Tech

Blackmagic ATEM Mini Pro Review – is it worth the Price?

ATEM mini Pro Review

ATEM Mini Pro Review

I recently purchased the Blackmagic ATEM Mini Pro HDMI switching system for my YouTube channels.  Live switching and live camera control is an absolutely huge upgrade for any live streamer.  The ATEM Mini Pro allows you to switch between to 4 different HDMI devices.  The unit also allows direct to YouTube or Facebook live streaming without a computer.

While the ATEM Mini Pro is not the most ‘budget’ piece of kit out there, it sure is cool.  This is a review from my own personal experience and for my use case.  I will break this review up into various sections for various use cases so you can work out if it is right for you.

This review will be from a user perspective and won’t cover all of the technical aspects.  If you want a full deep dive spec sheet please download the manual from the Blackmagic website.

Atem Mini Pro Review
My ATEM Mini Pro – Buy it on B&H Photo

Why you would want an ATEM Mini Pro

The number one reason why most people are buying this unit is for live streaming and live switching.  Having the ability to switch between cameras with a touch of a button is fantastic.

Imagine you are setting up a video podcast or interview, for example.  You can switch between cameras in real-time giving the live stream a sense of production quality that far exceeds webcams.

The second reason why you would want an ATEM Mini Pro is that you can stream directly to the internet without a computer attached! This is a pretty amazing thing again.

Thirdly, having the ability to record to an external hard drive gives you a high-quality video recording that can be both recorded while streaming or without.

Why I wanted an ATEM Mini Pro

As I mentioned earlier, I have a YouTube channel. I also do a video podcast which is usually up to 1.5 hours long.  Conventionally, I would record this to SD cards, import the footage into Final Cut and start chopping it up.

The ATEM Mini Pro cuts the editing time almost to zero.  Being able to switch in real-time allows me to record the podcast in full 1080p either to OBS or to an external SSD drive.  All that is left after the fact is to tweak the audio and add my titles and lower thirds.  This is so much faster!

I am a huge advocate of putting out quality.  I’ve spent thousands of dollars on quality cameras like the Panasonic GH5 that going back to a webcam live stream has always been the weakest visual on my channel.  Now, I can simply use the ATEM Mini Pro as my webcam.

If you have the ATEM hooked up to the computer via the USB cable the computer sees it much how a Logitech webcam is seen.  This comes up in a hardware device such as YouTube live, Streamyard, Skype, and just about everything else.

How I set up the ATEM Mini Pro

I use my ATEM Mini Pro with 3 Panasonic cameras and a laptop. This allows me to switch between camera angles and the computer very simply.

Setting up the Audio is something that requires some forethought before buying the ATEM Mini or ATEM Mini Pro.  My Panasonic GH5 has an audio XLR adapter.  This allows the microphone audio to be connected directly to a camera.

If you do not connect Audio to the camera, you will experience audio lag.  Audio lag is a problem because there’s a slight delay with HDMI when compared with an analog sound source.  Analog is as close to real-time as you will get while HDMI is slightly behind.

This means your best bet is to connect your audio source through your camera and into the ATEM Mini Pro.  If you are unable to do this it may pose problems with audio sync.

Using an external audio interface is not an option when using the ATEM mini because of the lag issue.

Build Quality and initial impressions

When I first took the unit out of the box I was shocked just how small it actually was! Small isn’t bad though because I don’t want my entire desk cluttered up with a simple switcher.  The build quality overall is good minus the power supply.  While it is called a “Mini Pro” it’s way smaller than I thought it was.

The power supply feels a bit too cheap and I wonder how long it will last.  For whatever reason, there’s no on and off button on the ATEM Mini Pro so you either have to disconnect it at the wall or unplug the cable.  This sort of wear and tear could potentially cause issues down the track.

The buttons all feel fantastic and they light up very brightly.  You’ll have no problems seeing which camera or HDMI input is active thanks to the backlit keys.  Even under studio lighting, you won’t have any issues with seeing what is lit up.

The Small Size of the ATEM Mini Pro
The Small Size of the ATEM Mini Pro is without a doubt shocking at first.

