Cue lights... RF or cabled or what?

Red_Carpet

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Mar 6, 2020
Location
Cheshire, UK
Hi all,
Again, this old chestnut raises its head. (sorry to all those who find this boring).
This time I am on a near-to-zero budget.
CueLights100.jpg

CUE LIGHTS
I am in the position again to create some new cue lights for a travelling Dramatics Group.
The stage and the control-desk are always in different places so no Permanent wire trunking etc.
Their requirements are.. 3 x (different coloured) Cue Lights with a controller for the Lights & Sound Controller on the control-desk.
These guys want the old-fashioned "one-light cue-light" version. i.e. ON=GET READY, OFF=GO
The cue lights should be a type of 12v bulb on a small mount (like a piece of wood) may be a car indicator (Red, orange or green) (These I already have in my stock).
The normal (and maximum) distance between the lighting box and the stage (cable distance = 50 meters) (line of sight = 30m).
Now, I want a nice control box with 4 good lit(*) switches 1=Mains and channels 1-3 . (* they need to be lit so the operator knows if the button has been pressed)
So from what I have researched, I see the options to transmit between Control-Box and Cue-lights are 1) cable or 2) RF
RF Option
I do not want to use those awful faffy hand-held RF remote-controls - I want a good strong control-box. ( I am not enough of a competant electronics-electrician to de-contruct a hand-held remote-controller either.)
I do not want to use the kinetic wall switches to transmit an RF signal as they are too large and do not light up.
I do not want to use an app on a smart-phone.
I could use and arduino-microcontroller and a multi-channel-RF-transmitter to send a RF signal when a button is pressed (but I would rather not)
Maybe 3 large-ish project boxes with and 12v-car-indicator lamp on the top with an RF receiver inside - however I also do not want batteries anywhere near this project.
So perhaps a cue-station-box (sited by the stage) plugged into the mains with three cables coming out of it with three pygmy-bulbs on a block of wood (Looks are not 100% important at the moment.) Inside this cue-station-box would hold a transformer to power the 3-channel RF receiver-relays and the three 12v bulbs.
Pros:
More Hi-tec,
more flexible.
Cons:
I can't find the RF rcvr and transmit modules.
More expensive if I use a micro-controller:Arduino etc

Cable Option
This would be the easiest but not very hi-tech!. Just run a master multi-core cable from control-box to three separate lights (maybe with a cue-station-box splicing the multi-core to a two cable system to power the lights).
I would use mains switches with mains powered pilot bulbs on the control-box.
Pros:
Easier to wire up
Cons:
Lots of cable
more expensive

Summary:
I think an RF option would be good but I have trawled through the net and can't find something suitable.

Anyone got any ideas or thoughts.
Thanks very much
 
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soundman

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Sep 4, 2003
Location
Nashville TN
My skills lack in RF so personally I would look at a wifi or cable based solution.

It looks like there are some RS 485 boards that would make getting two arduinos to talk pretty easy. There is some example code that you should be able to tweak for a cue light system pretty easily. Because it only uses two wires you could use 3 pin XLR cable to get them talking.

I've played around with Node MCU clones and wifi for a few projects. I would play around with using modbus to get the two boards to talking.

From them its a few relay boards and PSUs and you are off to the races.
 

DrewE

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Mar 18, 2019
Location
Vermont
My first thought is to go with a wired system using Cat 5 (or Cat 6 or whatever) ethernet cabling. If LEDs were used for the cue lights, it would be trivial to simply have them powered from the master station through the cable, requiring only pugging in the box with the LED to the cable to the master station. If the boxes had two (or three) RJ connectors on them you could daisy-chain them as needed, or form other topologies as was convenient. I'd wire it something like this (the indicators for the other cues are similar, just connected to different pairs of wire):

1614365697102.png


The current limiting resistor values may need tweaking, depending on the lighting conditions and the LED colors used. For ordinary red/green/yellow LEDs, 560 ohms gives a forward current of approximately 20 mA with a 12V supply, which would probably be pretty bright. Blue and white LEDs have a higher forward voltage and so may need somewhat smaller resistors. By having the current limiting resistors in the indicator boxes, you could connect a few of the same cue together and they'd all illuminate properly.

