In this article, Duke DeJong explores some different lighting controller options and some questions to help you figure out what you need.
Lighting controllers come in all shapes, sizes, and budgets—from simple push button preset controllers to full blown moving light controllers that can handle dozens of DMX 512 universes. Whatever your lighting control needs, there is an option that will make sense for you.
Preset Lighting Controllers
The most basic of DMX controllers, a Preset Controller, simply allows you to create a certain number of preset looks with another lighting controller and save them to preset buttons on the controller. For example, the Doug Fleenor Designs Preset 10 Controller is a super simple way to give someone 10 preset lighting looks to choose from. Particularly useful when you only use standard looks all of the time, Preset Controllers can make lighting easy for children’s or youth rooms.
They also work great as a secondary controller in your main auditorium, offering a variety of looks for weddings, funerals, special events, and even cleaning without needing someone to turn on and operate the main lighting controller. While they offer super simple operation, the drawbacks with Preset Controllers is that they are typically limited to what is on a single universe of DMX, you need to use another controller to set it up and you are then limited to the presets you created, as you created them unless you have another controller in line.
Fader-Based Lighting Controllers
The old school method for controlling lights, fader-based controllers, was simple because most every light had a fader. When you pushed the fader up to a certain percentage, the light(s) on that fader turned on to that percentage. And many fader based controllers also allowed you to create looks and save them to a fader preset, allowing you to fade in or out of a preset look. The ETC Smartfade is an excellent example of a fader -based controller and is still a great console to use when you have a smaller, fairly simple lighting rig.
If you have 12 conventional white lights and 6 LEDs, 12 faders would most likely be taken up with the 12 conventional fixtures while the LED’s would be grouped and then addressed into an RGB mode. In other words, for every LED addressed to 13, fader 13 would increase/decrease red, 14 would adjust green, and 15 would adjust blue. It’s not necessarily the most powerful way to control multi-function lighting fixtures (like LED or moving lights), but for a small rig something like the ETC Smartfade 1248 can still be very functional and effective.
Small Format Hybrid Lighting Controllers
With more and more venues turning to LED lighting, some manufacturers have developed controllers that look to expand the capability of fader-based controllers without getting into the complexity of full function controllers. For example, the Jands Stage CL console offers the ability to run a large number of LED lighting fixtures in 12 groups, giving each group an intensity fader in addition to a hue and saturation knob to adjust the color. While limited in the quantity of fixtures and groups you can work with, for many churches this hybrid controller mentality will be the perfect blend of capability and simplicity.
Full Function Lighting Controllers
For lighting rigs that have a lot of fixtures or a variety of types of multi-function (or intelligent) fixtures, full function lighting controllers become critical to organizing, programming, and executing complex lighting looks and programs. Each featuring a built-in operating system running proprietary control software, brands like ETC, Jands Vista, High End Systems, and Grand MA are just some of the major players in this category.
These types of controllers are typically larger and feature-packed with the capability of controlling up to dozens of universes of lighting fixtures no matter how complex the fixtures are. You’ll find these types of full-feature controllers on most tours as well as in larger facilities, especially where complex programming is involved. Beginning in the low $10’s of thousands and going up from there, these controllers pack a punch and a hefty price tag.
Full Function Computer-Based Controllers
For those who need full programming functionality without the high quantity of fixtures or faders, manufacturers like Jands Vista and High End Systems have a step down from the full function controller where you provide a PC or Mac running their software with a smaller fader wing hooked up for playback and/or DMX output. For example, the Jands Vista S1 gives you all of the programming power of the Jands Vista L5 with less surface faders, no touch screen, and you providing your own computer at roughly 1/6th the price.
If your church is like mine, with 48-96 channels of dimming and a dozen or two LED’s, a Jands Vista M1 controller with a Mac Mini may meet your needs perfectly for less than half the price of a Jands Vista S1. If you have a big rig or are doing a high level of programming, this intermediate step probably isn’t for you. But for most of us, this newer category of lighting controller is making full function programming affordable.
So which console is right for you? I’d love to tell you console X is the right way to go but the answer truly is “it depends”.
- What kind of lighting rig do you have now?
- What kind of lighting do you plan to add over the next 3-5 years?
- What kind of things do you hope to accomplish with your lighting?
- What kind of capability and training does your team have?
More complex systems require more training and capability.
Ask yourself these questions and compare your needs with the options above to find the right lighting controller for you.
Duke is passionate about equipping the next generation of ministry leaders, especially those serving churches with technology. He serves as Church Relations Director for CCI Solutions, a design build technology solutions provider. Follow Duke on Twitter: @dukedejong