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Title: Software Controller upgrade - with hardware control
Post by: Jonathan Hiemberg on August 13, 2019, 11:35:38 am
Hello,


We've got a venue that is currently using an ETC Element 40, along with about 60 LED fixtures, a mixture of PAR-type and basic movers.


I'm planning to add a dozen or so more moving fixtures, and would like to update the control system as well.


This is a church outreach venue, so operated completely by volunteers. Currently I have the Element set up with a few different magic sheets that allow volunteers (via touch screen) to select fixtures or groups, change the colors, and do some basic movement. The faders allow them to fade fixture groups and also the main front lights independent of the 'effects' lights.


The difficulty is it gets complex for them to create more involved looks, and adding movers with gobos and more effects will exacerbate this.


What I would like to do is move this over to a software based system that is more adept at programming intelligent fixtures, but add some hardware control to select groups, palettes etc.


I would also want to add a hardware fader bank (12 channels or less) for them to be able to grab and fade house lights, etc.


Moving to a software based system might possibly allow me to double up PC duty and add something like Q-lab for video content.


Can someone steer me in the right direction, what product families might get me in the ballpark?


Related - anyone want to buy a well-taken-care-of Element 40 with two touch screens? ;)
Title: Re: Software Controller upgrade - with hardware control
Post by: Nate Zifra on August 13, 2019, 12:39:42 pm
I use Elation Onyx (used to be MPC) with an MPlay/MTouch.  I think that would meet your needs.  You can create custom screens on the software, and custom faders/playback buttons on the hardware.


Hello,


We've got a venue that is currently using an ETC Element 40, along with about 60 LED fixtures, a mixture of PAR-type and basic movers.


I'm planning to add a dozen or so more moving fixtures, and would like to update the control system as well.


This is a church outreach venue, so operated completely by volunteers. Currently I have the Element set up with a few different magic sheets that allow volunteers (via touch screen) to select fixtures or groups, change the colors, and do some basic movement. The faders allow them to fade fixture groups and also the main front lights independent of the 'effects' lights.


The difficulty is it gets complex for them to create more involved looks, and adding movers with gobos and more effects will exacerbate this.


What I would like to do is move this over to a software based system that is more adept at programming intelligent fixtures, but add some hardware control to select groups, palettes etc.


I would also want to add a hardware fader bank (12 channels or less) for them to be able to grab and fade house lights, etc.


Moving to a software based system might possibly allow me to double up PC duty and add something like Q-lab for video content.


Can someone steer me in the right direction, what product families might get me in the ballpark?


Related - anyone want to buy a well-taken-care-of Element 40 with two touch screens? ;)
Title: Re: Software Controller upgrade - with hardware control
Post by: Jeff Lelko on August 13, 2019, 07:50:55 pm
We've got a venue that is currently using an ETC Element 40, along with about 60 LED fixtures, a mixture of PAR-type and basic movers.

Hi Jonathan, I think the natural route to pursue here would be to expand with ETCís Nomad product.  The software license includes ETCís EOS, Cobalt, and Hog products, so you can pick and switch your flavor of console depending on what works the best (Iíd vote EOS here for familiarity with your Element).  ETC sells various wings as well.  I just have a simple Universal Fader Wing for a few handles/buttons on small jobs when bringing out my larger ETC desk isnít warranted, but you can buy programming/playback wings as well.  Nomad is a bit more expensive compared to other options, but I feel itís good value for what you get.  Hope this helps!

Title: Re: Software Controller upgrade - with hardware control
Post by: Nathan Riddle on August 13, 2019, 08:12:01 pm
Anytime I hear volunteers I say Vista.

Though, I'm pretty partial to Vista (v3 now).

I did a off-hand demo at a church while doing a sound install. We had the system running in less time than it took to get the laptop out of the truck. Basically sold on the spot.

And it will do everything you asked of it.
Title: Re: Software Controller upgrade - with hardware control
Post by: Jonathan Hiemberg on August 15, 2019, 06:10:48 pm
Thank you all for your input.


It looks like Onyx wins in the price-per-universe department, while Vista appears to be a little more 'volunteer-friendly' - which is a tight tradeoff at this point.


