It's a given that entertainment technologists are always looking for the latest high-tech gizmo to design or run a show. But it's also a given that, at the end of the day, designers and technicians will use whatever makes the show work, be it a multi-million dollar piece of machinery or a twenty buck widget. What they want, ultimately, are solutions.
In this then, our first ever roundup of the Live Design Products of the Year, we bring you an array of lighting, projection, sound, staging, rigging, and special effects solutions. These products, chosen by four different panels of working designers, technicians, and consultants, represent the best of the best released since last fall's trade show season. They've been on the road, their tires have been kicked and duly evaluated, and they represent, in our view, the cream of the crop. If there is a trend this year, it's that, as everyone still awaits the revolutionary new product that will signal the next direction in entertainment technology, designers remain quite happy to stumble upon simple but essential tools geared to helping them do their jobs better. Then again, maybe that's not really a trend but simple common sense.
Super Korrigan is a new model of the 1,200W HMI Korrigan followspot. It produces 25% more light output than the older model and incorporates the popular fingertip shutter control that was first introduced in the Manon/Topaze series. The judges were impressed with the entire line of Juliat followspots. “Juliat followspots are great in general,” says one judge. “The Super Korrigan has some nice added features, such as a new mechanical means of manually dimming that is so smooth even I can successfully repeat it over and over. It also features an iris that does completely black out at the end of its irising in; a template holder, which actually comes in handy from time to time; and a motorized mechanically dimming system, if you choose to use it.”
ESP Vision 2.0
ESP Vision 2.0 was an upgrade to ESP Vision 1.1 and, as such, the most comprehensive software enhancement release in the company's history. Vision 2.0 introduces the ability to merge multiple components from many different sources, including Max, Viz, VectorWorks, and 3DS file formats into a single environment. Once there, any component can be moved, scaled, rotated, and positioned as needed. Says one judge, “It's the next revision of software and still the best, I think, for doing any previz. Now it has much more functionality that allows for onscreen patch changes, fully adjusting the environment including object properties, as well as the ability to capture realtime AVI or MOV files and stills.”
Leave it to a lighting designer to find use for a product not in his market. The Zylight Z50 LED light, designed under license from Color Kinetics and geared to the film and TV market as a battery-powered camera light, can change from fully calibrated 5600°K to 3200°K white light with the push of a button. When switched to creative color mode, the Z50 can output any color of the rainbow including pastels, eliminating the need for gels. Zylight's HD-led™ module features over 230 LEDs packed into a single square inch. And the company's ZyLink™ technology allows users to wirelessly link together multiple Z50s to create a soft LED source as large as needed “It's a cool toy,” says one judge, “and a great idea for a set mount or even a performer-carried fixture on a battery pack (a la Cirque).”
You can't keep a good light down, as Vari-Lite discovered with its VL500 wash, a reinvention of the classic VL5. The new fixture is now self-contained with onboard DMX control, onboard dimming, (optional) all power supplies, service yoke locks, and a higher reflector efficiency. The VL500 is available with either a 120V/1200W lamp or a 230V/1000W lamp and is designed for those who require the 3200°K color temperature along with a space-efficient unit; no external ballast or dimmer is required. It is available in four base models: VL500, VL500D, VL500 80V, and VL500A, and the judges all had their personal favorite, which is why the entire line was eventually chosen. Says one judge, “The legendary VL5 has been reborn into a truly impressive wash light. I like this unit a lot — the Tungsten version and the arc version. Great strobe on the arc version.”
Sssh. Hear anything? Not if you're using the Barco FLM Series of projectors, according to the judges. Built specifically for the rental and staging market, the FLM Series is touted as the quietest 20K lumen projector on the market. The FLM boasts fully sealed optics and lamp maintenance to provide a lower cost of ownership. The lens range of Barco's RLM and SLM Series can be reused on the FLM Series, meaning there is no need for further investment in new lenses. The first projector in the series to be launched was the FLM R20+, which features a high-contrast 3-chip DLP engine based on Texas Instruments technology. “The FLM Series is at last providing DLP projectors at 10K to 28K lumens that are virtually silent as a result of internal liquid cooling,” says one judge. “No other manufacturer is there yet this year, and as we all know, the noise factor has been so critical with the big guns.”
