They Were Acclaimed at the Show, but What Happened to Them?

LDI has become the show to launch products to the entertainment technology industry, partly because during LDI we honor new products. Some products have broken new ground and some have met with widespread indifference. Sometimes the R&D process has been rushed to make the show, resulting in “products” that are little more than vaporware. It can be tough out on the cutting edge. Some award winners have turned to gold for their manufacturers; as for the others — hey, we're human, too!

Looking back through the archives, I've picked some examples of the success stories, the hard luck stories, and the “What were we thinking?” stories. As usual, this is all just my opinion, so feel free to drop me your thoughts and feelings, for good or ill, to meddy@primediabusiness.com.

SUCCESS STORIES

ETC Source Four
If you haven't heard about the Source Four, you should probably come out of the cave you've been living in for the past decade. ETC's ellipsoidal fixture was an overwhelming choice at LDI92. The initial fixture line has grown into a full range of products, including PAR, Zoom, and MultiPAR striplight versions. First thought to be a niche product, it took over as the dominant fixture for the rental market, a perch previously occupied by the venerable Altman 360Q ellipsoidal.

Rosco/Entertainment Technology Horizon and Cast WYSIWYG
Horizon and WYSIWYG go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Previsualization and all of your paperwork inside the console — what more could a designer could ask for? The marriage has been annulled with Cast's alliance with ETC, but not before it earned acclaim for both Horizon and WYSIWYG.

High End Systems Catalyst
Is it a moving light or is it a projector accessory? Is it lighting or scenic? It may take some time to answer these questions and learn the new syntax of the High End Systems Catalyst. From the creative minds at Wynne Willson Gottelier, it promises to create a new paradigm in lighting and visual effects. Much more than a mirror on a projector, it can be used without a video projector, linking the images in the computer with an LED projection wall. Projection designers have been waiting for this very product.

Pathway Connectivity Pathport
This promises to make all of our DMX routing headaches a thing of the past. Many companies have ridden the DMX protocol to business success, and Gray Interfaces, now known as Pathway, has gone beyond building interface products, taking us to the next level of control. As the next generation of DMX comes along, as well as RDM and, eventually, ACN, Pathport will make the management of the much larger networks go much smoother.

City Theatrical AutoYoke
The AutoYoke is a bridge between a static conventional fixture and a much more expensive automated luminaire. Sometimes you need some simple movement out of an ellipsoidal, but not all the extra features and cost associated with intelligent lights. Simple and effective in the beginning, the AutoYoke has added elements and other fixture types to its repertory.

Philips MasterColor
In 1998, the judges were impressed with the Philips line of MasterColor CDM lamps. For the architectural lighting designer who wants a theatrical fixture used in a retail application, the CDM lamp is a godsend. All of the problems with short-life lamps (for permanent installations) suddenly went away, thanks to a lamp with good color rendition and a long life. Fixture manufacturers have responded by designing new fixtures (and redesigning old ones) to work with these lamps.

Coemar CF7
The judges at LDI2000 cited the Coemar CF7 in the 1,200W category. Designers want brighter and brighter units and the CF7 delivered on that request. The spot, and, more recently, the wash version, have become a popular choice with designers of large-scale shows. It is a big fixture, with many fans built in to keep that much lumen energy cool, but its features and performance have won loyalists. Some designers and techs call it the Ferrari of moving lights.

High End Systems Studio Color®
This luminaire has really been a hit for High End. This color-mixing wash light is a staple of many designers' tool boxes and it now has a smaller, 250W sibling for applications that do not need that much punch. The beam-shaping lenses really get close to approximating a PAR output.

MA Lighting grandMA
In the US, Flying Pig Systems' Wholehog® II has been the predominant console and the grandMA, from Germany's MA Lighting, has quietly snuck up on the Hog, splitting programmers' and designers' loyalties. Why? The staff at MA took designers' wish lists and came up with the next great console. With the introduction of grandMA 3D, the onboard visualization software, the smart console just got a bit smarter.

