A Year After 9/11, the PLASA Show Reveals a Changed Industry

The shadow of 9/11 is a long one. It's safe to say that we attended this year's PLASA trade show in London with a sense of apprehension. Not that anyone was particularly concerned about terrorist acts, or anything of that nature. But believe us, it was a strange experience, one year after that dreadful day, to walk into the same hotel, the same conference center, and to speak to mostly the same people. We couldn't believe we were back where it all happened. It was as if someone had rewound the videotape back to the beginning.

But not quite.

In fact, this year's PLASA trade show was a pleasant surprise. It took only a few minutes on the show's first day to realize that the present was far more interesting than the past. Despite the shaky global economy, rumors of weakness in the English market, and a few prominent no-shows among exhibitors, this was a surprisingly robust PLASA. Attendance reached 13,810, an increase of 4.2% over last year. Encouragingly, too, there was good foot traffic on all four days.

More than 400 companies exhibited — many of them new, especially a large contingent from the Benelux countries (see “The Benelux Connection,” below). On the other hand, some familiar faces were strikingly absent. The demise, earlier this year, of Lighting Technologies opened up a large space at the front of the exhibit hall. But others were missing in action, too. Zero 88, maker of the Frog line of consoles, chose to exhibit off-site. Others not on hand included DeSisti, CCT, and Color Kinetics. Furthermore, there was some grumbling among exhibitors about a lack of hard-core theatre LDs at the show.

Then again, there were plenty of exhibitors to take up the slack and nobody lacked for customers. The show's acting director Nicola Rowland says it “offered the industry a platform to revive the sluggish start to trading this year, with many exhibitors being upbeat about the opportunities for the coming year after securing significant new business deals at the show.”

There were a number of trends visible:

All LEDs, all the time: It's become clear that LEDs have officially graduated from flavor-of-the-month status to genuine industry phenomenon. Among the companies showing LED products were Artistic Licence, Bright Lighting, G-Lec, James Thomas Engineering, LDDE, Lagotronics, Light Projects, Pulsar, ShowLED, and Xilver (showing at the Lightfactor booth). It's certainly significant that Bright Lighting took the award for New Lighting Product, with Color Stream, its LED-in-a-tube concept. It's also notable how prominently LEDs were on display — the G-Lec sign, hanging over the VPLT booth, caused neck strain among many attendees. The Pulsar ChromaRange LED units were so visible, working their color-changing magic, that they threatened to overshadow the products belonging to the company's partner Clay Paky. Interestingly, Color Kinetics, the main player in the US market, and a previous PLASA exhibitor, wasn't there this time.

Projecting for success: The pursuit of new projection concepts continues apace as well. High End Systems' Catalyst, having debuted at last year's PLASA, returned in glory. Barco had a stunning booth where it showed off its new product, the Events Controller, which enables the control of all daylight and projection displays, as well as all the other audio, video, and lighting involved in a show. It is a very nice show controller for the AV market. The company also had the ViewScape, a multi-input, multidisplay control device, allowing you to show a multitude of windowed inputs onto a set of combined diplays. The Italian company Telenia showed the Stark 1200, with a 1,200W 90,000-lumen discharge lamp designed for large surfaces (Paolo Baroni, in the Telenia booth, showed stunning photos of the Stark projecting images on the front of the Duomo in Florence, Italy). Both Pani and Pigi had new additions to their large-format projector families, and Hardware for Xenon continues to improve the optics in its projectors, and continues to stop traffic with its unique projection-in-a-balloon concept.

Revolt of the OEMs: It's unusual when one OEM company comes out the closet and begins making products for itself to distribute. When two companies do it in one year it's really news. Pearl River, the Guangzhou, China-based OEM of lighting products, having acquired Paul Dodd from the Italian company f.a.l., launched a full line of lights under its own name at an impressively large exhibit booth. Robe Lighting, based in the Czech Republic, is also selling its own products, with Coe-Tech picking up the line in the UK (Coe-Tech previously distributed Coemar; the latter company struck out on its own this year with Coemar UK). Rumor has it that a US distributor will be announced soon. While it may seem that the last thing the industry needs is more automated wash and spot units, neither company can be easily dismissed. They both have long histories of performance and may well shake things up.

