Advice on new controller for legacy NSI dimmers

garyvp

Active Member
Our theater has effectively relied upon a 24 dimmer NSI kit consisting of 3 x 8 channel x 2.4 kw dimmer packs controlled via an NSI 7524 programmable controller. Communication is via NSI multiplex. Our instruments are all incandescent Fresnel and ellipsoidal 6xN units plus some par cans - old world but well maintained. No movers or LEDS.

We have a new lighting designer who has vast experience in more sophisticated lighting environments who loves our theater. I have to say that she has mastered out space and equipment and her lighting has been fabulous.

She is recommending that we upgrade the control board to something far more sophisticated and with more simple queue management - more computer-like controls. The dimmers and instruments would stay.

Any recommendations?

TJCornish

Well-Known Member
There are lots of potential board choices depending on budget and what you want to do more specifically. Something like an ETC Element may be a good starting point.

Use a box such as this to go from the DMX output of your new board to your existing MPX dimmers

BillConnerFASTC

Well-Known Member
TJ makes a good suggestion of the Element, probably the most base config for just 24 dimmers, especially if you have a range of different lighting designers. Hard to beat the Eos platform for many different theatre folk. Might even look at Nomad for more power, less desk. If you want to be a little more limiting in one regard, the Cognito seems to be very much liked by people that end up with it, but its strengths seem to be more focused on movers and LEDs, which seem like a long ways in your future, at least measured in the life of a console. Pricewise hard to be the ColorSource but kind of different, not as well "embraced", and again less dimmer focused.

I'm sure there are others. You need a screen and as your designer says, cue management (I hope she said cue and not queue. ), and I'm guessing as many cueing options as possible.

derekleffew

Resident Curmudgeon
Senior Team
... a 24 dimmer NSI kit consisting of 3 x 8 channel x 2.4 kw dimmer packs ... Communication is via NSI multiplex. ...
Your only major (and it's not that major) obstacle is getting the dimmers to listen to DMX512 rather than Microplex. Two protocol converter s have already been cited. I'll add the NSI/Leviton IF-501 (be sure to get the correct flavor--you want DMX in/Microplex out). See also https://www.controlbooth.com/threads/converting-dmx-to-micro-plex.14458/ .

BillConnerFASTC

Well-Known Member
I can't know and you may not either if there is any possibility of adding LEDs or movers in the next five years, but if not likely, I like the strategy of a good used console that is not so LED aware for the economy - very low cost - and not feel that when you fo get LEDs and/or movers in 5 years the console is a little behind. We don't buy computers for what they'll do in 5 years.

TheaterEd

Renaissance Man
Fight Leukemia
I can't know and you may not either if there is any possibility of adding LEDs or movers in the next five years, but if not likely, I like the strategy of a good used console that is not so LED aware for the economy - very low cost - and not feel that when you fo get LEDs and/or movers in 5 years the console is a little behind. We don't buy computers for what they'll do in 5 years.
Then again, it's hard to get money for new LED's when you don't have a board that can run them. If you spend the money on a LED friendly board now and it's a heck of a lot easier to fund LED's in the future.
I personally just put a Colorsource in a 28 dimmer community theater with a couple LEDs and Everyone has been a big fan. Manual faders make programming so much easier and you have room to grow while still being half the price of an element. It does most of the advanced things that I need it for, and is still simple enough that I have an 8th grader trained to light the children's theater programs.

I mean, you can get a colorsource 40 and 10 blizzard hotboxes for the same or less than an element.

BillConnerFASTC

Well-Known Member
Then again, it's hard to get money for new LED's when you don't have a board that can run them. If you spend the money on a LED friendly board now and it's a heck of a lot easier to fund LED's in the future.
I personally just put a Colorsource in a 28 dimmer community theater with a couple LEDs and Everyone has been a big fan. Manual faders make programming so much easier and you have room to grow while still being half the price of an element. It does most of the advanced things that I need it for, and is still simple enough that I have an 8th grader trained to light the children's theater programs.