“A low-tech device that I've played with and really like is the Rosco Keystroke,” says one judge. “It does one thing, but does it well: it converts a DMX signal into a predetermined keyboard shortcut. It's also only a few hundred bucks.” That pretty much sums up the Keystroke, a software/hardware combination product that works with Windows XP to simulate a keyboard shortcut when triggered by DMX. Here's the setup: the Keystroke hardware waits for the assigned DMX signal on the assigned channel, and once it is received, it commands the computer it is connected to via USB to execute a keyboard shortcut. Keystroke works with any application on a PC that uses shortcuts, including Microsoft PowerPoint. It is programmable, so you can define what keyboard shortcut you'd like it to execute. This means it can control the computer's DVD player, Windows Media Player, or sound design software. “Keystroke is definitely a little piece of genius,” says another judge.
Another simple solution for the projection designer, the City Theatrical (CTI) Projector Dowser is a DMX-controlled mechanical dowser for use with digital projectors. It changes the dreaded “video black” to a real blackout by positioning a large flag in front of the projector's lens. The flag is adjustable on the motor shaft to allow the dowser to be placed above, below, or to either side of the projector. Travel of the flag is DMX-adjustable within a range of 90°, and full 90° travel takes under one second at full speed. The dowser connects via standard DMX/accessory power 4-pin XLR cables and is compatible with the CTI #2199 power supply or Wybron Forerunner; AC Lighting Chroma-Q™, Rainbow™, and Spectra-Q™; and Rosco power supply units. Says one judge, “So simple (maybe even, like, “duh” simple), but so cheap, and so necessary for units without device controllable dowsing. Death to video black!”
The answer to all designers looking for a projection screen that's both available and affordable, Stealth™ is an LED high-resolution display (25mm pixel pitch) that deploys rapidly and folds together for easy stacking and portability. The panel's unique design, with its low profile central support and fins, makes the system both transparent and lightweight. The product is a modular system composed of individual 40cm panels, with an integrated power supply and data routing unit mounts with each 64 panel section of a screen. Says one judge, “Finally achieves all that its competition never could: reasonable price, actual rental availability, UL and code-rating for outdoor use, higher definition, sensible modular construction for troubleshooting in the field, and a far more elegant control interface. And, man, is it bright.”
HA-8089 Helical Antenna
Professional Wireless Systems
“The PWS Helical Antenna addresses one of the most pressing problems in wireless for live audio — range,'' says one judge. “It eliminates the polarization issues that occur when using ‘shark fins’ or other more directional antennas. It's great when something as simple and inexpensive as a new antenna can help to avoid the sticker shock of replacing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of existing radios!” Indeed, the HA-8089 helical antenna from Professional Wireless Systems, a division of Masque Sound, is designed to provide drop-out free performance for in-ear monitors, wireless microphones, and intercom installations. The unit delivers 14 dBi of forward gain, and covers a bandwidth from 490 MHz to over 900 MHz, with an overall estimated beam width of 57°. The PWS Helical Antenna is part of a new generation of antennas that provide greater bandwidth, longer range gain, and more flexibility in wireless communications. It can be used in a couple of different ways — as an in-ear monitor transmitter antenna or with a receiver for wireless microphones.
SmaartLive V. 6
Design is, by and large, a Mac world, so designers always love it when a company unveils a Mac version. That's the case with SIA's SmaartLive Version 6, which allows Smaart to run native under both Mac OS X and Windows from the same unified source code. But the judges found more to love too, including a streamlined user interface. “Finally, Mac is supported!” exclaims one judge. “I have been using Smaart on a PC laptop that I had to buy for that purpose. Other than buying a Meyer SIM III rig, this software is the most fully functional measurement tool for system alignment available today. It's a great product which can only be better if it is running on Apple hardware.”
UHF-G Series with KSM9
A wireless handheld microphone built expressly for vocals, the KSM9 features dual-diaphragm construction and switchable cardioid/supercardiod versatility. Excellent gain-before-feedback qualities collaborate with minimal proximity effect to give the KSM9 incredibly accurate low frequency response and crystal clear vocal performance. To greatly reduce handling noise, a two-stage shock mount stabilizes both horizontal and vertical movement. With switchable polar patterns, the KSM9 can operate as either a cardioid or supercardioid mic, rejecting unwanted noise from the rear and sides. “This is an amazing improvement upon an already great sounding and robust RF handheld,” says one judge. “And it's frequency agile to boot.”
