I’ve been doing this AVL thing long enough that I don’t get terribly impressed by equipment any longer. But every once in a while, something comes along that I really dig working with. Today, we’re going to talk about such a piece of kit, namely, the Interactive Technologies Cue Server 2 lineup. There are multiple products in the line, and they differ primarily in hardware capabilities. The rack mountable Cue Server 2 Pro can handle 32 DMX universes, has 8 multi-state front panel buttons and numerous I/O options. The Cue Server 2 Mini fits in the palm of your hand, will still handle 32 universes though it does have fewer I/O options. Finally, the Cue Server 2 DIN is pretty much a Pro in a DIN rail mountable package
My favorite part about the Cue Server 2 is the software. It’s in constant development and they really do listen to their customers. I have seen several features I’ve requested (knowing I’m not the only person to request it) become reality. Other features I know are on the roadmap because I’ve talked with the developers about them. They have some good ideas and it’s constantly getting better.
I’ve used at least a dozen of them in the last few years as architectural controllers for sanctuaries and meeting rooms. Paired with their Ultra Station wall button stations, we can give users a very flexible system that is incredibly easy to use. The move to LED lights has been a boon for those of us who program architectural controllers. With Cue Station, I can make each button station a mini lighting console that is easy for anyone to use.
My favorite way to program it is to create multiple looks for each class of light fixture—house lights, front lights, top color lights, background lights, even moving lights—and then trigger those cues from buttons. By using a simple set of variables, I can give the user access to four to six different looks for each class of fixture. House lights to full? Press the top button once. Need them a little less bright? Press the top button again, they go to 75%. Another press goes to 50% and another to 25%. We can zone the front lights with multiple button presses so the entire stage isn’t lit up if you just need the center. Button three could cycle through a series of upstage color washes. Stop when you find something you like.
We could also do press and hold up/down levels if the customer wants. We can add delay functionality so that if there’s a short walk from the button to the door, the off cue delays by say, 6 seconds giving you time to get out while the lights are still on. Want to be sure you really mean to turn the lights off? We can require a 3 second hold on the bottom button before they all go off.
One question that comes up is how to lock the button stations when the lighting console is on: that’s a simple macro. I usually change the button color so it’s clear the stations are locked out. Recent upgrades to the software make it possible to restore a particular look when the console is switched off. This ensures that the room doesn’t go dark when the console is powered down—instead, we go to a house on look.
One feature I’ve not had need of until recently is to take advantage of the logic outputs to control relays. For the Taft Avenue project, they had some older box lights on a contactor that we needed to control with a 24 volt relay. Not only was it easy to control that from the Cue Server directly, making those lights part of the cue, but I added a DMX trigger so the lighting console could control those during a service.
I love making systems easy to use. Giving non-technical people access to much of the power of their cool new LED lighting system is a great way to leverage that investment without the TD needing to be there for every event. I consider this the EZ button for lighting. And, with the control inputs, if we wanted to, we could tie it in with the EZ button for audio as well. We could set it up so that when the user enters EZ mode in the audio system, the lights go to a certain look. Now that’s EZ!
Taft Avenue Community Church in Orange, CA is like a lot of churches; they’ve been around for decades, and their current building is 50-ish years old. Most of their AV technology is pushing 20 years old and much of it was installed by well-meaning but under-informed volunteers.
Case in point; their speaker system was actually designed by a professional, but when it came time to install it, the church (back then) balked at the price and they decided to do it themselves. Instead of following the design, they spread the speakers out throughout the room. Unfortunately, they didn’t know about delay and thus the resultant coverage was less than optimal (I’m being generous…).
When their current pastor came on board just over a year ago, he recognized the church needed some updates. We were engaged and took them through our 4Site Design Workshop. During that workshop, it became clear that while pretty much all their technology needed to be replaced, the biggest pain points were house lighting and the audio system.
