Console Recommendation for High School + Theatre Academy?

Joined
Feb 20, 2019
Location
Denville, New Jersey, United States
Hello, ControlBooth:

I am the president of the Lighting Crew at my high school, and I have been tasked with recommending a new light board to be purchased for the auditorium. Besides the many functions which the auditorium serves the community (plays, concerts, presentations, etc.), my school is also home to a performing arts academy, in which anyone from the county can attend to complete a focused theatrical program (part of which involves technical theatre and lighting). (In other words, my situation is different than the "typical high school.")

Our current setup consists of an outdated ETC Express 72/144 console. As we plan to transition over to LED and automated fixtures, we need something that does a good job of controlling both these types of instruments and more traditional Source Fours. We are also looking for a console that represents the "real-world" of modern theatre -- something that will give meaningful experience and training to our academy students.

Some other features on our wish list: an interactive 2D diagram of our space in the software (something like Magic Sheets on ETC Eos), automated faders (not a top priority but they would be nice), at least 10 pageable faders for submasters/playbacks (we don't see ourselves needing any faders for individual channels), 3D visualization/diagramming, an easy method of busking, encoders to control certain fixture parameters, compatibility with touchscreens (screens don't have to be built into the console), and general ease-of-use of the console (so non-experienced crew members can easily get involved).

I was originally looking at the ETC Ion Xe to meet all of these requirements. Concerned about the $12,000 price tag that came with that board, my adviser suggested the ChamSys QuickQ 30. However, I (and the other more experienced members of my crew) am not so sure that this board will be the best for us due to buggy software, poor reviews (reference the product page for the ChamSys QuickQ 20 on Sweetwater), and lack of certain features.

With that being said, which console would you guys recommend, given the primary needs and general budget?

Thank you in advance to anyone who replies!!

- Chris
 
Joined
Feb 20, 2019
Location
Denville, New Jersey, United States
Is 12k your hard limit?

Cause I was going to recommend a Gio.
Looking at the price of Gio, it seems a bit high. Although there is no hard limit, anything above the $12k-ish mark is probably too much. After that point, we would rather just get an Ion Xe and allocate the rest of the money into buying more/better LED fixtures instead of a higher-end console.

Would you have any recommendation for a console under $12,000?

Thanks,
Chris
 

Amiers

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Actual console an Elements.

Bang for your buck a Nomad system with a few wings and take the extra money saved to dump into fixtures or upgrade your dimming/dmx systems depending on future plans and expansions unknown.
 

cbrandt

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Dec 7, 2011
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Michigan
To meet your goals of what you'll encounter in actual professional theater, your best bets are an Ion or a Grand MA. If price is a concern, as you've stated, the Ion is going to win hands down. Take a look into the new Augment 3d options, and I think you'll be fully satisfied.
 

gafftaper

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Thank you all for the informative responses! After talking everything over with my adviser, we are going to try to get an ETC Ion Xe 20 with two touch screens. (As an accessory, we will install the iRFR app onto our crew iPad (which we already have).)
Do you have any moving lights or LED's? If you don't I would save the touch screen money and invest them into something that you can control and add the touch screens later.

If you are running an old Express I'm guessing that you might have one DMX port on stage if you are lucky.. Probably none. Have you consideredhhow you are going to get DMX to the new fixtures?
 

Robert F Jarvis

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Sebring, FL, USA
Chris
I would look at the "ETC Element 2". It doesn't have Encoders for moving heads but has a very adequate user interface manipulate them. And, ETC techs have produced a small box you can put together with encoder wheels to hook via USB to the board.
Another console I use on a regular basis is the new "Phillips Strand NEO" In some ways it has a faster learning curve than the ETC though it has some quirks that can take you by surprise.
Both run cue lists (but why the NEO has faders for multiple cue lists still baffles me)
I would look at them both. A lot depends on your needs. In the main theater with multi night plays that can run 200 - 400 cues I'm more comfortable (perhaps because I am used to it) with the ELE3.
For church services, live band events and short simpler plays probably the Strand.
You need to look too, at who will use the board. How much time / depth they will to train too and so on.
Best of luck. Any specific questions you have about with of these I will try to answer. I run both their stand alone software on my desktop at home for training and design.
 

TheaterEd

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If there is any more pushback on the Ion, be sure to mention that the Ion will soon have an on board 3d visualizer which will allow students to program virtual shows in which they can use fixures without actually owning them. Additionally, they can save their files and work on them from any pc running free software from ETC. It is a great educational tool for student designers that may not have access to the console or the theater.