“Whirlwind, with the E-Snake system, has presented us with an invaluable building block toward a completely digital audio system,” says one judge. “E-Snake can interface easily with a number of existing audio distribution standards, such as Ethersound and CobraNet. It has a large number of input and output card options including built-in remote controlled preamps.'' Also known as ES2, the unit accepts two of the same I/O cards used by the original E-Snake in any configuration for use as a 16×0, 0×16, or 8×8 device in any CobraNet or EtherSound network. Multiple units can be configured for more channels if desired. ES2 is also supported by Whirlwind's E-Snake Control software, providing complete remote control of all input parameters. E-Snake 2 incorporates the latest in CobraNet technology and can provide latencies as low as 1.33ms. In addition, it is compatible with any other CobraNet device with selectable 20- or 24-bit sampling rates and legacy latency modes of 2.66ms and 5.33ms. “Maybe this is the way forward,” says another judge, “to have third party products provide the ingenuity for lessening the copper in our distribution systems.”
Rigging, Staging, & Special Effects
“Look Solutions has a winner with its Unique2 Hazer,” comments one judge. Unique2 “continues the legacy from its original Unique model” and “has added some very useful features that make the unit function well in the real world.” Hazers have a lot of applications, none better than highlighting the “beamage'' of many a lighting designer. New features in the Unique2 include a haze density control system, which allows users to program the unit in a show and trigger that program with a wireless or wired remote as well as air filtration for cleaner operation and output. Legacy features include using both air pressure and a fluid pump to drive the fluid through the heater, which was first used in the Unique; and the pump and fan outputs are independently adjustable in 1% increments, also in the original version.
Counterweight Automation System
Your theatre has manual line sets, and you would really like to have a winch for your first electric. With the JR Clancy PowerAssist, you can now retrofit the first electric manual line set into a winch set. This product allows you to automate your counterweight sets as well as improve safety by eliminating the need to adjust weights. The PowerAssist handles out-of-balance loads as well. It has a variety of control options, and it is available in a 25 fpm fixed speed model as well as a variable speed model that can run up to 175 fpm and handles 1,000 to 2,000lbs. “The PowerAssist really fills a niche for theatre consultants,” says one judge. “You generally have jobs with a handful of power-assisted line sets; typically with acoustic shells, ceilings, and first electrics. The variable speed version lends itself to production applications.”
Pook Diemont & Ohl, Inc.
The PDO acouStac™ Variable Acoustics Banner is an adjustable acoustical system utilizing paired, retractable fabric panels designed for acoustic absorption applications in permanent installations such as concert halls, multipurpose auditoriums, recital theatres, and studios. The fabric is removable for cleaning and equipment maintenance. The product is available with a wide variety of options and can be easily configured to meet specific needs. It can be built in sizes up to 25' wide and up to 30' tall. There is a choice of fabrics: you can get double layers of 24oz wool serge or double layers of 24oz IFR velour. Drive options include 120VAC single phase or 208VAC three phase and moves at 14 fpm.
“This acoustic banner curtain is pre-engineered and relatively off-the-shelf,” notes one judge. The fabric is held about 3" to 4" apart, and “it's beautiful the way it stacks. They have sewn in these spreaders that allow it to stack very predictably.” The judges feel that “a lot of the time, we try to invent these banners, but this is as off-the-shelf as I have seen them.”
Admit it: with a name like Screen Goo you have to stop and take a look at this product. “I like the idea,” says one judge. “It's a great concept,” adds another. There is a rear screen version of the paint that caught the attention of some of the judges. “Take a transparent material, and make it opaque enough for projection. That is a clever application.” Screen Goo is a unique option for users to create their own projection screens wherever they want and on whatever they want. The product can be applied to almost any paintable surface. Screen Goo is a specially formatted, highly reflective acrylic paint, designed specifically for video projection. It exhibits exceptional color fidelity and excellent gain with minimal hot spotting and good off-axis performance. The Screen Goo front projection line consists of three Top Coat and three Base Coats products — CRT White, Digital Grey, and Digital Grey Lite. Screen Goo can be applied with either by rolling or spraying equipment. Goo Systems has engineered a Rear Projection Coating that can take any rigid, transparent surface and can transform it into a high quality dual sided projection screen.