So You Want A Lighting Visualizer…

Visualizing your lighting on the computer is one of the very best ways to waste a solid afternoon.  🙂

Seriously, though – visualization can be a necessary, and important part of your lighting.

Want to walk into a big show with some solid programming done?

How about up-selling your clients on some additional lighting by giving them a video of how awesome their show will be?

Just need to learn a new console, or become a better programmer?  Using a visualizer available and ready to use can not only save you time,  it can also make you a lot of money.

Using a visualizer available and ready to use can not only save you time,  it can also make you money if you’re in the business of lighting.  Even if you’re just doing lighting for your band or church, trying to program without having to be in front of your lighting rig, visualization has its’ benefits!

But visualizers can be expensive.  Simply put, they’re a very expensive piece of software to develop, and many visualizers that are on the market are quite expensive.  However, below I’m going to show you how visualizers don’t have to be expensive and they can even be free.  It all depends on what you need!

What Do I Need From A Visualizer?

Basic 2D Lighting Visualization

Martin M-PC Screenshot

Martin M-PC’s built-in 2D Plan View

If you’re getting ready to pre-program your first show, some lighting consoles offer a really great 2D view, which gives you an overhead look at your lighting rig.  You literally can set up and see your lighting rig from the top, and this can allow you to pre-program cues with intensity, color and some gobos without needing a full-blown visualizer.

This can be really helpful if you’re especially pinched for pennies.  These days, you can get a 2D layout view inside of most new lighting consoles.  However, I really like to see the beams of light in the 2D space.  Martin M-PC and M-Series consoles, as well as Enttec D-ProJands Vista and Grand MA2 all offer this functionality in their 2D views.

If you need a 3D view of your lighting and the stage it’s on, then it’s time to upgrade.  3D visualizers are a ton of fun and offer the ability to get life-like lighting simulations out of your computer.

Awesome 3D Lighting Visualization

Nowadays, there are a LOT of 3D visualizers on the market.  With so many choices, how do you choose?

First Things First – Can You Use a FREE Visualizer?

GrandMA 3d Free Visualizer for Grand MA consoles

If you can get away with free, there’s little to no downside!  Many consoles now are beginning to offer a bundled, free visualizer that can either run on the console itself or via a networked computer.

One notable player in this market is Grand MA – they’ve been offering a free visualizer since the days of their Grand MA1 console, and it’s pretty rockin’.

Other consoles with a free visualizer include Chamsys and Avolites, who actually has a version of the paid Capture visualizer built-in to their Titan consoles.  Chauvet ShowXpress also includes a free, basic 3D visualizer.

The Pros?  It’s free, easy to setup and offers the ability to pre-visualize anything that you can program inside of your console.

The Cons? Built-in visualizers usually don’t look quite as nice as “paid” visualizers and don’t always offer the ability to bring in set pieces or visualize video and laser elements.  These visualizers won’t work with other consoles, either.

My Favorite Paid Visualizers

The Capture Visualizer

At my last count, there at least 10 different 3D lighting visualizers on the market, all trying to get your dollar.  They’re all good, can make quality visualizations and most work with any lighting console via USB-DMX adapters and/or Artnet and sACN.

Here are my favorites:

If you need to visualize 1 DMX universe, I recommend Capture.

I personally own a copy of Capture, and it’s a great piece of software.  When you compare the output to other visualizers on the market, it’s definitely one of the most realistic visualizers on the market.

Capture licenses are a one-time purchase but they don’t include upgrades to the major releases.  So, if you only need 1 DMX universe of visualization, and don’t mind not having the latest and greatest every year, Capture is a solid buy.

So, if you only need 1 DMX universe of visualization, and don’t mind not having the latest and greatest every year, Capture is a solid buy.

Martin ShowDesigner

If you need to visualize more than 2 universes, I recommend Martin Show Designer (MSD).

Martin Show Designer offers their visualizer on a yearly license, and it’s a great visualizer as well.  I’ve used MSD before, so I can tell you that it connects with consoles well, and gives you some great looking visualizations.

I’ve used MSD before, so I can tell you that it connects with consoles well, and gives you some great looking visualizations.

Martin Show Designer Lite allows you to visualize up to 64 universes of lighting and is about the cost yearly of a 1/2 Capture license – making it a smart choice for people who want the latest upgrades included in the price and/or need more than 2 universes of visualization.

