Got to play with a Congo last week...


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Hey, I got to see a demo of the new ETC Congo last week. It's quite the beast. An interesting hybrid of Theatrical and Concert control done in a European style. You know Conan O'Brien's "What if they made it?" bit... well it's sort of like if an Obsession and a Hog had a baby. It's actually not a new board. ETC bought a European company called AVAB. This is a remodel of a well known European board. It runs XP and when opened up it's just a PC so it would be easy to upgrade or replace things like CPU, Video Card, Memory.
I'm a small college and community theater guy so I'm not that familiar with boards bigger than an Express so some of these features may not be that cool to you but these were the things that stood out to me about Congo:
-It understands that intelligent lighting requires lots of DMX channels and doesn't penalize you by eating up dimmers. The salesman described it as each channel has "Width" so lots of information can go down that pipe. You could run 10 Martins on 10 dimmers.
-You can program magic sheets into the design and then select instruments straight from the magic sheet. You can grab all the lights coming from down left toward area 3 just by clicking on an arrow. Similarly, you can program what color gel is in all your instruments and then quickly grab everything of the same color.
-In the corner of the board is a set of knobs and buttons that are programmable to do anything you want completely independent of what is going on with the rest of the board. Turn work lights on and off, run a fogger or strobe, a special lighting routine. The buttons can be set to be on/off or intermittent.
-It uses the European programming language which is backwards from what we are used to. It's called "Reverse Polish", I'm serious, a Polish guy invented it. They say it's more efficient but I'm skeptical. Example: "1" "Channel" "20" "Through" "@"
selects 1-20 and puts them at a default level. Press @ twice to set them at full.
-Recording a show in stage mode is sort of like blind mode too. You can see it on stage but you don't have to send the stage into blackout to record blackouts. Didn't quiet understand how that worked but it was interesting.
-The guy who did the demo didn't have touch screens. I don't know if that was his fault or if it doesn't use them.
-It turns a corner of the fader panel buttons into a QWERTY key board to type text in. I was NOT impressed with that feature and say get a keyboard.
-You can program 999 different moving light routines. Each routine can have 999 steps. You can then plug these guys into the faders, which with multiple pages means you can have over 800 different lighting cues programmed on a fader. That's crazy.

-Price? The rep said it lists for $25k and the price to "anyone in the room" would be around $20k... so there's your price range depending on how chummy you are with your local dealer.
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Reverse polish is the bomb. I've got a graphing calculator thats in reverse polish. takes a while to get t;he hang of but it reall makes math more effeicient.
In the simple programing examples we saw, reverse polish didn't save any time in programing, it just changed the order of the words. However, the guy said that in programing more complex commands it saves several key strokes each time. So in the long run it saves time.

I love the fact that you can program a default level, say 75%, and when you hit "@" once it goes to the default and hit "@ @" to go to full. That's nice although not exactly a radical new concept worth spending $25,000.

One interesting thought I've had about these new boards that are coming out. If these boards are all basicly just a home PC on the inside with some sliders on the outside, are we ever going to have to buy a new board again? Wouldn't it be cool if 10 years from now when new technolgy comes out we were able to just upgrade the hardware for the computer and buy new software from ETC and never have to replace the board itself. If you look at some of the products out there like the Horizon and Marquee, that seems to be exactly where some people are going.

Oh bye the way, ETC and Strand are both releasing new boards this year. ETC is supposed to release theirs in September, Congo was only the first step in possibly replacing everything. I haven't heard when the Strands are coming. I did hear a rumor that Strand has a new low/mid range light pallet coming that fits somewhere between the 300 and 500 boards. It's supposed to have aspects of both boards. It'll be interesting to see where that goes.
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gafftape - Did you demo at McCaw Hall w/ Peter? If so, we were in the same room. That kinda sounds creepy.
Zack what are you a stalker? Yes I was there. That's a little creepy. I was the big guy by the door, one of the last people in the room.

I actually came to the demo because I wanted to see the Selador LED unit. I left less than impressed with it. I loved the color saturation, but the lumen output is really low. I was thinking it would be really cool to get a set of them for cyc lights. But you would need a unit for every inch of drop to get enough light... and that still might not do it. It's way over priced too... the 6 foot strip light is $6900 and the "Xtra" model is $9,000 OUCH!!

The weird thing about the pricing is that it's pretty cheap technology. LED's probably don't cost more than a couple of dollars each. The "lenses" are just little pieces of plastic. Yeah there's some electronics in there but come on. I'm holding off until they bump up the output to the same as a real strip and cut the price down to about 25% of where it is now.

So what did you think of Congo? Are you one of those Hog guys that was at the demo? Your church must put on a pretty impressive service if you're looking at a Congo demo.
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I did the ETC Congo class at LDI in November & it is an awesome board. The class was taught by the Congo product manager & the Congo tech support guy was also there.

A couple of notes from the comments in the posts & extra stuff I picked up from the class.
(1) Touch screens are not used by the Congo. Sarah from ETC said they have potential for too many problems & after spending a day hands-on the board, I can say they are not necessary.
(2) Yes, buy a USB keyboard (everything on the Congo is USB-based... show storage on the USB flash drive, floopy drive, hard drive, etc.; in fact, the board has no built-in device for portable storage). The use of what most of us would refer to as "bump buttons" for text entry, was the most ackward part of the console. It works, but I had to re-type my entry three times. A real keyboard just makes sense.
(3) It's odd to spend $20k on a console, only to find out that you can plug in a $10 cordless phone to use as an wireless RFU! That's right, the board has a phone jack on the back. Plug in any cordless phone base unit & use the handset to bring up dimmers, set levels, etc.

My lighting vendor also volunteers at a large church. They just installed a Congo as part of a large facility renovation & he loves using it (I'd also guess he looks forward to selling some in his day job, too). He did mention that ETC plans to discontinue the Express & Expression by the end of the year, but will retain the Emphasis for now. They will have some new consoles coming out which will include a replcement for the Obsession. He said they don't expect the Congo to be around more than 3 or 4 years, as ETC expects to release some really new tech stuff within that time frame.
The console can also be set internally to talk Expression style syntax.

Or so goes all the posts on the subject on the LightNetwork

Yes, I was one of the Hog guys there. Red coat, middle of the room. I also was more interested in the LED fixture then I was with the CONGO demo. I have a HogII and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Yeah, the fixture's light ouput was not only "less then expected", but was almost humorous. I don't think that would light anything more then a 5 or 6 foot scrim, certainly not a 20 foot CYC. Color saturation was nice, with the 9 LEDs. But at that price, it just isn't reasonable even I think for the theatres with the most money.

The only reason the morman's are installing it is because they dont know what else to spend there money on :) - just kidding. Definetly not econimcal.

I consult alot of growing, expanding churchs' in WA, OR, & ID - so I always like to see the new products so I can tell people what I think of them - personally. More then just repeating what I read in reviews.

Peter is an amazing person to work with. I order almost all my lighting supplies through him or PNTA. Sometimes his stuff is not the cheapest, but I always get strickingly amazing service from him & Barbizon - that's worth the extra $5 here and there!

Our services are pretty contemproary, but not flashy. We only scratch the "real" power of the Hog during concerts & special events.

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