Middle School has $3,000 for a Lighting Console. Which One?

Stevens R. Miller

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Apr 11, 2016
Location
Loudoun County, Virginia, USA
Hey all, my son's (former) middle school's venerable old Innovator 48/96 has finally gone lights-out itself, and the school needs a replacement. There is no drama teacher nor anyone on staff who has responsibility for the thing. What's happened is that the contract director they use to run their fall and spring musicals has been authorized to spend no more than $3,000 to replace it. She, in turn, has asked me for advice.

Now, the Innovator is a perfectly good board, but I've learned by helping them use it that, in fact, they virtually don't use it. What I mean is that, except when someone like me comes along and actually programs cues into it, the kids operate it by memorizing the cues and slamming the individual faders back and forth as fast they can when a scene changes. And that's why the thing has finally died: those little faders were never meant to stand up to being treated like video-game controllers, and a number of them are now bent, scratchy, or otherwise unreliable.

The theater space is a pretty good one, with 48 DMX-512 dimmers controlling instruments on two bars (one stage, one house), two banks of three-color gels, and the house incandescents (in nine subsections). The Innovator has not been wasted for lack of lights or dimmers. But, no one on the school staff has ever really learned to use it. I've suggested that the head of the music department take it on, but she firmly (and courteously) declined. I've suggested that the Technical Education teachers could make it a "module," comparable to model rocketry or wood-working. No traction there, either.

I've run the lights in that theater for a couple of shows, but I gave up on the Innovator (since I knew it was near death) and have used my computer, an Enttec interface, and Stefan Krupop's DMXControl 2.12 software. My setup works perfectly so I'm inclined to suggest to the director that she go the same route: buy an Enttec interface and a good laptop, and let anyone willing to run lights download DMXControl 2.12 and learn to use it. That last part feels like a mixed blessing, though. On the one hand, anyone can run DMXControl 2.12 on a Windows computer, and even program cues and so forth, while completely unconnected to any actual dimmers. That's a big win, because time in the school's theater with the actual hardware is extremely hard to get (as they teach classes in there). On the other hand, however, if no one learns to use DMXControl 2.12, there is no back-up plan, because there will be no big board with lots of faders on it to slam around when the show starts.

Rather than presume I know enough to advise the director (who is a great person, but knows little about the technical side of lighting), I'm here asking for help myself. To summarize:

- Middle school has a 48-channel DMX-512 universe with good lights.
- Their Innovator 48/96 console has died.
- No one on school staff has responsibility for theater lights.
- Contract director has been letting kids run the lights manually with the faders for shows.
- The kids are bright, but there's no guarantee any of them will learn to use DMXControl 2.12.
- Time in the theater to learn how to use a console is almost non-existent.
- They have $3,000 to spend on a lighting control system.

What should I recommend to the director that she buy?

Thanks!
 

Van

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Even a Color Source 20 may be sufficient, if patched correctly. I was blown away by the built in tutorials that can be watched on the built in video screen. It's "more" than they need but the price point is good.
 
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TheaterEd

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I advise against a PC solution for the simple reason that manual faders are easy enough for anyone to run.

I just purchased the Color Source 40 for a community theater here. I'm about 1/4 of the way through programming my first musical on it, and so far I love it. I like that it is 'more' than you currently need since if they ever want to venture into LED's they will be set.

I will finish programming the show tomorrow so if my opinion changes I'll report back, but based on its ease of use, ETC customer support down the line, and their price point, it seems like the right board for this job.
 

Stevens R. Miller

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Apr 11, 2016
Location
Loudoun County, Virginia, USA
Thanks, folks! The built-in tutorials sound promising, and middle-schoolers are all addicted to YouTube, so that's a big plus. Price point is well with their budget. The high school they go to after middle school has an ETC Element. Any similarity? That would be a plus, too.

It does have me grinding my teeth that the Tech Ed teachers aren't interested. Seems like this would be a natural, and would deal with all my concerns about the device being underutilized.
 

