Lighting Ugrade: Go all in on LEDs or add dimmer circuits?

AAMorgan

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May 21, 2009
Location
Long Beach, CA
The Vic Lopez Auditorium is a huge 2,448-seat civic auditorium with a 49'x26' proscenium. After an earthquake renovation in 2001 that included an updated rigging and audio system, our school district seemed to run out of money and our lighting rig got the short end of the stick. We've been suffering from inadequate power, circuits, and lighting positions ever since. The electrical rig upgrade plans called for 17 6kW house dimmer circuits and 340 2.4kW stage circuits (172 dual dimmers) distributed over APs, balcony rail, AP booms, SL/SR proscenium booms, electrics battens, side floor pockets, upstage floor pockets, border lights, and footlights. That would have been sweet! Instead, we ended up with 17 6kW house light dimmers and 36 2.4kW stage circuits (18 dual dimmers) distributed over 6 APs circuits, 6 SL proscenium wall pigtails, 6 SR proscenium wall pigtails, 3 SR floor pockets with 3 circuits each, and 3 SL floor pockets with 3 circuits each. Everything else was abandoned except for the balcony rail positions which were demo-ed and new conduit installed, but no wire. All our stage circuits (floor pockets and proscenium wall) run straight up to an up/downstage traveler batten (with no soft goods) then swag over to the electrics and the primary front light comes from the APs. We have one aging CD80 Supervisor rack with 12/48 open spaces that are not wired. in 2008 (?) I added 18 hot-powered ETC Selador Vivid-R fixtures to replace a blue/amber fresnel wash which gained us a few extra circuits. The Seladors are controlled by DMX direct from the board. We're currently running an ETC ION with 194/1024 addresses used. Our lighting rig is not networked.

Getting the electrics battens un-tethered from the floor pockets would be a game-changer. There is an existing run from the dimmer room straight up to the grid and incomplete existing pipe and junction boxes for drops to the electrics. This is what the upgrade plans specified but it didn't happen. However, I have no unused dimmers, and I am hesitant to add NOS CD80 dimmers to an aging rack. I could detach my floor pockets and rewire them to the battens but that's only 18 circuits. We have a lot of open space in many electrical panels and could run a lot of hard power from panels for LEDs, or pipe dimmers or some kind of other localized dimmer solution.

DMX control is sparse. There is one jack on the SR Proscenium wall that I am currently running to a splitter and on to the 3 electrics of Seladors. The building has network connectivity and some jacks may be able to be disconnected from the school network and re-assigned to a lighting network? There are at least a few more network jacks already installed on SL and SR.

I'm highly considering the Chauvet Ovation B2805FC LED cyc lights to replace my Altman 3-cell cyc lights, which would free up a lot of circuits.

Although I've tried to save up my budget for a larger lighting upgrade, it's always been tight and I haven't been able to make much progress. I've been asked to come up with some numbers to justify my budget and possibly pull from a bond that was just approved.

Given the scenario above, what would YOU recommend?
a) add more dimmers in the dimmer room and run wires from there to install more circuits
b) add dimmer bars or packs, power, and DMX locally (like to the battens or balcony rail)
c) add LED fixtures, power, and DMX control
d) add LED fixtures, network nodes, or perhaps wireless DMX control
e) some combination of above

Thanks and fire away!
 
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DrewE

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Vermont
I would not consider option A. The days of tungsten lighting are clearly starting to wane; you don't have to be a seer to realize that the future will be with LED or similarly efficient technologies, and of conventional dimmed circuits becoming obsolete.

I'd concentrate on getting power and control signaling to the lighting positions. Network nodes would be the most future-proof and no harder to run than DMX control lines (and indeed it's entirely practical to run DMX512 over twisted pair network cabling in lieu of ethernet if that's more practical in the short term). If you have existing conventional fixtures to use, then some sort of distributed dimming might make sense; if new fixtures are going to need to be bought in any case, buying LED fixtures seems to me to make a lot more sense. If the venue gets a good bit of use, you might find that the LEDs end up making better financial sense even now due to their added flexibility (color mixing in the fixture vs. potentially needing multiple fixtures for multiple colors), lower energy consumption, and correspondingly lower heat output--heat that the air conditioning system needs to remove.
 

SteveB

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Mar 20, 2004
Location
Brooklyn, NY
If you were a road house and had to, by contract, provide for a decent number of incandescent stage units as well as dimmers for travelling events, I would not be installing a large dimming system at this point.

