QLab for Audio, Lighting, and Video Control

So if you saw the other post about QLab you’ll know that we love it for track editing and playback of audio for shows. Recently we were playing around with some of the other features.

We were trying different options for controlling our lighting console from Ableton Live. We managed to get Ableton to output MIDI time code (through an in between program) and have our ETC ION console chase it. I’ll make another post about how we got that to work.

After some playing around with that setup we opened up QLab. QLab has native support for all kinds of timing and MIDI options. Using QLab we were able to simultaneously send time code to Ableton to track and play audio and send MIDI show control to the lighting console to “go” on the the cues. Basically we found that it would be pretty easy to set up QLab to be the center of control for everything. Hit one “go” button and trigger Ableton, lighting, the built in audio playback, built in video playback, just about anything!

Mainly we were testing sync’d playback from Ableton which is actually pretty easy. Either have the lighting console and Ableton both track to time code. Or have Ableton track time code and the lighting console track MIDI show control. Both options mean we can have our lighting cues precisely mapped out and repeatable all with the touch of a button.

And since you can set up multiple devices we were able to send MIDI timecode internally to Ableton and externally to our lighting console at the same time at different timecodes is we wanted to. This means if we needed to offset the timing to one or the other it’s pretty simple. So if you programmed a bunch of cues to a certain timecode range, but then had to change it in Ableton for some reason, it wouldn’t be a big deal, just offset the times.

I can’t wait for the next show where we need this kind of precision. By linking Ableton directly to the lighting console, or controlling both Ableton and the lighting console from QLab, we’ll have all the control we need! One “go” button and everything will sync up perfectly, pretty cool!

For more info on all of these products check out the manufacturer’s sites.

Ableton Live


Figure 53’s QLab

VideoCopilot.net After Effects Training

I’ve been wanting to learn After Effects for a while now.  Now that we’re getting closer to getting our environmental projection setup I want to be able to create our own custom content when we can’t find something we like that’s already on content sites.

Adobe After Effects is an extremely powerful tool to create some motion graphics and cool videos in general.  Learning it though can be a little intimidating though when you’re starting from scratch.  When I decided to learn After Effects I stumbled across VideoCopilot.net.

VideoCopilot.net has been an awesome resource to learn After Effects in a fun way.  The guy teaching is pretty funny and knows his stuff.  Everything is done through videos and they even supply project files to use in the tutorials.  If you never have used After Effects before then start with the Basic Training series and go from there.

They even provide free files where you can just plug in your text or graphics and have really nice title graphics with almost no effort.  They also have some great products of their own that help support the site and keep the training free.

I’ve also ordered Adobe’s classroom in a book training for After Effects.  That will help cover some of the topics and basics that VideoCopilot doesn’t.  I used one of their books when I first learned Photoshop and they’re great.

Live Digital Audio Consoles

We currently have an aging Soundcraft Series Five audio console.  It’s been a warhorse, providing over 14 years of high quality analog audio.  But it’s getting cranky in it’s old age so we’re looking into a new option.  We also do enough different events in our sanctuary where we will really benefit from the recall that comes with a digital console.

This has been a long process. For about 8 months now we’ve been researching and looking at different consoles.  We’ve tried to stay open minded and give everything a look.  Since our current console is still working (mostly) we’re taking our time to make sure we make the right decision.  This will be something we have to live with for the next 10 years.

So far we have looked at digital consoles from Avid, Yamaha, Soundcraft, Studer, Midas, and Digico, probably more, ha ha.  All have pros and cons and slightly different methods of laying out the console and how features work.  They also vary greatly in price so that’s something else we’re looking at in addition to the features.

At this point it looks like it’s down to two options.  The Studer Vista 9 and the Digico SD7.  Both are flagship consoles for their brands and both are around the same price point.  They can handle a large number of channels, more than we’ll need.  Both have an option for Waves plugins.  There’s tons of auxes, groups, DCA’s, matrix channels, both could handle whatever we want to do for the foreseeable future.

