The new Pharos control system is well worth taking for a test drive; it is new, innovative, user-friendly, and is surprisingly versatile allowing it to be used in more than just the architectural market. The product, from Pharos Architectural Controls Limited, is starting to make a big name for itself and is a very intelligent solution to many lighting control applications.

Pharos Architectural Controls Limited was started by Nick Archdale and the former team from Flying Pig Systems. Pharos went from an idea at last year’s PLASA show; to a mock-up at LDI; to winning the “Best of Category Award for Controls and Controls Software Category” at Lightfair last Spring, and the “Award for Innovation” at the recent PLASA show, where the judges felt that it “was a beautifully engineered lighting controller.” The Pharos product line is distributed by TMB.

The Pharos control system consists of two parts, the Pharos Lighting Playback Controller (LPC) and the Designer software. The Pharos LPC is a solid-state controller of color mixing LED luminaires, conventional luminaires and ballasts, and automated lights using either DMX or DALI protocols. Programming is created using free Pharos Designer software, which can be downloaded into solid-state memory via Ethernet or USB. The timeline-based software incorporates pixel-mapping functionality allowing LED arrays to display video clips. It also has full support for automated lights. Shows can also be simulated offline for off-site programming. The comprehensive range of triggering options (including contact closures, RS232, real-time, and astronomical clock) makes integration within complex themed presentations straightforward. The LPC is easily interfaced with touch panels and wall stations, and includes RS232, MIDI and contact closures. Units can be linked via Ethernet as a scalable system that will automatically share triggers, and have a built-in web server allowing remote network access for monitoring and reprogramming.

The LPC unit is a tiny box along the same dimensions as a thermostat: 5.65” W x 3.54” D x 2.28” H (143.5mm W x 90.0mm D x 58.0mm H). You will have no problems finding space on a jobsite for this powerful unit. It really is designed to be programmed and left in a closet, happily running the show day in and day out.

Archdale explains the creation of Pharos. “While talking to Colin Waters of TMB at last year’s PLASA show, he said ‘Oh, I’ve got this G-LEC DMX product on my LDI stand and I don’t know how to control it.’ So, I said, ‘We’ve been working on some interesting technology so give us a corner of your stand, and we will bring something and help you.’ This early prototype we showed at LDI went down really well and so motivated us to develop the software, LPC hardware, and Expansion modules, and the product is now shipping.”

As for Pharos’ market segment, Archdale says, “It is very much an architectural control product. That doesn’t mean to say it won’t find a very happy home on a West End show or even a tour. For example, set pieces or staging covered in LEDs where it makes sense to use something like Pharos and just trigger it off a couple of DMX channels from your board. Architecture was our target market, but the box we came up with and our software is flexible and powerful enough to fit in other markets.”

Architectural projects have a more demanding set of requirements when it comes to operation, and generally, there is no one in the store or building that is trained to update or program the lighting control. According to Archdale, “We have made a big play of remote updating and configuration, which I think is unique. There are a couple of frame-store devices out there, which can be talked to with a browser, but with our box, you can do everything over the web with it that you want. If you had 50 shop fronts that you want to all look the same, and the head office wanted to change the programming overnight, they can do that from the one central location.”

There are two versions of the controller. The LPC1 is designed for smaller systems than can be controlled by a single standalone unit. It is designed for one DMX universe or up to 170 RGB color-mixing units. It includes external triggering via Ethernet, USB, RS232 serial, MIDI, and digital inputs, and includes a real-time clock with sunrise and sunset functions. It is designed only to operate as a single standalone unit during playback, but it will support Expansion Modules for other protocols and interfaces.

The LPC2 is for larger systems and has the ability to synchronize itself with other LPC 2 units during playback, making it a scalable solution. It is designed for two DMX outputs (up to 1,024 dimmers or 340 RGB color-mixing units) and has the same triggering and real-time clock functions as the LPC 1. Multiple units can be linked via Ethernet during playback and will automatically synchronize and share triggers across the network.

Archdale explains the idea behind the Expansion Modules. “We have a little herd of expansion modules which augment what these units can do. We have a DALI Master, which allows you to run DALI ballasts; The DALI slave, which allows the LPC to be triggered by a DALI system, so you can add some LEDs or movers to an existing DALI installation and the LPC pretends to be a DALI ballast itself, which saves you having to redo all of your control. We have a SMPTE Timecode input, which is more useful for the likes of theme parks. We have a DMX input if you want to augment a DMX system to take the load off a less-capable desk. RS-485 is a generic module that allows Pharos to be triggered and trigger in the world of RS-485, which allows you to interface with a wide variety of products, including wall panels and third-party controllers. Our focus is not to make our own wall panels. Instead, we opt to interface with popular brands. And as such we also offer a LonWorks® Module, so that will neatly interface with any LonWorks building management products and building lighting systems such as ETC’s Unison.”

The Pharos Designer software is available for download from the company’s website. This is the full-featured version, not a trial or demo version. “The software is, and will always be, free,” states Archdale. “You can download it from our website at anytime. That is the release build for Windows and—hopefully by LDI—we’ll have our MAC OSX build out, because clearly in our industry there are a lot of Mac’s knocking about.”

Archdale and his team are busy expanding the features of the products. “We were showing SMS text triggering at PLASA, so that you can actually text predefined triggers from a mobile phone, and then the programming will change on your exhibit, which is quite fun from a public-perspective—essentially, interactive architecture and exhibits. Also, if you are the contractor, you can actually get the box to text or e-mail you if it is having some form of problem. At LDI, we will be showing a sound to light module, which takes audio in and provides you with some real-time audio triggering. You just hook them up to intensity controls, to manipulate color, or to alter the playback position of a time line.”

The Pharos control system is quite new, having just started shipping in August. The units have been undergoing some extensive beta testing prior to that, and the first installations, including a retail outlet in Norway, are now complete.

See Pharos at the TMB booth (#1293) at LDI this month in Orlando. For more information, visit www.pharoscontrols.com.

The Feedback:

“I have done extensive trials of it. I personally think it is a very good [controller]. There are two major design aims with any controller in the architectural marketplace. The first one is obviously controlling the moving lights, and the other one is ease and speed. They have really addressed both criteria. The software is logical. Overall, I think it is a well thought through package.
- Ray Dolby of Control Lighting Limited in London, beta-tester for the Pharos LPC.

“I think that it's a brilliant product. The Pharos made a logical choice for control because of what we do, which is architectural installations where we are working on the border between standard architectural lighting and sources that come from the entertainment world and LED sources. We have been looking for quite a while for a product that suits the need to control all of these lighting sources, and the Pharos suits that quite well. Also, it has a very low threshold to getting used to working with it; it is really easy to use. They have really hit the nail on the head with it.”
- Gunnar Aasland of Vested Lighting in Norway. Vested has installed the first Pharos LPC in a retail application in Bergin, Norway.