Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: October 2010 (Page 1 of 2)

LDI Recap 2: Serious Remote Control

In addition to all the lights, consoles and shiny things we saw at LDI, one of the coolest things was actually a remote control. Actually, a remote control on steroids. And then some. Most of you have probably picked up on the fact that I’m a bit of a geek and really like getting machines to do my work for me. It’s why we have 5 computers at FOH; they do more, so I don’t have to. And if we get going down this track (and I seriously think we will…) there will be one more added to the list. Enter High Resolution Systems and their UDC400 version 3.0. UDC stands for Universal Device Control, and it’s just that. Essentially, it’s some software running a PC that you provide that will talk to just about anything that can be controlled. The list of “languages” it speaks is impressive. To wit:

 

  • PBus
  • TCP
  • UDP
  • DMX (via ArtNet)
  • RS232

And if you need to speak a language that it doesn’t currently speak, they’ll write a driver for you. The software also controls an impressive list of video switchers out of the box, including the Vista Spyder.

High Resolution Systems UDC Remote The system comes with a 40-button remote. We told them that’s too many for the church market; an 8-button version is expected soon.Now, you might be thinking, “So what?” That’s what I thought at first, too. But then we started talking about what it can do. For example, I’ve been looking at power sequencers to turn my PA on and off. Those can get pretty pricey, especially when I have amps in two places, and neither is close to FOH. However with the UDC, I can drop a TCP controllable contact closure box on the network in my amp room (I already have net in there), and with a few drop-down menus, create a button that will turn the amps on and off. And if I want to sequence them, it’s easy to create a command chain in the software that will do that. But that’s child’s play compared to what it can do. Rather than get all theoretical about what it can do, consider this use case; our Midweek Bible Study.

It’s a fairly simple service. We have walk in (no music, just a lighting look), a welcome from the pastor (new lighting look, his mic), two songs (simple band, 1-2 mics, a new lighting look and lyrics), teaching (back to welcome look, pastor’s mic), and walk out (audio off, walk in/out lighting). It’s really simple, but it takes at least 2 people to run it (it used to be 3 before we had the new lighting system). But check this out; I could automate the whole thing. Here’s how.

First, I would come in for sound check and update my snapshots for teaching and music mics. Then audio is ready to go. From this point on, the ProPresenter operator could run the entire service. I would create a command that would first power up everything we need; walk in lights, projector, the SD8, amps, it could even wake up the ProPresenter computer—all with one button press. I could then create a script that someone can just punch through. First step would go to the welcome “scene,” advancing lighting and the SD8 automatically (I can control the SD8 through MIDI). The next step would take us to the music “scene,” the next back to teaching. At this point, we’d also want to roll our CD Recorder, which is controllable via RS232, and since we’re not using the projector any longer, turn it off and roll up the screen. At the end of the message another button press goes to the walk out lighting, the walk out audio and stops the CD Recorder (it may even be able to finalize the disk if the deck is so capable of being told to do so…). After the crowd leaves, a final button press can return the lights to their “safety only” mode, shut down audio and even put the Mac to sleep. Setting that all up would take a little time, but once it’s done, 6 button presses can run the night. Slick.

Of course, this requires a little extra hardware, such as an Entech DMX to ArtNet converter, a TCP RS232 box, and a few TCP relays. But all that stuff is relatively cheap and easy to come by. I’ve seen the programming interface for the UDC and it’s super-simple. Compared to something like an AMX or Crestron system, where you need a certified programmer to spend weeks programming a list of cues like I just described, you could do this yourself in under an hour. And if you need to change it, it’s easy.

High Resolution Systems UDC HTTP Server An example of an iPad connected to the custom HTTP server (running on the laptop)Oh, and did I mention the server also runs an HTTP server so you can connect and control from any web browser, including an iPad, iPhone, Android or from your laptop at home? And you can completely customize the display with simple drag and drop. You could even put a giant “Easy” button on the page and make it impossible for someone to mess up turning the system on. The system can also “listen” for actions on one protocol and execute something on another. For example, you could set it up so that when you go to your teaching lighting cue (DMX), the CD recorder automatically starts (RS232). How cool is that?

