How do you control your concert sound and lighting systems. Having invested all that money in the projectors that are now attached to your trilite rig or ceiling above your house music electro dancefloor or stage curtains, how do you get them to do the things you have seen they are capable of at all these disco technology exhibitions shows? Which controller is going to be the best for you? First the bad news there is not a single golden wonder controller that is the answer to everyone's needs, because simply, everyone's needs are different. As every club differs so do the requirements of the lighting control systems It is basically a case of horses for courses, an individual controller may be the ideal solution for one application but hopeless for another. There are many very clever controllers on the market today, each with its own particular approach to the same basic question how can you interface best between man and machine? This is the basis of controlling your display rig, how to make your particular music to flash strobe effect lights do what you want them to when you want and in the way that you want. All this should be achieved in the easiest and least time consuming way, preferably without costing more than the theatrical lighting systems and without requiring a university degree to operate them.
First define your needs. If you only have basic requirements, obviously you only need a basic controller. That much is easy, but when you get to the more comprehensive lighting system with moving mirror scanners for example, you need to look closely at not only having an intelligent theatre lighting dimmer control system, but also an intelligent operator. A poor operator can make the most fabulous installation of dj strobe egg effects look like an equally fabulous waste of money, and yet conversely, a good operator can make a relatively simple installation look like a million dollars and a sellout of concert ticket sales for the next performance. There are a number of criteria that are most important within the specifications of disco and theatre spotlights controller system. First and foremost is the way in which the unit allows you to access your Martin Professional gobo roboscans. It should be as transparent as possible, and not get in the way of you making the intelligent lighting systems do what you want them to do. The functions of the controller should be simply discernable from the front panel, its controls and labeling and/or any small LCD display screen. Any messages displayed should lead you logically through the steps required for any operation.
Certainly many deejay equipment manufacturers invest much time and money in producing excellent operating manuals, but how often are these lost during the club installation or taken home to read by one operator and forgotten etc. The poor guy who follows often has to work it out for himself This philosophy of front panel and operational design has thankfully been followed by most UK companies, NJD lighting being a notable good example, but in the case of one well established manufacturer in, shall we say another country this is not the situation and an otherwise good controller is often not used to its full potential because many operators are either unaware of the functions available or have not found a way to access them.
One problem with computer controllers is the lack of standardised intelligent dmx USB interfacing terminology for the operating parameters. When is a scene a page or a group of sequences a song? For any operator of more than one controller it can quickly become a difficult tack to remember what we are calling a particular parameter today. The UK is still at the forefront of disco lighting control manufacture, although others are now fast catching up and producing some very elegant control systems. As you read through the following overview of major club lighting control manufacturers, bear in mind that this is a general look at a selection of my dmx lighting control systems and that some of the simplest can also be amongst the cleverest in the way that they allow the all important dj software interface between you and your flasher light controlling led par cans. There is still no automated substitute for a good light operator so the system that best allows him/her to do his/her job is the one for you.
My dmx music flasher light controlling units software system
One key to the future of smart systems lighting control would appear to be software. This has the obvious advantage of being updatable easily as new requirements and technology evolve. Cable Telephone / net Modem communication is now both easy and fast allowing update to be received almost anywhere virtually instantly. Computers are progressively becoming less expensive and more powerful and faster. A number of companies are already producing what are in reality computers in different boxes and with buttons rather than keyboards to access the functions. A discotheque is not really the most suitable environment for a keyboard or mouse but current software control systems can now interface readily via MIDI to more robust music keyboards or to Ethernet dmx lighting desks via 0>10 volt or dj lighting software digital protocols for example, thus providing a more suit¬able mode of access to their powerful facilities.