The real difference, like with most of these consoles, is how they’re laid out and how you access channels, features, and layers.  Both are pretty flexible, pretty much any channel can be placed anywhere on any layer.  You really need this flexibility in a large console to make it fit your mixing style and feel like you know where everything is.

The Studer is a little more traditional in it’s layout.  Channels are in 10 fader blocks and there’s 10 faders in the master section for DCA’s and groups.  In each channel bucket there’s a screen with lots of knobs on the screens for tweaking EQ’s, aux’s, dynamics, all the channel features.  The knobs right on the screens makes it easy to know what you’re adjusting.

Switching between layers is done in a traditional way, pressing a button takes you through each layer.  There’s a unique feature that shifts you towards the next layer 10 channels at a time.  That is kinda cool but pretty limited as to when you can use it.  But since you can customize what is on each layer you’ll build what you want that way instead of shifting things.

The thing I like least about the Studer is that the master section is only 10 faders.  I’m used to our Soundcraft which has 8 groups and 10 VCA’s right in front of you at the master section.  Having 18 faders means you don’t have to move around the console very much for level changes.  With the Studer you have tons of groups and DCA’s but you access them through layers and only 10 faders in front of you at a time.  You can use the knobs above the faders for controlling things but I hate mixing on knobs.  That’s only ok to for aux masters or something you don’t access much.

It’s not practical to me to switch layers in order to use groups and DCA’s at the same time, i’ll just end up using one or the other.  The only way to have both in front of you at once is to eat up some of the channel faders next to the master section and put the groups or DCA’s there.  That would work but it’s not ideal.  You could have that bank of 10 faders be half groups and half DCA’s and that would work but with our setup that’s not enough faders to do what we usually do.

The Digico SD7 gives you a lot of faders in a relatively small footprint.  You get 12 faders on each side of hte master section for accessing channels.  In the master section you get two rows of 12 faders for groups and DCA’s plus 4 more for masters and matrix outputs.  That’s the default setup, anything can be put anywhere you want.

The SD7 layout seems the most flexible to me. When you change layers you do it in each of left, center, right, sections separately.  So you can access whatever channels you want in the left bank while leaving you’re money faders ready in the right bank.  You also get 18 layers (three banks of six) in the left and right banks and 12 layers (three banks of 4) in the master section.  On the one hand that seems like a lot but on the other it lets you build the layers however you want.

On the demo console I set up one layer bank with each of the channels in order like a normal console would be laid out.  Then on the next layer bank I grouped the mix down into sections.  For example drums, guitars, keys, vocals, wireless, and playback channels.  Now I’m not worrying about what channel is where.  If I need to raise the snare I go to the drum group and tweak the snare.  Because you have 18 layer to play with you have options like that.

Having 28 faders in front of me in the master section is great.  I can mix with both groups and DCA’s in front of me at the same time with 12 faders for each.  The remaining 4 faders for the masters and matrix outputs can be changed to “money” channels like the Pastor’s mic so you always have it without changing layers.  That makes more sense for me than needing a matrix output fader.  For getting into the menus and accessing the Waves plugins you do everything from the screen in front of you instead of a secondary computer like the Studer.  Not a huge deal but it’s nice, keeps you in front of the console rather than away from the desk to make changes.

The rest of the differences are just preferences really.  Software things to learn more than right or wrong.  While we have demo’d both separately will will be getting both again, hopefully at the same time, and setting them up in our sanctuary and putting them through their paces with a live band.  So far we have only tested them with pre-recorded stuff and local monitors, not real bands through the house system.  Check back and see what we get!

Media Servers

As we go down the road of environmental projection it’s relatively easy to add some projectors.  It’s a lot harder to to get something to reliably feed the projectors the video content.  We have gone through a few different setups at this point.  I’ll run through what we’ve done so far and go over some details of each.