If the 12V supply is capable of more than, say, 2A, it would be well to put a fuse in series with the main power switch to make sure the cable's ampacity cannot be exceeded in the case of a short circuit. A couple hundred milliamps or so should be plenty if the shown values are used (and there are not more than a handful of cue light boxes).
 

Red_Carpet

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Mar 6, 2020
Location
Cheshire, UK
Hi @microstar , this is a great option, thanks. I had thought of this a while ago and made a good leap forward when I tried it. However I hit a wall and I can not remember for the life of me what my problem was. I must dig it the old project out from "Old projects" cupboard. Thanks.
 

StradivariusBone

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Space Coast, FL
So not cue lights as we would think of them in this context, but I've recently discovered Tally Arbiter which is some really clever software created to work with tally lights on video cameras. I've wondered if it could be also adapted for use as a cue light. It does allow OSC commands to fire sources, and it works with these little guys over WiFi.

We've been using this for camera work and it is pretty simple and reliable. The only issue is battery life is iffy. You'd want to hardwire the matrix displays
 
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Red_Carpet

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Mar 6, 2020
Location
Cheshire, UK
@StradivariusBone - thanks for that - interesting read. I see where you are coming from.
Out of all these methods I may look more seriously at the DMX option. It is a shame, however, that all we have (need) is such a simple thing.
To be able to switch a light on to cue somebody - that is all it is and yet we have to go round so many options, jump through so many hoops just to achieve this.
No wonder the people that sell these systems charge the earth for it. It could do with someone to make a cheap solution, perhaps open a start up business etc. I think it could easily be achieved with a budget of about £50-£70. Yet companies who sell cue light systems want hundreds and hundreds ($'s or £'s !).

Thanx :¬)
 

RonHebbard

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Premium Member
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Jun 12, 2004
Location
Waterdown, ON, CA
@StradivariusBone - thanks for that - interesting read. I see where you are coming from.
Out of all these methods I may look more seriously at the DMX option. It is a shame, however, that all we have (need) is such a simple thing.
To be able to switch a light on to cue somebody - that is all it is and yet we have to go round so many options, jump through so many hoops just to achieve this.
No wonder the people that sell these systems charge the earth for it. It could do with someone to make a cheap solution, perhaps open a start up business etc. I think it could easily be achieved with a budget of about £50-£70. Yet companies who sell cue light systems want hundreds and hundreds ($'s or £'s !).

Thanx :¬)
@Red_Carpet For an ultra low cost option, have you considered a hand-held flashlight with three pieces of gel in your SM's other hand?
Know when I'm pulling your leg; I'll pull your other leg next time to restore your normal gait.
Toodleoo!
Ron (Posting from one of the colonies) Hebbard
 

microstar

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Jan 19, 2014
Location
Lawton, OK
@StradivariusBone - thanks for that - interesting read. I see where you are coming from.
Out of all these methods I may look more seriously at the DMX option. It is a shame, however, that all we have (need) is such a simple thing.
To be able to switch a light on to cue somebody - that is all it is and yet we have to go round so many options, jump through so many hoops just to achieve this.
No wonder the people that sell these systems charge the earth for it. It could do with someone to make a cheap solution, perhaps open a start up business etc. I think it could easily be achieved with a budget of about £50-£70. Yet companies who sell cue light systems want hundreds and hundreds ($'s or £'s !).

Thanx :¬)
My DMX kluge solution posted above can be had for a total of $93: DMX relay @ $20 new, Wireless pair @ $40 new, Obey3 console @ $33 used, all shipping included. All you need are the indicator lights for the relays. So £67?
EDIT: just noted there are red LED's for each relay, so your indicator lights are built in. One could easily replace two of the red with a yellow and a green and there you have it, a separate color for each cue light.
 
