Tips & Tricks

Corporate AV Focus Turns to New Technologies

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Last November, Kelso & Co., the holding company for PSAV, which provides AV and related services to more than 800 hotels in the U.S. and elsewhere, acquired Swank Audio Visuals, which supplied similar services to another 375 hotels in the U.S. The combined new company, known as PSAV, has revenues estimated near $1 billion and contracts in place with about 1,200 hotels…I asked Steve Dumond, who was divisional sales manager at Swank AV and retains that title for new PSAV, how the company will approach this tenuously resurgent market. He says that it will be a combination of customer service and technology. New platforms will be getting additional investment, particularly video mapping, which Dumond says is going to replace the conventional pipe-and-drape stage for events and trade shows. Using software systems like Red Hen and coolux, and applying new stage technologies like Atomic Design’s modular Pillows and Wafers will achieve what he says has to be the equation for success emerging from recession. Corporate customers, he says, are asking for “something new, something cutting edge, something that they can use to differentiate themselves, but they also want cost-effectiveness. To deliver that, we need to invest in and rely on new technologies.”

—From “The Biz” by Dan Daley, PLSN, Jan. 2013


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Reduce Button-Pushing with Macros

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Have you ever thought about exactly how many buttons you press on a console when programming a show? There are often many things you can do to reduce the button count of certain actions…Automated lighting consoles are built on complex computer systems, which enable them to help us perform tasks with less interaction. One example is through the use of keystroke macros. If you know that you will use a particular set of keystrokes often, then you can simply record a macro that remembers the specific sequence. Now you can reduce a large button press routine down to just a few, such as “Macro 4-Enter.” You can even get clever and further reduce the button count by assigning a quick key or playback to trigger the macro. Now you can press just one button, and the console will automatically perform the complex syntax stored in the macro.

—From “Feeding the Machines” by Brad Schiller, PLSN, Jan. 2013

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C.O.B. Technology a Boon to LED Fixtures

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The cost of producing Chip On Board (C.O.B.) LEDs is coming down, which is making producing fixtures with COB LEDs a lot more viable. Advantages include: Higher quality. Since the entire PCB (including the LED portion) is all machine-produced at the same time, the end result will be more uniform in construction. Increased thermal dissipation. Better thermal management, because the LED is directly attached to the PCB, giving it more surface area to pass heat away from the LED die. Fewer solder joints. Less soldering means a lower risk of a loss in performance due to a bad solder joint. Larger LED surface area. Since we can better control the cooling, we can build larger LED emitters. Using a COB light engine allows us to use a single LED to produce a huge amount of light. A single source LED can be easily lensed to create a hard-edge source, or in other applications, can be installed in a reflector for a softer effect.

—From “Focus on Fundamentals” by Michael Graham, product development manager for Chauvet Professional, PLSN, Dec. 2012

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4K UHD (Ultra HD) Is Coming, Along with New Connectivity Options

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Well, they’ve done it again. The 4K LCDs are coming; LCD flat panels that have four times the resolution of HD (high-definition) video. Some manufacturers are naming them 4K panels, while others are calling them Ultra HD (UHD). Imagine four HD panels arranged in a quad — remove the bezels, stitch the pixels together behind the glass, and you’ll get a good idea of just how impressive these panels are. HD (high-definition) video has a pixel resolution of 1920x1080, so we’ll round that off to 2 million pixels (or 2 megapixels). Ultra HD has a pixel resolution of 3840x2160, which rounds out to 8.3 megapixels. Although several manufacturers have produced 4K panels in the past few years, targeting high-end medical and graphics applications, this new wave of 4K devices targets the consumer and pro-sumer markets. Demo models are just starting to reach showrooms in the U.S. Some current 4K panels have four DVI ports, or four HDMI version 1.3 ports. HDMI version 1.4a, released in 2009, supports 4K resolutions (3840x2160) plus audio and 3D — on a single connector. I imagine that most new 4K panels at CES will be equipped with HDMI 1.4 input ports.

—From “Video World” by Paul Berliner, PLSN, Dec. 2012

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Creative Use of LEDs Can Avoid Lighting Excesses

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Steve Comer, LD for Jackson Browne’s tour earlier this year, discussed the virtues of “lighting the music” and the artist’s all-LED touring rig. “I don’t like flashing-in-your-face lighting. At first, Jackson didn’t want any rotating gobos or strobes. He didn’t want light to be on cue; he wanted it to be music driven. He would tell the spotlight ops to turn them off, as he felt like a train was coming at him. Finally, we just cut spotlights three years ago.” Besides saving energy, Comer can pack more LED fixtures into his restricted eight feet of truck space. “I’m 100 percent LED on tour, although I do use the house front lights. I appreciate LEDs in a different way. Their intensities snap on. LEDs are more functional — you get more punch with LEDs. They have an extensive color palette and color intensity.” Working with an all-LED rig has also changed his perspective on how massive lighting rigs as a whole can be pared down. “I see shows with 200 lights in the rig, and only half of them would be on, and many were not used until the encore,” he says.