Thetechmanmac

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Northeastern NC
Another vote for the Colorsource line. I'm actually in a similar situation, but for an elementary school, and I am pushing for a Colorsource 20. I recently had the opportunity to demo the Colorsource 40AV, and it is very intuitive. The workflow is well thought out, and the touch screen makes it even easier to select fixtures, and of course plenty of faders. It would be very easy for middle schoolers to learn. After all, the CS line was designed with middle schools and small rigs in mind.
 

Stevens R. Miller

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Apr 11, 2016
Location
Loudoun County, Virginia, USA
Okay, I watched the ETC intro videos and the CS looks very appealing. Yes, it clearly does a lot that the school won't need, but it also does seem simple and user-friendly.

Now, here's a question I've asked before, but I need to get into it again: Let's say they go with the CS20. In the middle of rehearsal, the director says, "Gimme all of the blue gels, apron lights at half, and floods upstage." I know this means I need to set the dimmers on channels 1, 4, and 7 at 100%, on channel 39 at 50%, and on 40, 41, and 42 at 75%. The demo videos show how you can patch sliders to channels, but they don't address any situation where there are more channels than sliders. The data sheet says they can page the patches, but there are only two pages.

So, for a device like the CS20, how would I got about setting the levels for channels 1, 4, 7, 39, 40, 41, and 42 in a single cue?
 

Thetechmanmac

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Northeastern NC
I believe you can put the sliders into submaster mode, instead of a 1 to 1 patch. That way you could set up your submasters accordingly for each area and color. Although since you have the budget, I would go for the CS 40. Having extra sliders always is a handy thing.
 

Stevens R. Miller

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Apr 11, 2016
Location
Loudoun County, Virginia, USA
How about this? The manual says the sliders can each be assigned to a "playback," and that there are ten different pages of playback assignments. Looks to me like a "playback" on the CS is what the Innovator called a "submaster," which was one or more channels set to various levels, with the whole group of them assigned to a slider. If I were to create 48 "playbacks," where each was just a single dimmer set to full, and assign playbacks 1-20 to sliders 1-20 on playback page 1, assign playbacks 21-40 to sliders 1-20 on playback page 2, and assign playbacks 41-48 to sliders 1-8 on playback page 3, would that let me, in effect, have three pages of 20 sliders assigned to one-to-one to, collectively, all 48 of my dimmers?

Yes, the money's there for the CS40, but it's about $1,000 more. Would be nice to have that for something else.
 

Footer

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Okay, I watched the ETC intro videos and the CS looks very appealing. Yes, it clearly does a lot that the school won't need, but it also does seem simple and user-friendly.

Now, here's a question I've asked before, but I need to get into it again: Let's say they go with the CS20. In the middle of rehearsal, the director says, "Gimme all of the blue gels, apron lights at half, and floods upstage." I know this means I need to set the dimmers on channels 1, 4, and 7 at 100%, on channel 39 at 50%, and on 40, 41, and 42 at 75%. The demo videos show how you can patch sliders to channels, but they don't address any situation where there are more channels than sliders. The data sheet says they can page the patches, but there are only two pages.

So, for a device like the CS20, how would I got about setting the levels for channels 1, 4, 7, 39, 40, 41, and 42 in a single cue?
Short answer... Get the 40. Without a keypad you want the additional handles. You have the money. Only real alternative to me would be a used express 48/96... but those are so long in the tooth and you most likely can't buy used anyway.
 

Thetechmanmac

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How about this? The manual says the sliders can each be assigned to a "playback," and that there are ten different pages of playback assignments. Looks to me like a "playback" on the CS is what the Innovator called a "submaster," which was one or more channels set to various levels, with the whole group of them assigned to a slider. If I were to create 48 "playbacks," where each was just a single dimmer set to full, and assign playbacks 1-20 to sliders 1-20 on playback page 1, assign playbacks 21-40 to sliders 1-20 on playback page 2, and assign playbacks 41-48 to sliders 1-8 on playback page 3, would that let me, in effect, have three pages of 20 sliders assigned to one-to-one to, collectively, all 48 of my dimmers?

