Streaming Media has been hearing intriguing things about the Magewell USB Fusion for months, dating back at least as far as MVD CMO Mike Nann’s interview at Streaming Media West last November, when he described it as a compact “three-input switcher” that also serves as a mixer, enabling PiP and PxP and, with the help of a companion tablet app, the ability to “take tablet notes or draw right on the video live in real-time [and] sports telestrator-type stuff.” Early April brought news of a key firmware update to the USB Fusion that added wireless sharing features.
So NAB 2023 offered a much-anticipated opportunity to take a closer look at the USB Fusion as Streaming Media Contributing Editor Shawn Lam of SLV Live joined Magewell Director of Product Development Ryan Brenneman for an interview in the Magewell booth.
“A lot of people know Magewell for USB capture,” says Brenneman. “That was the core of the market that Magewell, honed in on over the decade, and now we’ve expanded that with USB Fusion. At its heart and core,” he explains, “it’s a USB switcher with multiple inputs and multiple outputs. It features two HDMI inputs, and a USB input. From the output side, we have an HDMI out as well as a driverless webcam connection to a computer, to the host device. It can sit on the network. It can also connect to the network via Wi-Fi, and serve as its own access point. At its base function, you can switch through the various different inputs and output to something like Teams or Zoom or WebEx, whatever you want to use.”
Lam asks about what switching controls are enabled via the five buttons on the front, numbered 1-5.
“Those are programmable,” Brenneman says. “So you can set those to certain inputs however you want. And the other thing is, say you want to enhance it through vMix or to OBS or Wirecast–that’s all possible now. Now we can create really powerful presentations when paired with an Android or an iOS tablet. Now we can customize everything. So it’s not just about inputting video sources,” he continues. “When we’re creating dynamic content, we know we wanna pull in things like PDFs. We might want to be able to control a PowerPoint.” USB Fusion makes that possible.
Referencing the new capabilities made available through the major firmware upgrade announced in early April, Brenneman says, “We’ve recently announced the wireless screenshare feature. If you’re running a production and a person has their presentation on their smartphone, with USB Fusion in your production workflow, you can now share a code with them. They pull it up and just screenshare over iOS or Miracast or Googlecast, and now they can present their content wirelessly into your production system.”
“Do they need to be on the same network as you,” Lam asks, “or are they gonna be on their own?”
“Well, that’s the cool thing,” Brenneman explains. “Because this can serve as its own access point, now you can get them off of your production network connected to Fusion. And since Fusion’s plugged into the production PC or HDMI out, they’re kind of segregated from your network. We don’t want them on the production system network anyway. And now you don’t have to do that.”
USB Fusion App
Lam asks Brenneman to delve deeper into the USB Fusion’s computer controls, and the web interface that makes other capabilities available beyond what can be done with the physical buttons on the box. “In terms of computer controls, you’ve got the hardware, but you’re saying you can connect via ethernet or USB to a computer and that has its own GUI, right?”
“It does,” says Brenneman. “So we have our own web interface, just like all Magewell IP-connected devices. This can be connected to Magewell Cloud, which is a centralized management dashboard where you can take remote control devices from anywhere in the world. But in its main core, the dashboard allows you to see things like incoming frame rate and resolution. For example, this Microsoft Surface is coming in at 59.86, with a lot of switchers, that would just geek the thing out. They’re not gonna connect to it. But we’ve built in scalers across this whole thing. So it doesn’t matter what the input is because as an end user, you just want to connect an HDMI cable and go, and we get that. And so that’s why we’ve built those features in.
Live Streaming Workflows and Telestration
Of course, the key question for any live producer is not just what features the USB Fusion have, but how they can deploy it in a live streaming production and integrate it into their work.
“In a live streaming workflow,” Brenneman explains, USB Fusion and a laptop “sit back at the production desk area.” The tablet “sits up at the podium, and now a person can control their own presentation.”
One of the primary presentation control features USB Fusion offers is telestration–the ability to draw directly on the screen and add notes and highlights through the app. “This is instantaneous telestration to get points across when you’re in an environment that may have LED walls on both sides, or even projector screens on both sides. How do you engage with everyone at the same time without having to turn your back to them and use a laser pointer? And if it’s an LED screen, [a laser pointer] will never show up anyway. So now I can walk across the platform or podium, I can take notes and it goes out on both screens simultaneously. I’m able to engage with you better. If I’m a teacher walking around a room, I also have a digital whiteboard in easy-to-use iPad format.”
The app also offers simple, tablet-based PowerPoint navigation and control. “If I have a PowerPoint on a computer,” Brenneman says, “all I have to do is click and I can trigger the PowerPoint to start. Now I can navigate a native PowerPoint through a tablet. I have access to all of my notes. If I need to go black screen real quick, I can do that, and then I can disable the PowerPoint. We’re using this as a wireless clicker as well. Again, if the presenter has screens behind them and they’re having to constantly turn around to see what you’re on, but you’re running PowerPoint, I have all of that right here, and I can telestrate right over top of the PowerPoint just like I can for anything else.”
Supporting the Presenter
A tablet can also be used with USB Fusion as a confidence monitor. “In most contracts, you’re required to give them a confidence monitor view,” Brenneman says (and Lam agrees). “This is a wireless confidence monitor because they’re controlling their own presentation. They know exactly what is on the screen, and that’s just another use case for this. I love it as a producer of live content because I can take control of the presentation and I can do all of the switching for the various scenes right here through this web GUI.
“Let’s just say, for example, they have a presentation up on the screen and they’re not cued to the next slide. For whatever reason, they haven’t triggered that. I can trigger it on my own right from my desktop, right through the web GUI, and I can still make the talent look an amazing and talented individual.
“That’s important,” Lam says, “because a lot of times presenters need that extra bit of support. Otherwise, what value adding as producers if we can’t help them out and advance their slides for them without having to run up to their tablet or their computer and hit next?”
“Our worst case scenario is when they say the dreaded phrase, ‘Next slide please,'” Brenneman concurs. “And so we’re able to do that, give them control, or take control for them.”
Beyond presentations, USB Fusion also makes it possible to input images and preloaded video files, using an internal 128GB SSD. To do so, Brenneman says, “I’ll just trigger a video that’s been preloaded on the device itself, and I’ll see that in real time. I can also telestrate directly over live video. Let’s say there’s a website that I want to preview. I’ve loaded a website inside Fusion, and I’m now able to not only telestrate directly over the top of it, but I can also fully navigate this website if I want to pull up a list of YouTube videos. If I want to play corporate content from a website, Fusion can do this internally. Never before has there been anything that has this much power to create a presentation at this level.”