Entry-level Lighting Consoles

Published: WORSHIP

Entry-level Lighting Consoles

Entry-level Lighting Consoles - In the last issue of Worship AVL Asia we discussed the last thing in the lighting chain – the lights. This time we’ll focus on the equipment used to control the lights

In the last issue of Worship AVL Asia we discussed the last thing in the lighting chain – the lights. This time we’ll focus on the equipment used to control the lights

Commonly referred to as the lighting console, desk or board, the lighting control system is central to the operation of the lights. While there is a wide range of options, ranging from rudimentary control of a basic lighting system, to extremely complex and sophisticated systems for large-scale events and productions, we will limit our discussion to ‘entry-level’ lighting control systems that will control standard lights but include functionality to control automated luminaries as well. Lighting can help to create a visually dynamic worship experience by reinforcing moods or highlighting a specific area on the platform for a drama or supporting music. Control of a lighting system is also necessary for video, IMAG, webcast, or archiving purposes.

Lighting controllers are designed to address different needs, be it control of architectural, theatrical or entertainment lighting systems. Martin Professional controllers product manager Paul Pelletier explains: ‘Architectural controls usually have a form that fits 19-inch rackmount or DIN rail systems. Their lighting functionality is kept as simple as possible, while their ability to be triggered from external sources and scheduling features are usually extended far more than theatre and entertainment controls.

Entertainment controllers have many functions as they are used in a wide variety of situations from touring, festival, and one-off shows to corporate events. They are designed to be programmed quickly and simply, and offer a high level of flexibility to allow a show to be improvised in a live situation. They are also used to programme complex shows using moving-lights, conventional lighting and other devices such as media servers.

Theatre controllers offer a simpler set of features than entertainment controllers, and focus on direct access to dimmer channels and stacking cues in ‘cue lists’. Based on command lines, they can be programmed very fast using a series of keystrokes on the main keypad. Linear faders allow manipulation of cue lists using an A/B crossfade method. Control of moving lights is usually rather limited in a theatre desk.

Ari Senator, marketing communication manager for Compulite puts it another way: ‘Architectural control involves lighting spaces, walls and buildings, and typically has a more static and “predictable” nature. It typically involves preset cues that can be modified based on time of the day, people entering, other types of sensor, or manually by triggering a preset cue [lighting state].’

Theatrical control typically involves a single sequence of lighting states (cues) that is pre-programmed to be run by an operator who triggers it based on the pace of events taking place on the stage. It allows full intervention and improvisation/alterations when the operator requires.

With entertainment control for concerts, shows and TV, some of the scenes on the stage are usually pre-programmed but the level of improvisation and live operation required is much greater. The programmer or operator on the console uses live control of luminaires and responds to unpredicted events that occur on the stage.

In church

Some churches that are using a basic lighting system, are likely to want to get something that will control their current equipment but also have the ability to upgrade or expand, including adding the potential to control automated lighting. In this case, Martin Professional’s Paul Pelletier suggests the use of an entertainment controller as a good way to start: ‘It will do conventional lighting and later can accept moving lights,’ he points out. ‘Choosing a system that offers modularity is a wise choice in this situation. Parts of the system can be added as needed.’

The processing power available in contemporary lighting controllers is immense, and practically all of the lighting consoles available today are laden with features and functionality packaged in relatively small form factors, but what are some of the key things to make sure you look for when considering a new lighting console? Jands lighting control specialist, Alex Mair, says: ‘Possibly the most important aspect to consider is how easily your operators, who may not be lighting professionals, can learn and use the controller. Most lighting controllers are command-line based systems, which require countless hours of training and practice to master.’

Compulite’s Ari Senator offers a list some of the things he deems important:

  • Ability to program cues and cue lists
  • Ability to independently define and control new fixtures
  • Ability to control moving lights
  • Flexible tactile interface: encoders, trackball, sub-masters and faders, providing convenient access to live control and playback
  • At least one external monitor with configurable views and windows to provide different views of the lighting rig
  • Redundancy – does the console enable to select fixtures via editor, touchscreen or buttons/faders on the console?
  • Easy, flexible utilities to create and modify the patch
  • Faster programming using libraries to store focus, colour and beam (FCB) parameters.
  • Flexible and customisable views and controls to program and playback a show
  • Multiple operating modes enabling manual or automated work patterns (2-preset; wide; context modes) depending on the necessary type of control
  • Soft patching
  • Solid documentation and quick-start guide
  • Console manufacturer’s reputation, track record, and support

