LDI Report::Part 3::Midrange Lighting Control Consoles

My real mission at LDI was to review lighting consoles–management is considering replacing our Hog 1000 in the next year or so.  The Hog is serving our needs well, but we’ve already used up both DMX outputs, and Hog programming is not the easiest thing to teach to new lighting operators.  So, we’re looking at consoles that match or exceed the capabilities of the Hog 1000, with 4 DMX outputs and hopefully with a more user-friendly design.  We’re keeping the price below $30,000–hopefully well below!  So, without further ado, here are the consoles I got to see in person. Please keep in mind that these are first impressions, and I really need to download the offline emulators before I say anything more.
Avolites Pearl Expert
The Avolites Pearl Expert and Pearl 2008.  The main thing that caught my eye with this console is the fader paging system.  There’s basically a big drum embedded in the board above the playback faders.  You use console tape on the drum to label the faders.  To get to a new bank of faders, roll the drum one click and bring up a new set of labels.  It’s intuitively obvious when you play with it.
Chamsys MagicQ
The MagicQ is a module console from a new company called ChamSys.  It’s being distributed in the US by PRG.  Some of the programmers previously worked on the Hog 2 and 3, so this board runs much like a Hog 2.  It might be described as “what the Hog 3 should have been.”  Very programmable–and Linux-based!
Compulite Vector Lite
Compulite Vector Blue
These are Vector consoles from Compulite.  They seem to be reasonably priced and extremely programmable, but retain some of the simplicity of a theater-style console.  I got to talk to a software developer on the project, and although the consoles run a Windows XP operating system, they have taken great pains to maintain realtime hardware response.
ETC Congo
ETC Congo Jr
The Congo and Congo Jr. were originally made by Avab, and somehow acquired by ETC.  Compared to other brands, I was most impressed with the user interface of the Congo.  It’s designed like an ETC theater console, but integrates moving light support seamlessly.  There is no separate programmer–you are always working within a cue.  It’s probably too early to say this, but I think this would be the easiest one to teach to a beginner.  Unfortunately, it seems to be one of the more expensive consoles in this lineup.
zero88 LeapFrog
Here is the LeapFrog from zero88.   I didn’t get much chance to use it, but with only 2 built-in DMX outputs, I’m not sure this is going to have the horsepower we need.
zero88 Frog2
The Frog 2 seems to be very much like the Hog 1000 or Hog 2 in terms of its programming style.  I don’t think it adds much value when compared to the Hog 1000.
Overall, I was impressed with the consoles I saw at LDI.  My impression is that there are many powerful consoles to choose from, but many of them are too programmable for their own good.  I love programming features, but that’s because I’m a professional programmer who happened to learn lighting.  What about the theater lighting person who needs to run moving lights?  Is it really a good thing that bump button #7 can be programmed to shut off the console?  On another note, a lot of people were very helpful when showing me their consoles.  However, they would have been a lot more effective if they had just shut up and listened to my needs for a minute before going off and describing all kinds of features I don’t care about.  Stay tuned for more in-depth reviews!

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