Does the ATEM Mini Pro work with OBS? (Open Broadcaster Software)

Being able to record externally to OBS at high bit rates is also a huge positive. In this scenario, OBS sees the device as “Blackmagic Design” and it can be set up and used to record without any issues.  It works not only with the USB cable (not provided) but it can also be sent directly through another source like an Elgato HD60s, for example.  There’s no need to use an Elgato HD60 but if you don’t have a long enough USB cable, this is a great option.

ATEM Mini Pro OBS
ATEM Mini Pro OBS

Getting a Clean Camera HDMI Signal

Most cameras have a lot of information on-screen on their LCD screens.  This information is also shown when you have the camera hooked up via HDMI to an external display.  Most (but not all) good cameras have ways to disable this information for the HDMI output.  This is known as a “clean HDMI output“.  The camera will show the information on the built-in screen and the HDMI output will be as clean as a whistle.

Sometimes finding this option in your camera can be tough depending on the menu system.  From experience, most cameras from Sony, Panasonic, and Canon will have this option.  In my Panasonic GH5 cameras, this is called “HDMI Record Output“, then set to “Off

Is the ATEM Mini Pro Complicated?

One of the things that will appeal to you is the simplicity of the ATEM Mini Pro.  I had never used an HDMI switching system before using the ATEM, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The buttons on the unit are very simple to understand after a few minutes and some of the features you probably won’t ever use.

You can control the unit with the buttons on the front of the unit or via the software for some extended functionality.  For me though, I don’t use the user interface (UI) at all.

ATEM Mini Pro Computer Iterface
ATEM Mini Pro view via the Blackmagic ATEM Software Control

Built-in video Encoder/Streamer

Making life easier for those who have a good internet connection is the fact this unit streams directly to YouTube and Facebook.  This streaming can be done without a computer. My internet is very limited when it comes to uploading speed so I use OBS to do my streaming until my line is upgraded in the next few months.

If you live in the US or Canada (or anywhere in Europe/Scandanavia), odds are your internet is much better than mine and you won’t need OBS to convert the video into a size that works for your upload speed.

Within the ATEM Mini Pro, you have the ability to set three different streaming options.  Low, Medium, and High will give you enough flexibility depending on your internet options.

The problem I have with streaming directly from the ATEM mini is the lack of immediate graphics and overlays or titles that can be easily set up with OBS.  Even when my internet is upgraded, I will be sticking with Open Broadcaster Software for this very reason.

The USB-C Output!

One thing I wasn’t sure of when I purchased this was if it was a USB-C device only.  The good news is it is not. I have USB 3.0 ports on my Windows Desktop and also on my MacBook Air.  By purchasing a USB-C to USB-A cable (link to B&H) you can connect this without any issues.  This is great news for those of us who don’t have the very latest computers.

The ATEM Mini and ATEM Mini Pro do not come with any USB cable for whatever reason.

The Ethernet Output

The advantage of the ATEM Mini Pro over the ATEM Mini is you can output directly from the ethernet output of the Mini Pro directly to the internet.  The downside of this though is that you’ll still need a computer to view and reply to all the comments if you are a regular YouTuber, for example.

What is in the ATEM Mini Pro Box?

The short answer is not much! I made a quick unboxing video that you can watch below. Not including a USB-C to USB-A or USB-C to USB-C cable is pretty cheap on Blackmagic’s behalf.  The unit costs a small fortune and they don’t even include something you need to get it operational through the computer.

Is the ATEM Mini Pro Good for Gamers?

If you have a gaming channel on YouTube or Twitch the ATEM mini pro might be exactly what you want.  Keep into account the audio limitations (mentioned above) this device will greatly enhance the ability to switch between video sources and will take care of the processing of a picture in picture setup.

If your gaming online with headphones then this unit might be tough to work with because there is no headphone jack anywhere.  My theory on why this is not included in the HDMI lag as I mentioned above. You will need to monitor the gaming audio in real-time through another audio source. This can also cause a more complex set up with microphones as well.

Thankfully OBS can set delay times on USB microphones so technically it can work, but this is one situation that needs to be tested.  This is a complex discussion and I might follow this up in an additional tutorial post or video.

The ATEM Mini Pro for Recording Live Bands

This is a great device for recording a live band in a studio or live venue situation.  This will help save time editing which is another key reason I purchased this.  Being able to switch cameras as the song sees fit at the moment is such an effective way of working.