We did a master plan design, which provides the framework for upgrading all their technology as time allows. They gave us a budget number they could work with now, and we came up with a plan to replace their house lighting, DMX distribution, architectural and theatrical control, speakers, audio console, wireless mics and give them a new personal mixing system. At the last minute, an anonymous donor supplied funds to replace and move their theatrical lighting. Let’s go through it system by system.
House Lighting We originally designed the system with Aquarii Acceleron fixtures, which are very nice white-only units. However, when it came time to kick off the project, those fixtures were back-ordered by several months. I re-worked the design with Chroma-Q Inspires and found I could make it work for roughly the same budget. As a bonus, they got color.
That was actually a fun story; we ended up surprising them with that feature. While the project was being installed, the pastor had said, “Man, I wish we could have gone with the color-changing house lights, but we just couldn’t afford it.” My installer, knowing what we were doing, smiled and said, “Yeah, that would have been cool, huh?” When I was training them on the use of the lighting console, it was really great to see everyone’s face light up when I said, “And if you want to make the house another color, do this…”
Because the ceiling was so high in the room—some 38’ to the peak—we used Inspire XTs for the main floor lighting. The original Inspire was used for the over-balcony areas, and Inspire Minis with recessed kits were placed under balcony. This was the only area that didn’t work out quite as well as if we had gone Aquarii. The Acceleron fixtures are available with up to 110° lenses, which would have evened out the coverage under the balcony a bit. With 65° lenses, the Inspire Minis pool light a little more than I would have liked. Everyone is fine with it, but even another 15° would have helped us out. We could have added fixtures, but that would have exceeded the budget.
Coverage on the main floor and in the balcony is excellent, however. We actually gave them roughly double the number of foot-candles in the seating area they used to have. We used this as another fun reveal on opening weekend. The leadership team decided to set walk-in and worship levels at roughly what their old system would do. I watched more than one person walk in, look up and say to someone near them, “I though it was supposed to be brighter?”
When we go to the scripture reading portion of the service, Pastor Craig stood up and said, “Let’s stand for the reading of the Scripture, and let’s turn the lights up so you can read your bibles.” When the lights went to full, there were gasps and cheers throughout the congregation. That was extremely gratifying.
I lost a lot of sleep on that house light design; what we installed was actually the fifth iteration of the design. Because the room has a crazy multi-layer vaulted ceiling, angled walls, a wrap-around balcony with stairs on one side and nary a right angle in sight, finding a way to let the installers know where to locate the fixtures was a challenge. Thankfully, our guys are pros and we got on the phone and came up with a plan. I located all the fixtures on beams, and was then able to provide them measurements from junctions with other beams. Setting heights was still a bit of a trick, but a laser level on a C-stand made it work. As a side benefit, because all the fixtures landed on beams, the conduit runs were extremely clean.
Theatrical Lights and Control For theatrical lights, we used the venerable Chauvet E-160 WW light engines. We re-used their existing Source 4 lens tubes and suspended the fixtures from schedule 80 aluminum battens from The Light Source. A Chamsys QuickQ10 provides theatrical control, which is a huge improvement over the three analog dimming controllers and a wall of rotary dimmers they used to have. A Pathway Octo 8 gave us sACN and DMX distribution, giving them the ability to expand to as many universes as they’ll ever need in the space.
For architectural control, I used my favorite controller, the Cue Server—in this case a Cue Server Mini. Interactive Technology keeps improving the software and interface of that system and it’s become incredibly powerful while remaining easy to program. We installed three 6-button wall stations to give them control. Through a little programming magic, I created multiple looks for each set of fixtures, and make them available through multiple button presses. For example, the house lights can be set at full, 75%, 50% 25% or off by pressing the top button multiple times. The second button provides four different stage lighting looks. In this way, we can make the room easy to use for people who don’t want to learn to use the lighting board.
Speaker System When I first saw pictures of the room, my first thought was Martin Audio CDD. Going through the design process, I tried multiple options from various manufacturers, and sure enough CDD proved to be the best choice. Not only is it budget-friendly, they sound amazing and gave us ±2 dB coverage over the whole listening area…almost. We do lose the very far out seats of the balcony in the top rows. It’s still very listenable, but it is down about 4 dB. Otherwise, the coverage is incredibly even.
