Occasionally I like to take time here to fill in the gaps on products that provide powerful but cost-effective solutions to media and projection challenges—products that don’t always receive their due. This week’s subject is Modul8, the popular VJ software from garageCUBE, the Geneva-based collective responsible for a variety of wide-ranging projects including the Mapping Festival, the popular annual VJ event.

Modul8 is a Mac OS X-based system that operates with up to 10 realtime layers, each with its own setting, effects and media. These ten layers can be combined in a variety of modes and then sent to multiple external outputs. Supported media include most common 2D formats, including QuickTime codecs, Flash 5 animations and live video capture. Media can be blended with a variety of compositing methods, including progressive transparency, blending modes, 3 different luma keys and advanced chroma key support. The application supports CoreImage and FreeFrame plugins, making it near-infinitely extensible.

The most elegant feature of Modul8 is its method of linking control surfaces to its user-interface elements. To link a keyboard key or MIDI signal to any element, all the user has to do is click on the element and press the key or send the MIDI signal. It’s the ultimate in control flexibility. A user can custom-build an interface from the ground up.

Modul8 isn’t perfect. As with all software-based playback applications, it is heavily hardware-dependent; performance will correspond exactly to how much of a hot rod your Mac is. And the interface tries to include so many features that it ends up a little jumbled and visually confusing. But for roughly $400 (with even cheaper academic pricing and site licenses), Modul8 is a fantastic, cost-effective solution to many playback challenges.