My dmx musicShow CAD
Show CAD is Designed by Mick Martin and Rowland Hughes of Axon Digital Design Ltd, the team that produced the renowned OSKA. Show CAD is an extremely versatile, powerful software program and slot in hard-ware card combination. The system runs on any normal PC under DOS and will output 1024 DMX channels as standard making it very cost effective for large lighting systems. Other interface cards are available for MIDI, SMPTE time coding, analog in and even dmx controller software files in for slaving to other systems. Two unique features are the libraries of waveform ramps for automatic creation of circular and other geometric movements of scanner mirrors, and the scanner specific templates for easy fixture programming
My dmx Martin Professional 3032 for imagescan and gobo roboscans effects
Martin's 3032 dose harness the muscle of the PC power software created by their development team for a simple to use graphical interface and the expansion card necessary to enable programming of all their products. If you prefer a more traditional interface, you can hook your favourite tactile controller to the 3032 and gain the best of both worlds. Once the hard part
(I.e. the programming) has been done on the 3032 a simple interface hooks up to the intelligent lighting board, meaning you need never touch the 3032 again. You simply allocate 15 channels of your desk to access any number of cues for channel numbers which can run into the thousands. This is done via a simple binary selection of the cue by number which even the most techno phobic can master quickly with a minimum of fuss. By combining faders you can then call on the cue number you want.
Status Cue (from High End Systems USA)
Falling uniquely between the previous category and the next, Lightwave Research's Status Cue combines the controls and features of traditional lighting desks while offering the performance of a dedicated moving light console. Status Cue is a control desk / interface and software package designed to run on a desktop PC under Microsoft Windows to control High End's Cyberlight, Intel abeam and Trackspot fixtures simultaneously. By using USITT DMX-512 protocol, Status Cue can also control other dmx daisy chain wiring compatible lighting fixtures. An interface card which slots into your computer contains most of the system intelligence and provides the cable link between the control desk and fixtures mentioned above. Every console operation can be preformed on the computer through the Status Cue dj software, with or without the console connected. This allows, for example, remote program editing from a portable PC. The control desk is well equipped with rotary pots, sliders, a trackball and groups of specific function buttons, 32 of which can have their functions assigned by the operator to avoid repetitive keystrokes and save valuable programming time. Another handy feature is the top of the desk which lifts to reveal copious storage space for your keyboard and mouse, disks, cigarettes and so on.
Described a little unkindly earlier as "computers in different boxes", these products are self contained control surfaces with integral microprocessor based electronics which offer complete programmability for a wide range of controlled lighting fixtures, particularly moving mirror scanners or intelligent lighting. Whilst still including sophisticated internal software, these controllers have all the front panel controls needed to access their functions as an integral part of the system, as opposed to the software systems above, which require additional interfaces. The range here is immense and the following is only an overview of some of the more popular units available.
Wholehog (distributed by AC Lighting)
Unfortunately not a system aimed at discotheque operation, this system has picked up awards across the boards at its first launch at PLASA 1992. With 6000 DMX channels, you would need a pretty substantial application to make use of the Wholehog cost effective Currently on tour with Phil Collins, Pink Floyd and Sting to name but three Wholehog is generally more appropriate for live / theatrical use. It is mentioned here because it was designed to be as transparent as possible an interface between operator and theatre staging lights. You do not need to adjust your thinking to the system, it is open to function as your creativity demands and all with a minimum of button pushes to do it.
Avolites Rolacue Pearl
This is the latest addition to Avolite's extended family of moving light consoles. With dmx 512 channels, 450 memories, 30 pages, 60 high quality channels faders and 15 simultaneously active playbacks the Rolacue. Channels can be allocated as Highest Takes Precedence or Latest Takes Precedence. Using a disk based personality system also found on Avolites' Diamond and Sapphire control desks, patching of moving lights and colour changers is as simple as patching theatre dimmers. Programming is also easy with Preset Focus buttons giving instant access to positions, colours, gobos, and even intensity without having to touch a wheel or fader. Avolites Three Dimensional Intelligent Tracking System, allowing follow spot type operation of a number of instruments which will track each other. This is especially powerful when sequence programming, as one instrument can be positioned and others requested to point at the same position .The HTP channels facility means that replaying memories and chases with dimmers as well as instrument control channels produces the results you would expect. Recording of memories, chases and sequences is identical to the Sapphire allowing you to load directly from a Sapphire show disc. Memories, chases and sequences can also be linked to appear on different pages.