High Resolution Systems is a fairly young company that is really eager to make this stuff work and make it cool. I talked with their programmer for over an hour and every time I said, “Hey, could it do this?” he’d pause for a second and say, “Yeah, sure. I could write some code for that!”

So if you’ve been considering a total system remote control such as a Crestron, check these guys out. I hope to have my hands on the software and some hardware soon to see how it works. I’d like to implement a simple power sequencer first, then start adding other functions. Check back shortly to see the results.

Line6 XD-V70 Review

Line6 XD-V70 Line6 XD-V70Several weeks ago, a friend of mine dropped off a review unit of the Line6 XD-V70 for review. If you’re not familiar with it, don’t feel bad. Line6 is well known for their guitar pedals, amps, guitars and the like, but not so well known for wireless mics. And in fact, this line of wireless mics has grown from the Line6 acquisition of X2 Digital back in 2008. The V70 has some very intriguing features, and sells at a very aggressive price point (around $499). But how does it sound? If you’re the impatient type and can’t wait for the ending, here’s the spoiler; it sounds really good. Now let’s consider what we’re looking at.

The receiver is made from extruded aluminium and takes up a half rack space. The front panel contains three LED bar-graph meters; one each for audio level (plus an LED for mute status), battery and RF level. Next to that is a nicely backlit LCD display showing current channel, battery life (in a convenient hours:minutes format), and signal strength for each antenna. A clickable knob navigates through the menu items while a set of bottons enter and exit the menu system. Finally there is a front-mounted power switch. Missing from the receiver is a headphone jack, which is kind of a bummer, but not unexpected at the price point.

The back contains the usual 1/4″ and XLR balance out connections, A&B antenna jacks plus (and this is unusual for mics at this price point), built in antenna distribution. Using include short BNC jumper cables, you can attach the very sturdy 1/2 wave antennas to one receiver, then connect the rest together. Just be sure to use the included terminators at the end of the chain (or on a single receiver if not distributing). Self-terminating loop through BNCs would have been a nice touch; this is a common feature on video monitors. Overall though, this makes for a much cleaner, and more effective installation if using multiple mics.

As I said, the receiver is a half-rack space and includes a few cool physical features. There are a set of groves formed into the top, bottom and sides of the receiver that accept included bow-tie shaped plastic spline. These splines are used to join multiple units together either for stacking or rack mounting. Each system includes two splines and a rack ear. Buy two and you have everything you need to rack them up (you can also rack mount a single system with the included spacer). It’s a very elegant system.
Those grooves in the top accept the bow-tie shaped splines.Speaking of multiple mics, the XD-V70 system allows for up to 12 channels in a room. While it might be possible to get significantly more channels of analog in a given room, that require a fair amount of frequency coordination and care to make sure they all work. Line6 says you will be able to use all 12 channels every time, without interference. The XD series operates in the 2.4 GHz range, and utilizes some pretty trick digital spread spectrum technology to get the signal from the transmitter to the receiver in one piece. Simply put, the signal is split up to four frequencies, transmitted and re-assembled at the receiver. It’s also encrypted, so there’s no worry of people snooping in on your live sound reinforcement.

The transmitter is very similar to the form factor of a Shure UHF-R. In fact, it’s so similar that you can use any Shure capsule, or the very nifty Heil RC-22 or RC-35 capsules. But you might not need to. The transmitter has built-in mic modeling that digitally simulates the following capsules:

  • Shure® SM58®
  • Shure® Beta 58A
  • Sennheiser® e 835
  • Audio-Technica® AE4100
  • Audix® OM5
  • Electro-Voice® N/D767

Now, because I’ve been really busy, I didn’t take the time to do a full blown measurement test to see how accurately they modeled the mics. I can tell you that switching between the models does indeed change the sound, as well as the pickup pattern. We have over half those mics in our mic locker and from some very cursory testing, I can tell you that the models are close. Even if they are not exact, most of us realize the benefits of matching the mic to a vocalist’s voice; the XD-V70 makes it easier to get a good match without spending a ton of money on replacement capsules. Might the actual capsules sound better? Maybe, but the fact remains that being able to switch quickly between mic sounds for a vocalist is a huge boon to the smaller, cash-strapped church (or the busy sound guy).

