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New Equipment: Lighting

Now that the dust has settled (literally and figuratively) on our renovation project, I thought I would take some time to detail the equipment we chose for the new systems. I’ve written before that I intentionally made the rooms as similar as possible (even matching some equipment from our other multi-user room) to make it easy to train on and so people can move from room to room. It also makes troubleshooting easier.

In this post, we’ll tackle lighting (Friday’s post will detail audio, next week we’ll get to video). When choosing lighting for these rooms, I had a few criteria in mind. First, we don’t do heavy lighting effects, and so we don’t have great lighting needs. What we were going for is even front white light across the stage, and some color accent light for backlight or wall light. Second, budget was tight, so I had be very conservative. Here’s the list:

Light Board: ETC SmartFade 12/48

Lights: ADJ FlatPar Tri-7x, OptiPars

Dimming: NSI D4DMX-MD3

I had initially looked at some Elation LED fixtures, but Duke suggested I take a look at the ADJ Tri-7x fixture. I ended up going with it for two reasons; first it has a 40° beam angle, which would work well for the short throws we had, and second it was very affordable (it lists for $199). It’s a tri-LED fixture, so you don’t get that weird 3-color look like you do from so many of them. The dimming curve is reasonable, and the colors are very acceptable for what we’re doing. Sure, it can’t keep up with a ColorBlast, but then again, I can buy 6 of these fixtures for every ColorBlast, so it’s a win.

We had a bunch of OptiPars in stock already, so we hung those from 1 1/2” galvanized pipe (painted black) in the house to light the front of the stage. We lamped them down to 375 HPLs so they wouldn't need to be run at 50% to keep the light level acceptable. The OptiPar is basically a poor ripoff of an ETC Parnell, and it’s not a particularly good ripoff, but they work OK. Given the fact that we would focus them and forget them, they will suffice. And since they were already in stock and not being used, it was easy on the budget. 

We already had one SmartFade in our other student/community room, so it seemed natural to add to the stock. I personally like these boards a lot. they are dead simple to use, yet have a ton of functionality. You can also connect them to a computer via USB and run software that will give you full control of the system, including patching and all set up. Save the show to the hard drive, and if someone really hoses the console, it’s a simple matter to restore it. And if you have LogMeIn on that computer, well, you get the idea. 

The two smaller rooms only got two to four OptiPars, so our dimming needs were modest. I looked for a better dimming solution, but couldn’t find one. I considered doing centralized dimming, but the layout of the building didn’t make that easy. And when we added up all the cabling, installation and dimming costs, it didn’t make economic sense. When you figure the NSI dimmer is well under two bills, it’s hard to say no. We have several in our other rooms, and they work fine for 4-5 years. At that point, it’s easy to replace them. Next year, I’ll probably order one or two to have on hand, just in case. 

The light count varies in each room. The smallest stage—in our 4th-5th grade room—gets just two OptiPars and 4 Tri-7X’s. In that room, the LEDs splash color on the walls. In the K-3 room, we have four OptiPars spread out to cover the 16’ wide stage, and three LEDs upstage aimed as backlights. The largest room—Student Life—got six OptiPars, again spread to cover the 36’ wide stage, and five LEDs, again aimed as backlight. In all the rooms, we channeled the LEDs in an even-odd fashion so we can create multiple color looks easily

We programmed a memory channel in the SmartFade so it’s easy to pull up all the front lights, then created three more to pull up all the Red, Green and Blue lights. Eventually, we’ll program in a bunch of pre-set looks that can be manually selected or programmed into a stack. 

The Tri7x fixtures offer looping DMX and power, however, the power out is a female IEC connection. Thankfully, Monoprice sells power extension cables in varying lengths that work just great for that purpose. Since the fixtures draw almost no power, we powered them from the same power outlet we used for the PA (which is powered from the Furman’s at FOH, via Gepco’s RunOne cable). We’ll get into that later. 

The lighting system is simple, effective and affordable. I could have chosen a cheaper console, but I really like the SmartFades, and they’ve proven to be ultra-reliable. When it’s all added up, we did lighting in three rooms for under $6,000. And everyone is amazed at the results. So I think we did OK. Next up, audio.

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