vMix is a video production suite that I use virtually every day in my professional life. In very simple terms, it allows you to take audio, video, cameras, and microphones, switch between them, layer them on top of one another, and broadcast them to a streaming service. Of course, it does much more, but that’s the basic idea.
The real answer to “What does vMix do” is dependent on the license you get. The full breakdown of licenses, features, and prices are available on the vMix website. Pricing ranges from $0 to $1200, which sounds steep, until you start looking at the functionality you get compared to dedicated hardware switchers like the Blackmagic Designs ATEM or the Newtek Tricaster. For each article I write, I’ll do my best to make a note about which versions a certain post works with. All that being said, anyone can download vMix for free and register for a 60-day demo of the Pro version, which includes all the features, so you’ll at least be able to see what certain features do and decide for yourself if they’re worth the upgrade cost.
The first step is going to be downloading vMix from the vMix website.
Creating a Simple Project
When you finish installing vMix, you’ll be prompted to select a project resolution and frame rate. If you’re not sure what the numbers mean, leave it at the default and click ‘OK’. We’ll be changing these values later to match the project needs later.
With the program open, you’ll see two large black boxes. The one on the right is your program window, which is what’s going live to air. The box on the left is your preview window, which is what you’re cueing up to send to program. The buttons between the two boxes labeled ‘Quick Play’, ‘Cut’, ‘Fade’, etc. are all transitions. For example, cut immediately puts whatever is in preview into program while fade, like the name implies, fades from what’s in program to preview. The rest of the transition effects will be explained in detail later.
The two smaller black boxes in the bottom half are the inputs (cameras, videos, etc.) that are part of the project. Right now they’re blank because we haven’t added any inputs. To do that, find the ‘Add Input’ button at the bottom-left of the screen and click it.
Along the left are all the different input types we can add. We’ll look at every input type in-depth in a later post, but for now, let’s add a video. With ‘Video’ highlighted on the left, click ‘Browse’ in the top-right and locate a video file on your computer. For this example, I’ll be using this stock footage of coffee beans from pixabay.
A show consisting of a single video of beans isn’t very interesting, so let’s add a second input. Click ‘Add Input’ again, and from the options on the left, click ‘Image’. I’ll be using an image that has a mug that we can pretend is the coffee from the earlier video, also from pixabay.
The coffee video is in program, and the image is in preview. There’s a few things we should take note of. First is the green bar above program. We can also see that the thumbnail of the coffee video in the inputs list also has a green bar above it. Once we have more complex projects with a large number of inputs, this will help us see at a glance what inputs are being shown in program. Similarly, preview is noted with an orange bar.
Second, note the black bars on the sides of the image. Most projects you make will have a 16:9 aspect ratio. That is, the width of the project will be 16 units wide and 9 tall. 720p and 1080p are both 16:9. When your input is not the same aspect ratio as your project, these black bars are the result. Technically speaking, the black bars are actually transparent, which can lead to some unwanted effects that we’ll see here in a moment.
Transitions are how we get from one input to another. How we use transitions has a big impact on how the show feels, so there are a good number to choose from. The various transition are accessed from the buttons between the program and preview windows.
We’ll ignore ‘Quick Play’ and start with ‘Cut’. As previously mentioned, this is a sudden transition that immediately pushes whatever is in preview into program.
‘Fade’ is a smooth blending from program to preview. Most effects will have a duration, which is how long it takes for the transition to complete. By default, the duration for Fade is 500 milliseconds, or half a second. Click the ‘Fade’ button to see the effect. If you want to change the duration, click the small triangle next to the ‘Fade’ button and, at the bottom of the menu that opens, change the value to something new. If you want the transition duration to be quicker, lower the value to something like 250. If you want it to be longer, try 1000 or 1500. You probably noticed there are a lot of other transitions in that menu. The four transition buttons that have triangles next to them can all be reassigned to different transitions based on your projects and preferences. Rather than explaining what each one does (which I started to do, but was going to be really boring to read), try each one out yourself.