Meanwhile, PLASA is a show in transition. Since it moved to Earl's Court, the makeup of the show has remained fairly static, with the same companies found in the same locations year after year (The famously bewildering layout of the show leaves even longtime attendees hopelessly lost at times). But changes are afoot. The New Technology Gallery, a display of new products vying for awards, previously found on the second level, will move to the front of the hall to emphasize the show's position as a launch pad for new products. That means that visitors, entering the show, will be confronted right off the bat with a lineup of the most prominent products debuting at the show. Next, an interactive stage area will be added to demonstrate the application of products in a live environment. The educational program will be expanded as well, with sessions aimed at technicians and end users.

More changes: Next year will see the launch of PLASA Commercial, a separate show-within-the-show focusing on architectural lighting, commercial audio, and display communications technology. And, just to make it more interesting, there will be a new floor plan.

All in all, a stimulating, successful event. For many of us, however, the most emotional moment came at 1:46pm on September 11. Matthew Griffiths made a brief, moving speech, followed by a moment of silence. The show ground to a halt, and silence reigned over Earl's Court. Then a handful of US attendees began singing “America” in impromptu fashion. For a moment, the nightmare returned, then it was over and the show went on.

AWARD-WINNING PRODUCTS

You can't have a trade show without awards and, as always, the PLASA product awards were highly coveted. Interestingly, the judges' choices were not always easily predictable. In some cases, a number of the most hyped products from the biggest companies lost out to more unusual choices. Here's the lineup of winners:

Lighting: Bright Lighting Ltd. for the Color Stream, a dynamic LED effect. Instead of neon, an array of LEDs fills each lighting tube and custom patterns run automatically or are triggered from existing control systems. Color Stream units are available in a variety of shapes, lengths, and widths and are UL-listed and rated IP66 for use in the most demanding environments. The judges found the product “well thought-out in terms of overall effect, usability, and ease of installation.” Color Stream is the first product from Bright Lighting, recently founded by Nils Thorjussen, formerly of Flying Pig Systems.

Lighting/Technical Innovation: Le Mark for its Gel-Tak, a new heat-resisting, repositionable, pressure-sensitive fixative for use with lighting filters. Designed to allow the user to stick gel, blackwrap, or other like materials to windows, frames, lighting fixtures, or any other surface without leaving a residue, and capable of operating at high temperatures, Gel-Tak was also presented the Award for Environmental Impact, for its non-damaging and reusable nature. It is now being distributed for Le Mark in the US by Apollo Design Technology.

Audio Visual/Technical Innovation: Pani Projection and Lighting Vertriebs GmbH's E-Slide, an accessory which enables the user to project any signal coming from a computer, DVD, or video. The unit can be adapted to all projectors up to the BP6G and fits like the standard slide carrier, so that a quick change from conventional slides to state-of-the art computer pictures can be achieved. The judges noted the product's “simple integration of technology.”

Stage Engineering/Design Excellence: PCM Pfaff-Silberblau Ltd.'s Pilewind. Available in 250kg or 500kg models, the Pilewind, which has been designed for multipurpose theatrical applications, allows quick and easy raising and lowering of scenery and lighting bars and has a drum capacity of 10m and up to five suspension lines.

Other products were highly commended by the judges. In the lighting category they included:

Clay Paky's Stage Profile Plus SV, a patented profile system featuring four blades, controlled from a console, which move separately to produce novel lighting effects. The commendation focused on the design of the automated shutter. Martin Professional's MAC 2000 Performance, a powerful 1,200W profile framing spot and animation projector that features a four-blade framing system for precise stage lighting and a gobo animation wheel for extraordinary theatrical effects. The commendation cited it for being the first moving light to incorporate gobo animation effects designed in conjunction with DHA. Also, Martin Professional's MAC 2000 Wash light, a powerful fresnel fixture with an extremely high light output from an HMI 1,200W source, full CMY color-mixing, and variable CTC filters, multiple front lens options for various beam spreads, a fully motorized zoom system, and an optional motorized barndoor mechanism consisting of four plates which fit on the front of the fixture and allow the user to cut the beam whenever desired. The judges cited the moving barndoors as the product's most interesting aspect.

