It was clear to me that I was blazing a new trail when the High End Systems tech support staffer said to me over the telephone, “You're not running a real show on the Hog iPC with the Wholehog 3 software, are you?” I told her I was, indeed, and that I was in my third day of a five-day tech process. Dress rehearsal for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, produced by North Carolina Theatre and starring Sheena Easton, would be the following day. I needed to ask a few questions. She was very helpful but continued to explain that the software was considered to be in Beta testing mode and that I should not be running a show on the platform. I thanked her for that bit of news then told her this was my third “real show” using the Hog® iPC running the Wholehog® 3 software. She was a little shocked.

I thought it was funny. My equipment vendor and close friend Michael Pryal, owner of Atlantic Lighting and Sound in Raleigh, NC, was surprised that High End would say that. He had yet to use the console and be wowed by its functionality. I promised him he had made a good buy and that the kinks would eventually be worked out.

I hoped I was right. This console is incredibly powerful, insanely instinctive to use, and a complete joy to run. Big new additions, such as the Color Picker and Gel Picker, make playing with color mixing units a truly new experience, even for a seasoned designer and/or programmer. On this particular rig, I was running 18 High End ColorCommands, six High End x.Spots®, four High End Studio Color® 575s, six High End Studio Spot® 250s, eight High End Trackspots®, four High End Technobeams®, and approximately 200 ETC Source Fours®. I was able to grab all of my color mixing units at once, tap my touchscreen on the color picker near a magenta tint, and voila, all snap to that color instantly. Making my color palettes has never been faster. Genius! I should also mention that the folks at High End have preprogrammed the closest color matches for all of the other manufacturer's color mixing units as well. My exclusive use of High End units for this production was merely a coincidence.

Another great improvement in the Wholehog 3 software is the ability to customize your touchscreens (up to four) in so many ways. Sizing and placement of windows is unlimited. The ability to call up two views of the same cue list — one for the programmer, one for the designer — made all the difference in the world sitting at the tech table. (To do this, bring up a view of the cue list, click [Follow Chosen] above the list to deactivate that feature, then call up another copy of the cue list.) While the buttons devoted to window shaping, sizing, and manipulation were not, in that software release, yet working, I was still able to do everything I needed with the mouse or touching/dragging screens. Once they get those buttons working, everything will move even faster. It is simple to save an unlimited number of overall views (like console templates), which makes it easy to switch between programming and running modes with all of the necessary info just a finger touch away. Or, if multiple programmers are present, everybody can have his own setup, and it's always available on the top of the left touchscreen.

The aggregation feature available in most of the windows makes it fast and easy to find the information you need when you need it. The global and individual mapping of attributes used when recording palettes is a great plus. Just be sure to read that section of the manual a couple times before you record your palettes! The new syntax is interesting but very functional once you understand what the board is expecting from the programmer. The [Live] button, which allows you to select and put into the program all units of a particular type, or color, or pattern that are currently above 1% on stage, is an incredible programming tool. The [Touch] key replaces the [Pig Active] combo of the Wholehog 2. And my favorite key, [Suck] is a combination of both [Live] and [Touch] that tends to have unpredictable results. While it is my favorite, I tend only to hit it when I look up from the desk and am astounded at the mess I see onstage. Hitting [Suck] by itself does nothing but makes you feel better.

The big thing that I miss with this board is the [Mark] button. While I have learned to mark my own cues rather quickly, it is quite a nuisance to have to remark a cue every time I change a color, position, or other attribute of a unit. If the board crashes during intensive programming periods — it never happened during strict, theatrical style, single-button playback — the nice thing (did I just write that?) is that 99% of the time you can be back up in thirty seconds by pressing [Pig-Open-Backspace]. This opens a task manager-esque window that will reveal the type of crash you are currently experiencing. Click on the affected process, Kill it, and then Restart it. You'll be back up and running in under thirty seconds in most cases. Also, you can continue to press [Go], and most of the time, your cue list will continue to run.

I have used the Hog iPC running Wholehog 3 Software for over six shows in the past six months. I won't ever go back to a Wholehog 2 unless forced by budgets. It's not rock solid just yet, and it is just in Beta version, but the speed and agility it allows during an intense and stressful week of technical rehearsals far outweighs the thirty second “breaks” it forces on you every couple of hours. North Carolina Theatre has used this console for every show it has produced since September 2005. I'd say they have one up on the folks up North. We're blazing trails down here, and no one is afraid of a little new technology, not even during “a real show!”

John Bartenstein is a lighting designer and programmer based in Manchester, CT.