You never know these days — especially with LEDs wrapping entire buildings — just how many DMX universes you might need. Sophisticated lighting and video designs are being used to highlight landmarks, support brands, or enhance urban environments on massive scales, just the kinds of jobs for the Pharos Architectural Controls LPC X.

To clarify, the X doesn't stand for 10, as it does in the Mac world; here it means “fill in the blank with the number of DMX universes you want,” anywhere between 20 and 200 in multiples of 10, and you have your very own lighting playback controller. Need more than 102,400 DMX addresses — that's 200 universes? Add another LPC across an Ethernet network. It doesn't get much easier than that.

Now large-scale projects don't have to use a lot of small playback controllers scattered about but just one solid-state unit that is like a lighting console in a box. Pharos has built on its award-winning line of one- and two-DMX universe LPCs that come in a DIN-rail unit form factor, now in a 19" rackmount version in the LPC X. This is no ordinary frame-store or DMX capture device. Launched at PLASA in 2007, the LPC X has gained its fair share of attention, recently winning a Live Design Lighting Product of the Year Award.

What It Does

The LPC X is a microprocessor-based lighting playback controller that, by design, provides a fully integrated and remotely managed control solution for a wide variety of projects. The unit is designed to be put into a control rack and forgotten, since it is built upon a rugged, solid-state design. It has no fans and no hard disk drives so nothing wears out.

The control data is output via a range of Ethernet protocols, including Art-Net, Color Kinetics KiNet, ETCNet2, Pathport, streaming ACN, and custom protocols and capacities, as needed. It has FireWire DV input for live video, pixel-mapped in realtime, and digital video output via FireWire DV and DVI. It integrates with other Pharos controllers as well as other remote devices. The unit supports all of these multi-protocol Ethernet and digital video outputs simultaneously.

The controller is programmed and configured using Pharos Designer software, available free on the Pharos website. With this software, which is compatible with Windows and Mac, users can build and test a show offline and demo it for a client before wiring a light. Designer allows pixel-accurate timeline programming and support for pixel-mapped media. Its algorithmic, realtime playback engine is suited to interactive control and includes integrated realtime and astronomical clock functionality as well as an integrated web interface for remote management.

Project data and the operating system are stored in non-volatile solid-state memory. Project data and changes to it can be uploaded from a remote PC over an Ethernet or web connection. The LPC commences playback automatically upon receiving power without the need for any additional external triggers.

The LPC X has a wealth of inputs and outputs. It comes with two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one for system integration and the other for data output; one USB 2.0 port for USB data storage devices; two FireWire ports for digital video input and output; one DVI output for digital video output; two RS232 ports for third-party system integration, such as AMX or Crestron; and one DMX input for integration of a console, for example.

The 2U-high rack unit measures 15" deep, weighs 15lbs (6.75Kg), and has an operating temperature range 32°F to 122°F (0°C to 50°C). The power requirements are 115-250V AC/47-63Hz, and the unit is CE-compliant with an ETL/cETL listing pending. It comes with a five-year warranty and includes Pharos 24/7 support, while distributor ETC provides additional support.

How It Came To Be

Product development often comes about from the need to solve a challenge. “A lot of end users were coming to Pharos with larger projects and applications and needed a more cost effective, integrated controller,” says Nick Archdale, technical director, Pharos Architectural Controls. Liz Cecil, product manager, adds, “We already had a scalable solution with the LPCs. Up to 40 units could network together to control up to 80 DMX universes, but system designers found the prospect of so many little boxes somewhat daunting, and projects were already exceeding that channel count. The LPC X gave us a platform on which to provide significantly higher channel control, adopt an Ethernet distribution of several control protocols much more suited to larger installations, and respond to market demand all in one solid-state unit.”

“The LPC X has some neat tricks,” continues Archdale. “It can take in live video via DV and map it in realtime, which other products don't currently do. Also, in terms of installations of Color Kinetics — now Philips Solid-State Solutions — products, it is much more elegant. LPC X can drive power supplies directly over Ethernet. No need to step from Ethernet to DMX and DMX to some other protocol — much less hardware on site to install and to keep running…It's pretty timely now that Philips came in because it has given us an immediate distributor in Philips Lighting [for markets outside North America].”

