in Road Tests
If it does one thing well — great. Presentation switchers in a perfect world would be the same way. But the live event world is rarely perfect, and presentation switchers try really hard to bridge the gap. Does this mean doing many things is not a good thing? No. For more complex presentations, units that can accomplish many things are perfect for rental/staging companies. These units are designed to do a lot, and like most everything, you get what you pay for. There are units that will simply and passively switch two sources — and there are units that try to be full-blown 2 M/E engines of wonder. Somewhere in there is the right piece for your application.
I came across the Eikos EKS500 from Analog Way recently and it seems to be in the right place. I say “seems to be” because while it’s a great unit for some things, it leaves a little to be desired in others. To be fair, it’s billed by the company as a “Multi-layer High Resolution Mixer Matrix Scaler Seamless Switcher with Four Scalers.” And it is exactly that. It’s not a typical presentation switcher, and I would recommend some time with it before jumping out on a gig. In fact, when you’re at the gig, it’s going to require some setting up, and if you keep track of exactly what it is that you need done, this piece will do it.
The Eikos EKS500 offers 12 inputs — six universal analog, and six digital (2 x DVI-I, 4 SD/HD/3G SDI) — so lots of flavors to choose from. It has a Main and Preview out as well as a separate video out, capable of analog or digital SD/HDTV. This separate out is great if you want to send to record or otherwise monitor the show. It also will switch audio (8 channels of stereo, and 4 from embedded SDI). There are ports for control via RS232 and LAN. The unique thing about the Eikos is that it can operate in one of three modes — Mixer, Matrix, or Quadravision. As a mixer, you can mix and match any input to any output. As a Matrix, it’s a 12x2, with both outs separately controllable. As Quadravision, it takes four of any input and displays them simultaneously (with preloaded templates as well). The whole unit is 2RU and tips the scales at just under 12 lbs.
Around the Front Panel
The Eikos has a large VFD display with a jog wheel and control buttons to access any of the parameters. It also uses NKK-style raised buttons with a soft touch, not a personal fave of mine, but they are well-marked and glow different colors for different states of use. They are laid out in their respective areas logically if not deliberately. The flow of action on the front takes some getting used to. I kept wishing (and reaching) for an “all-black” button, but I kept having to check the “Layer” selection bank at the top to see what was active. It turns out pressing and holding the “Black” button gives you a clean fade to black. The switcher operates on a layer concept with six in total, consisting of Background Frame, Background Live, PIP2, PIP3, Logo1, and Logo2. You simply select the layer you want to affect and then select an action to go with it. Hit “Take” and all is well. The EKS500 also uses a Mosaic Preview, allowing you to see all inputs and their respective signals. Hitting the “Preview” button toggles between a full-screen layout and Mosaic. The full-screen preview layout can be a little deceiving, as various screens are represented by colored borders (and an analog number) instead of the actual signal. If you select a layer and then a source, the source is displayed, but only one thing at a time.
There are four Effect buttons including Cut, Fade, and two User selections. There are also four Preset buttons that can be configured to carry different Main Screen configs, which will come in handy when doing repetitive presentations. Using the Shift button gets you four more, for a total of eight. There also are 12 pre-configured Main Screen layouts for recall. The transitions between Presets can be set as well via Layer adjustment. As stated previously, all this flexibility will require a fair amount of pre-programming, something not uncommon in the live event world, but adjusting on the fly is not this switcher’s forte. There is also a fair amount of button pushing; also something not uncommon in our industry, but it was hard to keep things straight without a true preview. To increase the flexibility of the Eikos, it’s compatible with a few different remote controllers made by Analog Way. I was fortunate enough to be using an Orchestra for this review. Most of the functions of the Eikos were available and, with its built-in, touch-enabled access screen, I was able to quickly program a show and manipulate screen features much faster than with the Eikos itself. Be aware that since an event controller like this can control many different devices, the button coherency will seem a little disconcerting, since it uses the same style and coloration. The real beauty of a remote event controller like this comes when you are using multiple outboard units that have been pre-configured in a multi-screen environment. It’s a little overboard if you’re just using an Eikos for a single presentation.
Around the Back
Twelve inputs are available, six universal analog (on DSUB HD15), and six digital (two DVI-I and 4 SD/HD/3G SDI). Eight channels of balanced/unbalanced audio are available on Phoenix-style connectors (the other four are on the embedded SDI lines), which suggest using this feature for permanent installs, as live event switching rarely has bare-end audio (at least intentionally). Also, I have yet to actually switch audio and video on the same device (I know, your audio folks are nodding in agreement, as they should), but in an install where people and resources are limited, this could be a key feature. There is Preview and Program on DVI as well as HD15, and the “Video” outs include a choice of SDI, Component, Y/C, or Composite on BNC. Record at will or use them for separate monitoring.
The Eikos EKS500 and its smaller brother, the LE version, are highly capable multi-format switchers with multitudes of features. Be prepared to know what you want to see and be capable of programming it before you use it as your primary switching device. Rental and staging companies who do higher-end presentations will find it invaluable, especially if they are venturing into multi-screen layouts. Smaller companies may find it’s a bit much for their needs and opt for one of AW’s other solutions, like the Pulse (PLS300).
Eikos EKS500 Multi Layer High Resolution Mixer Matrix Scaler Seamless Switcher
What It Is: A Multi-layer High Resolution Mixer Matrix Scaler Seamless Switcher with Four Scalers (MLHRMMSSSWFS)
Pros: Lots of options, lots of transitions, lots of inputs
Cons: Lots of buttons to push for lots of options
How Much: $19,680 (MSRP); LE version: $16,400