One thing I really strive to achieve is the same response at FOH as in the seating areas. This is especially important in rooms like this where FOH is upstairs at the top of the balcony in a room that juts out into the space. As you can see from the trace below, we pretty much nailed it. No more does the engineer need to wander the space to see what’s going on in the rest of the room. What he hears is what the congregation hears.
We originally planned on the un-powered CDD line for this project, but when it came time to order, CDDs were several more weeks out. Martin did what Martin does and took care of us. They got us CDD Live! instead, which didn’t hurt my feelings at all. I love the CDD line, but I really love the CDD Live! line. The built-in amps and DSP make great sounding speakers even greater. When all was said and tuned, I had 4 filters in the system with a max change of 4 dB. They don’t take much to get them sounding awesome once the timing is all set.
Timing was a bit of a challenge as I had multiple dimensions to deal with. We had three heights for the mains and the outer ones were further back than the center. I actually did three complete timing revolutions before I landed on one that worked. In the end, it’s all about being patient and thinking through the situation. Low end is provided by three SX118 subs flown in the center, powered by a Via 5002 amp. I’m a big fan of center flown subs because the coverage is so even. Yes, you lose a little kicked in the chest by a mule feeling, but this church isn’t about that anyway. What we gain instead is incredibly even low end. And for fun, I did turn it up on the Cirkut Remix of Blow and it did indeed rock.
Audio Mixing To replace their aging Allen & Heath 3300, we went with a Yamaha TF-3. While I’d personally prefer an A&H SQ (or a DiGiCo…) for mixing, the TF line has very useful features for less skilled volunteer mixers. They made one-knob control work like no one else has, and the library of starting points for various mics and compression profiles is actually very good. I like the fact—for them anyway—that patching is always 1:1. While I like to be able to double-patch channels, it’s confusing for people coming to digital for the first time. I’ve spend more than few phone calls trying to troubleshoot stuff like that. We gave them two TIO-1608 stage racks which will keep them in inputs for a long time.
For wireless mics, we turned to Shure’s QLX-D line. These are my go-to mics when budgets are a little tight for ULX-D. Paired with an RF Venue Distro4 and DFin antenna, dropouts become a thing of the past.
Digital Audio Labs LiveMix rounds out the system for personal mixing. We went with the Dante input module, which makes it easy to do some limited amounts of foldbacks from FOH without making it too complicated.
Finally, I put in a Symetrix Prism 4×4 for distribution to the subs and assisted listening system (from Listen Technologies), and for EZ control. We mounted an ARC-3 on the wall at FOH, and if they need to run a simple event with a few wireless mics, they can engage EZ mode which bypasses the console and takes the wireless mics into an auto-mixer with the proper levels pre-set. Between this control and the lighting button stations, nearly anyone can use the room with lighting and basic audio with just a few button presses.
Results At the end of the day, it’s not about how cool we think the system is, but how the church likes it. And they are thrilled. Everyone was blown away with the house lighting, and music and teaching has never sounded better. No more do people have to sit in a “magic” seat to actually hear the message. Any seat will do. The system is designed to give them plenty of room for growth in the future as the church grows.
There’s a really good reason I’ve used all these pieces of gear on many, many projects over the years—it just plain works. And, it’s predictable. EASE showed that we would be down 4 dB on the far outside seats of the balcony, and we are. It also showed we were in great shape everywhere else. The lighting is just as even as predicted, if not more so. All this highlights why it’s imperative to do proper design on a system before spending money on equipment.
So, that’s it. Another successful project is in the books. I can’t thank our manufacturing partners enough for making great gear that does what it’s supposed to do every time. My installers Jake & Bob went way above and beyond on what turned out to be a much more challenging installation process than we all thought. Great gear installed by great people really makes my job a lot easier.