I like the Onyx M-Play controller, it seems to be the least intimidating on the hardware front, but it's just a few sliders short I think. I've googled but maybe I'm missing it, is it possible to use more than one M-play at a time? This would also have the benefit of adding another universe of output.
Title: Re: Software Controller upgrade - with hardware control
Post by: Nathan Riddle on August 16, 2019, 11:13:16 am
Thank you all for your input.


It looks like Onyx wins in the price-per-universe department, while Vista appears to be a little more 'volunteer-friendly' - which is a tight tradeoff at this point.


I like the Onyx M-Play controller, it seems to be the least intimidating on the hardware front, but it's just a few sliders short I think. I've googled but maybe I'm missing it, is it possible to use more than one M-play at a time? This would also have the benefit of adding another universe of output.

Don't forget programming, service calls, training, etc in the Money vs Volunteer decision.

If one console is easier to teach and support then it will cost less in the long-run.

You can run Vista console-less pretty easily with just a mouse and keyboard.
Title: Re: Software Controller upgrade - with hardware control
Post by: John L Nobile on August 16, 2019, 12:57:52 pm
I saw someone on the forum selling a GrandMa on PC command wing and a Fader wing. I have one that's been programmed by a real LD and even I can use it and look like a pro. Sometimes I have staff run basic scenes when I'm not around. I believe that system is capable of 6 universes. The command wing alone does 2.
Title: Re: Software Controller upgrade - with hardware control
Post by: Jonathan Hiemberg on August 16, 2019, 01:33:34 pm
Don't forget programming, service calls, training, etc in the Money vs Volunteer decision.

If one console is easier to teach and support then it will cost less in the long-run.

You can run Vista console-less pretty easily with just a mouse and keyboard.


Good points.


Is there any 3rd party hardware that works well with Vista - I'm thinking along the lines of MIDI button banks or similar.
Title: Re: Software Controller upgrade - with hardware control
Post by: Nathan Riddle on August 16, 2019, 02:51:38 pm
I saw someone on the forum selling a GrandMa on PC command wing and a Fader wing. I have one that's been programmed by a real LD and even I can use it and look like a pro. Sometimes I have staff run basic scenes when I'm not around. I believe that system is capable of 6 universes. The command wing alone does 2.

I think that's true of any (most) console(s). Programmed well they perform the roughly the same and are easy to use.

That said, I usually find that I'd rather in a volunteer situation to allow the volunteers to program their own show as they see fit. I don't really see that happening without some intermediate training on the GrandMa, ChamSys, Onyx, etc systems. Whereas Vista has the ability to with approx 5min of instructions allowing nearly anyone (who grasps computers, and colors) well to be able to program a 'show'.


Good points.

Is there any 3rd party hardware that works well with Vista - I'm thinking along the lines of MIDI button banks or similar.

Midi button banks can fire off pre-programmed cues. I have an APC 40 that I use for that.

Faders are not programmable though. Touchscreens can fix this as you can create "software" consoles.

The MX (Old M1) gets you faders and two outputs (channels dongle dependent).

The EX (Old S1-ish) gets you faders, encoders, buttons, etc...
Title: Re: Software Controller upgrade - with hardware control
Post by: Jeff Lelko on August 16, 2019, 03:53:44 pm
It looks like Onyx wins in the price-per-universe department, while Vista appears to be a little more 'volunteer-friendly' - which is a tight tradeoff at this point.

How many universes do you need?  Everything comes with trade-offs, and oftentimes itís worthwhile to give away excess capabilities such as universes youíll probably never use in return for getting more faders/buttons or a better-fitting product all together.  That was my case when I bought my ETC Congo Kid - Iíd rather live within fewer universes but get more surface to use.  Even though my Nomad license is the 12 universe version I rarely need more than 2. 

Whatís your budget for the project?
Title: Re: Software Controller upgrade - with hardware control
Post by: Jonathan Hiemberg on August 16, 2019, 06:28:01 pm
How many universes do you need?  Everything comes with trade-offs, and oftentimes itís worthwhile to give away excess capabilities such as universes youíll probably never use in return for getting more faders/buttons or a better-fitting product all together.  That was my case when I bought my ETC Congo Kid - Iíd rather live within fewer universes but get more surface to use.  Even though my Nomad license is the 12 universe version I rarely need more than 2. 

Whatís your budget for the project?


Universes - 2 would more than likely be sufficient. Right now we're using 2, but very little in the second one (and could probably squeeze to one).


