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What do you like on a lighting desk?!


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Hey there everyone, I'm new on the forum although I have been working & studying in the industry for a good few years now!

My main backgrounds are lighting technology and product design, so for my final year research paper I have decided to combine the two topics to write about the design of modern consoles! (you see what I did there :o )


Basically, I'd really appreciate it if you could post below stating the following things:


- Your Level of Experience in the industry (Pro, Amateur, Approx Years etc)

- The sort of features/interfaces you like on lighting consoles

- The sort of features/interfaces you would send to the fiery pits of lantern hell


For example, just to start it off:


-I'm Semi-Pro (4yrs amateur, 3 years semi-pro)


-I like the portability of PC-based consoles, the touch-screen ability of the Hog consoles and the way manufacturers are starting to build 'wings' for the aforementioned pc-based consoles (eg HogPC/D4 Desktop), but also the quick command-line input common to the ETC Express etc...


- I can't stand the interface on the Frog 2- I'm fairly clued up when it comes to computers & LX consoles but this desk just drives me mad!


Please don't turn this into a getting-at-someone-else-thread-because-you-disagree-with-them, I just need a selection of views from different people within the industry!




Ian :unsure:

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I am an amateur :)


I prefer lighting desks as they give you the hands on approach. I like the desk to be able to cope with intelligent stuff easily, it be easy to record chases and insert them into a cue stack, and to easily record a cue stack. I also like being able to control moving lights EASILY on the desk. I love the pearl :o (Any model)


What I am not so keen on is the trackpad on the ETC Express, and the fact that programming movers on the Express can be a bit of a nightmare.



:unsure: to the Blue Room








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pro with 12+ years in theatre,and a good few before semi pro


keypad entry for generic programing

lots of physical subs on 1 page eg strand mx 48

1 buton 1 function,apart from flash buttons

flash button on subs to act as either flash,solo,chase bump,fade in/out eg adb vision 10

multiple user personalitys

submaster master

undo button




crappy flash buttons (strand mx)

the need for multiple monitors just to programme a simple cue

external power supplys

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I guess I'm a semi-pro, 35 years amateur (gulp!) and the odd bit of professional work, many years ago.


I'll confine my comments to the end of the world I live in, productions of the scale in which I work. I do almost exclusively "plays", which are scripted things. The sorts of productions that fit comfortably in one DMX512 universe, and have minimal or non-existent use of movers.


For the last few years I have used exclusively a show control type approach, where one computer drives everything from a cuelist. I like the "top down" approach, I start with a show, building the cuelist, and then build elements of that show, the lighting states, the effects and playbacks, all away from the theatre, leaving only a level setting (and maybe softpatching and dimmer curves) to do once the rig is in place.


For plays I hate just about every lighting console I've ever used, as you start programming them with cue states which you then need to stitch together into a show using a cue stack - this to me is the wrong way round for a scripted show. I'm also unfond of little cryptic LED displays.


Many people like lighting desks. Hell, even I like lighting desks, they are great for busking and rock and roll. Bring on the bumps. But these things have no place in scripted theatre. In my end of the market, desks are as relevant to scripted theatre as is the Revox is for sound effects.


Now, better get out of :unsure: and into :o

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I think it's important to note the type of lighting, as theatrical applications have rather different requirements than say... a rock concert. I am the LD and technician for The Cruxshadows. I'll address conventional and moving light controllers separately.


I don't ask for much in a conventional light controller. All I really want is to have flash buttons and faders for my saved scenes at the same time. A few desks, like these from Leviton/NSI have flash buttons for memory scenes in one mode and faders in another.


For moving lights, I like:

  • palettes and chases that can store any combination of attributes
  • single button triggering of said palettes
  • lots of intensity masters and flash buttons for groups of fixtures
  • ability to modify attributes in real-time while running a chase without affecting any other attributes
  • modelessness for most operations (yes, Avolites, I'm talking to you)
  • lots of physical buttons instead of more complex menu/dialog driven interfaces

It would be redundant to provide a list of dislikes; it's pretty much the opposite of the above.

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Pro, 5 or so years of experiance, both theatrical and now corporate.



* Lots of subs - and more specifically, the ability to dump presets on said subs.

* Dual playbacks (like the vista T2) - I just find it is nice to be able to stand with my arms shoulder width appart and have one hand on pan and one on tilt - it is also good for busking (one playback dealing with pan/tilt, the other with colour etc)

* The ability to change what almost everything does.

* True LTP - a lot of desks will lock the fixtures to the cue that has been 'loaded' most recently - I want the ability to have the fixtures free so that I can load a cue stack, the fixtures do that, then mid way shove in a small cue stack, then resume playback of my other cue list without the mess of having to release and reload.