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Ben Stiegler

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Aug 3, 2017
Location
Sf Bay Area
@Red_Carpet For an ultra low cost option, have you considered a hand-held flashlight with three pieces of gel in your SM's other hand?
Know when I'm pulling your leg; I'll pull your other leg next time to restore your normal gait.
Toodleoo!
Ron (Posting from one of the colonies) Hebbard
that's genius, Ron! Or a 3 color flashlight and a piece of fiber optic cable to bring the photons closer to the stage(box).

I also support using LEDs, not automobile brake lamps. LED inside a bit of pie-tin homemade reflector inside a black shoebox or background is going to be pretty visible to actors but shielded from audience.

Also - some LEDs are multi-colored, which makes the stage device size smaller by 2/3
 

Ben Stiegler

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Aug 3, 2017
Location
Sf Bay Area
Add a night light, and here you go for 20 bucks a channel.. or use 3 way switching and 2 receivers per channel, and you
can both cue and remote user cancel confirm
or just 1 way switch and 2 recievers so both master and slave can have matching lights.
watch out for interference, being on the wrong power leg, etc.
 

RonHebbard

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Location
Waterdown, ON, CA
watch out for interference, being on the wrong power leg, etc.
@Ben Stiegler You've created a spark that's lit the accumulated kindling of my mind; this will definitely define: TLDR; brace yourself, you've been forewarned (I suspect I'll be three hours typing this assuming I can keep it on track without veering too far off course).

When I began working in Stratford, Ontario's Stratford Shakespearean Festival's main stage thrust theatre in 1977, its auditorium's orchestra and balcony seating levels wrapped 220 degrees around its thrust stage seating ~2,400+ patrons.
Equity limited performers to 8 performances per week; with cross-casting and understudies, we often presented up to 11 performances in the heat of a busy / popular / bums in seats / let's make money season.

Stratford operated as a repertory company.
Many / most productions had custom crafted floors.
Opening with 3 or 4 productions per venue, adding another 3 or 4 mid-season (Typically mid August) resulted in a lot of rehearsals, performances and floors in storage.

Obvious spike marks were considered unpardonable sins in Stratford.
Spike marks were typically tiny slivers of spike tape, tiny slivers of glow tape, with Scotch 3M Magic tape applied to help them survive the rigors of foot traffic and the never-ending changeovers (Post evening performance into the next morning's rehearsal, into the afternoon's rehearsal or performance, into the evening's performance which brings us full-circle with a changeover post the evening performance.)

You've got the concept: Floors had to withstand an awful lot of abuse and handling.

Stage managers' kept detailed measured drawings and notes, checked their floors prior to every rehearsal / performance and replaced spikes as required.

When Dymo dots became available in a myriad of colours, Dymo Dots became the spike marks of choice.

One of the problems: Seeing spike marks during black outs so performers and / or props could be accurately in position when the lights came up for the next act / scene.

I'll move this along to how battery powered LEDs provided the ULTIMATE answer.

Let's begin with the construction of a typical floor:
- Most floors were constructed of 3/4" good quality plywood topped with good quality 1/4" Masonite; the Masonite was often routed with Vee grooves to look like tiles, cobblestones, yada, yada; custom painted and often with bumps / lumps of fibre glass applied to provide character and texture.
- Floors were sectional, usually with their joints disguised by grout lines et al, and sized for rapid handling by two stagehands and quasi convenient storage in the limited space back stage.
- The undersides of floors were edged with 1 x 3 glued and screwed in position with gaps only large enough to accommodate coffin locks to draw the sections tightly together (Stratford modified their coffin locks by welding short lengths of drill rod into the female coffin locks to prevent lateral movement when wrenching the sections together.)
- The undersides of the 1 x 3's had ~3" pads of rubber glued in place to gain clearance, protect the actual stage [which was often used for productions with tighter budgets as well as for concerts on Equity free days] and minimize any sliding tendencies.