Budget: The original budget specified was for a pack of new movers, using existing control. Being as I am the one doing the programming (not really my wheelhouse) I started looking for a smoother way around that.


Around that time I was at another venue that was pulling off the basic looks with similar fixtures I was after with Enttec D-Pro, and thus began the search.


So - the budget for the controller was essentially nil but I was thinking about squeezing one into the new package if I could swing it. If I was able to sell the Element 40 on the backend that would make it easier.


To clarify: This venue is doing little to no scene or cue list programming, really just busking groups of effects, colors, movements and effects that the volunteers can mix to taste during the music. With the addition of faders to control static front washes, house lights, etc. And any programming that does happen has up till now been done by myself, not the volunteers.


Thanks for all your help!
Title: Re: Software Controller upgrade - with hardware control
Post by: Jeff Lelko on August 17, 2019, 10:35:52 am
Thanks Jonathan.  I personally think you need to be very careful not to take a step backwards here.  While Iíll be the first to admit that the Element isnít really intended for use with busking larger rigs of moving lights, itís still a very respectable console from a reputable manufacturer. 

Cheap control solutions are great until theyíre not, and it seems that youíre already past the point where the average bar/band controller wonít offer enough for your needs.  Youíre at the level where any true upgrade is going to be costing upwards of $10K and even a sidestep isnít going to be cheap to not be giving something up.  Iíd take an Element any day over a PC solution with no wing - something about the faders and buttons for busking is just too important to me.

My two cents would be to plan out the fixture upgrades first and see where that lands you budget-wise.  Your Element isnít going anywhere, so give that a try and see what you can pull off!  You might be surprised.  If you can manage to squeeze another 5-10K out of your budget for a new board then maybe shop around, but until that happens Iíd stick with what you have.  Hope this helps!
Title: Re: Software Controller upgrade - with hardware control
Post by: Nathan Riddle on August 17, 2019, 11:38:27 am
While another perspective is certainly valid. I disagree with Jeff's (we're friends so it's okay :P ) statements about the Element, it's old and doesn't do anything easily and is a pain to teach volunteers.

Also the cost.
You can easily get into a jands situation or a used GrandMa (heck the Dot 2 is free) or a MPC situation for less than 10k. Heck, probably less than 5k even with faders. Now to Jeff's defense he's probably calculating labor in installing these systems. But for Jands it should be easily under 1k to install and train.

For Jands I don't think faders are necessary, but if you see people busking on this console then yeah a S1 or EX surface makes a lot of sense.

Let's define what you need:
2 universes. (maybe squeeze into 1 and have expandability)
Easy to use for volunteers
Hardware control (vague, faders, buttons, what?)

There's an used M1 with 2048 dongle for sale ~$2500: https://www.gearsource.com/catalog/stockitem/jands-vista-m1
(I'd be willing to trade up my 1024 dongle for the 2048 dongle as I'm using more and more LED pixels in my shows).

Chroma-Q CQ676-1024 Vista EX Control Surface with 1024 Channel Dongle is $5600 MAP (can quote you a slight deal)

MA Lighting grandMA2 onPC Fader Wing USB Fader Wing with 15 Faders and 60 Buttons - $5400 MAP
Title: Re: Software Controller upgrade - with hardware control
Post by: Jonathan Hiemberg on August 17, 2019, 01:55:32 pm
Thank you guys so much for the input and help.


I will say, as far as the Element goes, I would hate to program more complicated movers - although it is definitely possible. Right now the only movers we're using are non-zooming RGB washes. I'll be adding fixtures with zoom, gobos, etc - a lot more complexity.


I see your point (Jeff) about upgrade or even sideways move - but I really feel like I don't need either for this venue, the Element is just a different type of console than what we're using. I purchased the Element thinking we would be doing a lot more theatrical work in this venue, when in reality it's basically a variety concert weekly, with semi-annual theatrical productions.


Right now as it's set up:
-touch screen magic sheet allows selecting fixtures or groups, then apply color palettes and focus palettes
-20 faders are programmed for individual intensities on front wash pars (will reduce that to 6 - we don't need that much individual control)
-10 faders are a mix of: Movement effects, strobe effects, color effects


So in practice, the user selects fixtures and gives them a static color, uses the faders to make things move/flash/change colors, and uses faders to bring up the front washes and house lights.