Of course, many churches have and use equipment that would be considered ‘old’ in other professional applications. And frequently, equipment is donated by members of the church or received from other churches that have upgraded their systems. It’s important to make sure your new lighting console is ‘backward compatible’ with older equipment, Technilux head lighting designer/system sales manager, Tony Hansen, elaborates, ‘In the late 1980s a protocol was developed to intercommunicate with different manufacturers’ lighting gear. This protocol, DMX512, is still in use today in several different formats, but they are all still compatible. Look for a 3-pin or 5-pin XLR connector on the lights and a designation for DMX. If this is present, you can use any other DMX controller to run them. There are other protocols including AMX, PMX and MPX – to name a few – that are not directly compatible with DMX, but an adapter can be purchased in most cases. The bigger concern is whether your new console will have a library for the older fixture. This is a very important question for your dealer.’

‘A decent console should enable the user to flexibly define and add definitions/personalities for any fixture,’ Ari Senator says. ‘These definitions enable a user to build a personality for the device – which DMX channel operates respective “attributes” of the fixture (gobo, colour, filter, pan/tilt…) The device definition can be done by the console manufacturer or, if the console is flexible enough, the user himself can create or modify it.’

As with any technology, there is terminology associated with lighting control that is unique, Alex Mair and Tony Hansen explain what the term ‘Universe’ means in lighting lingo. First Alex Mair, ‘A Universe refers to one DMX512 signal line. Any one DMX512 Universe allows control of up to 512 channels, with each channel typically controlling a function in a light (dimmer, colour…). To control more than 512 channels, you must use another universe.’ Tony Hansen adds: ‘This is all part of the DMX terminology, a Universe is a single output stream of DMX consisting of up to 512 control channels. A console will come with one output at least but many will have multiple, up to 64 or more in some cases. Each additional Universe simply allows you to control more light fixtures. Beware however that moving lights require more than one channel from a Universe and cannot span multiple Universes. The number of channels required is dictated by how many features or functions are available for control in one light. A simple dimmer will use one channel per light to control the intensity. A moving light will take several to dozens of channels to control the intensity, colour, pattern, position and so on. I have seen moving lights that require 36 or more channels each. DMX can be a little confusing and there are many excellent books and articles written about it for clarification.’

For those wanting to know more, either about specific features and benefits of a particular lighting console or looking to increase their general knowledge, manufacturers websites are a great place to start – as well as consulting with your local sales agent or lighting designer.

Terms and definitions

Faders: Faders are the sliders on a lighting controller used to control the intensity of the lights or a group of lights. They can also be assigned to different functions on a moving light for manipulation. This will be a function of the unique controller though.

Bump buttons are usually located above or below a fader to instantly snap a light to full for effect or rhythm purposes. These will allow the operator to ‘play’ the lights along with a mood or music.

Cues are stored lighting looks that can be called up during a performance for a complete lighting look without having to set all the faders each time. Cues will be called different things and handled differently by any light board that is complex enough to handle memories or stored looks. Some consoles or boards are completely manual and will not store any looks.

Chase: A chase is a series of scenes or cues running at equal time and fade.

Stack: A stack is like a cue list, – a series of cues linked to each other with various fade times and delays.

Presets: Portions of a scene saved as a preset and then used in many cues; when updated all cues containing this preset reference are then updated.

Macros: A series of recorded commands

Effect Generator: Allows for quick animation of any feature of a moving light or dimmer channel without the need to create complex sequences or chases.

Tracking: Most desks today use tracking; it simply means that cues only contain changes from their previous cues. It allows faster changes and saves precious space in memory.

Crossfades are the transitions from one lighting state to another. It is the period where one state is ‘fading out’ and a new state is ‘fading in’. Jands Vista uses a timeline to control the time a crossfade takes to complete (see attached Vista Screenshot)

While there are many makes and models of lighting consoles available, a few to consider would be; the SGM Pilot 3000, Martin Professional Maxxyz Compact, Jands Vista S1, or the Compulite Dlite line.

Published in Worship AVL Asia Winter 2010