Yes, the money's there for the CS40, but it's about $1,000 more. Would be nice to have that for something else.
Yes. In this case, playbacks and submasters are the same. But, I agree with @Footer that you will want the extra handles so you don't have to switch pages. Having to switch between multiple playback pages can be a real pain.
 

Stevens R. Miller

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Location
Loudoun County, Virginia, USA
Without a keypad you want the additional handles.
It doesn't have a physical keypad but, if I am reading the manual correctly, it has a soft touch-screen keypad. Is that not good enough, in your view? When I was still using the Innovator, I found (as some here predicted I would) that it was actually easier just to punch in the dimmer numbers than to fuss with the sliders. But the Innovator's keypad was made of hard-keys and I certainly am among those who find touch-screen keypads annoying.

Is that what you have in mind?
 

Footer

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It doesn't have a physical keypad but, if I am reading the manual correctly, it has a soft touch-screen keypad. Is that not good enough, in your view? When I was still using the Innovator, I found (as some here predicted I would) that it was actually easier just to punch in the dimmer numbers than to fuss with the sliders. But the Innovator's keypad was made of hard-keys and I certainly am among those who find touch-screen keypads annoying.

Is that what you have in mind?
These consoles are kind of second class citizens compared to a traditional command line console like the innovator, express(ion), EOS, and just about every other theatre desk out there. They are not a command line console. If you want a light to come on, you have to have a handle to do it. Those are your channels. It looks like there is a virtual keypad for intensity entry but thats not the way they designed this console to operate all the time. What these do offer is amazing ease of use over a traditional command line based desk. If you want handles and a real command line you will have to step up to an element or find a used express. The element is way outside your budget. But... because you already have one in the district it might not be a bad buy (or does the high school want to upgrade to an Ion and pass the element down?).

By simplifying the console you do lose functionality. Command line entry being the big one. But, at your budget I don't think you have much of a choice. They did kind of put it in there but they really want you to set looks via the handles.
 

Thetechmanmac

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With CS you select the fixtures off of a "plot" on the touch screen. You select the fixtures using a graphical representation of your lights, and then set the level using an on screen level wheel. I think you can get to a touch screen keypad to enter fixture numbers, and them set the level using the screen level wheel as well. But as Footer said, ETC traded command line for simplicity and ease of use.
 
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Thetechmanmac

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Maybe they got the message on that point and upgraded the firmware. Have a look at this page from the online manual. That reminds me a lot of the Innovator's command-line capability. (Or am I confused about what that is?)
Interesting indeed! I guess you are able to enter commands. Command line can range from simple commands (dim 1,14,35 @ 50%) to more complex entries that are commonly used on the eos line to program. I can see why the CS would take basic command entries for users coming from command line consoles (innovator, express, expression).
 

Rob

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Hi Stevens,
Robert Bell here from Pathway Connectivity - the makers of the Cognito2 Console.
Cognito was designed from the ground up to be operated by people that don't do lighting 40 hours a week. Like the iPad, Cognito doesn't have a command line. A command line mean a syntax and a syntax leads to syntax errors. Errors frustrate new users. If your teachers or students can operate an iPad, they'll get their head around Cognito. It's all based on the four repetitive 'tasks' of lighting : SELECT | CONTROL | RECORD | PLAY.
As for people wanting sliders so they can bash up lights in a hurry - check out this video. It shows how Cognito's 20 sliders (which are bankable to many many more) can still work in the old fashioned way of a 2-scene preset.
There are many dealers across the county that have demo units they'd be happy to lend you. In your area, try Barbion Capital or Parlights. (Shame - I was just there all week doing training).
Alternately, download the Windows or Mac version of CogPC and give it a try. The on-line manual is here.
 

Stevens R. Miller

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Apr 11, 2016
Location
Loudoun County, Virginia, USA
Cognito was designed from the ground up to be operated by people that don't do lighting 40 hours a week. Like the iPad, Cognito doesn't have a command line. A command line mean a syntax and a syntax leads to syntax errors. Errors frustrate new users. If your teachers or students can operate an iPad, they'll get their head around Cognito.
Thanks, Robert. Others have recommended the Cognito as well. I will follow the links you provided and look into it.
 

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