Vari*Lite® VL1000
Vari-Lite has always been a pioneer in automated luminaires and the VL1000 was no different. Most R&D teams had rejected halogen lamps as too hot and inefficient for an automated light. It is just like Vari-Lite to prove people wrong. The VL1000 has good output, plus the features needed to compete, including a good set of automated shutters. An arc version is coming along as well for designers who do not want to mix color temps, but, for theatrical design applications where the rig is predominantly conventional, the VL1000 can play well in the color temperature game.

THEY LOOKED GOOD ON PAPER. . .

In 1990, the Product Award went to Kliegl Bros. Stage Lighting for the K2000 VVO Dimmer. Using MOSFET technology, this dimmer was going to revolutionize the lighting industry and pump some life into this venerable company. Unfortunately, the product never found the market acceptance it was looking for and Kleigl Bros. headed for the history books. There were other “interesting” choices:

High End Systems EcoDome
As architectural LDs clamored to take automated lights outdoors for exterior lighting projects, the race was on to create a weatherproof fixture. Or, better yet, an enclosure to keep the existing fixtures warm or cool and dry. The EcoDome, derisively called the Rubbermaid garbage can or R2D2 on steroids, was one of the first solutions. Now most automated luminaire manufacturers make an outdoor-rated light and the enclosures are considered superfluous. Most have dropped their own enclosures in favor of third-party units like Tempest Lighting's version, when they need them.

Light & Sound Design Icon M
Does the M stand for Missing in Action? This unit held great promise — LCD/DLP technology that would include any pattern, color, and video imagery in an automated luminaire. Sixteen Icon Ms were built for LDI, and, after winning the Best New Product — Entertainment award, promptly disappeared. They went out on the Korn tour this past summer and supposedly looked great, but what does the future hold for this product?

SPLIT DECISIONS

There are products that are harder to judge, even as time goes by. Wybron's AutoPilot, a 1994 winner, has eventually achieved good market acceptance as it has gotten easier to set up and use. Many designers like the idea of having automated lights follow a character around and keep them lit — but actor Christopher Walken, who is notorious for finding the darkest parts of a stage, called them “damn Ice Capades lights” when they appeared with him in an Off Broadway production. That same year, the architectural award went to Strand Lighting for the Premiere Lighting Control system. Premiere never really found the acceptance that the earlier Strand Environ system had, but the Premiere system took control to a much higher level and allowed for a lot of flexibility and ease of use for the end user.

A 1995 winner, the Irideon AR5, never really caught hold. The unit was plagued with a number of operating problems. ETC bought the Irideon division from Vari-Lite, and after some changes, re-launched it as the AR50. The Martin PAL Profile had a lot of promise and designers and techs were very interested, but little light came out of the unit, and it was oversized for an automated light. The ability to have the beam go just about anywhere was cool, but the PAL never won wide commercial acceptance.

In 1996, Vari-Lite's VL5A was a winner that found wide acceptance. It is one of the brighter units around, and without a lens you can see the beams in the daylight. Its one cool feature, a liquid gel lens for diffusion, was a bust, however. Most designers specify the clear lens, because the liquid version took out too much light.

Vari-Lite would do it again in 1998 with the VL7 automated luminaire, which had one of the first really good zooms on a moving-head fixture. This fixture spurred the competition to add features to catch up. Also in 1998, City Theatrical would win again with the EFXPlus2. Again capitalizing on the Source Four, the EFX unit allowed for some amazing effects from a conventional unit. It was also possible to use it with other ellipsoidals, especially the Selecon Pacific, where you did not have to radically modify the fixture to use the effects engine. This allowed a user to change a standard ERS into an effects machine and back without major modifications to the fixture body.

Then there are the missed opportunities, the products the judges overlooked. One that gets thrown up in our faces quite often is the Martin MAC 2000 automated luminaire. This unit has gone on to critical acclaim and, judging by its sales, has won over more hearts and minds of designers in the hotly contested 1,200W fixture race. What can we say? We are only human. So many products, so little time — we're under just a bit of pressure during the show. Anyway, in the end, it's the marketplace that proves to be the true judge of a product's worth.