Bas Hoksbergen, project manager SSL Scene Setting with Philips Lighting, has used the LPC X on a number of large-scale projects for the Philips Ambiscene at the Light + Building and Euroshop shows in Germany. “It is an all-in-one solution that can handle different protocols like DMX, DALI, etc. from the Designer software,” he says. “The ability from the LPC X to handle KiNet, Art-Net, and DVI makes the series complete to control Philips VidiWall Solutions and Philips Solid-State Solutions from this same platform. With respect to other products, the LPC X is unique in being able to control lighting — and not just playback — with movies, images, text, and effects on different zones and different protocols.”

What's Next

“Our development is ongoing, responding to market trends and customer requests,” says Cecil. “The LPC X hardware platform provides us the flexibility to continue developing the product through software.” Archdale adds that the company has future plans for the software and operating system, in general. “There is a list as long as your arm of improvements, suggestions, and feedback from our end users,” he says. “When you buy our hardware, the software is upgraded at no charge as it comes along.”

What End Users Have To Say

Freelance lighting programmer/designer Ross Williams works primarily in television and live events. “Just as the line between video and lighting is blurring, so has the world of entertainment and architectural lighting fused,” he says. “Pharos has demonstrated a clear determination to help overcome the hurdles involved to make a very flexible product indeed — too flexible, perhaps, in my case. With the ever-decreasing setup times I have, a device with no DMX footprint, no specific protocol at all, in fact, and limitless options is daunting. This, of course, is actually its strength in the worlds of both architecture and entertainment — being able to talk and connect between practically all devices known to man — a digital glue, if you like. The familiar and customizable device library structure allows for control of almost any known lighting fixture and multiple other non-lighting devices beyond this.”

LPC X can be left alone on site, points out Williams. “Contained within the sleek rackmount enclosure, it is relatively tamper-proof and not destroyed by power outages and network failures,” he says. “I particularly like the fact that my shows can be administered, monitored, and amended from a remote location. Each software release has addressed concerns or requests I have had so far.”

Orri Petursson, an associate with UK-based architectural lighting design firm Speirs and Major Associates (www.samassociates.com), had a control requirement for a low resolution LED media screen. “The media screen is 40m long by 3m high and is made up of 9,500 RGB LED nodes spanning the entire length of an atrium,” says Petursson. “The obvious way to deliver and manage the content for this LED installation was to use a media server. However, due to the unusual aspect ratio of the screen, the content needed to be heavily manipulated to make it legible on the letterbox-shaped screen. Nick hit upon a key issue, namely the need for individual pixel control, but at the time, the LPC X was not available nor did existing event-based DMX control systems lend themselves to handling 28,000 control channels in a permanent installation. As luck would have it, there was a window of opportunity to revisit the control system specification, by which time the LPC X had been launched. With the LPC X, we saw immediate improvements in how the content could be handled, the ease of programming, remote access for the client, and general stability of the system.”

Petursson feels the strength of the system lies in its effects engine, “making programming very intuitive without the need to have custom content created, as well as handling images and videos for direct playback. Also, the thoughtfulness and versatility of the playback section ensures that the automation can be easily tailored to the requirements of the installation.”

Sebastien Noel, founding partner of UK-based Troika Design LLP (www.troika.uk.com), says he initially chose to use the LPC X for its software and ability to control many features via one video-mapping playback system. “We used it in our sculpture, Cloud, which was commissioned to mark the entrance of the new British Airways first class lounges at Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5,” he says. “The sculpture is covered with electromechanical flip-dots, similar to the ones used in the ‘70s and ‘80s for signage, flipping from black to silver mirror with an electrical impulse. The control of these 5,000 individual dots was key to the success of the art piece, in order to create the fast and complex animations spanning the surface of the sculpture.”

For Noel, the mapping feature is a standout. “All the features can be arranged in a very versatile way as a 2D map, onto which video is easily and seamlessly mapped for playback,” he says. “This was important, as we needed to flatten the 3D, non-rectangular screen, but there are many other appealing features: the ability to control so many objects, the network access — very cool — the attention to detail they put in the development of the product, and the exceptional support.”

Pharos Architectural Controls products are exclusively distributed in North America by Electronic Theatre Controls (www.etcconnect.com). For further information, visit www.pharoscontrols.com.