I shoot my own band once or twice a year. Having a friend help switch camera angles on the fly is a lifesaver.  Even though this is limited at 1080p 25/30p or 50/60p you can always upscale it to 4K in editing if required.  For those 2 or 3 set gigs, this is the most time effective way of getting a professional band recording without the headache of editing.

I would suggest, of course, recording band audio to a separate recorder and syncing it in editing.

Is the ATEM Mini Pro Worth it?

If you have already invested in production cameras, studio lighting, and you want high-quality live streams then yes.  If you are starting from scratch wondering if YouTube or live streaming is for you then no. I would suggest this to someone who already has the majority of what they need to live stream or record in high quality.

If you don’t already own cameras with HDMI outputs then you are going to have to spend a lot more money to get this going.  I would really suggest this to people who have had experience with video and audio production in the past, or YouTube video production.

For those who want a fast and affordable switching experience for recording a live band this is a great option as well. Being able to record from the ATEM Mini Pro to an external SSD hard drive is a lifesaver for many of us wanting to record in real-time.

The ATEM mini pro is a bit of a 3 in 1.  It is designed to be used to stream live to YouTube or Twitch.  You can also record directly to an external SSD, or it can be used through OBS.  Because of this, it’s almost perfect.

Issues with the ATEM Mini Pro

One thing that I’ve noticed while using the picture in picture feature is that it is only active on the current scene.  For instance, when you have HDMI input 2 active with HDMI input 1 as the picture in picture, if you swap to HDMI input 3 picture in picture is lost.

This means you have to keep turning picture in picture back on.  I am sure they will address this in a firmware update or have it as an option if someone wants it one way or the other.

The power supply sucks.  This is one of the cheapest things I have ever seen.  It feels very cheap on the plug section and I have a feeling cable near the connector side will eventually fail. It’s sad to see a unit that costs this much come with a low-quality power supply.

No Power Button

Not everyone has a power strip sitting on their desk with on and off switches.  I like to keep my cables tidy and out of sight.  Not being able to turn the unit off with a switch of a button is a terrible design decision.  I hate having to crawl under the desk to connect this thing up or having to unplug it on the connector side.  This will no doubt create more wear and tear on the cables in either situation.

No Headphone Jack

My main criticisms of this are that there’s no way to physically monitor audio through it.  While you can see the visual representation of the audio in the ATEM software you can’t hear it.  The easiest way around this is to plug headphones into your main camera (if it has a headphone socket).

Final Thoughts

Overall I am very happy with the ATEM Mini Pro from a functionality standpoint.  It will help me live stream in far higher quality than a webcam.  Given I have good quality cameras and an understanding of audio I am able to get the most out of this unit for my use case.  This unit is designed for people with an understanding of video and audio as well as people already streaming.

Those wanting full analog synchronization with HDMI synchronization may be disappointed that it is not an option.  The microphone inputs on this device will not be in sync with the HDMI signal.  It almost makes me wonder why they are even there?

This comes down to your use case.  If you consider live streaming with multiple cameras important and your cameras have microphone jacks then you’ll get the most out of this unit.

Learning about how it all works can be a complicated task and I am putting together a video about this coming up so please stay tuned to my Geeky Nerdy Techy YouTube channel.

I hope this review has been helpful. I paid full price for the Blackmagic ATEM Mini Pro (B&H) and it was not free nor was I sponsored in any way.  If you got value out of this and you want to check out the please consider using the link above.

I will update this article as any further pros or cons become apparent with this unit.

Issues with USB streaming [updated] April 24, 2020.

After writing this full review I encountered some issues while streaming via USB to YouTube. While the picture looks crystal clear, the audio kept going out of sync and it even sounded distorted at one point in time.  I had the RodeLink Wireless pack hooked up directly to the camera so there shouldn’t be any issues with it in terms of latency.  Sometimes it was in sync and it was fine, and other times it was horribly out or distorted.

After hours of trying to figure this out, I have the problem isolated to the encoder built into the Blackmagic ATEM Mini Pro. When I send the HDMI output of the ATEM Mini Pro to the Elgato HD60 it works fine.  There’s a clear issue with the ATEM Mini Pro when connected to USB.

I tried multiple USB ports and I had the exact same problem! As of updating this article, I am awaiting a reply from Blackmagic to see if this issue is the unit or something else.  I have a feeling its a compatibility issue with my USB ports or computer parts. I am waiting to see what Blackmagic says in regard to this.