We’ll continue our InfoComm 2016 coverage today, wrapping up video and moving into lighting! Lots and lots of lighting…
Ross Carbonite Black Solo
Speaking of small switchers that pack a punch, we saw the new all-in-one switcher from Ross again at InfoComm. Boasting 6 HD-SDI and 3 HDMI inputs, along with 5 HD-SDI and 1 HDMI output in a compact chassis, the new Solo is a small powerhouse. It has 4 fully functional keyers, a transition keyer, 1 UltraChrome keyer, and 2 MiniMEs with two keyers each. Because the switcher can be controlled from Dashboard, it opens up some exciting opportunities for system building. At NAB, we said, “This is cool; it would be great if there was a rack mounted version with no control panel for just Dashboard control.” They said, “Yes, we have that, too.” Pricing is looking like it will be surprisingly low for this much power in a small package.And, since it’s from Ross, it will actually work. We like this one.
There were so many new products at the Chauvet booth, it’s hard to know where to begin. Maybe we’ll just go in the order we looked at them so I can keep it straight.
The Ovation B-2805FC is a new strip light that features a crazy-bright RGBA-Lime color engine. I know, lime, right? Well, turns out there’s some science going on here. If you look at a color space chart, you’ll see a long line between red and green. Smack dab in the middle of that is lime. When they add lime to an RGBA color engine, it’s possible to get really good colors in between red and green, along with very smooth dimming. It’s almost 6’ long, has a very well thought out stand and can do some pretty cool tricks with it’s 32 possible personalities. I won’t even try to cover all of it here; just go look at it online. It also comes in a shorter version, the B-565FC.
Then there’s the COLORado 3 Solo, which features three 60W quad-color engines for a fully homogenized beam. It zooms from 8° to 40* (and it’s fast) and in addition to being quite bright, looks very good. It’s also IP65 rated, so if you have a need for some bright outdoor lighting, this could be the ticket.
Another cool new product is the Strike 1. It’s a tungsten-looking blinder driven by a powerful 260W warm white LED source. It can act as a blinder, wash or strobe and puts out a smooth, even light. They even built in some red-shift to make it look even more like a tungsten source. The CRI is an impressive 93, and with a 30° beam angle and 51° field angle, it might even make a nice front wash light in the right situations.
Most of you have probably heard me talking about the Ovation E-190WW ellipsoidal fixture; it’s pretty much all we sell any more when we need an ellipsoidal front light. I’ve been impressed with them since I first installed some two years ago, but with an output that mimics a 575x lamp, sometimes they aren’t quite bright enough. That’s about to change with the introduction of the E-260WW. Whereas the 190 was powered by 19 10W LEDs, the 260 is powered by a single 202W warm LED source. I guess E-202WW didn’t sound like enough of a change. While it may not sound like much, some improvements in the lensing bring the output up to the equivalent of a 750W HPL (not long life, a full 750). The output is super-bright, and dead even across the field. They also raised the color temp up from the 190’s 2700K to 3150K, which I think is a welcome change. This one will be the new standard for us, I think.
Now, you might think a white LED ellipsoidal is fine and all, but what about a color one? Welcome the new E-910FC. It houses the same RGBA-Lime engine of the B-2805FC, and I gotta say, it looks great. Color mixing is fantastic, and the output great. It has 91 3W LEDs and can be ordered with a variety of lenses, both zoom and prime from 19°-50°. CRI is said to be “high,” I’ll have to find out what that means. Standard color temp with all LEDs up is 5850K, but they included white presets from 2800-6500K to make matching easier. This is another great option for front light.
That’s pretty much it for the static lights, but InfoComm was the first time we got to see the new Maverick line up close and personal. We’ve been hearing about these for a while and I’m glad they are out and we could see them. The line currently consists of three fixtures; the MK1 Hybrid, the MK2 Spot and MK2 Wash. Let’s take them one at a time.
The MK1 Hybrid fixture is powered by a 440W Osram Sirius reflector lamp and is both a beam and spot fixture. In beam mode, it can do a 1° beam for those cool aerial effects. In spot mode, it offers a 3°-18° zoom range. It offers overlapping prisms, full CMY color mixing and dual rotating gobo wheels. It can also handle Art-Net, DMX, W-DMX, sACN natively. It’s a cool fixture.
