Video DJing, Part 3: Why You Should Take The Digital Route

Phil Morse | Founder & Tutor
Read time: 5 mins
Last updated 4 April, 2018


MixVibes VFX
VFX Control from MixVibes: A thoroughly modern video DJing software/hardware combination that doesn’t cost the earth but packs in features that would have set you back tens of thousands just a few years back.

While video or visual DJing has been around for a while, it won’t surprise you to learn that, just like with audio DJing, the arrival of digital is really shaking things up.

In this week’s instalment of our eight-part video DJing series, we’re going to show you how we got to where we are today, and why digital offers you the simplest, cheapest and most powerful way to get started. (And that goes for whether you’re wanting to use video to add something extra to your DJ sets in the shape of effects, branding, live camera feeds and so on, or you want to DJ with music videos.)

Hardware video DJing

Looking back 10 to 20 years, I recall clearly two types of video DJing. There was visual DJing at raves – fractals and other visuals being projected onto big screens by the visual jockeys of the day, from early computers or video tape. Then there were the video bars, with DJs or just video jukeboxes playing the pop videos of the day across mega screens throughout commercial venues.

With the arrival of DVD, DJing “properly” with music videos and with added visuals came a step closer. Pioneer were on it early with their DVJ-X1 back in 2004, later introducing their current video DJing hardware, the VDJ-1000 (which looks very similar to its CDJ player but adds DVD capability) and the SVM-1000 audio/video mixer.

With this system, the aim was to put audio and video into the same mixer, offering the DJ/VJ the chance to play either audio only from the players and add visuals from the mixer, or to play actual music videos. You could assign video functions to the same controls you use for audio, so for instance the EQs could affect elements of video as well, the crossfader could perform video fades and wipes, loop rolls also affected video and visuals, filters could simultaneously blur video, and so on.

Rave projections
Fractal-style rave projections, Hereford, UK, 1993. Pic: The Grifter

More importantly, the SVM-1000 had a touch screen and a built-in visualiser, allowing the DJ to add computer-generated video effects, text and so on too their performance, with beat-synced movement – cubes, diamonds, ripples, pulsating coloured lines and lots of other trippy variations were suddenly easy to add to a performance, even if that performance was 100% audio only.

Finally, the Pioneer unit allowed the addition of still JPEG images, which could be cycled through as slide shows, and with the use of the touchscreen to manipulate them, they could be multiplied and moved around the screen.

With the Pioneer system, video could be put on its own channel away from audio too, meaning that as long as you mastered the system and were practised, you could DJ with the same pair of hands, from the same mixer, using either audio plus visuals or music videos, and mix it all together professionally and seamlessly.

This video shows Sander Kleinenberg performing on exactly this system three years ago at London’s Ministry of Sound:


Drawbacks? Well, you won’t get any change from US$11,000 for two players and a mixer, and that’s before you’ve bought any other gear. Furthermore, you’re tied to physical DVDs, which in itself can feel like a drawback in a digital, virtual world. Of course, there is other video hardware out there: Numark has a cheaper, simpler take on an audio/video mixer (the Numark AVM02) for which you can bolt on a screen (Numark VM03 Mk II).

Pioneer's SVM-1000
The Pioneer SVM-1000: about the price of a small car.

There are the popular Roland / Edirol V-4 and Roland /Edirol V-8 video mixers; and karaoke DJs have for many years used video equipment in their shows (although you wouldn’t want to try beatmatching on some of those DVD players). This type of hardware represented a significant leap forward for video DJing – but just as two CDJs and a decent mixer can cost you US$5000 or more but you can do the same thing in software for a tenth of that outplay, so it is with video DJing. Digital is blowing away the need for expensive hardware, and bringing all of this into the hands of the masses.

And while we’re going to recommend some hardware to you later on (after all, just like DJing itself, just because you’ve “gone digital” it doesn’t mean you won’t want some kind of hardware control), what none of the systems we’ve talked about so far do is use software as their heart and soul. Which is what digital video DJing is all about…

Digital video DJing

So, you want a go – right? What we need to do is find a way of getting some of the great elements that video DJing promises (custom titles, visual, music videos, effects, even live video feeds of your decks or crowd) into our DJ performances using what we are used to DJing on already – laptops, software and controllers.

There are so many benefits to forgetting the hardware route and doing it this way:

  • It’s cheaper – You might not actually have US$11,000 knocking around to see if video DJing may be for you. Why not use software and a modern, powerful laptop to shave thousands off the price of experimenting with video DJing?
  • You can keep dedicated hardware to a minimum – Never mind the cost, if you can use your existing equipment to do video DJing, you don’t need to add extra pieces of gear. It is perfectly possible to turn up at a venue and video DJ with gear you can carry in a backpack, just like with “normal” DJing (assuming you’re not bringing your own screens and projectors, of course!)
  • You get to DJ the way you always have – Why switch back from digital to hardware just because you want to experiment with video, when it’s not necessary? By using a digital video DJing set-up, you can retain software DJing just like you do now, you can still buy your music online instantly, you keep the ability to instantly search and load from your digital collection, and so on. It just makes sense to keep it digital

Respecting the roots…

Before we plough on, though, I’d like to make one thing clear: Just like with audio DJing, we need to respect the roots here.

TV production
Things we’re going to use without a second thought were just a few years ago confined to professional production environments. We have yesteryear’s pros to thank for helping us get to where we are today with this stuff.

The rave visual jockeys of 20 years ago with their carloads of analogue equipment, for instance, paved the way for some of the stuff we’re going to look at in the coming weeks in this series. The revolutionary video jukeboxes kickstarted today’s digital video pool and music video DJing systems. Karaoke guys, animators, TV production professionals: Much of what digital can do today was originally scoped out by these guys.

At the same time, let’s remember what we’re trying to do here: We’re trying to let you, the digital DJ, add some video capabilities to what you do – minimum expense, minimum fuss, minimum extra work. Basic results that you can build on if you find it’s for you.

So digital is the way we are going to go, We’ll look at ways of adding video and visual elements to your performances using laptops and even iPads. Hardware will be small, portable and minimal. You’ll be able to start messing around with video for less money, and thus with less commitment. It’s a young discipline too, and by operating in the digital realm, you’ll be right on the cutting edge where the exciting stuff is happening.

Next week…

Next week we’re going to start looking at the nuts and bolts – what software and hardware you can use for digital video DJing, how much it all costs, and what you can expect to do with it.

Check out the other parts in this series:

Are you already using some kind of digital video DJing software or software / hardware combination? What are you doing with it? We’d love you to share your experiences in the comments.

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