There was one winner in the audio/visual category, Martin Professional's ViroStation, a new concept for architectural loudspeakers designed for applications where an elegant combination of indirect illumination and atmospheric audio is needed — featuring two oval-shaped panel speakers mounted on a slim post and illuminated by two Martin Exterior 200 CMY color changers. The product was commended for the integration of sound and lighting in an architectural column.

In the sound categories, there were two award winners: Denon was cited for design excellence in its DN-D9000 dual CD player, while, in the technical innovation category, DiGiCo UK Ltd won for the D5 Live audio console. Also highly commended were Allen and Heath's Xone:V6 audiophile rotary mixer, and Crest Audio UK's CKi Series of power-processing amplifiers.

PLASA exhibitors pay an entry fee to put their new products under consideration for the awards; the money then goes to charity. This year, over £9,000 was raised in this manner. Here's how the money was spent: £3,300 was donated to Light Relief (see "Lighting Up Lives," below), a fund set up by and for the lighting industry to offer assistance and support to industry members in need; £2,300 was given to the Golden Lion Children's Trust, a Gatwick-based charity established in 1973 to provide donations in the form of services, goods, and activities for disabled children. £2,800 was donated to the Willow Foundation, which organizes special days out for seriously ill young adults, and £2,250 was used to subsidize the fees for students wishing to complete their BTEC Theatre Technicians intermediate course.

PRODUCTS WITH BUZZ

ADB (www.adb.be): With one of the strongest buzzes on the show floor, ADB's new Axis ellipsoidal is an innovative cool beam zoom profile with fingertip control of four-plane, 360° rotating shutters and gobos, as well as zoom, focus, and iris from any position. Available in 15-30° and 25-50° zoom profiles with an 800W halogen axial lamp, dichroic glass reflector for low gate and beam temperature. This luminaire is one of the most innovative designs in recent years. There will also be a retrofittable automation kit.

Compulite (www.compulite.com): The Israeli manufacturer has launched what it calls “the next generation of lighting control for clubs” with the Rave, a DJ-friendly compact console for moving lights that supports DMX, MIDI, and SMPTE protocols, plus 40 chases, 200 scenes, and a powerful effects editor with bundled generic effects package.

G-Lec (www.g-lec.com): This German company showed a 70% transparent LED “curtain” which allows colors, images, animations, and graphics to appear in the foreground, while the rest of the curtain remains transparent. It made a stunning appearance hung over the VPLT booth, where it caused attendees to crane their necks in astonishment.

High End Systems (www.highend.com): The very long-awaited Wholehog® III made its PLASA debut in 2001, but now it is ready to ship, and attendees were avidly checking it out. The console was running all of the lighting and effects on the stand and the software looks more stable than has been seen at previous trade shows. One killer new feature is the Library Model on the Wholehog III, as well as using real-world attributes like RPM for gobo rotation. This allows a designer to use different luminaires from different companies and get them to behave in a similar fashion. It looks like the automated luminaire console wars are going to get hot.

James Thomas Engineering (www.jthomaseng.com): Thomas is getting on the LED bandwagon in a big way. The PixelPar provided James Thomas with the launch of a new series of solid-state lighting fixtures using high-brightness LEDs. The first three models are the Pixelpar 660 (a PAR-64-sized fixture), the Pixelpar 87 (a PAR-36 equivalent), and the Pixelline 1044 batten (a striplight-type fixture).

Martin (www.martin.dk) Maxxyz: Does the industry need another top-of-the-line console? The folks at Martin think so and certainly large numbers of PLASA attendees were eager to check it out. Among other things, Maxxyz is the first controller to incorporate customizable LCD buttons for tailored, flexible programming. This means you can group functions to a digital LCD button and create your own button layout. And for full multimedia capability there's a built-in DVD drive that allows you to orchestrate full video and audio light shows, and run the entire show right from the desk. Keep your eye on this one.

