I found it difficult to screw up.
The Software
The PDS-902 is a dual-channel switcher, meaning you get a smooth transition regardless of effect. With the addition of Preview, though, your options increase. The acronym “PDS” could easily stand for “Pretty Darn Simple,” as it takes about three seconds to get used to the setup/switch capabilities. One issue with dual channel switchers that have Preview capability is that the two channels are dedicated to the smooth scaled switching of the Program out, meaning there will be a slight black, or jump on the Preview bus. While the Program out switches the selected effect with ease and accuracy, the Preview bump is a little disconcerting, but that feeling subsides pretty quickly. Since Preview is configurable, you can use less-capable/smaller monitors for Preview monitoring. The Analog inputs are capable of 1:1 sampling up to 1920x1080, as well as Composite and S-video. The four DVI-I inputs will take 8-bit dig as well as RGBHV, analog composite, S-video, and YUV formats (be sure to supply your own DVI-DSUB adapter). The 3G/HD/SD SDI BNC connector does just what it says it is. All are sent to an Output that is full-screen with no PIP, at 10-bit 4:2:2 sampling. Switching using the “Take” button is straightforward, and the unit is capable of Auto Switch. Turn this feature on and no “Take” is required — simply switch the input buttons. The PDS series is also HDCP- compliant, with an HDCP “On” or “Off” feature. When the HDCP option is enabled, the PDS accepts encrypted content from an external source, decrypts the signal for internal processing such as scaling or color balance, then re-encrypts the output video for display. During this process, all PDS output connectors that are not HDCP-compliant are turned off, when the protected content is selected to be shown on those outputs. In addition, if a non-HDCP compliant monitor is connected to the DVI Program output, Preview will show Black for an HDCP source regardless of the HDCP capability of the DVI monitor connected to the Preview output. This is to maintain the true “look-ahead” preview functionality of the PDS.
As far as having more than one on a gig? Multiple PDS units can be slaved to an Encore or ScreenPro II or controlled with the browser interface. Three separate logos can be captured from Output and stored locally. With the optional “Auto Configure” and “Auto Acquire” for every input, you can hook anything up...or just configure it yourself. Multiple setups can be saved and recalled for later use including input resolutions and configurations. There’s a multitude of test patterns available for easy calibration of both Preview and Program.
Summing Up

Barco’s PDS-902 works as an extremely capable, robust switching/signal processing solution in a 1RU space. This unit would be equally comfortable in a boardroom, house of worship, ballroom or a training facility. I’d take the 902 on the road in a heartbeat. Rental companies will see a big jump in satisfaction from their techs to their clients (even with the lesser of the series), not to mention their checkbooks.