We did a renovation (took 9 years) that did a lot of dimmers - this was designed before LED's were available and almost immediately prior to opening got a grant to go mostly all LED's. We never looked back and have never, in 2 years of using this facility, used more than 30-40 dimmers on a 350+ dimmer system. We did ALL LED events from the get go, I think one event had an incandescent A lamp on the porch.

The big gotcha is to go this route you need ton's of cash as the good gear is expensive (an ETC Lustre is $2,000 ea., but worth it). You need a lot of switched power and you need a lot of Cat 5 as well as DMX distro, both hard wired and WiFi. In short you need to throw out whatever you have planned for more dimmers and re-design. You CAN pay for the LED units thru cost savings in not installing a 300+ dimmer system with attending cost in power feeds, circuit distribution and stupid stuff like HVAC loads and expenses.
 
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JohnD

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One thing that might sway your plans, how is your stock of incandescent fixtures? A large stock of newish, well maintained fixtures or a wide assortment of many types of fixtures in questionable repair? Can you still get new lamps for all your fixtures. Are you planning on relay switching for all the new power to the LED fixtures?
Good choice on your possible cyc lights, just ask @gafftaper, He sings an entire choir of praises for that fixture.
 
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FMEng

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A couple of thoughts. CD80SV dimmers are readily available for cheap on ebay, If the pipe is already there, wire is relatively inexpensive to pull. An SV rack's life can be extended with a Johnson Systems retrofit. The only thing that dies on any CD80 rack is the control module. The rest of the rack will run outlast incandescent bulbs.

That said, I'd still invest at least some money in more LED.
 

JVTD

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Nov 20, 2014
Location
Logansport Indiana
I would say don't buy additional conventional dimmers. If there is space in your Dimmer Rack buy Relay Modules and have addition wiring and circuits installed on your overhead electrics. This will allow you to power your LED fixtures and turn them on and off from your Lighting Console. Relay modules go farther than Dimmers as LED fixtures require less power. 14 x Dual 2.4kw Relay Modules provide more than enough power for my 50 LED Fixtures and 14 Intelligent Fixtures. If you just run power from electrical panels then you need to go around and flip breakers at the Start/end of events to power your fixtures on/off. Not only does that get tedious but it is easy to miss one. I just renovated my lighting system a year and a half ago and was faced with a similar decision as you are now. I was looking at two options Replace my dimmers with new Racks/dimmers or upgrade my control processors and add relay modules. The best advice I received is that new dimmers are just new copper and my current 30 year old CD80 rack/dimmers will easily last another 20 years if I renovated what I had. I went the renovate route, and so far the Johnson Relay Modules have worked perfectly and I have had no issues.

I recommend focusing on...
1) Relay Modules and Stage Circuits with drops from your grid to your electrics
2) Lighting Network infrastructure and Wireless DMX (Check out City Theatrical's Multiverse, their wireless DMX technology has served me incredibly well over the last 8 years)
3) LED Fixture Package with remaining funds.

Then try to budget a few fixtures into your annual budget each year.
 

AAMorgan

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May 21, 2009
Location
Long Beach, CA
Thanks for the responses. I'm glad to hear that I may be able to continue to use the CD80SV rack with a Johnson upgrade, and possibly fill it out with relays for additional LEDs. That's a great cost savings over replacing or adding another rack for more dimmer power. Since all my floor pockets and proscenium pigtail boxes are swagging up to the electrics battens anyway, I'm wrapping my head around stealing most of those circuits and re-routing them up to the grid and down to the battens, along with additional relay or switched power for LEDs on the pipes. I'm thinking that it might be easiest to go wireless DMX to the 5 electrics to avoid running all that cable? Any suggestions on wireless DMX?

Right now, all the wires come out the top of the dimmer rack and right into an enclosure which goes straight up (more or less) to the grid, with many branches along the way leading to the floor pockets, proscenium boxes, APs, and house lights. Let's say I disconnect the floor pocket wires at the rack, and run new wire from the rack all the way up to the grid. Now I've got a bunch of wires at the grid. Do they go into some kind of junction box to combine into a bigger cable to go down from the grid, onto a cable cradle swag, and onto the batten? And from there to a breakout box or pigtail strip or raceway to be plugged into?

Concerning a network infrastructure: where to start? What are the initial pieces of a network rig?

You need a lot of switched power and you need a lot of Cat 5 as well as DMX distro, both hard wired and WiFi.
Thanks SteveB. Tell me more about switched power. Is there a device that talks to the light board to turn this on/off without going through the dimmer rack?

