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Chamsys Lighting Controls


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In the past whenever people talk about lighting control systems, I've been pretty solid in my thoughts for a long time. Every time people put forward the possibility of running shows from computers, I've been pretty quick to point out that with a mouse, the fundamental flaw is that you cannot push or move two controls at the same time. I've even tried a few - some were a bit clunky, while others were quite clever, but as for using them live - just not something I was prepared to do.


Timeline wise, I started with Strand, with a few spells on other kit - Starting in 1973


Junior 8 --- Mini-2 --- JP40 --- SP60 --- M24 ---GSX --- LBX --- 500 --- Jands Event --- 300 --- Avo --- Jands Hog 600


Out of pure personal opinion, the only one I didn't get on with was 6 months of an Avo, but probably it was too little time and perhaps even too much hard work! At the time, I think I was pretty happy with all of those.


A couple of weeks ago, the Hog, which I must admit to rather liking, once I got used to how it worked, froze up. Never happened before, but it would just become unresponsive, and had to be started up again from scratch, reading in the showfile from the floppy drive. I figured maybe it was time to look at another, and divert the audio mixer fund to buying a new one. For a few days, it came off the burner when the Hog behaved again - until it froze. As I rarely get rid of old kit, I dusted the GSX off and despite being elderly now, it loaded up fine, including the old patch, and we ran a few shows from it - then it froze up too! Too much of a coincidence for me, so I started thinking power supply, and remembered a contactor used for the stage power supply for audio would often be off when I tried to power up the amp rack. Considering I scribbled DO NOT SWITCH OFF on it, it did seem odd I had to latch it a few times.


However, while we had the intermittent problem, I'd been doing some research, and I bought one of those £10 Chamsys DMX dongles. I installed the software on the laptop and made a few lights go on and off at home - using a replacement Thomann LED can supplied under guarantee (however, it had a different attribute system to the original making it useless).


Most of the nice features from the Hog were there, and it was pretty simple to make things work. My old mouse operation prejudice was still there of course, but I liked the software from a fiddling with it. I looked at the Chamsys range, and Grum (on here) has some of their kit and I've used it a few times. What was pretty certain was that nice as they are - their hardware products that use this operating system were out of my price range for an unplanned/unbudgeted purchase. I've seen their USB connected panels, but on my casual glimpse of them, they seemed to be basically a row of faders and a few rotaries. This meant I can slam a few faders, prod a few buttons, but still have to use the keypad on the computer, and they don't have nice FULL and @ keys like proper lighting controls.


There was a product called a maxi wing, which seemed to have all the buttons one of the hardware controls had, and almost as many as the bigger hardware desks had. Many of these buttons were used on the 'proper' controls to activate various features on a touch screen built into those controls. Downloading their manuals and guides it seemed that this maxi wing could be coupled to a touch screen, and then it behaves exactly like the hardware version, has 4 DMX universe outlets, plus access to many more via artnet or other protocols. It was easy to see that if you took the price of a touchscreen and computer off the proper desk price, then pretty well this was the price of these USB products - and I'm lucky enough to have enough computers to divert one, and I knew where I could get a cheap touch screen - so I ordered one. The Blue Room is a wonderful thing and as there was a current Chamsys topic on the go - where somebody was getting amazingly detailed help from one of the tech guys at Chamsys, I simply sent a PM. A few phone calls later had me sending them some dosh.


In the meantime, I kept finding new little features and finding a useful screen where your lights can be displayed in a visual representation of the stage, with colours - which as a side note, I discovered could be things like blue, red, gold etc or rather cleverly, Lee colour numbers or Rosco too. So with the visual plan, you could tap the screen, set a level and see it light up in the right colour. If you bothered to name the patch properly, then you could get access to each LX bar separately, as it produced handy groups of like named patches.


Over a day or two, I transferred in our base kit plan - which rarely changes that much, and then when the wing came I loaded in the show from the laptop to the new computer installed the software and it worked.


I did make the mistake of printing the manual before noticing it had over 300 pages!