If you are planning to start using movers of any kind, and as an educational environment you absolutely should get the kids hands on with movers ASAP, then the element simply is not the right tool. You need an ION at minimum.
 

gafftaper

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I say get an Element. In order to be able to justify an Ion with touch screens and visualizers you need to also buy tens of thousands of dollars of LED and moving lights. If the budget is stretched to buy the Ion itself, it's hard to imagine they will have the $50,000 to fill the rig with the additional lights to make that Ion worth having. Get an Element it's plenty powerful for a smaller moving light and LED's rig and spend the money on movers/LED's instead.
 

DaveySimps

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I also recommend the Element, based on the budget constraints you listed. It would be wise to get a demo of the Element and Ion before you make your decision so that you can get a feel for how well it is suited in your space and workflow.

~Dave
 

Malabaristo

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I'll buck the trend and strongly recommend the Ion over an Element if there's also going to be any significant investment in moving lights. Having used both semi-regularly, it's hard to understate how much easier and faster it is to effectively use movers when you have real, physical encoders. The ML controls on an Element are better than nothing, but they're still much slower and clumsier. That said, if you'll primarily be using static LEDs and conventional fixtures with just a couple movers as occasional specials, then the Element could be a great choice.
 

gafftaper

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I'll buck the trend and strongly recommend the Ion over an Element if there's also going to be any significant investment in moving lights. Having used both semi-regularly, it's hard to understate how much easier and faster it is to effectively use movers when you have real, physical encoders. The ML controls on an Element are better than nothing, but they're still much slower and clumsier. That said, if you'll primarily be using static LEDs and conventional fixtures with just a couple movers as occasional specials, then the Element could be a great choice.
I want to be clear that if there is a chance that there will be the budget to buy say more than about six moving lights, then I would agree on the Ion. But it seems unlikely given they information we have.
 

Lextech

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Virginia
I have to say Ion Xe 20 also. In a teaching space I would want to see something that the students would see out of school. Also the lack of encoders is a deal breaker for me. If and when they have movers or even if they want to teach color mixing I really like encoders. My 2 cents.
 

Benjamin Fink

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Morris Minnesota
I'm with Malabaristo on getting an Ion instead of an Element. I manage a venue on our campus that has an element controlling a mixed rig with only 4 moving lights and a couple systems of LED fixtures, but the lack of encoders and dedicated parameter keys is still a real pain. While there are on-screen moving light controls, doing almost any operations with intelligent fixtures take longer and require more clicking around than they would on an Ion.

If there's a plan in place to purchase intelligent fixtures over time, it is probably easier to buy the Ion and grow the fixture inventory to fit it, rather than buying an Element and then trying to upgrade to another console after getting the lights. The Eos line is pretty standard across the theatre industry, so students who have experience with it can work with many different theatres. ChamSys and Strand consoles recommended above will do what you need them to, but they're much less popular (at least at the theatres I've worked with.)
 
Joined
Feb 20, 2019
Location
Denville, New Jersey, United States
Thank you all for the many replies!!

Regarding our decision to try to get an Ion Xe 20 instead of the Element: We currently have only a few LEDs which we use for certain shows. However, we are planning to upgrade in the next year or two to a mostly- or completely-LED system. (We are looking at fixtures from the Elation Fuze series.) The budget is tight right now because we wanted to try to get the new console in the next few months; over the next couple of school years, the Board of Education has planned to allocate a significant amount of money (probably $50,000 or more) towards switching to LEDs and movers. I have used the Ion in the past at a different venue, so I am familiar with its feature-set and software.
 
Joined
Feb 20, 2019
Location
Denville, New Jersey, United States
Do you have any moving lights or LED's? If you don't I would save the touch screen money and invest them into something that you can control and add the touch screens later.

If you are running an old Express I'm guessing that you might have one DMX port on stage if you are lucky.. Probably none. Have you consideredhhow you are going to get DMX to the new fixtures?
Regarding DMX: Currently, the DMX signal (for Universe 1) goes from the board to an ETC Sensor dimming rack. There are no "regular" DMX ports onstage; everything uses stage pin and is output from the dimmers. However, we have a second universe running with ADJ WiFly EXR transceivers. We simply have a transmitter plugged into the back of the board, and then we have a wireless receiver at the start of each electric onstage. DMX cabling only has to run down each electric, out the receiver unit and through each fixture. Additionally, the WiFly units allow us to transmit on different channels, giving us plenty of room for future installations (for when we fill one full universe with LEDs).