The transmitter feels pretty good in the hand, being made from an ever so slightly textured plastic. It may not be as rugged as a UHF-R, but then the entire system costs less than a UR2. Getting batteries in and out is super-easy, and rechargeable cells fit perfectly (something that can’t be said for UR2s sometimes).

I haven’t been able to do a full range check; however Line6 advertises a 300 foot range. We’ve not had a single RF dropout since we’ve been using it over the last 4 weeks, with ranges up to 100′ and a lot of other wireless in the room. And then there’s the sound. Because it’s digital, the transmitter is capable of sending 24 bit audio from 10 Hz to 20KHz with a completely flat frequency response (according to Line6). The system also uses no companding (the combination of compression and expansion that every analog wireless mic uses to minimize bandwidth use). Those two traits show.

The sound is amazingly clean and direct, sounding very much like a wired mic. Since we multi-track our band every week, I listened to samples (which come right off the mic pre, remember) of the same vocalist singing into a Shure UHF-R with a Heil RC-22 capsule and into the V70 with the mic model set to the N/D 767. Even when listening with my UE7 custom-molded monitors, I was hard-pressed to hear a difference. The UHF-R may have had slightly more detail in the 2-3KHz range, but it was really close. The UHF-R has an excellent companding circuit which results in very few noticeable artifacts, so it’s a good reference. The Line6 was similarly free from any compression or overloading. As I switched back and forth between the two mics, it was so close as to be academic. In almost any PA in the world you probably wouldn’t notice the difference.

The Bottom Line

This mic system has a lot going for it. It’s aggressively priced, and arguably better sounding than any of it’s competitors in the price range. In fact, it sounds almost every bit as good as a system priced at 4 times the XD-V70, which is a pretty significant accomplishment. While it lacks some high-end features such as networking, it does include antenna distribution—which is arguably more useful. Line6 sells paddle-style antennas for use in more challenging environments as well. The digital mic modeling is very intriguing, and as we regularly swap capsules on our UR2s for different vocalists, it would be nice to just click through a menu to accomplish the same thing. Battery life has been really good; we’ve run them for nearly 7 hours without a hiccup (Line6 advertises 8 hours on a pair of alkaline AAs).

I guess deciding whether these mics make sense for you will depend on your needs. There’s a part of me that regrets spending what we did on our UHF-R system. On the other hand, we can easily rent additional components and expand our system to over 24 channels (which we’ll be doing in a few weeks for Christmas). But if I didn’t think I would ever need more than 12 channels (and that’s a lot of churches), this starts to look really tempting. I’ve not had much experience with Line6 to know what their customer support is like, and surely they are a relative newcomer to the wireless mic space. On the other hand, they’ve been making wireless guitar packs for years. The system is certainly good enough that I’ve used it for 4 sets of weekend services without complaint, and it’s kept right up with the UHF-R. So that’s something!

LDI Recap: Jands Vista 2.0 & LEDs Everywhere

Last week I was able to plan a short road trip with some of my good friends in the tech world. We headed off from SoCal to Las Vegas to spend a day at LDI 2010, one of the larger lighting-focused trade shows in the US. I had a few things I really wanted to see while there, among them the Jands Vista series of consoles. We currently have a Hog 3 PC, and while it’s a great console if you are a professional lighting designer, most would agree it’s not the most user-friendly, especially for non-professional volunteers. As a church, we’re making a push to get more volunteers involved and I want them to be successful. As great as the Hog is, it is it tough for our volunteer lighting team to run.

Jands Vista Series

Enter the Jands Vista. Now I know a lot of professional lighting guys don’t like the Vista because it doesn’t act like a traditional lighting console. However, for me, that’s the point. Rather then trying to find a series of function keys, then entering numbers, then more keys, and more numbers to get a light to turn on, you point, click and click. Because the interface is so visual, and designed to be touch-based, it’s very intuitive and user-friendly. I’ve played with the demo software for a few hours and was very quickly able to patch my entire rig, and start creating looks and effects; all without reading a manual.

Jands also is working on v. 2.0 of the software, and following the recent trend to name software versions, it’s called Byron. I got to see the latest version of Byron at the show and to say I was impressed would be an understatement. Whereas v.1 looks a bit Windows 98 (even on a Mac), Byron looks very slick. All of the palettes are resizable and re-positionable, which makes it easy to get the layout you want (even on an iPad!). It is packed with time-saving features that will make it easier than ever for our volunteers to create consistently good lighting.