The PC has Windows 7 on it, and the Chamsys software. Nothing else.


Chamsys were going to deliver the desk to me, but I had to take some kit down to Southampton to go on the Oriana, and I collected it on the way back - they're only about a mile from the docks. Grum has one of their MQ100 desks and a Maxi Wing, and tours them all over, using the wings when he has to fly, rather than using the 100 and trucking it.


The only problem is likely to be that I'll keep finding new things it can do and having to re-learn. Like useful short-cuts such as THRU and record together, which takes a snapshot of the output and sticks it in the programmer. Saves going through the menus on the touchscreen to access the feature.


Anyway - I'm rather pleased with it - and being able to not just use an off-line editor rather use the same software for real on a laptop with the £10 dongle is great for sequenced playback.

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Glad to hear your getting on with MagicQ, I love mine and miss it dearly whenever I have to use something different.


I've had the "pleasure" of a number of desks in my time including zero88 eclipse/sirius24&500/illusion/fat frog, high end status cue, pulsar masterpiece 108. I never had the pleasure of the Hog series and have only basic experience of any of the strand stuff, the desks I most commonly use these days other than my MagicQ are Avo Pearls & Tigers. I did own an Avo Azure for a while; curiously I actually preferred the way it handled things to the Pearl, but thats just me.


I understand a lot of people who try MagicQ on PC struggle as they expect it to look and act like typical Windows applications, but once you understand the basics you are only just scratching the surface.

Every time I use the system I discover new methods & shortcuts and the level of support from the developers is exceptional; especially when you consider that much of their user-base provides little or no revenue.

(I agree with the mouse single-operation issue, however this is not really too much of a problem in practice; at least for basic shows)- just use timed cues rather than trying to fiddle with on-screen faders.



The fact that you get the full functionality (bar a few convenience items) for free and can use almost any hardware to get DMX out it is simply outstanding. I always carry a copy of MagicQ on my personal laptop and keep an Enttec USB-Pro DMX dongle with it, that has come in handy many a time; either replacing faulty desks (non-chamsys) or being used when an additional controller is useful. (come to think of it, that kind of thing has probably paid for the laptop twice over)


I hope your purchase serves you well and you find the system as much of a pleasure to use as I have.

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I've only used MagicQ live on our last two pantos alongside our main desk, an ADB vision 10. The Vision controlled the generic rig and MagicQ controlled the moving lights. I ended up doing it this way as the Vision doesn't really handle moving lights that well, and I am more familiar with the Vision than MagicQ so I could program the generics that bit quicker.


For the last panto I did manage to find a cheap all-in-one touchscreen PC on ebay, and it made MagicQ much easier to use. Paul, did you see the MSI touchscreen PCs in the new Maplin store in town? They are similar to the Asus Eee Top that some people here have used to run MagicQ, and with the addition of a wing would make an easily portable lighting desk.

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For the last panto I did manage to find a cheap all-in-one touchscreen PC on ebay, and it made MagicQ much easier to use. Paul, did you see the MSI touchscreen PCs in the new Maplin store in town? They are similar to the Asus Eee Top that some people here have used to run MagicQ, and with the addition of a wing would make an easily portable lighting desk.



A touchscreen is almost essential for MagicQ and I highly recommend using two of them especially if you are using anything less than a Maxi wing. A touchscreen for the main controls plus another for playbacks/groups etc works really well.


I am currently repackaging my PC Wing in a case with 3 touchscreens (project currently on hold due to being to busy with work, typical now I have the money to finish it I don't have the time...) and that works a treat.

I use one 15" screen for MagicQ in "Touch" mode and split playbacks and groups across a 10" which sits flat alongside the PC Wing, another 15" screen sits alongside the first and can be used for any of the windows I want to assign from MagicQ or it can run other apps such as media playback or Wysiwyg. (It didn't really occur to me how well this setup would suit offline-programming with Wyg. Otherwise I might have beefed up the PC spec even further; though to be fair it works pretty well as it is)

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