The MK2 Spot is similar and features a 13°-37° zoom with variable CMY and CTO color mixing. Like the Hybrid, it has two rotating, indexible gobo wheels and handles all the IP-based protocols. The same lamp as the Hybrid means it’s also crazy-bright.
The MK2 Wash is powered by 12 40W Osram RGBA LEDs and zooms from 7° to 49°, which means you could do some aerial effects one song, and wash the whole stage in color on the next. Because the LEDs can be controlled internally, they built some quasi-gobo effects into it, which is pretty slick. Also built in are a ton of pre-mixed colors for easy and fast programming. Like the other Maverick fixtures, it takes all the IP-based protocols, and adds Kling-net. Like the other Maverick fixtures, the Wash is bright, fast and looks great.
Finally, there was the new Rogue R1 FX-B. This little fixture is so cool it’s hard to describe what it can do. Just go watch the video on their website. It features four pixel mappable 15W RGBA heads with a 5° angle. It’s a continuous movement figure so you can start it spinning and never stop. The programmed dozens of macros into it, and you can combine them into thousands of effects. This one definitely falls into the “flash and trash” category, but it’s some insanely cool flash and trash.
Chauvet just keeps cranking out new stuff. I had dinner with them one night and got the skinny on some new fixtures that are coming out soon that will be just as cool as these. This is a company to watch for sure.
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We’ve been talking about the transition to IP-based networked AVL systems for quite some time. I just finished up a big install for a church in which every system is IP-based. Audio is Dante, lighting is Streaming ACN and while video was SDI, the router and switcher lived on the network and were remotely controllable. All these systems are extremely flexible, powerful and offer the church great capabilities. They also come with some setup and configuration challenges. I spent as at least 2-3 times the as long getting everything playing nicely as I did actually tuning the PA and building show files.
These system can also be challenging to troubleshoot. And with everything now in IT switches, it’s easy to assume that any problem you have is IP related. However, sometimes, it’s something far more simple—and frustrating. Here are few examples of things I ran into that turned out to be a lot simpler than we originally thought.
Is It Getting Power?
We installed an RGBW house light that was driven by DMX. The fixtures have their own control box that sends out a proprietary control signal that we initially had some challenges with. Once we worked that out, it all seemed to be working, until we lost half the lights in the youth room. The lights were split into two circuits and two runs of control. Those runs coincided. I spent a few hours trying to troubleshoot the control signal, wondering why it wouldn’t turn on.
Finally, I grabbed by non-contact voltage tester and found out they weren’t getting AC. I went back to the relay rack and found a fuse blown on the relay tray. Curious as to how the fuse was blown, I shut power off to the relay panel and tested all the hot busses for shorts. Sure enough, we had a short in a different circuit. The electrician accidentally landed a neutral on a hot lug and when we put the relay tray in, it blew the fuse. We didn’t know that, as we hadn’t used that circuit yet. And when we pulled the trays out to connect DMX, we mixed up the order and ended up with the blown fuse in the house light slot. Before you go spending a ton of time trying to sort out IP/IT/DMX/SCAN issues, make sure the fixtures are actually getting power. Lesson learned.
Is the Pinout Right?
In this same system (it was a frustrating day), we came out of a SCAN gateway to DMX to drive the control box. The gateway used a terminal strip, and the control box used a 5-pin connector. So, we cut the end off a 5-pin cable and landed the wires. My installer had done the exact same thing in another room in this install, so it seemed logical to land the wires the same way.
Three hours of troubleshooting streaming ACN, DMX, gateways and all that nonsense and one of my guys suggested opening up the 5-pin to verify the pinouts. Sure enough, the manufacturer of this 5-pin cable (who will go unnamed, but will not see a ton more business from me) decided that sticking to a single color scheme for all DMX cables is simply too much work. In one cable, shield, data + and data – were bare wire, black and red, respectively. In the other room where I had so much trouble, it was bare wire, red and green. Once I swapped wires, all worked fine.