We started with ProPresenter running from a MacBook Pro.  This gives you a lot of options for a reasonable price.  At our campus we have a site license for the software so that was the best place to start.

ProPresenter worked fairly well. If you have an iPhone or iPad you can remote control ProPresenter to trigger the videos.  It can struggle with some formats or higher res videos though even on a fairly powerful machine.

Then we needed to trigger some videos at precise times.  Videos with lyrics for example need to be timed right or they’ll look pretty silly, ha ha.  ProVideoPlayer lets us trigger video clips through MIDI.  We used this feature to receive signals from Ableton Live.  I’ll go more in-depth with this setup in another post.

Once set up the videos are just playing along with the click track and when everything works right.  You have videos triggering automatically and it’s great.  This extra level of control allowed us to take our videos to the next level.  Timing things out with verses and choruses adds that extra level of production that really pays off.

Both ProPresenter and ProVideoPlayer are packed with a lot of features for the money and really are great tools.  Both are limited by your hardware though. The framerate and resolution of your videos will be limited at some point.  They’re good options but they’re not as good as dedicated media servers with custom software and hardware.

Green Hippo Hippotizer HD
This leads us to the Hippo. In order to play back true 1920 x 1080 HD content perfectly you really need a media server.  There are a few options out there but the one that seems to be leading the pack is the Green Hippo Hippotizer HD.  It’s used all over the place, big award shows, the Super Bowl, some of those singing competition shows, lots of stuff.

Once you step to a real media server you gain tons of features.  Rock steady playback is just the beginning.  Now you can manipulate your content in real time.  Speed up, slow down, change color, apply filters that completely change the look, etc.

Rarely will you have a large wall that’s perfectly flat.  Most stage walls have angles and curves that will distort your projection.  With some abstract motion graphics that not really a big deal but once you start showing any kind of natual landscapes or text you want a goemetrically correct image.  The Hippo provides all the warping tools you’ll ever need to correct for any shape surface you want to project on.

There’s also the image blending tools needed to blend any number of screens together in any arrangement.  So you can create a seemless image with multiple projectors side by side, top and bottom, or a combination of both.

Media servers can also control lighting fixtures.  The most common use for this is controlling static LED fixtures.  So if you have LED fixtures throughout the stage and you want them to always match the looks of the videos you can do that pretty easily.  Just map everything out in the software and it does the rest

Now with all these features comes some more complexity and there’s a little bit of a learning curve with a media server comepared to the simpler software only options.  I got to demo the Hippo and without and real training I was able to load my media and get things playing back.  The more advanced features will take some more work but loading and playing media is pretty simple even though it’s a powerful device.

It’s because of all these features that we will be going with a dedicated media server when we finally install our environmental projection system.  We will need all of the screen warping and image blending features to create a seemless image across our curved rear wall using multiple projectors.

All of the media server features come at a cost, they’re typically fairly expensive gadgets.  The Green Hippo’s range from about $7,000 up to almost $50,000.  Coolux has their Pandora’s Box media server and they have a software package that start’s under $1,000, that’s another option to check out.  You’ll have to weigh out what project you’re working on and what features you can and can’t live without and find what’s right for you.  Between ProPresenter, ProVideoPlayer, Green Hippo, Coolux, and even QLab you have a lot of options.


ProPresenter and ProVideoPlayer

Green Hippo



Night of Worship

Night of Worship

We just finished up another Night of Worship at Calvary Fort Lauderdale.  It was a great time of worship with a full sanctuary!  As we have done the last couple of nights we incorporated environmental projection along with lighting to help create a worshipful mood.

Our sanctuary lighting consists of fixtures from Martin, Coemar, Wybron, and a standard collection of ETC Source 4 Pars and Ellipsoidals.  Projectors for the back wall were 12,000 lumen Christies rented from a local company.  We put together 3 projectors to create about a 75′ wide x 18′ tall image.

