When it comes to stage lighting control, there are too many options out there. This article aims to provide a guideline on what you may need depending on your applications.
Lighting controllers that are set and forget
In a commercial and retail environment if it often the case that employees won’t be trained, nor they want to know how to control DMX lights. A stand alone lighting control would be suitable for such applications. In this case, the installer and lighting technician will program the lights based on the request of the customers, before commissioning the lights. The controller will be operating by itself and doing things such as turn lights on and off, run pre-determined programs, etc.
Depending on the scale of such lighting displays, it can be a basic 2 universe stand alone controller, such as the NICOLAUDIE SLESA-UE7 or it can be complicated PC based software controlling tens of universes of lights, such as Madrix. In the case of PC based lighting control, the PC will be programmed to boot and shutdown according to date and time desired, and it will automatically run saved lighting programs. With Remote control software, these PC can be managed remotely by lighting technicians for updates and maintenance so the customers don’t need to do anything.
Lighting control that anybody can use
It often happens at some spaces only a small lighting rig is needed, and usually they are static wash lights, fresnels and profiles. Many public schools, some churches, gym, clubs and restaurants may fall under this category. Staff will want to know what buttons to push to get what and they probably want to label the controllers to make their life easier. There is no interest or need to understand how DMX lighting control works, or creating any new lighting scenes. Stage lights are used as any other devices and appliances with the lighting controller function as a remote. In this case, a basic controller less than 500 dollars will be sufficient and anything more expensive would be probably money not spent wisely and over complicate things. We have seen church customers bought a 20,000 dollar lighting console, but everyone there hates it, because it is too hard to use.
Entry level professional lighting control surface
If there is a need to create new lighting designs from now and then, or teaching of stage lighting is needed, or stage lighting will play an active role in any stage production, then an entry level digital control surface would be needed at a minimum. This means there will be a steeper learning curve and understanding of how stage lighting system works. It doesn’t mean you need to spend thousands of dollars for a expensive lighting console. A basic DMX-USB interface should only cost a few hundred and that would be the starter kit if that is what your budget allows. It must be pointed out that such entry level hardware has no limitations in its function of programming any lighting sequence, cues and shows compared to the more expensive options. Their only drawbacks are physical, meaning either no buttons or faders, or less/lack of them. If you have a budget of 1000-2000 dollars, the next size up would be within reach, with usually 10 faders and some encoder buttons to use, making life slightly easier compared to doing everything on the screen. However, these are still entry level hardware, not very user friendly when it comes to operating a serious lighting show.
For the serious lighting operators and students
While you can lean everything about lighting programming just on an entry level device, it can be inconvenient to operate lighting for a school musical from such a small device with limited faders and buttons. If you have to rely on mouse and touch screen to run your lighting show sometimes you run out of space on your screen or may be too slow to find the right place to click. A bigger lighting console is all about productivity boosting for not only operating, but also programming a lighting show.
The most affordable ones in this group are often called “wings” or “let”, because they are still little brothers and require external PCs to run the software. This will start to cost you serious money, from 5000 plus depending on which brand you choose to buy. From there, you are looking to roughly double the cost for each step up you will take for bigger sized console.
Full size and Lite version lighting boards
the only difference is more faders, buttons and more screens, maybe more DMX ports as well. Think of a bigger audio mixer. If you don’t need them. don’t waste your money.
Which brand lighting console should I buy
There top names in this industry would be MA, Hog, ETC, Chamsys, Oynx, Avolites, etc. Every dealer/distributor will promote the brands that they carry. We want to point out there is little difference among the different brands of lighting console as far as most people are concerned. It is like how much difference are there among top notch cars from BMW, Audio, Mercedes and Volvo? Of course, people have strong opinions about them. Someone would say they will never drive a BMW and it is personal. The pros are especially picky about certain niche features that they care so much, while it is true that all of them can run big lighting shows.