Lesson learned; never trust a cable manufacturer to do a good job managing colors in 5-pin (or even 3-pin for that matter) cables.
In each of these cases, a simple analog cable caused me a ton of headaches. I should have checked them first, but I was sure it was a network issue. When troubleshooting newer systems, don’t forget the basics. Is it hooked up properly? Is it getting power? Is the In cable going to the In port? Often, we spend a lot of time trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
I recently happened across a discussion that was started by a pastor who was looking at the bland, white walls of their sanctuary with terrible acoustics and struggling with the why of making it look nice. Thankfully, he understood the need to fix the terrible acoustics. But he was legitimately struggling with the why of making the room look better than blank white.
Now, as a technical artist, you might think my first thought would be to attempt to justify the need for a ton of LED lights, environmental projection and cool stage sets. And while I think there is a place for that, I didn’t go there first. My first thought was the great cathedrals of Europe. Then I thought of what the Temple of David must have looked like. I’ve seen some artist’s renderings of the temple, and it had to be amazing.
Who Do You Worship?
Looking at those temples and cathedrals, one has to ask, “What is the motivation to create such an awe-inspiring structure?” In the case of the temple, David wanted to create a temple that was as amazing as God himself. That’s probably not possible, but he sure gave it a shot. The great architects and builders of Renaissance tried to build spaces that would put all who entered into a state of awe and wonder. They figured that since we worship a great, awesome and amazing God, the buildings where we worship should be great, awesome and amazing.
When you enter such a building, or even see pictures of them, you can’t help but be inspired. The longer you spend in them, the more the Gospel story unfolds itself. Those architects were master story tellers and managed to tell a complete story with the building itself. And that doesn’t even begin to consider the artwork and paintings that often filled the space.
Little White Boxes for You and Me
Fast forward to today and what do we have? White boxes. Instead of creating buildings that inspire wonder and awe, we build the cheapest, most boring church buildings we can. Well, not all of them, but many fit this description. Contrast this to the mall or the Vegas strip. If one were to evaluate what we value based on the time, energy and money we spend on the architecture, one would potentially come to the conclusion that we don’t really value our God much.
Spend Money on Ministry!
The cry we often hear when it comes to not spending any money on the building is that we should be spending it on ministry instead. While I think spending money on ministry is a good thing, I think that argument is based on a fundamental lack of faith. The great cathedrals of Europe cost a small fortune to build, and often took a century to complete. But look at the results! Hundreds of years later, they’re still wonderful.
Today, we live in the most prosperous nation in the world, and we scrimp and build our “houses of worship” with the lowest bidder. The Bible says God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and He’s not really concerned about finances. Yet we pinch every penny and build the most boring, uninspiring building to worship the God who created the entire universe. Does anyone else see the disconnect there?
Strike a Balance
Now, I understand we live in a different time and place. A $100 Million cathedral might not be the best idea today. However, our buildings don’t have to be ugly and boring. I think it’s more important to be intentional about creating a space for worship than it is to spend a lot of money on it.
I travel to a lot of different church buildings and I’ve seen the ugly white boxes and I’ve seen buildings that are incredibly cool and welcoming that didn’t cost a fortune. It’s all about creating a space that is inspiring, calming, welcoming or engaging—depending on what you’re going for. It could be as simple as a few thousand dollars worth of ultra short throw projectors on those blank white walls (they’re good for something!). Or it could be a paint and some cool found objects arranged in a way that tells a story.
Technology is Changing
A few years ago, every church that wanted to be “relevant” (in quotes because it’s been so over used I’m not sure it’s relevant any more) put up a bunch of moving lights, fired up the hazer and tried to do a rock concert every weekend. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, unless you do a terrible job of it. Or it’s not at all the culture of your church. Some of the best worship experiences I’ve had were in very simple, but very intentional rooms. They used technology—lights, haze, video, graphics—but that wasn’t the focus. You don’t have to go crazy. But you can make it beautiful. You should make it beautiful. It should match who you are as a church. And it should reflect the God who created the universe all around us. How’s that for some inspiration!
