As a designer, I've been amazed at all of the advances with automated lighting these last few years. Every year it seems the tools available to us grow exponentially. But when it comes to automated spot luminaires, it just doesn't seem as though the advances have come as far or as fast. If a new fixture has a lot of features, then it's not bright enough. If it is bright enough, the color-mixing is atrocious or the beam is so narrow you can't do gobo washes with it. The engineering of hard-edge automated lights has become a game of compromises.
Enter the x.Spot™, the hard-edge automated light built by High End Systems that seeks to be all things for all people in an automated spot. High End has sought to create a light that can zoom wide for seamless pattern washes or zoom down tight enough to make beam effects in the air. They've built into the light future expandability and modularity. But in day-to-day functionality, compared to the competition out there, is it a good light?
Here are the dry facts on the x.Spot in its standard configuration: It uses an MSR 700W short-arc lamp, has a 12° to 45° beam angle, 630° pan and 240° tilt, CMY color-mixing, variable color temperature correction from 3000K to 7000K, variable frost, color wheel with five replaceable colors, plus two effects modules — one with two wheels with seven rotating, indexing Lithopatterns® each, and the other effects module with seven rotating effects and a variable iris. The gobos and effects allow for over 500 possible pattern combinations. Also included are a variable iris and mechanical and electronic strobes. The fixture also features an ethernet port for future protocol usage, optional framing shutters, and a LithoMotion™ module that allows RDS Scene Machine-like effects.
If you're like me, your eyes just glazed over when you hit the above list, but what all that really means is that the x.Spot does everything you want an automated spot luminaire to do: color-mixing and three layers of patterns that you can combine. It also does what the more advanced lights out there do: variable color temperature correction, a nice four-to-one zoom, quick color-mixing options, a snappy little color wheel, and the almost reality-distorting electronic strobe that's in the Studio Beam.
But then, the x.Spot goes further than the rest. It's modular. In the very near future (and possibly by the time this goes to press) you or your lighting company will be able to swap out modules within the light for other features, such as replace a couple of gobo wheels with remote-controllable framing shutters, or leave out the gobo wheels and put the LithoMotion module into the light.
PRACTICAL REALITY — THE UPSIDE
The x.Spot is a great automated pattern projector. The wide beam angle lets you create unending gobo patterns across your stage or set. With the x.Spot, you won't have obvious circles of patterns across your projection surface; you can overlap seamless gobo patterns to evenly blanket any space. Also, because of the large beam width, you can cover large areas with fewer units. With as few as six fixtures you can cover a 60'×40' stage with gobos. Because of the large number of gobo combinations, and the refocusability of an automated fixture, it's possible to create a whole show's worth of patterns with one set of x.Spots that would take battalions of ellipsoidals to do the same thing.
But the x.Spot is not the only automated fixture out there that can create pattern fields. For the sake of moving this discussion out of the theoretical and into the hypothetical, let's assume that we're putting together a show that needs a wide variety of effects and patterns, precluding the use of ellipsoidals. We have to find an automated fixture to fulfill our pattern wash needs. Will the x.Spot fit the bill?
The latest fixtures from the major manufacturers that can fill the role of high-output pattern/effects projection are: the Coemar CF12 HE, the Martin MAC 2000, the Vari*Lite® VL7™, and the High End Systems x.Spot. All of these fixtures can layer in patterns and prisms, are all high-output fixtures and can zoom wide enough to cover large amounts of the stage.
The x.Spot falls right in with the pack as far as photometrics. At a 30' trim pointed straight down, the beam will go from 6' to 25' wide. The x.Spot doesn't get as narrow as the VL7, and it doesn't go as wide as the CF12 HE. It isn't as bright as the CF12 HE at the wide range, but it is brighter than that same light at the narrow range. In other words, the x.Spot falls right in line with the competition. Photometrically, it doesn't stand out from the pack, but neither are there any great liabilities. Unless you want that narrow pinspot the VL7 can create or that extra little punch the CF12 HE can get you at the wide end, the x.Spot will fulfill the photometric requirements of most shows out there.
But if professional life were all about photometric charts, we wouldn't be lighting designers; we would be illumination engineers. The feel of the light is versatile and cross-spectrum.
To explain, let me first talk about the VL7. In my mind, the VL7, and especially the VL7B with its framing shutters, is an automated light optimized for most theatrical uses. The Vari*Lite® CVF™ system of full color spectrum color-mixing desaturates and saturates color completely effortlessly. The wide zoom range lets you cover stages and sets but also lets you pick out the tiniest details from the farthest throws.