I mean, you can get a colorsource 40 and 10 blizzard hotboxes for the same or less than an element.

Without LEDs, the Express on Ebay for $300 would be just fine for 24 dimmers. I don't believe this is a school and I don't believe they have much money and I don't believe they'll be buying LEDs anytime soon. I get the sense it's more of a semi-pro storefront theatre and - unlike a school - they all take a great deal of responsibility in being frugal. My experience suggests in this case, pending Gary's confirmation, the price difference between a used Express and a Colorsource 40 -$300 vs $2500 or so - is a big deal for them. And I'm still not sure a software based console isn't the answer. Your solution is probably a fine one for$5000+, though personally not a fan of Blizzard lights and not sure the Colorsource is NYC lighting designer friendly (familiarity).

TheaterEd

Renaissance Man
Fight Leukemia
I get the sense it's more of a semi-pro storefront theatre and - unlike a school - they all take a great deal of responsibility in being frugal.

Agreed, that's why it's even harder to come back in five years and get money for another lighting board. "Didn't we just get a new one?"

All I'm saying is, a band aid type solution only inhibits their ability to grow when you're talking about a board of directors approving spending.
I just don't think it's a great idea to 'upgrade' to a 20 year old used board. The Element is Way too much for this application, and the CS is very powerful and easy to learn. If their ready to spend, then do it right the first time and they can not worry about it for another decade.

I'm still not sure a software based console
The people who use the space are already familiar with a board that uses faders, so if you take that away from them there could be issues. I'm thinking about the retired volunteers that come in to paint the set and need to get some lights on. Then again, Gary is in IT so he could probably put together a nice Nomad set up.

As for the NY community not being colorsource savvy, give them an hour with internet access to tutorials and they will have this thing running any show you throw at them. It's incredibly easy to set up and run. Plus the effects engine in it comes in handy quite a bit.

microstar

Well-Known Member
Agreed, that's why it's even harder to come back in five years and get money for another lighting board. "Didn't we just get a new one?"

All I'm saying is, a band aid type solution only inhibits their ability to grow when you're talking about a board of directors approving spending.
I just don't think it's a great idea to 'upgrade' to a 20 year old used board. The Element is Way too much for this application, and the CS is very powerful and easy to learn. If their ready to spend, then do it right the first time and they can not worry about it for another decade.

The people who use the space are already familiar with a board that uses faders, so if you take that away from them there could be issues. I'm thinking about the retired volunteers that come in to paint the set and need to get some lights on. Then again, Gary is in IT so he could probably put together a nice Nomad set up.

As for the NY community not being colorsource savvy, give them an hour with internet access to tutorials and they will have this thing running any show you throw at them. It's incredibly easy to set up and run. Plus the effects engine in it comes in handy quite a bit.

My local community theatre has been running a dozen RGB LED's on an Express for several years with no problems, including an occasional I-cue and gobo rotator. The OP's board of directors may indeed think that $300 vs.$2500 is not pocket change. Explained in the context as an "interim step" to improve ease of use, control, and more channels, reasonable people would probably agree. Someone might more easily donate $300 vs.$2500. It just depends and is simply another option.

TheaterEd

Renaissance Man
Fight Leukemia
My local community theatre has been running a dozen RGB LED's on an Express for several years with no problems, including an occasional I-cue and gobo rotator. The OP's board of directors may indeed think that $300 vs.$2500 is not pocket change. Explained in the context as an "interim step" to improve ease of use, control, and more channels, reasonable people would probably agree. Someone might more easily donate $300 vs.$2500. It just depends and is simply another option.
It definitely is, I'm not saying you can't get something that is serviceable for cheap, I'm saying if you are in a position to get something new this is my suggestion.

Might be worth noting that his current board came out around the same time as the express. Yeah, I like the express better, but it still feels like a lateral move rather than an upgrade. Feel free to go with the express, but make sure you stock up on floppy disks and save three back ups...

BillConnerFASTC

Well-Known Member
Yeah, I suppose trading a 2000 Yugo for a 2000 BMW could be called a lateral move.