Without going into a full review, let me highlight a few key features. First, the icons in the layout view of the programmer window are re-sizable. Make them bigger if you’re using a touch screen, smaller for mouse control. A new “Store Look” command makes it easy to store whatever lighting look is currently on stage and play it back at the touch of a button. It removes some of the complexity of tracking and behaves more like a conventional lighting board.

Store Look behaves more like a conventional board than a tracking console.They’ve made it faster to scroll around the cue list and easier to create synchronized effects. It’s also even more visual with a new gobo chooser that will even show you the combined effect of two gobo wheels.

Tired of guessing what two gobos will look like when combined? Problem solved.Right now, we’re not quite ready to move forward with a new lighting console, but I hope to be after the first of the year. I’ve not yet decided if we’d go with the full T2 console with it’s built-in Wacom Clinique touch screen, or a more modular i3 or even a computer running the software with an S3 surface. A lot will come down to how much budget I can appropriate, but either way, I think there will be a Vista in our future.

LEDs Everywhere!

It was hard to miss LED lights this year at LDI. They were literally everywhere. My ATD, Isaiah, commented that next year he would be bringing sunglasses because so many of the booths were so insanely bright. We saw a lot of great fixtures, and it’s clear LEDs are here to stay. I would say this is the first time I’ve seen a large enough collection of fixtures that were both bright enough and reasonably priced that I can really see us beginning the shift away from conventional fixtures in the next 12 months. As I said, we saw a lot of them; here are few standouts.

Chauvet Pro

Two fixtures that I thought were most interesting from Chauvet were the COLORado 1-Tri TOUR and the COLORado 2 TOUR. The TOUR versions are designed for indoor use and are thus a little less expensive than the outdoor rated models. As it’s name suggests, the Tri version is a Tri-LED fixture, meaning the fixture is based on 14 3-watt tri-color LEDs that are designed to eliminate the color shadows sometimes seen on single-color LED based lights. The Tri was extremely bright, had solid color mixing and is reasonably priced ($549 MAP). The COLORado 2 is a newer fixture that’s even more powerful than the original COLORado 1. It’s outfitted with 48 2-and 3-watt RGBW LEDs, has 5 distinct dimming curves, selectable color temperature presets as well as DMX and power in and out. Priced at $599 MAP, it also represents a great value.

COLORado 1-Tri TOUR
COLORado 2 Chroma-Q

Chroma-Q had a number of fantastic fixtures on display, but one that’s really interesting is the Color Force 12. It’s a 12″ brick-type fixture that boasts not only insanely high output, but a CRI (Color Rendering Index) of 92. If you’re not familiar with CRI, look it up on Wikipedia; the short story is higher is better when it comes to getting accurate color rendition of the items you’re lighting. The optics section of these lights provide a very smooth output and are very useable for a wall wash, or general illumination. I didn’t get pricing on these, but I understand they are reasonable given their output. I hope to get some demos of them soon.

The fixture can be addressed as a single unit, or as two separate blocks.PixelRange

PixelRange is a newer company, located in Knoxville, TN. I was able to spend about 25 minutes with the president of the company, who was a wealth of knowledge regarding their instruments. What I liked most about PixelRange is the company’s can-do attitude. When we asked him if a certain fixture was available in a different configuration, he replied, “We can put whatever you want in there.” So if you want an RGBA version of a fixture, they would probably build it for you. The products were all very well made, and while not inexpensive, looked like they would hold up well under any environment. Of particular note were the PIX60 and the PIX120. At 6,000 and 15,000 lux respectively, they were certainly impressive wash fixtures. These are a few more fixtures I’ll be demo’ing soon.

Pix60 from PixelRange
Pix120 from PixelRangeThere was a lot more that we saw, and I’ll be writing that up later in the week. Also, for a more on what we saw, check out this week’s episode of Church Tech Weekly. My good friend Van Metschke and I discuss these products and more in greater detail

Church Tech Weekly Episode 19: Live LDI Recap

Mike and Van, fresh from their trip to LDI discuss some of the most interesting products they saw. Topics include the Jands Vista (with v.2 software), a wide variety of LED fixtures and some really cool universal device control possibilities. Also, a brief discussion of La Matire’s sugar-based hazer.