Pearl River (www.pr-lighting.com): Exhibiting for the first time under its own name, Pearl River has come out of China and the OEM market with a wide range of products including the Design 150, an outdoor (IP65) color-changing unit with CYM color-mixing and a 150W lamp, destined for architectural installations; and the Pilot 250, a moving-head fixture with rotating gobos, available in silver or black finish; and the Pilot Wash, available in a black rubbery finish, with a 250W lamp and CYM color-mixing.

Robe Show Lighting (www.robe.cz): The former OEM from the Czech Republic made its PLASA debut as a manufacturer in its own right with the AT (Advanced Technology) series. The four models include the ColorSpot 170 AT, the ColorMix 250 AT, the ColorMix 150 AT wash, and the ColorMix 150 AT profile. Can these products succeed in an already-crowded market? Robe has helped other companies succeed. Maybe it can do the same for itself.

Robert Juliat (www.robertjuliat.fr): From the French manufacturer of the award-winning Cyrano followspot comes the very compact Buxie, a new followspot with 575W MSR lamp, an electronic power supply (rather than external ballast), dimming shutters, DMX control, and a total weight of just 16kg (35lb).

Vari-Lite (www.vari-lite.com): The product innovations just keep on coming at Vari-Lite. This year the company debuted the Series 3000 line of 1,200W luminaires. The VL3000 Spot delivers an output of 24,000 lumens; the VL3000 Wash produces an unparalleled 35,000 lumens. Both Series 3000 products are housed in the same head, box, and yoke, and both can be controlled from a wide variety of DMX512 consoles. These units complement the existing Vari*Lite product line; combined with the VL1000 ellipsoidal reflector spotlight and the Series 2000 line of 700W luminaires, the VL3000 Wash and Spot give Vari-Lite a complete range of automated lighting fixtures. They may be able to help Vari-Lite regain its dominant position in the moving-light game.

Xilver (www.xilver.nl): The Droplet, seen on the Lightfactor stand, is the first moving-yoke light with LED technology, a small unit that should be interesting for retail and display applications, among others. This is a new company with a young staff; it's eager to make its mark in the industry. It will be very interesting to see what designers make of it.

LIGHTING UP LIVES

Where do lighting designers go for help when sick and unable to work? In the UK, they can turn to Light Relief, a non-profit organization that is there to offer assistance. “Light Relief's mission is to lighten the dark side of life,” notes Tony Gottelier, a partner in Wynne Willson Gottelier (WWG), a UK lighting design and product development company, who came up with the idea for Light Relief a little over two years ago.

Gottelier, also a freelance monthly columnist for Lighting and Sound International (the Professional Lighting and Sound Association's magazine), thought that a charity such as Light Relief was needed to aid people in the entertainment lighting community in the UK who are suffering from the adverse effects of ill health and consequently unable to work. “The catalyst for the formation of the charity was the case of one lighting designer whose wife contracted CJD, the human form of mad cow disease, and he was forced to stop work for many months to look after her and his two kids,” explains Gottelier. An article publicizing the case in Gottelier's popular column got the ball rolling and it all grew from there.

Light Relief has developed into a fund set up by the manufacturers of performance lighting and equipment, and represented by PLASA, to help to smooth out life's catastrophes as they may affect lighting designers. Members of the ALD (Association of Lighting Designers), and, in fact, all lighting professionals in the UK, can apply for help. Aid from Light Relief can be financial, or it may be practical assistance according to need (such as computers, software, or other tools to help a disabled designer work at home, for example).

The philosophy behind Light Relief is that since many lighting designers are freelance, they are especially vulnerable to the cruel tricks that life can play when careers are disrupted, and even curtailed, by ill health or accidents. “The freelance life is not an easy one,” says Gottelier. “And while the ALD encourages its members to be responsible and carry insurance, it is not always possible to carry all types of insurance. Light Relief is there to help people through the most difficult moments.”

