Basic Dimmers

DarSax

Active Member
Let's say I'm in the market for ~96 permanent install 2.4kw dimmers. I know nothing about dimmer technology, nor about sinewaves or any of that stuff. If I was going to get them installed, I'd need to hire a contractor/lighting company to do it for me, so I don't know how much control over what brand anyways--it'd probably be by Barbizon, and I'd trust them over there.

Irregardless. Can you guys just tell me about some simple, cheap, reliable brands/products of dimmers for my own personal knowledge? I try to keep up with that information for other products, but for dimmers, I haven't a clue...

EDIT: Ballpark estimate. How much would this cost? Rounded to the nearest, I don't know, $5,000. Last edited: soundlight Well-Known Member ETC Sensor+ Sinewave dimmer modules are pretty close to "top of the line". But ETC standard Sensor modules will do fine for all but the most discriminating venues. NSI makes some good stuff, rather durable too. It always seems that NSI's consoles are "stubborn" in a bad way, but their dimmers are definitely "stubborn" in a good way - they just keep on going! I prefer the "DS" series, with the individually replaceable dimmer and control modules, but still maintaining the 19" rack format. Colortran (now under Leviton along with NSI) makes some pretty good install dimmers, I know a place that has had a colortran 96 rack for quite a few years (10 or so) and it's still chugging along fine (I can't say the same for the original Colortran console - an Encore - it was upgraded to an ETC Express - and I got the Encore to fix up, but you still have to leave it on for it to maintain cues.) avkid Not a New User Fight Leukemia gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia The standard these days are probably Strand or ETC dimmers. NSI and EDI are worth looking at as well. EDI used to be a very big player 15 years ago but kind of got swept aside. I would be reluctant to go with any other brands. Most dimmer manufacturers offer several quality levels. The Sinewave technology is VERY cool but probably about twice as much money. There's nothing wrong with the old technology, there are just some things it can't do. Sinewave dimmers eliminate buzzing inside the lamp filaments which means quieter operation and should also mean longer lamp life. Sinewave dimmers also allow dimming of ballasted lights like flourescents, HMI, and LED. I was recently told by my Barbizon guy out West that they were no longer going to be Strand Dealers so that may limit your choices a bit if you are likely to have Barbizon do the work. What is your console status? The future of lighting is Ethernet control, not DMX. Ethernet allows a level of communication between the console, dimmers, and lighting instruments themselves. Currently that level of communication is all proprietary. Although the new ACN standards will allow cross brand communication, it may not be 100%. So if you are at all considering upgrading your console in the next 10 or 20 years it would be best if you go with the same brand of dimmers. All dimmer racks will work with your old DMX console, it's the compatibility with future console purchases that may be a problem. If you tend to be an "ETC guy" when it comes to consoles I would definitely purchase an ETC dimmer rack to be on the safe side for the future. Last edited: DarSax Active Member ETC's probably the best bet. I don't know what the status is on the "new line of consoles to replace the Express," but if they take too long in coming or are too expensive, I'm going to say screw it, and buy an Express 24/48. Edit: Hate to be pushy, but do you guys have any idea at all about price? I'd like to find out, like...within the next hour, though I realize that's a huuuuge wish. Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member IMHO ETC Sensors are a great way to go, they have great support and parts and repair are widely availible. I have a long and distinguished hatred of anything made by NSI and they would have to install an automatic coffee maker / foot massager into their rack systems that would automatically deploy at the snap of you fingers, before I'd even consider looking at them to install in my theatre. If you have the Money, however, you simply cannot beat ET's IPS dimmers. Hands down the best dimmers with the most capabilities and safest operating ability. Don't get me wrong they are expensive, but you simply can't beat them. No scrimmer buzz, forward or reverse sinewave dimming, Auto-sensing of inductive loads, and faster short resopnse time than a GFCI. soundlight Well-Known Member$35K. That's a ballpark for the ETC 96 rack.

I priced an NSI Topaz 96 rack, fully loaded, at $30K though... And you could get a set of 8 NSI 12x2.4K DS Rack Dimmers with a rack and wiring for about$20K or $25K. None of this includes labor costs, so tack on another two thousand at least for that. EDIT: The NSI DS series solution will actually only run you about$15K. And the modules are interchangeable. That price includes a seven hundred dollar, 35 space rack for the dimmers. While not the best solution, it's reliable and MUCH cheaper.

If you have the bux go with ETC sensor or NSI Topaz dimming.

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DarSax

Active Member
Put simply, !

