How to choose the right lighting control

Lighting Consoles:

Of all the purchases I advise my clients on, the biggest and single most costly purchase that comes under discussion is how to control their lights once they are up in the air. As the saying goes, “power is nothing without control” and more accurately, the right control for the application. In order to access and properly utilize the features of modern lighting instruments, you must have appropriate lighting control. If you were to attempt to use a system full of modern “smart” fixtures such as LED’s and moving lights with an older style lighting console you would soon find yourself with an overwhelming desire to bang your head against it rather than try to write another cue with it. The reason for this is that when those older consoles were created, none of this new technology had even been imagined yet, let alone put into the marketplace. Would you try to run the newest Windows or Mac OS on the computer you bought 10 years ago? That’s the same logic you need to use here.

Choosing the right manufacturer

There are a whole host of options when it comes to lighting control and along with those options there is a full range of pricing to consider too. When it comes to your lighting controller it is critical that you take the time to study which console will best fit your needs. You need to consider what types of productions your venue supports, what types of lights you wish to control, whether you will have a professional programmer or a novice programming your cues and how complex your overall productions will ultimately become. Different manufacturers offer different solutions to these questions so it is advisable to seek out the advice of a lighting professional when considering your choice.

Ability to utilize emerging technology.

Emerging technology consumes huge amounts of data space on your lighting desk. New lighting consoles have a ton of space to offer, many of them are even set up to expand easily in the future when even more space is required. If there is one place that you need to future-proof your investment, this is it. Furthermore, this emerging technology requires that your console be able to manipulate the data differently than ever before. Long gone are the days when a light was just a single channel and you only had to assign it a level somewhere between zero and full. Controlling a light now means not only giving it a value for intensity, but also often values for color, effects, gobos, position, edge and a host of other parameters. And not only do you need to assign those values, but you need to be able to easily and quickly view, recall, copy & paste and change them as your production merits. All of these features are common in the console market today.

Safer data storage and networking.

Be honest. Does your current PC have a 3.5” floppy drive? Do your kids even know what that is? I didn’t think so, so why does your current lighting console still use one? The current range of lighting control consoles are dependent on two methods of data storage, hard disk and flash drives. Both of these are vastly superior technologies to that old floppy. Beyond that, most of them are network devices as well allowing you to set up your entire lighting system the same way your office computer network operates. This ability has already revolutionized the lighting world and it a safe bet that in the next ten years it will happen again, over the network and over the internet. Technology now allows for multiple users to access your lighting system simultaneously. This means that your programmer at the light board can be taking direction from the lighting designer while their assistant looks over cue information on a laptop and a stagehand diagnoses a problem with a light backstage using their smart phone. All of these players are communicating with the same system, at the same time, seamlessly getting work done without having to wait on each other. This kind of efficiency saves tons of time, and that saves money.

Better lighting cues (advanced timing, parting, accurate replication of colors)

Do I mean to tell you that buying a new lighting console is going to actually make your production look better? Yes. That’s exactly what I’m telling you. New lighting controllers have seriously advanced many of the finer points of lighting design allowing your LD to create much more refined and polished lighting cues than were previously possible. It all comes back to manipulating that huge amount of data. If you take away the constraints that used to factor into things like timing, parameter control and color selection, you open up a whole new realm of possibility for creative design to find its way to the stage.

Ability to combine moving light and conventional control.

In some applications it used to be more efficient to control your conventional lights and your intelligent lights from two different consoles. This often meant that you either needed two skilled programmers or one person with the ability to operate both at the same time. With the exception of some of the larger applications, this is no longer the best way to approach lighting control. New software has made it exceptionally easy to operate both conventional and intelligent fixtures from the same system allowing them to seamlessly integrate into your productions.