At the recent PLASA trade show, Light Relief was actively promoting its cause with a rest and relaxation area with massage tables. “The idea for having a massage area at the PLASA show came about in a conversation with my daughter Gemma, a trained massage practitioner,” says Gottelier. “We then spent the summer months raising sponsorship monies for the area, which literally provided light relief to those suffering from that well known condition, trade show stress.” Sponsors included DHA Lighting, ETC, Forester Health, Harmer PR, Martin Professional, PLASA, Stage Electrics, Strand Lighting, Vari-Lite Europe, and WWG. Aside from the sponsorships, the area raised £2,250 (massages were available at £1 per minute). That amount was supplemented with a check from PLASA for £3,300.

The trustees for Light Relief are: honorary president Richard Pilbrow, Andrew Bridge, David Hersey, John Simpson (White Light), Lesley Harmer, Matthew Griffiths (PLASA chairman), Patrick Woodroffe, Rick Fisher (ALD chairman), and Tony Gottelier.

Contributions to the Light Relief Fund may be made by check made payable to: Light Relief, c/o PLASA, 38 St Leonard's Road, Eastbourne, East Sussex BN21 3UT, England, phone: 44-1323-410335, fax: 44-1323-646905, web: www.lightrelief.org.

THE BENELUX CONNECTION

Many PLASA attendees noted the high number of companies from the Benelux area exhibiting this year. Many of them had software and/or LED products, a testimony to those countries' innovations in several high-tech areas. What follows is a quick overview of those exhibitors, a list that clearly indicates that these countries will be players to reckon with in the years to come.

ADB (www.adb.be), based in Belgium, had the Axis, a new ellipsoidal luminaire that was one of the most talked-about products at the show (see “Products with Buzz,” page 49). Axis, which will be marketed in North America, unlike other ADB products, was also seen at LDI, and will become available early in 2003. ALC Sound and Lighting (www.alc-belgium.be), based in Lokeren, Belgium, is a rental company servicing tours, events, theatre, fashion shows, and other projects. The company also provides an academy for both sound and lighting engineers and offers for rental a 600-sq.-m (6,667 sq. ft.) production studio. APS (www.rmsplanning.com), based in Veen, Netherlands, introduces five new versions of its Rental Management Systems software. ELC Lighting (www.elclighting.com), from Gemert, Netherlands, is the manufacturer of the Focus Hand and Focus Brain HF wireless remote control for any DMX dimmer or lighting desk. At PLASA, the company launched dmXLAN, a full solution for DMX over Ethernet, including DMX in, and with unique management software for backstage technicians. ELC is being marketed in the US by Leprecon. Welcome to Goboland (www.goboland.com), from Antwerp, Belgium, the company that makes both metal and glass gobos. Highlite International (www.highlite.nl), from Kerkrade, Netherlands, breaks down into two brand names: DAP for audio products and Showtec for lighting equipment. I.E.S. (www.ies.nl), based in Veenendaal, Netherlands, has a new innovation in silent dimming, with a choice of three dimming technologies in a plug-in modular rack-mounted system. Lagotronics (www.lagoled.com), based in Venlo, Netherlands, uses the brand LagoLED to sell LED units to a worldwide market. Prolyte Sales (www.prolyte.com) is a familiar name to PLASA attendees, with its complete range of aluminum trussing. ShowLED by Amelia (www.showled.com), based in Antwerp, Belgium, a designer of electronic solutions for special effects in the entertainment and event industry, launched its new RoadStar controller and showed a new addition to the ShowLED Starcloth System. Sparklight (www.5star-systems.com), of Hoofddorp, Netherlands, was formerly known as 5 Star Systems; the company has a new range of moving-head units for various parts of the entertainment market. The Mojo Barriers (www.mojobarriers.com), from Montfoort, Netherlands, makes freestanding crowd-control barriers. Traxon Europe (www.mood-light.com), based in Rotterdam, Netherlands, showed the Mood Light, billed as “a new dimension of light, style, and self-expression.” The folks from Xilver (www.xilver.nl), based in Gronsveld, Netherlands, on the Lightfactor stand, showed the Droplet, a small LED unit for retail display.