The art of DJing has evolved significantly since the Technics SL-1200MKII turntable entered the scene in the early 1970s. For years, 12-inch singles and turntables have dominated the industry, becoming a ubiquitous symbol of DJs, nightclubs and the clubbing subculture. As technology has developed and the dominance of CD technology has been established throughout the music industry, new tools have begun to revolutionize the DJ world. Recent years have seen the advent and evolution of DJ CD players into an essential component in the arsenal of the modern disc jockey. Software programs such as Stanton FinalScratch and Ableton Live have further expanded the possibilities, leaving some to wonder what the next phase in the history of DJing will be.
Video has long been an integral part of the industry, though in the past, its role in the clubs has mostly been as a supplemental visual display, projected onto screens for eye candy while the clubbers dance to the sounds generated from the DJ booth. Now, through the amalgam of DVD and DJ-CD technology, it is possible for an artist to control both the sound and the visuals from the same machine, thus opening the door to the next generation of artists: the VDJ. Numark is looking to corner this emerging market by offering an array of products designed to work perfectly together as a scalable audio/visual performance system.
BUILT FOR THE ROAD
For this review, Numark provided all of the necessary equipment to embark on a new career as a VDJ: the DVD01 dual-deck DVD player and controller, the AVM01 audio/video mixer and the VM03 LCD monitor system. The entire package is designed to be rackmountable, and, luckily, I had an extra 10-space rack lying around that was sufficient to hold the DVD01 (two spaces for the deck and three for the controller) and VM03 (three spaces). The AVM01 requires six rackspaces, but it also has rubber feet so it can be used without the included rackmounts if desired. All of the required cables are included with the components.
The AVM01 connects to the DVD01 via three RCA cables (audio left and right and video) per channel and has two additional S-Video inputs for live camera video. The mixer outputs to the VM03 through single RCA composite video cables. The proprietary 8-pin cables that link the DVD01 unit to its controller are only about three feet long, so it is necessary to keep the two parts close to each other. Each piece of this rig requires separate power; the AVM01 uses a 12V, 1A adapter that connects to the wall via a standard three-prong AC cable, another of which is required for the DVD01. A universal 12V, 1.7-amp power supply provides power to the 5-inch LCD monitors of the VM03. It is important to note that the power switch for the mixer is located on the back of the unit, so if you plan to rackmount it, you need to make sure that it is accessible.
Each piece is designed to function independently as well as part of the full system. The DVD01 has built-in video switching so that it can function without a video mixer. The VM03 has two composite video inputs with built-in video switch per screen, allowing view of as many as six sources. The entire unit has a tilt adjustment of as high as 96 degrees toward the viewer if tabletop-mounted, a feature unique to this design. The AVM01 is marketed as an audio/video mixer designed specifically for DJ and music production, and as such, it has two video effects sections, separate crossfaders for audio and video and additional ¼-inch microphone and RCA line inputs. The only feature that I would really like to see is separate EQ controls and faders for the audio. As a DJ, I really use these more than a crossfader; however, this package is about a lot more than simply mixing audio.
Setting up the entire system only took a few minutes, and to get a feel for things, I hooked up the mixer to my home theater system. I powered everything up and was immediately attracted to the lighted blue buttons on the controller and the contrasting red lights on the mixer and deck. The controller's LED is green, so everything is nice and visible in a dark environment. The only problem I could foresee in a club would be that the mixer controls are silk-screened in black on a silver background or vice versa, which is fine in good lighting but will definitely require some additional lighting to make it discernible in a dark, smoky venue.
A Dance Vision music-video DVD was included with the DVD01, a sample provided by the ScreenPlay VJ Pro-Series subscription service (www.screenplayvj.com). I inserted the DVD into the deck, and the first video came up on both the LCD monitor and on my television. I hit Play and began trying out the features on the controller. All of the buttons have a nice, solid action and make a satisfying, subdued click when pressed. The pitch fader feels smooth and has a detent in the center. Unfortunately, there is neither a percentage indicator to show how much the fader has been moved nor an automatic bpm counter, which are both features I prefer to have available. The pitch responds fairly quickly to adjustments, but without some kind of confirmation of the amount of alteration that is being made, it is a bit difficult to beat-match the audio between two sources. There is also a slight lag between the time the Play button is pressed and the start of playback, which increases the difficulty of beat matching. I did not have time to experiment with this rig long enough to get familiar with the lag, though I imagine that with some practice, it would be possible to anticipate it correctly enough to beat-mix two DVDs accurately. Another spot in which the playback lag is evident is in the loop feature. The DVD01 is advertised as having “nonseamless” looping, which makes looping the video source with audio playing skip a few beats during playback. I found that it was preferable to loop the second video source while keeping the main audio playing continuously.