Thanks, though. I may have run into some money for my theater, and right now we have a basically unusable board, 30 working 20 year old dimmers on a dangerous hard-patch system, rusty 20 year old fixtures, and I need to figure out what to spend money on.

edit: Besides Van...any other thoughts on NSI? I might have $50k, tops, astronomically, for this whole project. There is no "future" in my school, we're already 20, 25 years behind... gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia My suspicion from the ETC people I've talked to is that "EOS Jr." is up next some time this spring or summer and maybe the lower end replacments will come out next fall at LDI. But they don't seem to be in any hurry. They also aren't beneath a quick surprise announcement like that cute little Smartfade. So who knows. I would take a look at Congo Jr. You can get one for around$12,000 and it's got a ton of features in it. The biggest complaint I hear is the programming language... is different. It takes 10 whole minutes to learn. I've seen 3 hands on demos now and I'm very interested in picking up a full size Congo if I can.

Sorry I can't help you with pricing. The problem is it depends so much on the installation and package deal you get. Doing a quick search, I didn't even find a list price on the internet.

BenFranske

Member
ETC, Strand and NSI/Leviton/Colortran are all good choices. I have worked with all three and for basic needs you would probably be happy with any of them. Most recently I've consulted on installs that used NSI/Leviton/Colortran, a few years ago I did some Strands and quite a few years ago some ETC Sensors.

DarSax

Active Member
Thanks soooo much, everyone. It definitely looks like NSI is going to be the best bet if/when this ever happens. My entire auditorium hasn't been upgraded in about 25 years, so I'm just trying to get it somewhere close to normal. Meaning I need the cheapest of everything.

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When you get pricing, get pricing for strand as well. They have some great dimmers, and have made dimmers for longer then any other company. There dimmers are rock solid and there control modules are hard to beat.

gafftaper

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Just a thought, how many more dimmers can you REALLY use? What if you only go with like 48 dimmers get a low end board that gets the job done for a couple grand, and then throw the rest of your money into lighting instruments. 96 dimmers is great but if you've got nothing to plug in is it worth it? 48 is 18 more than you've got now... for about $15k you can get 48 S4's to go with those dimmers (check Premier Lighting's prices). Maybe buy a full rack but only purchase half the dimmers with the idea of leaving room for an upgrade later? While I usually agree with Van, I'm on the opposite side of the NSI fence. My church put in a small NSI system about 8 years ago and never had a problem. I also helped a guy install an NSI system in a dance studio a few years ago and it was really easy to work with and no problems. I would be skeptical about using them in a place that runs them several hours a day but in a high school or a church where you only need a few hours a week. I see nothing wrong with NSI. They also make some simple programmable control consoles for under$2k.

Call that local Barbizon rep (and some others in your area) and get them in to take a look at your building and help you figure out how to get the most out of your situation. Keep the lights a separate bid there are a lot of cheap places out there on the internet to check out.

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jmabray

Active Member
While I am all for cost efficient pricing options out there, beware what you get from internet retailers. Some of them really do have some good prices, but what happens if something gets screwed up in shipping? How good are they about fixing it?

I would much rather buy from a local dealer who is going to be there to support me at 5 o'clock on Saturday afternoon when my board crashes 3 hours before curtain.

But that's just my opinion, and it's biased, as I used to work for a dealer.

But I do agree that you need to find a local dealer and have them look at your space and make some recommendations. It is their job to stay atop the latest technology and they should know how to layout a system that will be good, not only now, but be able to adapt and grow with the newer technologies in the years to come.

fredthe

Active Member
There is no "future" in my school, we're already 20, 25 years behind...
Well, it depends on how long you are going to be there

Montgomery county is in the process of renovating the 1976-era high school theaters (4 of them). One of them (Walter Johnson) is getting 192 Strand dimmers, and a Light Palette Classic as part of the upgrade (along with a Clancy motorized fly system, a Yamaha digital mix console, and 3 video projectors ) I've heard other schools are getting ETC dimmers w/Congo, it just depents on the contractor. (Parlights in Frederick is doing WJ, you might give them a call for pricing for Strand stuff)

I believe Whitman's theater was built around 1980 (just after I graduated) and probably has the same system that WJ had. I would expect it to be next on the county's list of renovations (but that might still be a couple of years out.)

Getting rid of the old slider patch should be the first concern... so you will need a number of dimmers; 96 would probably cover 1 curcuit-per-dimmer in your existing space. However, as others have pointed out, it's just as important to have something to plug into those circuits... so getting something decent for $50k may be difficult. the$2k mentioned for installation is WAY low. That MIGHT get power to the dommers, but not much else. Expect to spend as much on the install as you do on the dimmers. Even if you don't run new circuits, the cost of splicing into the existing ones at the slider patch is going to be pretty high... that is if they are even still usable. I know at WJ the SO cable was basically dead where it conencted to the on-stage electrics (the insulation was brittle, and the conductors had lost all of their flex.) [Unless you can get the school system electricians to do the work... then it's not an outside contractor, and may save you some \$]

If the county will be renovating in the near future, then if you've got some money to spend, I'd get some Moving Lights... they won't depend on your existing dimmers to run, and will still be usable after the renovation. (And, probably won't be part of any renovation) Be grateful for what you have, one of the other schools only had 7 of their 32 dimmers still working...