Enigma Micro (ALS)
Regular readers of our club reviews may well have noticed that the Enigma Micro is specified frequently in British clubs. The standard package includes a well protected control surface, computer interface and VGA colour monitor. Although freely expandable, the Enigma will control as standard 16 moving lights plus 512 channels of other lighting. Dedicated packages are available for Coemar, Clay Paky, Martin and High End luminaries and will communicate with them in their own digital protocols, thus avoiding the need for USB to DMX converters in the case of the latter two. The control surface incorporates a 32 way assignable touch panel. Assisting easy function access is user configurable software and existing owners are able to easily update earlier models. As is the current trend with software system control architecture, scan head moving lights are considered as fixtures and not just a group of channels, making programming significantly faster and the selection of individual projectors for over riding or modifying during operation much simpler. A number of additional options make the Enigma Micro an extremely versatile system adaptable to a wide range of applications.
It has always been ALS policy to design out obsolescence and to achieve this software and hardware developments are available as retrofits which means that a complete refurbishment of a lighting scheme merely requires an upgrade to the Enigma dmx interface control system to access all the latest features. Early Enigma and Micro keyboard panels can be modified to provide the additional switch dimming inputs which are now standard. Processors can also be upgraded to current specification along with the latest self configurable software.
The very latest version has a 2000 channel control capability expandable to 6000. This system comes as standard with two super VGA colour screens and features the brand new software graphics display package personalized for specific control of all the aforementioned "Big four" products. This highly refined software still adheres to the original design concept of fast access to preset programmes and master sequences via a user friendly control panel board.
Size power and price make this unit highly competitive
The arrival of the NJD Merlin at PLASA caused a stir at Earl's Court London town, and as reported in last month's cover story, a number of radical improvements have been introduced since then which should see the new controller take the market by storm. With 256 DMX output channels, 1280 scenes, 64 programs, 16 sliders, 72 touch pads and a joystick, the Merlin's size power and price make it highly competitive. Even more encouraging is the extent to which access and ease of use have been taken into account throughout the design process. All sliders are user assignable and any channel or group of channels can be assigned to the x or y axis of the joystick. Add to this a new NJD electronics innovation, "Sound Animation Programming", a memory card for storage of all scenes and programs plus a dot matrix display showing everything from channel brightness to scene and program names and you'll have some idea of the Merlin's capabilities. The NJD light controlling units also have a huge range of no less than 38 traditional controllers, power packs and interfaces. This is quit a few steps down the road from the range of switers
The Masterpiece has been virtually the industry standard in the UK discotheque industry for many a year now, as data heads who read our Tec spec pages will be well aware of. Available in 48 and 108 channel versions, the Masterpiece was really the first of the current generation of multi capability controllers. The 108 version features 70 touch pads, 25 sliders, and a joystick alongside a four digit display and 108 LEDs. Outputs are Pulsar's own digital protocol PMX and simultaneously standard dmx 512 controller with the first 36 channels also output as 0 to 10 volts analog. Memory can be backed up or programming transferred from one Masterpiece to another via credit card sized "smart cards". Not only is the Masterpiece frequently specified for discotheques, it is also versatile enough to be used in a whole range of applications, also used by the British Broadcasting Corporation BBC for Top of the Pops theatrical rigging and the ministry of sound club. An excellent manual and training video is backed up by a series of training seminars at Pulsar's Cambridge headquarters which are available to existing and potential users alike. These seminars target specific applications in one or two day formats. Generous souls that they are, Pulsar have also recently released a free software upgrade for the Masterpiece. The latest software for the Pulsar Masterpiece 48 is version 1.85, while the latest for the 108 is version 2.0. This provides additional features for scene and scene chase fade times, while joystick velocity allows you to use scans as Follow Spots. Keyboard Action now gives you the possibility of 54 keyboards rather than just 18. Even the earliest Masterpiece can be upgraded simply by exchanging the EPROM. Now with there newest version the pulsar masterpiece 216
Pulsar's Masterpiece 108 is one of the most popular controllers on the market today
Available in five different models with between 1024 and 2048 DMX channels the Aviator will appear at first, to the uninitiated, to be a standard rock desk in application although probably the sexiest looking desk on the road today. Having said that, it must be stressed that Celco have rewritten the book on how desks operate with the Aviator bearing little resemblance to traditional consoles. Again access is the key and moving lights and colour scrollers etc are easy to handle. Celco, in conjunction with Penny and Giles, have developed a new "soft" type of fader for fully digital operation which allowed a large increase in the number of channels without an increase in console size. These faders are belt driven optical encoders that give the flat linear travel of a conventional fader allowing the operator to scroll through a much larger number of channels than there are faders. The Aviator is now making inroads into the discotheque market in the UK and abroad. Although it is an incredibly powerful advanced desk it is relatively easy to use if you can suss out how to store channels in a cue you should be able to work out how to programme all the functions.