One thing that might sway your plans, how is your stock of incandescent fixtures? Are you planning on relay switching for all the new power to the LED fixtures?
My incandescents are a hodgepodge. I have some Source 4s, random lekos, Altman 3-cell cyc fixtures, and older fixtures in storage. I'll probably need to keep the 10-degree S4s in the APs for the punch as they are quite far up. Upgrading to LED is sounding more and more appealing.

A SV rack's life can be extended with a Johnson Systems retrofit. The only thing that dies on any CD80 rack is the control module. The rest of the rack will run outlast incandescent bulbs.
Really good point on the Johnson Systems processor upgrade. I've looked at that before. Philips/Strand also makes an update of the CD80SV dimmer; I got one to replace a burnt-out dimmer a few years ago and it's been working like a champ.

My main comment is that you should absolutely avoid using any network equipment that is under the control of the school's IT department for lighting control.
Roger that, Derickls. I was just considering separating the existing ethernet network runs from the school network (which we don't use) and only using the existing jacks and wiring with a new lighting network infrastructure. I wasn't going to tie into the school's network and have to wrangle with IT.

Are you able to adequately light your stage with your current setup? 36 Dimmers + Selador Downwash sounds rough on your size stage.
Speaking of the Seladors, you mention that you added them and they're hot powered. Where did the power come from for those? Relay in CD80? Wall Outlet?
You are quite correct. It's rough. We manage to pump out enough light for full coverage, but there is very little leftover for specials or anything extra; there is not much flexibility or sculpting. I often have to explain that I could add light somewhere by request, but I'll have to remove it from somewhere else. We're that tight.
When I added the Seladors, I *think* they were powered by dimmers that had been programmed to on/off either at the board or the rack. At some point while I was offsite, they were moved to a clean hot power outlet included on the 3-pin pigtail boxes on either side of the proscenium wall. So yes, it looks like they've been on for years. Eep!
 
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NJLX

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Mar 31, 2009
Location
Boston, MA
If adding constant power for LEDs, etc (outside of an existing dimmer rack, in which case you would use relay cards) I recommend ETC's Echo Relay Panel. Installed just like a breaker panel, but takes DMX input to turn circuits on and off. https://www.etcconnect.com/Products...-and-Panels/Echo-Relay-Panels/Mains-Feed.aspx

Less flexible than a dimmer rack, but likely cheaper(especially just for switchable constant power, depending on the number of circuits), and in addition to standard 120v relays, can contain 2-pole and 3-pole relays, for switchable 208v moving light power or a switchable 3-phase output(L21-20 or similar connector - not sure what you'd need it for, but it's possible). As always, actual pricing and install information through your local ETC dealer.


As far as DMX goes, I recommend running cat5e or cat6 to each position(at least 2 lines - never know when you'll need a backup, and extra cable is way cheaper than the labor to do it again), and using either some brand of gateway(I'm partial to ETC) and a network protocol(sACN, ETC Net3, MAnet, etc.) from your console, or a "sneak snake" RJ-45 to DMX adapter(partial to TMB: https://tmb.com/sneak-snake/ but there are other brands). I will never recommend wireless for a permanent situation where a cable can be run(especially if other cables are already being run to a position, 1 more is always worth it)


Full disclosure, I work for an ETC dealer, but not close enough to your location to have any involvement in this at all.
 

SteveB

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Mar 20, 2004
Location
Brooklyn, NY
Switched Power is relays or motorized circuit breakers. Both respond to DMX and as such give you the option to power on/off from the console or an architectural system (Unison/paradigm/Echo, or whatever Strands version is.). It's preferable to installing standard circuit breakers and as has been noted, having to manually turn breakers on and off.

And note that a relay or circuit breaker is just that, a power source that only switches on or off, as opposed to a dimmer set to so-called "Non-Dim" mode, which is just firing the dimmer to full on. It's still a dimmer with a (potentially) distorted sine wave that many LED and movers do mot like as a power source, thus everyone's recommendation to use relays.

Motorized circuit breakers are just that, tiny motors inside the circuit breaker that allows an external control source (DMX typically) to power the circuit on/off. Some systems, such as ETC's Echo panels have a circuit breaker as overcurrent protection as well as a relay, on each circuit, all responding to the control signal. In some cases, such as when you don't have a lot of dimmed circuits to begin with, thus don't want to lose them as dimmers and change to relays, doing a MBP or similar is a cost effective solution to get remote switched power.
 