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fredthe

Active Member
right now we have a basically unusable board
Are you still running on the original board? If so, a quick fix:

Get a DMX to Analog converter box, and wire it in in place of the board. Then get your choice of boards (or a PC system) with DMX out. That was what kept WJ running for the last few years...

gafftaper

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While I am all for cost efficient pricing options out there, beware what you get from internet retailers. Some of them really do have some good prices, but what happens if something gets screwed up in shipping? How good are they about fixing it?
I would much rather buy from a local dealer who is going to be there to support me at 5 o'clock on Saturday afternoon when my board crashes 3 hours before curtain.
But that's just my opinion, and it's biased, as I used to work for a dealer.
But I do agree that you need to find a local dealer and have them look at your space and make some recommendations. It is their job to stay atop the latest technology and they should know how to layout a system that will be good, not only now, but be able to adapt and grow with the newer technologies in the years to come.

I agree with you completely on the purchase local for things like consoles, and system install. But when it comes to lighting instruments just buy from a reputable dealer who won't screw up the order and has a good track record with customer service... location isn't important. You don't need a great deal of local support when it comes to instruments. A university up here in Washington State just got a bunch of new lights and their best price was this place in Alabama. That's why I said to keep the instrument part of the bid separate so you can shop it around more, maybe you include it with the rest of the package and maybe you purchase on-line.

jmabray

Active Member
I see your point. I am not trying to start an argument here at all. It's your own personal preference. I have just come to the conclusion that I am tired of always going for the lowest price. I would rather have a relationship with a person or people at a specific place that I can call and talk to or go in and see rather than call someplace across the country and not know the person that I am talking to.

Plus - once I develop the relationship, they are more likely to be looking out for my interests. If they go to LDI and see something that might be useful to me, they can come back and tell me about it. Is the guy selling stuff at the lowest price going to do that?

Everyone in the business side of this business is in it to make money - as long as they are not out to screw me over, I am ok with that.

DarSax

Active Member
Wow, this took off quick.

Fredthe, well what do you know, another MoCo man, you're like, the third on CB I've found (so far). All I know is, my principal hinted we might be able to get some private donations to upgrade the theater; I haven't the slightest idea about any renovation schedule, but I'll be sure to mention it to him if he hasn't already checked that out. Wouldn't that figure. If this little project goes through, I'll have missed using the equipment. If we're upgraded in a couple years...how unbelievably frustrating. (I heard about WJ, but no specifics. Dayummnnn.)

The board isn't the original, we already have the DMX/Analog box, but we're using a Strand MX-24 which is in terrible condition and can hold all of 96 cues. Ugh.

The 1980 year sounds perfectly consistent, the install tags on everything electric is, well, 1980.

As far as the internet/dealer debate, in all honesty I'd rather go with the local dealer. I know about Barbizon, and I think we've rented some gear from Parlights, but just for these ballpark estimates to shoot over to my principal (who honestly knows nothing about theater), the internet and MSRP's do just that.

Thanks for the replies!

SteveB

Well-Known Member
On the more technical side:

You have essentially 2 styles of dimmer systems in use today, modular and hard wired.

A modular system - such as the ETC Sinewave, ETC Sensor, Strand C21, Colortran or ET Capio systems have dimmers made up of paired 2.4kw dimmers on a removable module.

A hard wired system, such as ETC Smartpak, Dove, Leprecon, NSI, etc... has (typically) 12 - 2.4kw dimmers in a 19" rack mount case, complete with breakers, chokes and output panel.

Either can be used in a permanent install. The modular systems tend to cost more, but have the advantage of ease of component replacement if something fails - I.E. you can buy extra dimmer and/or control module components to have as spares. The hard wired systems involve some minor surgery to get a dimmer SSR (Solid State Switching Relay) replaced. If you are not comfortable opening up a hard wired pack, or have no staff to do so, then perhaps a modular system is a better choice. In general though, all this stuff is very robust gear and failures are generally infrequent in a permanent install, if the folks using it know what they're doing.

As to consoles: The trend right now, among the higher end gear - ETC, Strand/ET is for the consoles to communicate to the dimming systems via Cat5 Ethernet wiring using a proprietary communications protocol over E-Net (as in - ETC will not talk to Strand, which won't talk Artnet, or Hog or Grand MA, etc...). All such systems allow the addition of Nodes, that plug in to the lighting network to break out (or input) DMX. This is the way the industry is moving and jumping on that bandwagon now is probably advisable. Somewhere down the road, the ACN Cat5/E-Net based industry standard lighting communications protocol will see greater use and having Cat5 gear now will make future expansion easier.
Or, going to a less expensive system, such as Leprecon dimmers and consoles, as example, will get you a reasonably priced system with functional dimmers and console. No real easy ability to expand towards moving lights and scrollers and similar toys down the road, but a lot of bang for the buck (US slang).

Steve B.