Figure 53 recently released QLab 3, the latest flavor of the wildly popular software for cue playback. QLab was originally released in 2006. QLab 2, the next big update, came out in 2009. It’s been a few years since QLab has taken such a big step forward. QLab 3 boasts some impressive new features in all areas of the program. Taking a look at video, QLab 3 brings some new guns to the game, namely surfaces, effects, and more refined playback tools.
Surfaces is a powerful, though not unique concept. However, it’s great to see this feature set at QLab’s price point. This will open up many new possibilities for lower-budget shows. When you open the program, every connected display is a “surface.” You can throw video to one of these displays right off the bat for quick programming, or you can refine your surfaces to create a variety of outputs. Each custom surface has perspective correction (corner-pin) adjustments allowing you to adjust the perspective of a surface to any shape or location on a display. You can have multiple surfaces per display, which allows you to adjust video output to your exact needs, as long as your needs are within the footprint of the screen. Corner-pinning can’t go outside the bounds of the screen, which will limit you in some instances. The interface for corner pinning is a little clunky, and it isn’t exactly clear from the beginning exactly how your surface is being mapped. With some trial and error, though, you can be up and running in no time.
You can also add multiple displays to a surface. QLab 3 will even handle the blending between the projectors. You can also adjust the gamma of the blend, so you can hone in on the right brightness to complete the blend. Also of note, QLab 3 will only run on OSX 10.8 or later because of how it uses technology only available in the newer operating system.
QLab Video Effects
QLab 3 also boasts a long list of video effects, ranging from basic color adjustment to wild distortions. It will even allow you to compose your own effects. Unfortunately, these effects come at the price of your processor, making the more complex effects next to useless. Running a 1080p video on my Retina MacBook Pro, QLab 3 consumed 14% of my CPU for playback with corner-pinning. Once I applied a twist effect to it, my CPU usage spiked to 330% (out of a 800% max on my four cores) and didn’t fall below 300% for the duration of my clip. This was only one clip, no other effects, cues, pre-loads or anything. Hopefully, this is an issue that will be rectified in a later release but at this point, I would be hesitant to use the built in effects in a show environment due to their heavy processor usage.
Among these features, the new update also includes: seamless video loops, video fades and animations, adjustable playback rate, an audition window to preview clips, overlay titles, live video input, syphon integration, and more.
In just the few weeks since the release, the software had quite a few bugs, as early releases tend to have. A couple updates have already been released, each one fixing a handful of bugs ranging from stuttering and strobing video output, to the program crashing randomly. Some of the early bugs have caused a handful of early adopters of the update to revert to QLab 2 until the bugs can be resolved, but QLab developers reassure us that most people who have purchased version 3 are using it on shows and that several thousand licenses have been sold since the launch.
QLab 3 has added an extensive feature list, most of which has previously been available to its normal market. This is huge for this user base. However, the release may have come too soon, and the software is not quite show-ready just yet, at least for my purposes. I am confident, though, that these issues will be resolved in the coming weeks. Once they have, QLab 3 will be a beast to be reckoned with.