—From “Designer Watch” by Debi Moen, PLSN, Dec. 2012


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Safety Efforts Under Way, but Lapses Still Evident

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Safety concerns have been brought to the forefront of many designs this year, and for good reason. Things that were once generally accepted as being safe are now being closely monitored. Whether it’s OSHA, a particular state’s commission or a self-appointed safety czar with a website, someone is watching your production. But I have to wonder if these people are looking in all the correct places. Reputable lighting companies have spent a fortune replacing spansets with gakflex. They have updated motor systems to make them comply with the standards outside of America. All these things have a direct effect on your show’s budget, and we must factor them in. Production managers demand fire certificates for soft goods. But do they ask for my motor certificates that authenticate that each winch has passed its yearly physical? Everywhere I hang a rope ladder, I am required to hang a fall arrestor. But every day I watch unprotected video techs climbing the back of their walls to troubleshoot. Last month I watched audio guys climb up the sides of speaker arrays to plug in a cable or put a chain back in a motor bag. These guys are 30 feet in the air with no lifelines attached, but nobody is bitching. Won’t be long until audio engineers have to sacrifice a couple sub bass cabinets on their show to pay for the safety equipment.

—From “LD at Large” by Nook Schoenfeld, PLSN, Dec. 2012

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Secrets Your LD Won’t Tell You

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When working alongside a lighting designer, the relationship between the two of you becomes very important. It’s important to keep in mind some secrets that the LD will not tell you. Here are just a few of the 25 listed in the Dec. 2012 issue of PLSN: #1: Don’t assume your LD selected the fixtures in the plot. Many times they are swapped out by the rental company or provided directly by a manufacturer. #4: If something is not going to work (it is not bright enough, missing an important feature, or is in the wrong place), let your LD know as soon as possible.  They don’t want to be faced with these sorts of problems once programming has begun. #15: The LD’s deal is the LD’s deal. Do not ask LDs how much they are making for a gig. #19: Except in rare cases, the LD will not let you know how to dress during programming and rehearsals…I once saw a tech come to FOH at a band rehearsal wearing no shirt and no shoes. The LD promptly fired him.

—From “Feeding the Machines” by Brad Schiller, PLSN, Dec. 2012

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Real-Time Video Pre-Viz Now Available

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From the early days of DMX-controlled media servers, something has been missing. Missing, that is, until recently. Two of the more recently launched media servers (the Ai media server from Avolites and the d3 media server from d3 Technologies) take video control into the next generation by adding the missing link: real-time video visualization. Using the media servers’ own Device profiles for projectors, screens and LED fixtures, the entire video and LED “picture” can be created directly on the media server. Once this has been done, cues can be programmed directly on the server and then either triggered via internal timelines or external DMX or timecode triggers. Now, instead of using one server for the media, then feeding the video output of that system into another system for pre-viz programming, everything can all be in one machine. This greatly simplifies the setup, reduces the FOH footprint and has the additional benefit of better performance.

—From “Video Digerati” by Vickie Claiborne, PLSN, Nov. 2012

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Large-Scale Productions Support Gear Manufacturing in Asia

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I was talking with Edward Marks, co-CEO of The Producers Group, a kind of collective-turned-corporation that pools its multiple event technology resources for large-scale projects such as The Crane Dance in Singapore — one of the world’s largest animatronics installations - along with events and installation projects at Hong Kong Disneyland and Six Flags Dubai. He outlined his procurement strategy, which he called the “bulls-eye approach.” It calls for sourcing products such as lighting, video, projection and other staging technologies starting from the center of the bulls-eye, which is always located directly over the project itself. Successive rings around the bulls-eye are breached when they have to go further afield for what they need. When the U.S. was the locus of this kind of large event, this economic Norden bomb sight was dialed in squarely over Orange County and Orlando. Its scope broadened to include Europe a few decades ago, but since then, the center of activity has moved east, as has the center of gravity for manufacturing. This, says Edwards, will be one of the trends for professionals in this business to keep an eye on.

—From “The Biz” by Dan Daley, PLSN, Nov. 2012

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New Fixtures are Packed with Nifty Color Tricks

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Automated lighting manufactures go out of their way to provide us with outstanding fixtures that are packed with hardware and software features. One example includes the ability of color mixing fixtures to automatically cycle through a rainbow of colors. This can provide a quick, easy color chase that is defined by the fixtures themselves and not your lighting console. Another example: the color-based and pixel-based effects added into LED wash lights. Many allow you to select a particular effect and then use another channel (or channels) to modify the effect — perhaps different segments of light, or pixel shapes. Some of these effects will use your base color mixes to apply various type of chases within zones of the light. For instance, if you create three different colors on a unit, you can then have it chase between these colors, or swipe from the center out using each of your colors. It would be a shame to never use some of the tools that their engineers work hard to provide to end-users. Take it upon yourself to read the user manual and DMX protocol for every fixture you are using on your next production. See if there are unknown features for working with color (or other attributes) that you are not aware of. I bet you will find something new.

—From “Feeding the Machines” by Brad Schiller, PLSN, Nov. 2012

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