"Probably the sexiest looking desk on the road"
Light Processor Integrator
With a long history of manufacturing controllers for a wide variety of dedicated functions, dmx music Light Processor have used their wealth of experience to produce the Integrator, a controller that combines all the functions of numerous smaller units into, as its name suggests, an integrated single multi capability theatrical lighting control system. The Integrator has 256 DMX channel outputs accessible from a grand total of 288 push buttons and touch pads all of which are user programmable so that any output can be assigned to any button or pad. The control of moving lights is simplified by the inclusion of preprogrammed DMX channel assignments for most of the popular moving mirror projectors on the market treating the projectors as fixtures rather than groups of channels. Programming back up is by memory card but the Integrator can also run directly from the memory card without loading its contents into the controller's memory effectively doubling the storage capability of the system. Output is displayed on a matrix of 256 LEDs which simulate the activity of each of the Integrator's output channels.
Disco Italy SGM Regia
Having traded since 1977, SGM are a well established and much respected manufacturer of pinpoint lighting control units Foremost in their range of lighting control products is the Regia, available in models from 8 channel through to the most advanced 256 or 256 / 36 Regia lights at the top of the range Both the 256 and the 256 / 36 have 240 channels and are based on the same architecture the only difference being the number of registers (16 on the latter and 20 on the 256) Both can control 144 dimming channels and 96 scanner channels (6-8 channels for each scanner) The Regia works by organizing all data into four distinct type of libraries a Frame library (containing 200 frames), a Program library containing 20 programs, a Chase library with 20 chases and a Psyco library which stores 20 Psyco settings Dimming channels (no 1 -144) are controlled via Frame, Psyco and Chase Scanner channels (numbered 145 - 240) are controlled by Programs) The Regia also has intelligent light dmx 512 protocol, SGM 256 and RS232 outputs as well as soft patching, working and permanent memory storage facilities Each register fade up time and fade down time can be red programmed using the Rise and Fall commands as can button functions using On/ Off, Flash and Fader, Flash or Fader, Step Pause, Selector and Kill All these features combine to make the Regia a flexible reliable and easy to use control series ideal for most theatrical scenery and rock group applications.
SGM professionaldmx lighting control consoles stand out for their advanced technology, reliability, ease of use and excellent performance. The most suitable lighting control console for every need (live entertainment, club use, theatre application, etc.) can be chosen with the certainty of having made a good choice, as they're manufactured by one of leading companies in entertainment electronics. The SGM range of dmx protocol lighting control consoles consist of:
• REGIA 256/36:240 CHANNELS, 36 PRESETS, DMX 512, RS 232 and SGM 256 outputs.
• REGIA 256:240 CHANNELS, DMX 512, RS 232 and SGM 256 outputs.
• REGIA 24:24 CHANNELS with 24 PRESETS, my dmx interface channel 512 and SGM 256 outputs.