It is useful to have the VM03 LCD monitors for referencing the video signals while you're mixing. The displays are crisp and detailed, and they allow you to view the unprocessed video before it passes through the mixer. I used the left and right monitors to view sources 1 and 2 and connected the output of the mixer to the center monitor so that I could view what was being sent to the main screen from my control area. This would be particularly useful in a club setting where the VDJ was unable to see the video screens or if you don't want to keep looking away from the console.
LIGHT IT UP
The real fun began when I started investigating the features on the AVM01. There are two effects buses, labeled A and B, each with identical dedicated controls, and you can select any one of the four inputs to pass through them. The two buses are mixed through the video crossfader and then sent to the two master outputs, which can be either composite RCA or S-Video. I experimented with the various effects — Paint, Strobe, Mosaic, Invert and Still — which are activated by pressing the FX On button. The first three effects each have three levels of intensity, which are cycled through by repeatedly pressing their respective buttons. Paint, sometimes called “posterization,” adds color to the existing video so that the result is almost like a painting or cartoon version of the original. The first level adds just a hint of color to the edges of objects, but on the third level, the colors are almost entirely superimposed over the video. This is great for adding a funky dimension to run-of-the-mill video sources. Strobe creates a stuttering effect, with each level skipping longer and longer between frames. This stop-action mode adds a groovy sense of motion and almost seems to speed up the images. Mosaic pixelates the images, breaking them up into tiles of color that abstractly represent the source material. On the first level, the base image is still discernible, but on levels two and three, the effect is profound, appearing as big blocks of color moving around the screen, with the original image hardly recognizable. Invert creates a negative image in which black and white are reversed, and Still freezes the image on the screen. The effects are slick and professional, and they're great when combined.
You can use a multitude of techniques to mix the two video sources. The video crossfader doubles as an auto-fade speed control. Once you engage the Auto Fade On/Off button, you then select how fast you want the fade to occur using the crossfader, which is simply labeled Fast to Slow. The fade time ranges from about half a second to about five seconds. Pressing the Start button directly above the crossfader engages the Auto Fade. The options for fade modes are Key, Wipe, Mix and PIP (Picture in Picture), which are used in concert with the Function buttons and the joystick to generate a wide variety of fades. Key Mode activates the Luma Key and Blue Key functions, which are controlled by four Function buttons: Source A, Source B, Blue Key and Luma Key. The Source buttons select which bus receives the primary signal; Blue Key replaces the blue areas on the screen with a secondary image whereas Luma Key starts by replacing black areas and progresses to lighter shades depending on the position of the crossfader. Wipe mode creates a sweep from one source to the other, and using the Function buttons, you can create myriad wipes. They include simple left-to-right or diagonal fades and geometric (circle, oval, diamond and rectangle) fades that can be moved around the screen with the joystick and resized using the crossfader. Using the circular fade, the joystick and the crossfader together, you can make the secondary image spiral around the screen as it continually gets smaller, almost like it's going down a drain. With a little imagination, the possibilities are endless. The last two modes are a bit more simple but still useful; Mix mode selects a smooth fade from one source to another, and PIP mode simply inserts a small screen of the secondary source over the primary video.
This package certainly has a lot to like. It is well-constructed, feature-packed and a great bargain, especially considering that other DJ DVD players on the market can cost more than this entire bundle. There are a few improvements that I would like to see made in the DVD01, particularly regarding the playback lag and the lack of a percentage indicator on the pitch control. These issues made it difficult for me to beat-match two DVDs, which may or may not be an issue for you depending on what kind of music you play. If you don't need to worry about beat matching, then this is an excellent, relatively inexpensive package that will provide you with all of the tools necessary to enter into the next generation of DJing — or, rather, VDJing.
DVDJ rig > $1,150, VM03; $1,140, AVM01; $1,099, DVD01
Pros: Solid construction. Great features. Attractive, affordable package.
Cons: Nonseamless looping. Playback lag. No indicator for pitch-control adjustments. Power switch on back of mixer.