Guests: 

Van Metschke

Blogs: 

Van

 

Picks:

[powerpress]

LDI Report: PixelRange LEDs

Some of the most impressive fixtures we’ve seen all day are at one of the smallest booths. PixelRange has created some very powerful LED based fixtures and reasonable price points. They are well made, exhibit great color and are flicker free. And did I mention how bright they are?

You’ll be hearing more about these in the very near future when I get my hands on some to play with.

I tried to post some pictures with this but the WordPress App keeps crashing. More to come…

LDI 2010

Today I’m in Las Vegas for LDI. My main goal for coming out here was twofold. First, I wanted to look at the latest in LED fixtures and lighting consoles. After installing our new lighting infrastructure, our next step will be a more volunteer friendly console, and as we all know, the future of lighting is LED.
Second, I wanted to hear the PAs that were to be part of the ET Live outdoor stages. There were supposed to be a large number of speakers to listen to, and I say supposed to be because the event was cancelled. So that blows that theory…

As much as I can, I’ll try to post pictures of anything notable today. The last time I was here for InfoComm, wireless coverage wasn’t too bad, so hopefully that will hold up and those of you that couldn’t make it out to the desert this weekend will feel a little lie you’re here.

500 Posts

I normally don’t make a big deal of stats on this blog, but I recently crossed a milestone that I think is significant. Actually, I crossed it last week on Wednesday with the post, Virtual Soundcheck, but I missed noticing it until today. Rather than spend a bunch of words saying how significant this is, how many words that works out to and blah, blah, blah, I thought I would look through my WordPress stats and see which out of those 500 posts have been the most popular.

Defining most popular is tricky. One way is to look at stats for individual posts. That’s incomplete, however, as the vast majority of people just come straight to the blog and read what’s on the home page. So I really don’t know how many people have read which posts. Another way to count it up is to view the posts with the most comments; presumably if people care enough about the post to comment on it, it’s significant. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to count comments per post, so that’s going to be tough.

So I’ve defaulted to picking the 10 posts that have received the most individual traffic. The list surprised me, and perhaps there are some here that you missed. Thanks for sticking with me and giving me a reason to write this much. 500 posts in 3 1/2 years has been a lot of fun!

Top 10 Posts of All Time (as counted by number of distinct views per post

  1. Church Applications for the iPad
  2. Battery Shootout—The Results Show
  3. DTV & RF Mics (Old page, no longer there)
  4. Heil Drum Mic Kit Pt. 1
  5. Why Digico over Avid?
  6. Rechargeable Batteries—Why You’ve Been Burned
  7. Final Soldering Lesson–XLRs
  8. Multi-Track Audio in QuickTime Movies
  9. Battery Shootout Pt. 1
  10. The Coolest Thing I Saw at InfoComm

Detailed DPA 4098 Testing

My friend Wes Wakefield has done a very thorough test of DPA’s new 4098 HB hanging choir mic. He went to the extra effort to set up a SMAART test rig and take samples from the 4098 as well as several other mics for reference. He also includes audio samples.

If you’re looking for audience mics, choir mics or ambient mics for an IEM system, you owe it to yourself to check out the 4098, and Wes’s article. Great job, Wes!

Mixer Retrospective

As I once again find myself roped into mixing students this weekend (on a Yamaha MG32-14FX), I started thinking about how much I like mixing on the SD8. Then I started realizing how spoiled I am. Which led me to think about all the desks I’ve mixed on. And the more I thought about that, the more I realized how much I enjoy mixing, regardless of what I’m mixing on. So with that, I’m going back in time to recount the desks I’ve been able to mix on during my 20+ year career; starting with…

The First One

When I started mixing, I was a part of a small church plant. We had no money and no band to speak of. Somehow we raised enough money to buy a small 8-channel Crate powered mixer. It had all of 2 aux sends and no faders. “Mixing” was basically managing the levels between the guitar, piano and 2 vocals. It was all we had, and I learned the importance of multi-tasking to turn the band down while turning the pastor up. It was a simpler time, but I was already looking forward to my first “real” desk.

