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Show Control and Timecode

James Henshaw

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so given a scenario:


Extremely small control room can probably fit just one body, who will have to operate LX and Audio.


Mackie Analogue Audio Console and a Light Processor Q Commander 256 Lighting Desk.


The venue will host 15-18 1hr Shows during the season on a rotation basis doing 2 shows a night as well as guest cabarets.


So is it worth looking at using Midi timecoding to fire the Lighting Cues? If so how difficult would this be and how much set up time would it take? and what additional equipment would it take?


Or Would you think a show control system, if so which?


My personal preference would be ShowMagic!


Thoughts please.

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how complicated is the sound? how complicated is the lighting?


I'm a fan of showman, then again thats what I've used for the last 8 months! we only used it for pyro & video though, the ETC took timecode directly,


also what sort of show? theatre? revue? etc, is timecoding really a viable option?

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With timecode, the underlying question is where is your source of time? If the shows are done in synchronisation with some time element (most usually video or audio playback) then it's a no-brainer to use timecode, as everybody and everything jumps to the beat of the video or tape. (and I don't mean 'beat' literally - I mean that they do what they do "on time"). This is theme park mode. If there isn't such a source of time then timecode isn't a useful option for entire shows, but there may be parts of some shows where it's very handy.


The next question is how much physical interaction do you intend to have with the order of the show? if the shows are scripted and scripts are followed then show control makes sense. If you never get the same thing twice then winging it is your only option, and get used to busy nights in a small room.


If you've got this far, then show control is a viable option. Doing loads of different shows is easy with computer control, as you just load up the right showfiles and off you go. Using hardware, particulalrly older hardware you may end up with a bunch of memory cards or whatever to reprogramme the desk with between shows. Doable, but less convenient.


If you've only got one body, then using show control is a very sensible option though, as it gives the one body many additional pairs of hands. And again, I don't mean 'show control' to mean "use MIDI show control", but a more loose definitintion of making the stuff work together somehow.


So yes, a computer based show controller with both integrated audio playback (for effects and show music) and integrated lighting control would be the ideal machine, leaving you with just the mixer to use with your other hand. I use PCStage which will do all this without breaking a sweat, but annoyingly isn't terribly handy at programming movers (it has no LTP mode), but other than that would be perfect.


So, some options you may like to consider are:

  • Making the sound playback the master with the cuelist, so a good show controller with good audio, such as SFX or PCStage (ignore the lighting). If theres not much show control or one cuelist suffices then SCS may do.
  • Making the lighting control the master with the cuelist, so something like Bluelight, and another something to do audio playback. Options include another PC, samplers, hard disk recorders etc.
  • Separate show controller, triggering separate lighting controller and separate playback elements.

Once you've got your control attitude sorted then you can get more specific as to the next set of questions.


I, being a PCStage user, would do it on PCStage and put up with the fact that programming movers is hard work, as it makes everything else easy, because thats how I do shows. The only other product I know that has a comparable feature set for the important stuff is ShowMagic which I haven't used or looked at, but on paper seems to do lighting (and do it well) and sound and other stuff and has cuelists. It is, however, six times the price of PCStage for a comparable 512 channel setup (and thats without video playback), so me, I'll take the pain :) Your mileage may, of course, vary.

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Timecoding is useful in the following situations:


A) Tracked shows, where the band play to a pre-recorded click track, with the multitrack player possibly including some extra instruments and/or vocals.

B) Video-synced shows, where the show must synchronise with prerecorded video.


The latter tends to imply the former - thankfully, in both cases the track/video often has built-in SMPTE timecode, which can easily be converted to MIDI timecode or plugged directly into some lighting consoles.


If the console has a 'Learn mode' like Congo and many other lighting consoles, programming the timings is trivial.

If not, it's fiddly but still possible.


For pretty much everything else, it's likely to run into problems because the cast are unlikely to say their lines to time unless it's to music.

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