What It Does:

Version 2 of the Hippotizer media server, which made its US debut this year at ETS-LDI at the TMB booth, marks a distinct improvement over its original incarnation. One of its biggest changes is in its control options; the new version now has built in support for the majority of established industry protocols — DMX, MIDI, RS 232, and timecode (model specific) — making it possible to control any playback parameter remotely from other hardware. Lighting desks, for example, can control the system to create digital lighting effects via DMX or Art-Net. Alternatively, users can now connect an external board to the system and get hands on control versus virtual control. Feedback from the Hippotizer is shared with the device's motorized controls, making it move accordingly.

Also new is the control area, which is displayed on a screen separate from the main output, providing users with full access to image adjustment controls. You can select from a bank of preloaded or your own media and apply it on up to 16 layers; a layer level preview provides feedback during the course of your composition and is switchable between sources. You also have layer level adjustment of all the key parameters: brightness, contrast, color, playback modes, in and out points, etc.

Other features of the workhorse stage model include eight configurable layers of 1024×768 resolution media, multi-level previews for each channel, 16-bit keystone adjustment, compatibility with a wide range of media types, the ability to playback audio from video files, and Hardware Accelerated Graphics technology, which allows for the rendering of effects in real-time.

In late November, Green Hippo announced the release of H-MAP, the Hippotizer Media Access Protocol, which is designed to allow lighting consoles access to information on Hippotizer servers via Ethernet. Now users can have thumbnail previews and corresponding DMX control values available on their lighting console. H-MAP is an open source standard made available to console manufacturers; the Chamsys MagicQ console is the first to implement this feature.

How it Came to Be:

Green Hippo was started by two UK veterans of the corporate event world who wanted to branch out, cut loose, and do something in the club market. About four years ago, James Ross Heron and Sean Westgate designed a VJ console that was customized for several UK clubs. “After the corporate industry, it was great to get our teeth into projects that had no corporate message,” says Heron. “It was purely eye candy, and the product was geared to visual impact rather than corporate message. That was a great beginning point for us because it meant we could explore the parameters of effects without the restrictions of the message.”

After repeated suggestions that they start building and selling units, Green Hippo unveiled version one of the Hippotizer; a touchscreen-controlled VJ console, it had no DMX control (or any other control for that matter), and was simply designed to be operated manually by a VJ. Last year, a sister company of DHA Ltd, Scene Change, approached Green Hippo about making the product more compatible with the digital lighting world. Scene Change serves as the worldwide distributor of the product line, while TMB distributes in North America.

“What we identified was there were lots of media servers but they all tended to lean to DMX control,” Heron explains. “And we knew our core engine was controllable from many different protocols. So we sat down to figure out the different products we could make for the different markets, and the light came on and we said why don't we just make a general purpose media server? By that I mean a product that could provide media on demand, with real time effects, and all the functions that were available in previous versions, but not dictate to the user how to control it. Why not incorporate it all into one product and let the user decide how they want to control it?”

A version with the open protocol feature was first released at PLASA in 2003; additional tweaking led to the debut of full version 2 at PLASA in 2004. While the club market, as well as rental shops, had been quick to embrace the Hippotizer in its earlier incarnations, these later versions have also pulled in concert and theatre designers as well. “Rock and roll suddenly became interested because rock doesn't always use DMX for control of visuals,” Heron says. “And theatre is probably our biggest market now; they're really latched onto the Hippotizer. In England alone, it's being used on the new musical Mary Poppins and the current tour of Starlight Express.”

The development team for the Hippotizer includes Heron's partner Westgate, Josua Hoenger, Vadim Gorbatenko (based in Siberia), and Peter Kaufman (based in Switzerland).

What's Next:

Hippotizer is currently available in two versions: Express, an entry-level server, and Stage, the new version 2 standard. Heron says the company is currently working on a 3D feature, which will allow users to create their own 3D effects, an HD version, which will be capable of providing playback HD resolutions of up to 1080i (1920×1080). Both are tentatively scheduled to be released in the first quarter of 2005.

What End Users Bob and Colleen Bonniol Say:

While we've spent a great deal of quality time with the venerable High End Systems Catalyst media server, we are always looking for the frontier of new product design. We'd been lucky enough to get a thorough private look at EX-1 several times during it's development, but for other media servers our experience had been limited to what we see on the floor at ETS-LDI.

This year's ETS-LDI gave us a better opportunity. We'd been invited by Colin Waters to design the media elements of this year's TMB booth. We'd have the opportunity to utilize a large array of G-LEC ClassicFrames, high-definition Plasma displays, and TMB ColourPix, Pro-V8, Pro-V4, and 2" Intelligent Clusters arrayed into non-traditional shapes. The capstone to this pyramid was using the new Hippotizer v.2 to provide all the media streaming.

As with all things at ETS-LDI, the design and programming process was hasty. We also had the responsibility of designing the G-LEC booth as well as programming our own booth for MODE Studios. The time crunch was magnified by hardware problems with the Flying Pig Systems WholeHog® III that was planned for control at the TMB booth. We were compelled to use Hog® PC with the USB control surfaces and DMX widget to run the Hippotizer. The interface was thus tough to access.

The ability for the Hippotizer to be programmed discreetly from the DMX console now shone. We were able to program all of our sequence presets within the interface of the Hippotizer. This was a huge time saver. The Hippotizer also had no problem in loading our own Media Modes stock collections for use in the programming.

With the Hippotizer's ability to solo individual effects and control parameters we could work quickly to solve any programming kinks that arose. The server's ability to adjust basic parameters like brightness and contrast (something that every server needs to be able to do for every layer) helped us to quickly dial in the right look for each of the disparate display devices. The interface was elegant and intuitive, and the end result was a complex piece of design and programming that came together quickly despite adverse circumstances.

Other features that set it apart for us: audio playback on any layer; up to eight SDI or Component video live inputs with no latency; and an interface that can be entirely programmed without lighting console or vice versa, or anywhere in between.

Hippotizer doesn't yet enjoy the massive media presence in North America that some of the other players in the field do, but its feature set is so powerful, and its price is so unbelievably low, that we predict widespread success for this one.