“Infinite re-entry” was revolutionary in its day, but today switchers come with a dazzling array of capabilities. A modern 1 M/E system can do most of what a 3 M/E Model 300 would have been capable of, is more stable, contains multiple digital effects channels, and may be capable of both HD and SD.
Take keying, for instance. A 300 had two keyers, but a modern switcher may have four keyers per M/E, or in at least one case five keyers per M/E. In older analog systems, chroma key was an option that often cost considerably more and could be assigned to one M/E at a time. Now digital switchers often have more than one on each M/E.
But nowhere is the difference more striking than when considering digital video effects. When Vital Industries introduced the Squeezoom in 1977, it cost $200,000 and only did 2D manipulations on the X and Y axis without perspective. It was a “wirewrap wonder,” a bit flakey to keep working and fundamentally changed our industry. A couple of years later, AMPEX introduced the ADO, and Grass Valley added digital effects in association with NEC that filled an entire rack. Compare that to a switcher today that might have eight channels per M/E.
But good news always creates a shadow. Increases in production capability have required manufacturers to find ever more capable processing hardware solutions to enable the steady advance of features that require significantly more horsepower than their predecessors. This is where commodity IT hardware becomes part of our solution.
Take a look at any computer game today, and you will see incredible rendering capability evidenced. A big part of that is in software, of course, but rendering complex images in real time is done in increasingly sophisticated graphics engines. The compute power behind those card level solutions that every teenager wants to have are not integral to video switchers. Just look at your smartphone and rotate the screen. That real-time image processing is far from trivial, and the availability of hardware and software solutions to do many of the manipulations we do in professional switchers is critical to the ability of manufacturers to build systems at prices we are willing to pay.