The Vestax PBS-4 is a tool for broadcasting captured audio live onto internet streaming services. It’s ideal for producers of internet radio shows or for webcasting live performances online. Web-based video streaming sites like UStream and Justin.tv offer quick and easy video streaming services, but capturing those performances, editing them, transferring and compressing them can be a chore. This device connects directly to your computer via USB, and converts audio and video in real time. This allows you to set up, plug in and play to a global audience, instantly.
The variety of inputs and available on the PBS-4 allows for some interesting possibilities. In addition to three sets of phono inputs for your audio gear, there are also a pair of XLR / SpeakOn inputs for high quality mics and monitors. With regard to video, you can plug in 4 separate composite RCA inputs, a 15-pin VGA plug, or an HDMI. For on-site monitoring, there’s another pair of RCAs, and a 1/4″ headphone jack on the front. Video can be monitored on a separate display before being sent to your computer, via a pair of composite outputs.
The unit is compact and comfortably laid out, and it weighs less than a kilo, so it’s ideal for webcasting shows at short notice, or from sending out live podcasts or radio shows at short notice from unfamiliar locations. The controls are either short and stubby or totally recessed, so PBS-4 has clearly been designed to travel safely in a laptop bag and arrive intact. It does require an external 6v power supply, so it won’t run on USB bus power alone. This may be something to consider if you’re thinking of buying the PBS-4 for mobile use. Even if you run your laptop from its battery, you will always need a power outlet in order to run the PBS-4.
The audio and video resolutions available are about in line with what you would expect for something designed for producing online content. 16 bit audio and 480p video is passable for live work, but not something you would really look to save for prosperity. It seems a shame when HD has really become our new “Standard” definition, and even the most basic video cameras offer these resolutions, that you need to downgrade video quality in order to share your footage.
The video capabilities are really what elevates this device over a simple audio interface with streaming software. Being able to switch between live camera feeds using the hardware buttons on the device is something that just isn’t seen on consumer equipment at this price. It saves masses of time and disk space, instead of having to record four separate streams and edit them together later, you can flip between different camera angles live as the show is broadcast. Beyond these features, the PBS is still a functional USB audio interface you can use with any DAW. It interfaces directly with UStream’s Producer software, but if you plan to use one of the alternate services, your computer will recognize the PBS-4 as a generic plug-and-play USB webcam and microphone.
At nearly $500, its difficult to judge the overall value of the PBS-4. If you produce podcasts and want to broadcast live shows, it could be ideal for you. However, it is targeted very specifically, due to the relatively low resolutions it is capable of capturing. You’ll never want to use the PSB-4 for anything other than demo recording. If you already have multiple cameras and microphones, chances are you already have some method of connecting them to your computer. While it does one job perfectly, $500 does seem a little steep for something that only serves to make a process slightly simpler.