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Professional, 5 years in the industry - mostly theatre with the odd corporate gig thrown in for good measure!


Likes: - Good solid buttons that have a little bit of resistance to them like a computer keyboard - not like the horrible things on the Strand 300 desks

- Lots of subs - I've recently gone from a Strand 550 to a 520 with a change in job, and dammit, I miss my 30 extra subs!

- The ability to override an automatic fade by grabbing faders if necessary

- As regards lighting desks versus PC control, I much prefer having the specialised keys rather than having to hit 4 computer keys at once to get some particular function. Yes, more buttons looks more confusing but it really isn't!


Dislikes: - HOLD buttons on backup desks. Caused my downfall on one never-to-be-forgotten occasion.

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- Your Level of Experience in the industry (Pro, Amateur, Approx Years etc)


Now been pro 4yrs, previously amateur for 5yrs



- The sort of features/interfaces you like on lighting consoles


Quick easy programming with easy access to all the features you could need. For example I find the Avolites Pearl/Saphire to be very user friendly when patching and programming moving lights. I like being able to put the fixtures where I want on the desk rather than a desk that auto groups my fixtures because somehow it knows better me! I also like being able to create my own palettes although if time is a factor then the palette system on the Hog2 and GrandMA are very good. The user interface on the Jands Vista is the best for programming IMO however the desk does not have enough playback faders for serous busking. I also like the GrandMA for the way you can set up the desk and the user interface the way you want and like to work. Desk of choice: GrandMA for very large shows or rehearsed shows. Pearl Expert for almost everything else.



- The sort of features/interfaces you would send to the fiery pits of lantern hell


I would send the fat frog range of desks to the fiery pits, although for there budget they are good little desks, I think the fact that you are limited to a handful of moving lights just stupid! also accessing the palettes is not natural nor is the fact that you cant busk on it. I know it is a theater desk and is not comparable to a Hog or GrandMA in terms of budget but there are other desks that do theater programming and allow you to busk if needed. The world would also be better off without the need to release a playback on a Hog2, that drives me mad!

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30 years amatuer (with a 250 seat venue to "play in" and manage), a few years casual, and 15 years at a school with two venues.


Discrete buttons with one function, although a set of soft keys isn't too bad for the seldom used functions.

Nice 'clicky' keys, so you know it has gone. Nice feel on the faders, long smooth travel for the masters.

Sensible contrasty colour scheme on the surface.

A display that leaves all the info where it belongs, and doesn't flash distractingly. ADB Tenor? Yuk!

Loads of subs

Easy to learn & teach

I love the heavy wheel on the Arri/ETC range of 10 years ago. Just so tactile!


Hate the Sirius, and especially the patch method

Hate the keyboard n this lappy, I'm mising every other letter!!

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13yrs pro rock'n'roll.




Lots of high quality and tactile faders/buttons. Both dedicated function and assignable.

Fast programming.


Good, solid build quality.




PC based.

Touch screens - I want to be looking at the stage, not the console.

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6 years amateur, 3 years pro, now working for a manufacturer.



One desk channel is one 'fixture'

Fast, short, instantly-occurring operations

One-button access to my palettes and groups

Obvious, well-thought-out and consistent displays

What-is-the-desk-expecting-now hints

What-is-the-desk-outputting-now display

Easy "Blind" editing

Lots of master faders, able to put anything I want on them

Tough, smooth and long (hence accurate) faders

Clicky buttons



Multiple channels inside one fixture, 'Part' channels.

Command line interface (I know, lynch mobs at the ready!)

Long-winded interface - I want to jump straight to the 'thing' I need to use or change.

"Virtual" interfaces - touchscreen might be ok, but I hate pointing device-based.

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Phil 12years pro (Theatre Concerts Circus)


I used to have a GrandMA ultralite in my old job

now have a strand 520 strand 300 and Avo Pearl2004


for me I miss the versitility of the MA the strand desks do theatre show well but loose out on control of moving lights

and I find the Pearl good for busking but not for theatre style control


I agree on the 300's buttons also a desk should be tough enough to stand a work environment I am told the 300 we have is years newer than the 520 but the 300 is falling apart


if I know the number of a lantern I like to be able to number crunch so a comand line is good for me


why does my pearl think that 101 follows 60?




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  • 2 weeks later...

Hey all, Good news!


My research paper is all written and handed in now, so I just wanted to say a big thanks to everyone who replied to my post, your comments were exceedingly helpful!


Hopefully now I'll graduate come July and be able to finally get back into doing some 'proper' work!


Now feel free to start arguing about each others posts!


Hehe :)





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