In reality, they need a really simple front end - 12 faders with a bank or two of buttons to select effects, strobes, motion effects would probably be more than sufficient.
Title: Re: Software Controller upgrade - with hardware control
Post by: Jeff Lelko on August 17, 2019, 02:23:07 pm
No worries Nathan!  Even though we're friends in real life I'm always happy to have constructive debates with people who know what they're talking about and can present valid arguments  :)  We need to meet up again one of these days when we're both on the same side of the state!

I certainly won't deny that the Element is an older board and that it's geared towards high schools, community theaters, and other light-duty applications.  I guess what I'm really trying to say is that while there are certainly better options out there, there are plenty of worse things you could be using too!  Band-aided Expresses, point and click software, and DMX Operators are all things I've seen plenty of times in the wild that I'd take an Element over any day.  On top of that, your Element is paid for (presumably), so it costs you nothing to keep using it.  Programming will be a pain, yes, but if it's more or less a once-and-done it might be worth putting up with to save some decent money, at least for now. 

As an owner/user of many different types of equipment, I always try to make any upgrades really count.  Replacements are a different story, but if an upgrade is what's really needed, I want my investment to be worthwhile and not just an expensive side-step.  As example, last year I upgraded from an A&H Qu-PAC to a dLive.  Very big step up, but worth every penny to me.  I'm glad to see you jumped on the dLive train too Nathan!

Yes, I'm shooting a bit high with 10K, but that's a ROM for all said and done.  As far as the products I have in mind, a true upgrade would be to a flavor of ETC ION.  That said, since scripted playback isn't something that you do regularly, that probably isn't your best upgrade path.  Your type of application would be a perfect fit for my ETC Congo Kid, but sadly Congo/Cobalt is now a legacy product and I'm not giving mine up anytime soon!  Something from the Hog or MA product lines would probably be the most natural choice if a true upgrade to an industry-standard busking solution is what you desire, along with possibly a ChamSys option. 

Now, for full disclosure, I know a number of people that have gone from the ETC Express (or Element) to a Pathway Cognito2 and been very happy.  It's a very "different" type of board, but different isn't a bad thing here, especially for a volunteer user compared to a seasoned professional designer.  I certainly can't compare to Nathan's experience with Jands, so I'll let him champion that option!  I'm mostly an ETC user with the occasional ChamSys/Hog/MA project. 

Jonathan, what I'd suggest doing is taking the few desires you outlined in your latest post and compare them to a number of available options to see what fits best.  I did something similar when buying my Congo Kid which I discussed in my review here (https://forums.prosoundweb.com/index.php?topic=164054.0).  Getting demos of your short-list options never hurts either, and most software allows for a free download to click around with.  I'm glad to hear we're helping guide your decision!  Good luck!
Title: Re: Software Controller upgrade - with hardware control
Post by: Nathan Riddle on August 21, 2019, 01:25:16 pm
No worries Nathan!  Even though we're friends in real life I'm always happy to have constructive debates with people who know what they're talking about and can present valid arguments  :)  We need to meet up again one of these days when we're both on the same side of the state!

Agreed! I need to visit NASA one day :)

I wholeheartedly agree to not downgrade with a crappy software console. IMO, the only runners in consideration are Jands, MA, and Onyx. Maybe ChamSys.

Not as familiar with the other consoles you suggest so I'll differ to your expertise. ETC long time, but we escaped to Jands around the time the ION came out, so I'm in the dark about ETC by now.

I agree you can download a lot of software options and watch some youtube videos to get an idea of the software solutions.

Title: Re: Software Controller upgrade - with hardware control
Post by: Jonathan Hiemberg on August 21, 2019, 05:14:19 pm
Agreed! I need to visit NASA one day :)

I wholeheartedly agree to not downgrade with a crappy software console. IMO, the only runners in consideration are Jands, MA, and Onyx. Maybe ChamSys.

Not as familiar with the other consoles you suggest so I'll differ to your expertise. ETC long time, but we escaped to Jands around the time the ION came out, so I'm in the dark about ETC by now.

I agree you can download a lot of software options and watch some youtube videos to get an idea of the software solutions.


Thanks again for all the input. I'm taking my time to work through the options and make the right choice.