UltraStudio 4K Mini – Not For Streamers

The UltraStudio 4K Mini from Black Magic Design is a small Thunderbolt-based interface that supports analog and digital inputs and outputs up to 4K.  While very expensive, the specs made it seem as if it could take the place of many devices.  I spent a few months testing one that a friend let me borrow and while it performed very well on both an (Intel) Mac and Windows PC, it was clearly not designed with streamers in mind and most people would want to choose other options.  Which is fair, as that’s not how it was marketed.  More info after the link…

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I think it’s best to start with who I think this device is for:  Someone with a high budget, familiar with the BlackMagic world of devices and codecs, who needs one single box to complete multiple tasks:  Record your vocals via the XLR interface, capture video via HDMI (up to 4K), Component, Composite and SDi.  It’s got HDMI and SDi video outputs as well.  And you can even use it as an audio interface and output to studio monitors.  Basically, this is for the person who doesn’t have the space for 4 or 5 interfaces and needs something small and Thunderbolt to get the job done – One input at a time.  And that’s my first complaint (as a streamer) about this box…

You can mix and match inputs, but only one audio and one video input can be accessed simultaneously (at least in OBS).  So, if you want to use the HDMI input to capture the output of your camera and the XLR input for your mic – No problem.  I recorded the weekly podcasts this way and it worked perfectly.  Unfortunately, that also means you can’t use the HDMI video input + HDMI audio input at the same time as the XLR input…so, no game streaming + mic input in one device.  At least I didn’t find any way to do this in OBS, or in their bundled software.

I then tried using it as my main audio interface for my PC, with my studio monitors connected to the analog outputs.  It worked, but with one bizarre omission:  The knob on the right doesn’t control volume (you need to use Windows / Mac software controls).  One of the main features of an audio interface is the ability to twist a knob for volume and this “control” knob does nothing when the menu isn’t activated. This might seem like nitpicking, but not even having that as an option was strange and felt like a mistake – When the menu isn’t activated, it’s just useless.

As for compatibility, this only worked with “broadcast TV signals”.  So, no 240p support into the analog inputs and no VCR support into composite without a Time Base Corrector.  The HDMI input worked perfectly with the RT5x in Triple Buffer (1 frame of lag) mode, but not with the OSSC.  Also, I couldn’t get loopback working for the analog inputs (probably the same one-device-at-a-time limitation), so I wasn’t able to run MD Fourier testing.  One very cool bonus, is the LCD panel will show you a preview of the video you’re feeding into it, which definitely came in handy!

So, if you have a big budget and desk space is an issue for you, maybe this is still for you?  If this was a $300 device, I’d be gushing over it and making excuses for it’s shortcomings…but at $1000, I really wouldn’t recommend it for most of us.  But once again, this was never marketed towards streamers, only video production professionals.  I just figured there were at least a few more people out there who saw it and wondered how it performed, so I wanted to review it.  I’d absolutely suggest the MOTU M4 and Live Gamer Bolt instead for streamers who need external devices, as you’ll get almost the same functionality at half the price…with a lot more retro compatibility.  Or the MOTU and Live Gamer 4K if you’re using a PC.

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