Merge, Stinger 1, and Stinger 2 are all advanced transition types that require understanding of more complex features of vMix to be able to use, so for now, just know that they’ll be really cool once we get there.
‘FTB’ stands for fade to black, which fades program to black. However, when you click the button, you’ll notice that preview, in fact, does not fade to black. That’s because it’s fading the video to black further down stream. If you’re streaming to Twitch or YouTube, they’ll see that the video has gone black, but we won’t. Why? Because we need to see what we’re doing. If our program window went black we’d effectively be driving blind. Similarly, if we can’t see that program is black, how do we actually know that it is? ‘FTB’ is the only button that, when pressed, turns red to let you know that the final video is currently black. When you click it again, it will fade from black to whatever is in program. Keep in mind that other transitions do not override FTB, and the only way to get your video back is to click ‘FTB’ again. For this reason, I generally don’t use this transition in live productions.
Under the transition buttons are a series of buttons labeled 1-4. These aren’t part of the transitions, so we’ll ignore them for now. Under those is a slider called the T-bar. This allows you to manually control the transition, specifically the first of the four transition buttons that can be changed. We really don’t use this in live productions either, but sometimes if we have a physical control surface with a T-bar, our directors will choose to use this to manually control how long fade transitions last.
Earlier I mentioned that, because one of our images was the wrong aspect ratio for the project, we would see some unwanted effects as a result. If you haven’t seen it already, set the first transition type to fade and use the T-bar to transition from the coffee beans video to the still image of the desk. You’ll notice that, even though we should be fading from beans to the desk, what’s actually happening is that we’re fading the desk over the top of the beans. Remember how I mentioned that the black bars on the sides weren’t actually black, but transparent? Here we can see the effect of that. The video doesn’t disappear until we’ve completed the transition. Until that point, we still see the video playing. This may or may not bother you, but it’s one of the reasons it’s important to have all of your input sources the correct aspect ratio.
Organizing Your Inputs
There are two parts to organizing your vMix project. The first is in your file management. I always start a project by creating a folder with the project name, then creating folders inside of that for audio, video, images, and other assets that the project will need. We do this so it makes it easier to find, replace, or updates files in the project, but also for portability. That is, if we need to backup the project or move it over to another computer, if we keep the project file and all of the assets in the same folder, we only need to move that one folder and vMix will be able to find all the files by itself. If you have some files in your downloads folder, some in your pictures folder, and other on a flash drive, it will be impossible to move your project or reuse it in the future.
The other part of organizing your project is with the tabs built into the input list. All of your inputs will always be visible in the grey tab on the far left, but they can also be placed in the other colored tabs. My workflow is to have cameras put in the red tab, composites (which will be discussed in another post) go in the green tab, video goes into orange, and so on. That being said, remembering which color tab you put something in isn’t very helpful, which is why we also have the option to name the tabs. If you right-click on any of the tabs you’ll get a new window that allows you to rename the tabs to be whatever you want.
I’ll normally label grey ‘Everything’, or just leave it blank. All the rest of the tabs can be used however you see fit. They don’t have to be divided up by input type, though. If you’re doing a show that has multiple segments, you might want to put the inputs relevant to each asset into their own tab. Just know that you can only assign an input to a single tab (other than grey), so if you put something in the red tab, you can’t also put it into purple.
But how do we put the inputs in the tabs? At the bottom-right of each input there’s a cog wheel. The window that appears is the settings for that input, which includes a whack-ton of stuff. For now, focus on the colored squares that match the colored tabs. Click the color of the tab you want that input to be assigned to, then click the ‘X’ in the top-right corner. There is no ‘OK’ or ‘Apply’ button.
You should see that the cog wheel is now the color you selected, and when you click on the tab, it appears there as well as in the grey tab.
I think this is a good place to stop for now. In the next post I’ll go in-depth on all the different input types you can use with your projects, which includes other video streams and remote call-in guests, which is is pretty cool. In the mean time, I’d recommend adding a few more inputs and practicing loading them into preview, then using the various transitions to load them into preview. The ability to quickly find and load inputs into preview will come in handy.