LED's:
Electronics Technologist Christopher J. Wheeler began experimenting with small LED's using flat-pack DIP chips to minimize thickness and extend battery life by pulsing the LED's with battery saving unlit gaps between pulses and depending upon our eye's retentivity to make the LED's appear to be constantly lit.
Chris kept his (who does this new, inexperienced in the ways of theatre kid) thoughts, research, and battery life tests to himself and was pleasantly surprised to learn a typical 9 volt battery could provide more than adequate light for 8 weeks of continuous, 24 / 7 operation.

- This was in the days when you could buy; Red, Green. or spend more money for a bi-polar (lit Red when powered one way / lit Green when powered the opposite way AND lit Amber by rapidly alternating its DC) LED's.
Great! Suitably long life; no switch required: No switch to buy, mount, package, protect, and remember to switch on and off.

How to assemble, mount, and house into a durable, IA resistant (Nothing's IA proof) package.
The answer became a small piece of bare, non copper clad, pre-punched perf' board.
All parts (there were / are very few) are held in position by their through-hole leads soldered together on the opposite side of the perf' board. The 9 volt battery was secured with three loops of thin, bare, wire (two loops around the side + one loop around the end to prevent slippage), With tweaking, and a fresh good quality battery, battery life proved to be 6 to 8 months of 24 / 7 continuous operation.

How to mount, keep the LED's visible to performers AND totally out of sight of any / all patrons seated on two levels wrapping 220 degrees around the thrust stage.

As is often the case: Simplicity proved to be the best answer.
Neat holes were drilled in precise locations through all layers of a floor.
The LED was inserted from below into the bottom of its locating hole; thus the LED was a BEACON to any / all performers yet totally obscured from the view of ALL patrons.

How to secure in position: Two neatly drilled holes through each perf' board with the boards secured to the undersides of their plywood floors by two pan head wood screws with flat washers to spread their pressure.
All boards had their mounting holes identically located making any board emitting the correct color a quickly installed replacement for any of its kin.

Some floors need only survive from rehearsals in February / March through to mid season when they're dropped fom rep'.
Other floors begin rehearsals one or two weeks post openings, typically June in the 70's and need to survive 'til season's end, typically October in the '70's.
Still other floors begin rehearsals in February / March and need to survive all the way through 'til season's end. Stratford continued to extend their seasons until the snows of winter made driving impossible for any profitable number of patrons.

There you have it; more than you NEVER wanted to know about battery powered LED spike marks on the stages of Stratford's Shakespearean Festival.
SM's dutifully continue to meticulously inspect their floors each time they're laid (The floors, not the SM's).
LED's judged too dim are quickly replaced the next time the floor is struck; the perf' boards, battery and all, are considered disposable items, their cost per board is miniscule in the scheme of things.
I did forewarn you this would define TLDR.

EDIT #1: Securely fastening the coffin locks to the sections of floors.
- 3 or 4 prong T-Nuts are inserted from the top side of the 3/4" plywood into slightly counter-bored and neatly drilled holes PRIOR to the addition of the 1/4" Masonite.
- Short 1/4-20 Hex head bolts (Machine Screws, if you prefer) are used to securely anchor the coffin locks with a dollop of Lock-Tite and without protruding through the T-Nuts, creating lumps in the Masonite.

Edit #2: @Ben Stiegler @tjrobb @Red_Carpet There was likely a 3 pin Voltage Regulator involved to reduce the battery's initial voltage to a lower level then maintain that consistent level for a longer period of time as the battery's output voltage sagged as it aged.
Toodleoo!
Ron Hebbard
 
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Ben Stiegler

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Aug 3, 2017
Location
Sf Bay Area
Have you thought about any of the apps that are available? You can buy cheap android devices for less than $50 now.

the website is gone, and some cautionary notes re unresponsive developer in the play store notes. I loved the video - sad that it doesn't look like a solid choice today. Are there others people like?
 

dbaxter

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Mar 10, 2007
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Rochester, NY
I thought we hashed this out in an earlier thread that prompted me to write the free WebCue program (baxeldata.com/freeware, the last entry). Haven't mentioned it before as the original poster said "no apps".
 

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