You walk into a room- lights are fading up and down, moving, colors and shapes are dancing on the walls. It looks really cool. And by now, you know a good bit of the “how”. How to hang, point and gel the lights. But what about moving and chases? The lights don’t just do this themselves, right? How is this even possible?
You know by now that stage lighting does not program or operate itself. Controlling every lighting rig, small or large, is some sort of lighting console, and controlling that lighting console, is a human. Lighting consoles use low-voltage control signal to tell the dimmers, LED’s and moving lights what to do. Most lighting consoles use a control protocol called DMX512, or DMX for short, but some use microplex or some other sort of proprietary control protocol.
As I mentioned before, lighting consoles, or boards, come in all different shapes and sizes. The smallest fits in the palm of your hand, and the very largest takes many people to move! Some are on computers with no control surface. Different sizes and complexities of lighting rigs require different controllers- what your church or venue may need is different from the needs of others.
In general, lighting consoles can be split into 2 types- conventional lighting consoles and moving light consoles. Because of the DMX512 standard, all of these consoles are putting out the same type of signal. How the human operator interacts and programs each console is different.
Conventional lighting consoles typically have a lot of faders and not much else on the control surface. These faders are used to bring up individual lights and groups of lights. Some may be programmable, called submasters. Conventional lighting consoles may also have cue stacks, allowing lighting looks to be programmed into a cue, which then can be played back in a list of cues on a special playback fader. If you’re working with all conventional lighting, this is the type of console for you.
Moving light consoles, on the other hand, put the focus on touchscreens, buttons, wheels and a fewer faders. Lights are brought up via the touch screen in pallets, cues and cuelists, and programmed to playbacks. The software, which is much more advanced, is able to playback many cues at once and program effects movements easily. This doesn’t make them best for all uses. A conventional lighting rig may be tough to control, and moving light consoles can be expensive. But if you’re programming extensively with moving lights, this is what you need.
In addition, some consoles are now available in a PC version- running off of a computer with a small, or even no control surface. This is a great option for a venue, church or attraction that simply needs to play back pre-programmed looks, and doesn’t need to do a lot of programming. There are many, many different programs out there to do this, and also many different options for outputting to DMX. Software based consoles are available in both moving light and conventional style consoles, though the majority are ML consoles. A PC system is not best, however, when you have limited programming time, or if you seek to “busk” or run a show live, with few or no complete looks programmed.
There are many considerations when buying or renting a console. Remember that lighting consoles come in many different shapes and sizes, and that what’s right for someone else’s church or venue may not be the right console for you. Careful consideration, research and understanding is the best way to determine what lighting console is best for you!
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