I’ve used MSD before, so I can tell you that it connects with consoles well, and gives you some great looking visualizations.  Martin Show Designer Lite allows you to visualize up to 64 universes of lighting and is about the cost yearly of a 1/2 Capture license – making it a smart choice for people who want the latest upgrades included in the price and/or need more than 2 universes of visualization.

Martin Show Designer Lite allows you to visualize up to 64 universes of lighting and is about the cost yearly of a 1/2 Capture license – making it a smart choice for people who want the latest upgrades included in the price and/or need more than 2 universes of visualization.

What Hardware Do I Need for a Visualizer Computer?

2D and 3D visualizers will work on any old, normal computer.  But, if you’re working in 3D and want to use more than a few fixtures, your computer is going to need some performance under the hood!

First things first – how much RAM, processor speed and type of HDD do you need?

When you’re visualizing, these parts of your computer are the least important.  Follow whatever your visualizer manufacturer recommends, and you’ll be fine.

I personally run an HP business class tower that I bought from KLAMP electronics on Amazon, and it’s great.

I upgraded the HDD to an SSD and have added RAM, but neither of those moves made a big difference in visualization.  My old visualization computer was actually a really old, barely dual-core PC with a good graphics card, and it could visualize very well…but when it came to creating and moving around fixtures inside of my visualizer – it was very slow!

Graphics cards, on the other hand, are a big deal to lighting visualizers.

From what I best understand, your computer’s main processor and RAM are great at doing a few big tasks, very quickly.  Your graphics card processes the graphic content of many small tasks at the same time.  I used to run a Nvidia GT-720 graphics card, and it does 20-30 fixtures of visualization at 30fps quite well if I keep my resolution to 720p.

I have upgraded to GTX 1050 Ti Mini , which has been an incredible upgrade.   Now I can run 1080p visualization of over 40 fixtures before my framerate begins dropping below 30.

(A great resource on video cards is the Passmark best GPU’s/Value page, it shows you the best cards for the money!)

Running your visualizer on a separate computer from your console is also a wise idea – it allows your visualizer to get all of the resources it possibly can, to make the best visualization possible.

Capture also has a great webpage discussing the specifics on how each piece of hardware in your computer can affect visualization.  It’s a great read if you’re in the market for a visualizer, or want to boost your visualization performance!

How Do I Work with a Visualizer?

Working in the visualizer is a great way to pre-program and prepare for real gigs.  However, it does take some prep work to make sure your show translates well to the real world.  There’s nothing worse than spending hours in pre-viz, only to find out that a ton of your programming is wrong!  Here are some things to make sure you get right so that you have a smooth show:

Height and Placement of Your Trusses

When you’re working with moving lights, it’s important to get your trusses in the right place, so that the movements and positions you pre-program are as close to reality as possible.  Making sure you plot out your conventional and LED fixtures are the appropriate places is essential too – it would stink if you had to re-arrange your design on site because something didn’t fit!

Tilt of Your Moving Lights

I always hang my moving lights so that they tilt towards the upstage when I move the tilt wheel on my console forward, no matter where they are hung.  It doesn’t matter if you follow my way of hanging lights, but it does matter that the lights are hung the same way in the visualizer as in real life!  There’s nothing worse than finding out ALL of your positions are way off and need to be reprogrammed from scratch!

It doesn’t matter if you follow my way of hanging lights, but it does matter that the lights are hung the same way in the visualizer as in real life!  There’s nothing worse than finding out ALL of your positions are way off and need to be reprogrammed from scratch!

Channel Mode of Your Lights

Make sure the lights are set in the visualizer in the same channel mode you’ll be using on the gig itself.  If your LED strip lights are patched in a 4-segment mode in the visualizer, they won’t translate your cool FX sweeps properly if they’re in 1-segment mode on the gig!

Is a Visualizer Right for You?

At this point, you’ve (probably) read this post, and you’re not sure if you should make the plunge and buy a visualizer.  Here’s my recommendation:

Here’s my recommendation:

If you have the ability to setup your lighting rig in a garage, backyard or warehouse space to program, it’s probably going to be cheaper to do that to program your lighting that way.  But if you’re working with bigger lighting rigs, or want to try changing up the way you set up and program your rig often, you might want to invest into a visualizer.

These days, you can purchase a year’s license of a visualizer for the cost of a cheap LED par can – is your career, band show or DJ rig worth it?


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