• REGIA 12:12 CHANNELS with12 PRESETS, DMX 512 and SGM 256 outputs.
• REGIA 8:8 CHANNELS, 12 PRESETS, 0/10 V and SGM 256 outputs.
The ideal theatrical backdrops complement for SGM lighting control consoles are the compact, rack-mounting modular power packs, available in the following models:
• P 610/D, single phase/three phase, six 10A channels, inductive and resistive loads, 0/10V, my dmx control 512, RS 232 and SGM 256 inputs.
• P 810/D, single phase/three phase, eight 10A channels, inductive and resistive loads, 0/10 V, my dmx channels 512, RS 232 and SGM 256 inputs.
The range of controllers here is even more immense than the previous section and space allows only a brief overview of some of the products from some of the more established manufacturers. To cover the topic properly would probably take up the next three issues of DM. These controllers are of the single dedicated task variety and most, though by no means all are designed for moving light control system.
Zero 88 Sirius
The Zero 88 Sirius first saw the beginning of its days in Germany at the Frankfurt Musik Messe in the spring of 1988. By the end of the first day Zero 88 had sold over 70 pieces (not bad considering they were £1000 each) and by the end of the 6 day fair, the first 3 months of production had been pre sold. The success continued and the first year's production sold out within 3 months. Zero 88 had obviously caught a tiger by the tail. This initial honeymoon is long over of course, and since then many club system manufacturers have begot "sons of Sirius" and in some cases have improved on the original spec, but seven years on it is still one of Zero 88's bestselling products.
Zero 88 have a wide range of dj controllers suitable for a whole host of applications. Since the year dot, they have always had a "Light master" in their range. Indeed, way back in the mists of time, the company was sometimes known as "Lightmaster". The Lightmaster XL and XLS are particularly suitable for the nightclub industry, using a very different philosophy of operation to the Sirius range. These two latest recipients of the Lightmaster mantle memorize from the sub masters (12 or 24) to pages of memory (9 in all), and these are then recalled on the submasters. A particular point of interest on the XLS is the unique 24 channel auxiliary control section which is particularly useful for scrollers.
Ryger specialise in the intelligent control of stage lighting systems for the discotheque industry and have been manufacturing lighting controllers for over multiple years. Altogether Ryger makes many different dmx music flasher light controlling units ranging from what must surely be the world's smallest 0-10 volt units - the Micro Series to fully programmable systems like the PX12 and the DC I000 They have been particularly active on the lighting control front recently, having released 4 new controllers in the past year alone. The Challenger is an easy to use pre programmed controller dedicated for use with Ryger's Challenger / Discovery range of intelligent lighting fixtures. The Pro Lite Touch Chaser is a professional four channel chaser incorporating sound to light, 32 patterns with auto pattern, manual override and maintenance free touch controlled dimmer for each channel. M2A is an alternative to Ryger's popular MIDI to music flasher light controller that gives 8 0-10v logic outputs controlled from a keyboard or sequencer. Finally, the DC1000 offers fully programmable control of Ryger's Challenger / Discovery concert lighting systems range. Features included in the advanced design of the DC 1000 or "Discovery" controller range from full editing and easy to use operation procedures to 16 individually controllable channels and a keyboard expansion port which will allow owners to keep abreast of future developments.
To round off all the above it is necessary to state once again that this is a brief look at what is huge intelligent lighting software my dmx interface topic. There are many more stage equipment manufacturers than it has been possible to cover here, all with excellent products. If you are at SIB this year, you'll find a host of controllers from almost as many staging led par cans and scanning effect manufacturers on show, companies like Anytronics with their cost effective range, MA concert lighting Technology with their excellent Scan Commander and SGM with the popular Regia 256. Most of the companies mentioned here have much more to their range of controllers than we have been able to review and all will be more than happy to demonstrate their products. Nothing beats getting your hands on a theater stage controller to really get the feel of it and how it works, and That’s what exhibitions are all about happy hunting for your pc dmx controller and theatrical lighting dimmers.