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microstar

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Jan 19, 2014
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Lawton, OK
I've found that Strand also makes an upgrade for the CD80SV rack called the C21 Processor. Does anyone know how they compare to the Johnson Systems CD-3000 processor upgrade?
I think most everyone except Strand will tell you the Johnson Systems processor replacement is the best of the two by a long shot.
I've used the Johnson Systems QD2000 replacement for Electro Controls Quad racks and they are very well made with great instructions.
They also answer questions very promptly.
 

RonHebbard

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Waterdown, ON, CA
I think most everyone except Strand will tell you the Johnson Systems processor replacement is the best of the two by a long shot.
I've used the Johnson Systems QD2000 replacement for Electro Controls Quad racks and they are very well made with great instructions.
They also answer questions very promptly.
@AAMorgan and @microstar Two comments:
1; Shaun Johnson, Johnson Systems, builds Strand better than Strand did.
2; If / when you phone, your call is not only answered by a live person, but often by Shaun Himself.
Toodleoo!
Ron Hebbard
 
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SteveB

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Brooklyn, NY
What's a safe bet for network control running to an electric batten? A 2-port Net3 Node or the newer Response Mk gateways?
Response MK is the newer version of the Net3 units, so get them, it's more future proof.

Our experience was to place DMX nodes on a SR loading galley that have local Net3 cat 5 jacks (We need more than the 3 provided) We then might run 4-5 universes of DMX via 5 pin XLR cable to the assorted electrics. Our consultant did one very good thing and provided our new facility with 28 - 1 and 2 port ETC Net3 nodes. I've got 17 in place currently as rep. and add 4-5 more on deck typically. I never in my life thought I would ever use that many nodes, but it turned out to be the easiest way to get data to a LOT of gear in a flexible manner.

The things we run out of: 5, 10 & 25 ft DMX cable. PowerCon pass-thru cables 5 & 10ft., Lex E-String orchestra cables for all the LED's. Get a LOT of this stuff.
 
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Aaron S.

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Los Angeles
You have gotten a ton of great responses. I will add just a couple things that come to my mind. You are a school? Going full LED would be fine in my opinion. I personally don’t think any professional theatre should switch to a full LED rig at this point. I would suggest if you get LED fixtures go with ETC. Later if you upgrade to ETC dimmers you could run them using the dimmer cards in Switched mode if getting relays is too expensive. A network and more DMX throughout the building is a must. I agree to stay away from wireless as the main system. I find wireless is good for the tricks. An option would be to look into some ETC Dimmer Doublers for the short term (although, I don’t know if they will work with the CD80 rack). It would also require new 77v lamps, but it could free up a few circuits at least for specials. As far as the all LED rig just think about how the space is used. Yes they draw less power, but like you said. Your Vivids have been on for years? Have you really saved anything from a conventional in that regard? Just something to think about. Who is going to be turning stuff on and off? If you leave the fixtures on for 6 weeks without using them are you really saving in power consumption? Also with the LEDs like someone else mentioned it means a lot more cable. Cable to daisy power and dmx to those fixtures. As well as more time to get the rig hung and working. Just a couple thoughts.
 

RickR

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Location
Spokane, WA the great "Inland Northwest"
When planning control a few simple ideas make a good guide.
  • DMX is cheap but needs are growing fast and full networking is the future.
  • Buying technology before you need it often means it's of limited value when you do need it.
  • CAT5e or better cable is very cheap and will run DMX or network. This can be a good upgrade path. Swapping a DMX gateway for a switch lets you add more gateways/universes later.
Just to nail the lid on new dimmers; Each color changing fixture is like getting 3 fixtures and their dimmers. Each 20A non-dim circuit runs 5 - 15 fixtures.
 

Aaron S.

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Los Angeles
They won't. Dimmer-doublers must have Sensor dimmers. It would be a waste of money to replace CD80s with Sensors today when dimmer racks are becoming extinct.

Yeah, wasn’t sure if they would work with the CD80’s. While I do agree LED fixtures are becoming more widely used, I personally don’t think dimmer racks are going anywhere anytime soon. Just in my own experience I have never seen a fully led show, doesn’t mean they aren’t out there. And I have never met a designer that would want it, again, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Plus in my venue we have ETC dimmers and ETC lustrs. It gives me more flexibility to plop a lustr anywhere I have an existing circuit.

I agree we are moving away from conventionally lit shows, but I think it’s going to be a long time before the conventional dimmer rack gets replaced with strictly relay panels. I could be wrong though, just speaking from my own experiences.

Edit: I wouldn’t say get rid of the CD80’s for sensor racks. With the dimmer doublers that would only be viable if they worked with the CD80. And that I wasn’t sure about.
 

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