To control the video we used ProVideoPlayer triggered from Ableton Live so that the video clips were in time with the music.  Some videos were triggered manually as well.  Overall the night went well and all of the technology played nicely with each other.

Triple Stack Projection Test

We have been renting projectors to use for environmental projection for Nights of Worship.  At some point we will be installing a permenant setup and we have been researching projector options.  Recently I tested three 12,000 lemun projectors stacked to create 36,000 lumens of output.

With the three projectors we got to see in person what 12,000, 24,000, and 36,000 lumens looks like on our back wall.  Ultimately we will be covering about 100′ x 18′ of stage wall.  We need enough punch to give us a nice image and overcome the bleed of the stage lights onto the wall.  It’s the shadow and black detail that gets lost first when we bring up our stage lighting.  That’s mainly why we need so much intensity from the projectors.

For the amount of area that each projector will have to cover on our wall it’s looking like we will need three 30,000+ lumen projectors to have the intensity we want.  This will give us almost 100,000 total lumens for the whole wall vs the 36,000 lumens we have been renting.

Here’s a simple video from my iPhone showing the difference between 12, 24, and 36k lumens.  My buddy covered and uncovered the lenses of the projectors to change the output.  Since my phone was adjusting the iris for the brightness you notice the change in the level of the background more than the color bars.


Panasonic 20,000 Lumen DLP Projector

Panasonic has just come out with a new projector line that’s pretty cool. The top model, the PT-DZ21K is20,000 lumens, DLP, very quiet, and lightweight for a projector with this kind of output. It’s also a little over full HD resolution at 1920 x 1200.

Panasonic was nice enough to come out with one of these brand new projectors and give us a demo in house.  This was a great opportunity to see what a 20,000 lumen DLP projector looks like hitting our rear wall.

The results were very nice.  This is about half the size and half the noise of our 18,000 lumen Christie projector we have.  The color and image quality from the projector was very good.  There’s also all kinds of image warping and blending options built into the projectors that you access from optional software.  In our case we’ll be controlling that stuff from the media servers but I’m sure someone will take advantage of that feature.

Output wise it looks like it could be a good option for us.  It seems like we got enough output to overcome our stage lights.  Because of the 16:10 format it would take 4 of these to completely cover our stage.  That would make this option a little more expensive than a setup with 3 projectors but these are smaller and quieter. Everything is a compromise.


The Show 2012

Oceans Edge School of Worship puts on an event called “The Show” each year.  It’s a time for the graduating class to lead in worship and show off some original songs.

This year we planned out some extra lighting and video ahead of time and everything came together pretty well.  We had a pretty short window in the theatre to set up everything before the event so we pre-programmed most of the lighting cues ahead of time before the lighting was even set up.

To do this I used a pre-visualization program called Light Converse.  Light Converse allows you to build your room and place all of your fixtures virtually. This is great for a lot of reasons.  I go a little more in-depth about Light Converse in another post.

We used a mix of lighting for The Show.  Intelligents, LED, and conventional fixtures were used throughout the room.  This gave us a lot of variety to keep looks from getting repetitive.

In addition to the lighting we put together a few videos made especially for some of the songs. All of these elements combined for a really cool show!  One of the songs in the show was a cool instrumental electro feature which we had a lot f fun with.  I captured it with my 3D GoPro setup.  The audio isn’t great but you get the idea!

Adobe Creative Cloud

Adobe makes some great products, Photoshop, Premiere, and After Effects to name a few. They’re great, but they’re expensive!

Adobe just released a new product they call Creative Cloud. Basically instead of having to shell out a lot of money you pay $50 a month and you get all of their apps plus 20gigs of Dropbox style online storage.  You also get all of the product updates and the new versions as they’re released.  No more buying in then having to pay for an upgrade when the next version comes out.

This makes getting into real deal, professional software, very affordable. Pretty cool concept and I’m enjoying it so far.