As more and more lighting rigs to LED, we need a way not only to distribute DMX, but power as well. And that power should be switchable, again, ideally by DMX. Chauvet has a great little solution to make that happen. And it’s quite cost-effective, too. Learn more at the Chauvet website.
Last time around, we talked about using Cat5 cable to distribute DMX signals. In that implementation, it is really cable replacement. Instead of pulling DMX cable (not mic cable—there is a difference), we pull Cat5 for our backbone distribution runs. Fixture to fixture cables are normal DMX cables. Today, I want to talk a little bit about using Ethernet to distribute DMX. This will be an overview article as there is way too much information to contain in a single post. Also, some of the standards are still evolving, and it’s not always simple, especially when mixing multiple manufacturers. Come to think of it, we need to do a podcast on this…
The Original Ethernet—DMX Protocols
In the beginning, we had things like:
Each of those protocols use Ethernet wiring and switchgear to distribute multiple universes of DMX throughout a facility. All of them require some time of break in and break out adapter, as well as at least one Ethernet switch to get all the nodes talking to each other. In and of themselves, they were fine. The problem was, none of them talked to each other. Some devices could speak multiple languages, but the languages themselves were not compatible. If having an all ETC Net2 system was what you needed for example, it worked well. But introducing another standard into the mix was problematic.
Still, those protocols worked well. They offered up to 128 universes, unlimited outputs, signal management (splitting, routing, prioritizing), and because it was all based on Ethernet standards, it was inexpensive to install and manage. So far so good. But you were using Ethernet, and RJ45 connectors aren’t the most robust. And Category cable is fragile compared to a regular DMX cable.
The New Hotness—ACN
As often happens, when engineers see protocol soup like we have above, they look for a way to create a new one that will do everything the old ones would do, and more, and do it easier. That’s the promise of ACN. ACN stands for Architecture for Control Networks and defines a series of nested Protocol Data Units—a whole series of TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) defining how data gets moved around.
What’s cool about ACN is that it is media agnostic; you can use whatever cable you want. It’s designed to be interoperable, so multiple manufacturers equipment can be used together. It’s supposed to be plug and play, which simplifies setup. It’s also two-way, meaning the end devices can report their capabilities to the controller, and the controller will know what to do with it. In theory, this means we can get rid of fixture libraries someday.
ACN uses an Ethernet backbone, so configuration and system architecture is familiar. I’ve been telling you that as a technical leader, you’re going to need to know more about networking. We know that’s true of audio, and it’s becoming more and more true of lighting and media servers.
What’s Available Now?
Like many new standards, it will take time to implement. While there are some media servers and the like on the market that use ACN, there are few fixtures that do. Hopefully that changes in the next few years. Right now, we have ETC’s variant of ACN known as Net3. Pathway Connectivity uses sACN (Streaming ACN) in their Pathport products. And believe it or not, these two can talk to each other!
The good news is that we can install ACN backbone systems now, and simply break in and out to DMX as needed. Someday when ACN becomes commonplace on fixtures as well as controllers, we remove the adapters and everything talks ACN. And this is happening; many of the Jands consoles for example, already speak sACN and will simply output their DMX universes straight to the network.
This is an exciting time to be in this industry. I was with a friend the other day and he showed me an installation that required hundreds of universes of DMX to manage. There’s no way anything like that would even be conceivable using regular old DMX. But with ACN, it’s easily possible.
If you want to learn more about this, check out Pathway Connectivities Resource page. They have some articles and a Power Point presentation with good info (it’s where I got some of this content—thanks for that, guys!). Now is a great time to begin learning more about ACN, as it will be the standard going forward. Hopefully, we don’t have to wait 10 years before we start seeing native ACN fixtures…
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As you know, LED lighting is all the rage. But how do you go from a cool idea to a finished project if you want to do something a little out of the box? This week, Nick tells us about a great new resource, ledstriplightideas.com. Some cool stuff will come from this…