But the VL7 is tough to use in clubs or concerts. The color system is slow: You can't bump color. The strobe comes across as mechanical. And there's the infamous green issue with the Vari*Lite CVF system. The primary color plate is laid out as a spectrum (ROY G BIV) with the green in the middle, so if you are programming a color move in the light, you will always have to pass through green. (Programmers can work around this with the secondary color plate and some programming to lessen the intensity of the green.)
The x.Spot on the other hand can be used on a wider variety of applications. For theatre, the color-mixing is smooth and even and you can crossfade from warm to cool without thinking about intermediate colors. The zoom opens up wide enough to cover large surfaces.
For clubs and concerts the x.Spot has enough bump in the color-mixing system, but it also has a very snappy color wheel. The strobe borrows that otherworldy strobe system from the Studio Beam. (That's a good thing, by the way.) There's just enough oomph out of the narrower beam to get beam effects out of the light.WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL
There are two standout features to the x.Spot that make it a “must see” light for every lighting designer out there.
One, the x.Spot gives you access to the High End library of Lithopatterns and textured glass gobos. Through third-party gobo manufacturers such as Rosco and Apollo, you can get pretty much any type of theatrically styled gobo for any light out there. For most of the proprietary gobos from Vari-Lite, Coemar, or Martin, there are knockoff gobos that will at least get you in the neighborhood of those patterns. But a lot of the detail and the flavor of many of the High End gobos remain unduplicated. Some of my favorite textured glass patterns from High End remain untouched by any other manufacturer in terms of quality or panache. With a hard-edged fixture, it's often not what light you pick, but what patterns you put in it. The x.Spot gives you the widest variety of choices available to a spot luminaire on the market today.
The other standout feature of the x.Spot is the modularity and expandability of the light. If you're a designer who needs RDS Scene Machine-type effects out of an automated unit, you can use your existing lights and add in the LithoMotion module. Or if you're renting you can continue to use your favorites out of your own library of custom gobos from past x.Spot uses and add in the Effects module, or substitute framing shutters. The beauty of the modularity of the system is that the system software within the light can accommodate any future modules. What the x.Spot promises lighting companies is a forward-looking automated platform that will continue to earn rental dollars long after its competition has gone kaput, because the x.Spot can accommodate and accept future technological advances. For the designer, all of the time invested learning to love the feel and results from a light doesn't go to waste in a few years, because the x.Spot will still be around.
Proof of High End's commitment to the future is the ethernet port on the light. Though no major control system yet supports it, the x.Spot is ready to accommodate future uses of ACN or adapted ethernet protocols in a control system. Such a system would allow feedback to the desk and technical checks such as system diagnostics, lamp life readings, and remote patching on each fixture from a remote location. The x.Spot is ready for all of these technological innovations; the rest of the world just has to catch up.
All of this variability and flexibility does not come without a price. The first, most obvious, problem is that the light takes up 38 DMX channels. The good point to this is that many control options are built into every parameter of the light. The bad side is that you can only get 13 x.Spots on a single DMX universe.
From a programming standpoint, all this flexibility sometimes gives you more options than you can keep track of. Without some advance work with the fixture, programming the x.Spot can make the most advanced programmer look like an amateur at the console. For example, the color mixing system includes a 2X mode that allows for split colors. There's even a lamp function channel that lets you add in or disable electronic dimming of the lamp in addition to or aside from the mechanical dimmer for fast strobes.
From a hardware technical side, all of the optional modules and the software upgradability of the light can be a bit of a headache. If you have lights coming from different sources, different lighting companies, you have to build in prep time for making sure all the lights have the same gobos, the same modules, and the same version software. Because of the newness of the fixture and the number of possibilities with the light, you must take a little more time to optimize the x.Spot to make sure that it has the best light output it's capable of.
The large size of the unit precludes it from being used in low trim situations or projects where the fixture itself might be too obtrusive. Its wide base doesn't allow the designer to pack the lights very tightly together for concentrated banks of x.Spots.
And finally, the light output is not what you'd hope it to be. When I first saw the light, I thought the light was big. For its size I was expecting the equivalent light output of a 1,200W fixture. The x.Spot just doesn't deliver that kind of candlepower. There are so many options, and such a need for a zoom on the marketplace, that all of that added-in functionality chipped away at the lumens the fixture could generate.
For the most part, the advantages of the x.Spot outweigh the liabilities. The x.Spot might just be the most flexible automated hard-edge light fixture out there. Sure, there are some nagging difficulties with the light, but nothing that High End isn't committed to solving in the long run. For the lighting rental company, the fixture promises a hedge against obsolescence. For the designer, the fixture presents a platform that can grow to accommodate our changing tastes, whims, and projects. For our industry, the x.Spot might just show us the features and standards that all other automated spots must aspire to.
Arnold Serame is a lighting designer and programmer and was most recently lighting director on Madonna's Drowned World tour. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.