Adding Faders

My first “real” desk (ie. it had faders instead of knobs) was a Tascam, and it was long enough ago that I don’t even remember the model number. It was a 16 input mixer that was really a recording board. I bought it because we were moving into our first building, still had no budget and I got a great deal on it. It was fun to mix on, as by then our band had grown and I was learning the basics of routing audio to multiple monitor mixes and even recording. For what it was, it was a great mixer. After a few years, we outgrew it, however, and it was time for a bigger one.

Mackie SR-24

This is the one a lot of people start on. I actually still see quite a few of them in service today, which is a testament to the fact that they are tough to kill. We upgrade to the Mackie from the Tascam when a member of our church offered to donate some money to upgrade our sound system right around the time a local music store was going out of business. Again, we got a killer deal and it was again fun to graduate to more inputs, more auxes and for the first time, groups! It was about this time that I started training people to mix; by now I was fully addicted to the mixing bug. This upgrade also brought with it a patch bay (which I soldered by myself) and new speakers. By this time, mixing was a lot of fun.

Mackie SR-32

My next board was the same as the last, only with more inputs. We ran 20-24 inputs a week with a pretty solid band. We had 4 monitor mixes and 2 effects. With this system, I started to discover the major limitations of this desk’s design; lack of headroom. If you’re mixing on an SR-24 or -32, you have to do a really good job managing gain. The mix busses run out of headroom quickly and when you overload them, they just sound bad.

Yamaha PM3500

After a few years of mixing on the SR-32, we moved on to another church (though not because of the board…just to clarify). Our next church was significantly bigger and was outfitted with a PM3500 (and a DM2000 at broadcast). Moving from the SR-32 to the 3500 was pretty great. The 3500 of course has fully sweepable EQs, VCAs, 8 Groups, a Matrix and a ton of Auxes. We also had an impressive array of outboard gear. It was here that I started working with professional musicians and really started honing my mixing chops. The input counts were much higher, we mixed 6-8 monitors from FOH every week and there was a lot to manage. But boy was it fun!

Soundcraft Series Two

When we moved back to my home town, we started attending a church that had a Series Two at FOH. It was my first exposure to a British board, and I really liked it. Except for the power supply, it was a great desk. We routinely filled every input each week, and had multiple bands with wildly different configurations, but it sounded great and was a blast to mix on. The EQs are very responsive and I love the pre’s.

Yamaha M7-CL 48

A few years later we moved to Minneapolis to TD a church there. They had recently installed an M7, though sadly, they basically pulled the previous Mackie 8 Bus and plugged the M7 in it’s place, so they weren’t taking full advantage of the desk. After a few months, we fixed that. The M7 is a nice desk to mix on, and I quickly became addicted to dynamics and fully parametric EQ on each channel. We started getting more creative with the remote mixing capabilities of the desk. The musicians I got to work with kept getting better and even though the room and PA was very tough, it was a lot of fun when it was sounding good.

Yamaha 01V

Once our church was planted, we moved to new diggs. I really wanted a RSS M-400, but the budget and install company dictated an 01V. Honestly, I have a love-hate relationship with the 01V. Yamaha packed a lot of power into a small footprint, but that small footprint means a lot of multi-function controls. There is a lot of layer swapping on an 01V, but it worked well enough. Our bands were great, but small so it was manageable. Still, I wasn’t that sad to leave it behind in cold Minneapolis when I moved out here to sunny SoCal.

Yamaha PM-5D EX

When I arrived in SoCal, this is what we had (along with an M7 at monitors). Before I started mixing on it, I thought it was the bomb-diggity. However after a few weeks, I started liking it less. Though there is a ton of power in the desk, I found the UI less than ideal. It seemed to take a whole lot of button presses to get anything done, and even with the assignable 8 faders in the center, it always seemed I was swapping layers. And then there’s the nearly unmanageable scene system. It was a solid desk, but I wasn’t that sad when we loaded it on a truck and sent it away (oddly, back to Minneapolis!).

DIGICO SD8

Now I feel like I’ve arrived. The SD8 is by far my favorite board. If I took the best features of all the previous 9 desks plus a whole bunch of new ones it would be the SD8. It’s by far the fastest surface I’ve ever navigated, the snapshot system is impeccable, and the sound is amazing. For me, this is the standard by which all future desks will be judged.

So that’s my list. What have you mixed on, and what is your favorite?

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