Design The New Pathway eLink and my lighting system upgrade


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Short version: there's a cool new product from Pathway Connectivity Solutions called the eLink. I've had the opportunity to beta test it as part of my new lighting system upgrade this summer. It's fantastic! Check out the webpage for the eLink with it's specs here. Pathway posted two videos of eLink as well.
The first one is the short pretty product overview:
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The second one has all the data you really want to know about eLink. 🤓

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Long Version: Let me take you through my complex (for me) do-it yourself project with a review of the new eLink built into the story.

To start I'm somewhere in the middle of the road when it comes to my skills for system design. I'm no consultant or network designer but I understand the basics. I love to get in, research, call people and ask questions until I think I understand, then jump in head first and do the work myself. I'm always a bit uneasy with the idea of doing a project like this, because I don't actually know what I'm doing in the networking world, but learning new things is why I'm here, I know you guys always have my back, and most of the manufacturers in the industry are so great about support why not go for it? Those of you who have been reading here will remember that I run a High School PAC and that this summer I upgraded my console to a Gio@5 (Love it! ETC rocks!). However this was not a simple upgrade because my theater was built 10 years ago with all Strand gear. My Strand console sent out Shownet which was distributed around the theater to Pathway Unos converting to DMX. Up in the dimmer room the C21 Dimmers are controlled by pure Shownet, next to the dimmers, the network had a Strand node that converted Shownet to DMX for my electrics (all four electrics sharing one universe 😞) and finally the in/out for the VisionNet system running architectural controls are up there too. Here's a diagram of how it used to work.
Old System.jpg

When you plug a Gio@5 into the front of that chain sending out sACN, ETCNet2, Net3, or ArtNet it no longer works because there are a couple of devices only speaking Shownet. Fortunately for me @Rob from Pathway has become a friend over the years and the timing of my project perfectly matched the release of a new product, the Pathway eLink. Rob offered to make me a beta tester and although it was just announced today, I've actually had an eLink running in my theater for about 2 months now.

Here's a diagram of how my network looks today:
New Ssytem.jpg

The first wonder of wonders in this project was when I discovered that a 10 year old Pathway Uno can easily get a firmware update allowing it to convert sACN to DMX. I fully expected to be forced to replace all the Unos with a new product. Instead it was less than a half hour for me to update 12 of them using the Pathscape software. Sweet.

Next up was dealing with the four electrics sharing one universe. Part of the reason for getting the new Gio@5 was to have 8 universes available distributed evenly throughout the theater. The Unos were easy to reconfigure to any network I wanted to give me universes out in the house and catwalks, But those four electrics were still stranded on a node with an optosplitter. So I replaced the node and splitter with a Pathway Octo Gateway. The Octo Gateway is 8 DMX nodes in one device. It's highly configurable and made it easy for me to send a different universe to each electric. It can do DMX in and out, so this made it easy to deal with the DMX in/out for the old VisionNet system. The Shownet protocol used this rather confusing system for how it dealt with the priority of devices on the network. I was relieved at how easy it was to just set a simple priority number and The Octo and eLink took the VisionNet from DMX, ran it through the network as sACN, and then popped it back at the rack in ShowNet with the appropriate priority all set... these are the kinds of things I worry about not being an expert. But it was simple.

This leads me finally to the biggest issue, I needed to convert the sACN from the Gio@5 into Shownet for my C21 Dimmer racks. The new eLINK is a simple elegant solution for this. On it's surface it's an incredibly simple looking device. It's just two network ports and that's it. Those ports can be configured to convert from any of these to any of these: sACN, Secure sACN, Art-Net, Strand ShowNet, and Pathport Protocol. Controlling Strand gear with an ETC Console problem solved instantly. Setup was a breeze. The security settings are a bit confusing and I got myself into trouble because I was a bull headed technician and didn't think I needed to read the manual. Once I got stuck, and did read the manual I was able to work my way through and figure out what I had done wrong in about 5 minutes. Also as I said before I asked a lot of questions before I ordered any of this and I want to give a big thanks to Brian who does most of Pathway's support as he was awesome helping me through the entire process. Over the last two months, I've put a lot of hours on the system as I programmed my new Gio@5's default file and run through programming show simulations. Don't you love it when a product works so well you forget that it's even there? Well it took less than a week for me to completely forget that the eLink was there.

I know there are other ways of connecting the C21's like running them in DMX but that would have required a lot of running new wires. Before the eLink arrived, for fun I tried using my old Strand node in reverse to run sACN into the Octo, convert to DMX out, then run the DMX into the old Strand node in reverse to create Shownet. It "worked" but it was buggy and the VisionNet would do weird things... this was probably a priority issue.

It's in that video above, but I want to point out one more awesome option in the eLink. Once Covid ends, we may start doing more events where people bring in their own console and gear. If we do I'm going to add a second eLink on the network for the guest console to plug into. That would allow me to lock down what parts of my system that other console can control... which would be awesome. Want to only let the guest console run your house lights and the cyc lights? It can do that too! Thanks Rob and Brian for your help!

So I want to encourage you all to give that upgrade project a try. Buy good gear. Do not go cheap on your network backbone it will only lead to pain. Post your questions on CB or call the manufacturers and ask for help figuring it all out before you buy. There are a lot of good people around CB who know this gear well and are happy to help.

To get your journey started, I want to point you to one of the first ETC Learning Stage videos from back in April. "An Intro to Entertainment Networking" it was released at exactly the right time to help me better understand how these networks operate and it's a great place for you to start your own project.
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Thanks for the review.

This is a long desired product that as you mentioned, often required running DMX from one manufacturer's node to another. I've tried doing something like this with Open Lighting Architecture running on a Rpi, and while it works quite well, not something that I want to rely on as show critical gear.

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