TheaterEd

Renaissance Man
Fight Leukemia
Yeah, I suppose trading a 2000 Yugo for a 2000 BMW could be called a lateral move.
Replacement parts are equally difficult to find, and you may have to import them. I'd take a 2017 Kia over a 2000 BMW. Especially with all the salt damage we get in these parts .

Seriously though, how many of us have lost a show to a bad floppy disk, or read error. Hope you had a back up, and a back up of the back up, and a master emergency busking back up. It's a storage device that is literally marketed as vintage. Yeah, $300 is a great price, but a 2000 BMW that's been a daily driver for the past decade and a half only has so many miles left before something breaks down at an inopportune moment. BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member For 1/8 the cost I'll take the beat up BMW to drive down the driveway to get my mail. I don't need to go far. This console is only running 24 dimmers and there was no indication it would need most of what the ColorSource offers. We really need more from Gary to confirm either direction but in the end - it is a cost factor of 8 or so. As to ColorSource or EOS platform, ask the designer, not the pocketbook. The investment is in the designer, retaining her and allowing her to do more better. Perhaps she would like ColorSource, but that would in my experience put her in the minority. I'll wager the closer to NYC the stronger the preference for EOS. garyvp Active Member Sorry, guys, I have been away since I first posted this so apologies for not responding sooner to your responses. I did envisage this as lively topic for you guys. Thanks much. I am a good tech and have rebuilt/repaired the packs (down to the board repair level) so I am sure I can upgrade each to DMX protocol, and the current board could still operate the dimmers as before (the 7524 goes either way). The last time we explored this path (10 years ago) the ETC we looked at for about 4000$ at the time had one issue - only 99 cues could be recorded and we can currently go to way beyond that - some shows have over 300 cues.

You fellas have hit on some relevant questions about the space.
- Our theater has been in operation more than 60 years, the oldest community theater in NYC area.
- The space is about 30x60 with a 10' height; performance space is 25 x 25.
- We might go as high as 10k for this venture with no problem.
- We have been advised by our more professional designers who occasionally work here to stay away from LEDs due to the expense, rewiring, and our short throws (15 ft) make it more difficult. They say stick with incandescent until you can go all the way.
- Yes, despite the move to new technology, we would still have to rely on our legacy teams that use manual subs, (however, we prefer that all shows are recorded, and most are, in which case the operator can either cross fade cue to cue or just hit the go button with the built in timer.
- We recently in the last five years went from manual sound cues to PC/MAC which everyone likes (forgot which app we use, but its pretty cool). It is easy to program, time and run cues.

Sooo one of you (Derek) mentioned the PC solution. Assuming we convert the dimmers to DMX, would a PC solution provide all the patching, sub creation, cueing, fading, chase, etc functions without the need for any other hardware? And are we talking about an app on a PC or a specific piece of hardware? Or is the PC just and interface to another piece of equipment.

Thanks again,

Gary

dbaxter

Well-Known Member
Once you have converted your dimmers to DMX, the only extra equipment you would need for a PC based 'board' is a USB to DMX interface. I can recommend devices from either Enttec or DMX King, having used both. Please spend the little extra to get a model with an internal pc timer and not one that relies on the host pc for timing. IMO you will be happier in the long run. Both of those interface manufacturers have a list of compatible software packages. You will find that many of them are designed more for DJ or busking work and/or focus on setting LED colors, so visit the web sites to see which are designed for serious theater work.

RickR

Well-Known Member
You sound like an ideal venue for an Element or Ion (with fader wing) both are vastly more capable than anything you have and both are in your budget.

As for LEDs, get some hot power and DMX at the positions and start expanding your inventory. Converting all at once is painful and expensive. Going slow will allow learning and spreading out the costs, not to mention the fabulous new technology to be released "soon"

garyvp

Active Member
OKAY....The latest recommendation by our most experienced lighting designer, and several of you in this thread, is that we get an ETC Element 40 channel controller and install DMX512 cards in the NSI dimmers (not a big deal). Cost about 6k.