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Advice on upgrade for a school


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Hi guys



My school has been awarded around £7.5k to upgrade our technical systems, so I just thought I'd pick the experienced minds on here to see if anyone had any particular opinions on what we're looking at.

We tend to cover a wide variety of events, from big disco/rave type events, to classical concert, to rock 'n' roll bands, to awards and conference, as well as a big theatrical show each year.

We currently have a Jands Event desk, which is now RIP, which was running dimmers of your standard school rig of 40 odd pars, strand codas, profiles and fresnels, as well as a couple of budget LEDs, and some Miniscans. The equipment is mostly for our school hall, which is a rather large space with about a 12x5x8m pros stage with up to about a 6m depth staggered thrust too. We have FoH and on stage bars, with throws up to 12m. Some equipment will be moved when necessary to our drama studio at about 4m squared.



For our desk, we're looking at an MQ40; quite a big step up from our current two preset desk, but one we are keen to make, to enable us to actually have something inhouse to control the increasing number of intelligent fixtures we get.

We also want to make an investment in a fair number (12-20 units) of LED pars. To try and match performance with price, we're considering Stairville CX-3 18x8w RGBW. We're fully aware that LED pars at this area of budget don't really hold up to a par64 yet, but anyone know if these are decent units which could hold their own against traditional tungsten sources? We're also looking at a few eurolite RGBA 252x10mm bars.



We're also quite keen to purchase some moving heads. We get a few in on hire each year, and think we're at the point, especially with the new desk, to own some. For various reasons including power and maintenance, we would quite like to go for LED wash/beam. We're sort of in two minds over to go for more established fixtures like GLP Impressions as ex rental, or for cheaper units, such as RGBW Eurolite movers?



We're also probably going to invest in some smaller sound upgrades, including a new stagebox loom (from ThatCable.com?), a smaller mixer to replace a broken one (although we have a Soundcraft 328 for larger events), and a small portable PA for when we cover events away from our main hall, and for drama.



That about takes up the money. If anyone has any opinions on particular models of products, or indeed on what we're looking at in general, any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Cheers.

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First things first, if you search this forum for similar topics you'll find VERY few people with any decent experience who will advise you to purchase ANY moving kit for a whole bunch of reasons.

Maintenance can be tricky/expensive

Cost of decent quality LED (or discharge etc) kit will eat a huge chunk of that 7.5K, even at second hand. Whatever you do DON'T buy cheap/imitation brands as you'll be kicking those around unable to repair them before very long.

Programming - it's very easy to learn how to program and use generic kit, even fixed LED kit, but the level of experience needed to quickly manage movers is higher.

Choice of units - We hire in movers as and when required for our venue and will select what's needed/suitable for each show, and that can range from a bank of Mac 101, through Auras, Mac 350s, Mac 250 Entour, Mac 700 (wash or profiles) or any one of a few more - we seldom have the same boxes in for two shows. So how can you realistically choose what to buy for an install UNLESS you plan to do the same thing every time with them?


My advice is to stick with hiring movers, and beef up the generic side of things.


Fixed LED however is another story IF you have the desk to control them (We're rapidly running close to exceeding the 2 DMX universes on our Ion when we bring a load of gear in!) and the choice of reasonable output for a fair price is increasing.

We have Chauvet Colorado Tri Tours on our main house rig and (surprisingly) 2 sets of Omni LEDJ Tri as overhead wash lights. Does a great deal for us, along with the ETC Palettas covering the cyc.


Others have similar experience with other LED kit, and it's improving all the time.

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What Ynot says.


I'm in the early stages of planning an upgrade in the order of £75,000 for the whole venue. I will not be buying moving heads. LED fixtures are definitely on the agenda but moving lights require too much maintenance beyond my skills. A few disco scanners is a possibility but not moving heads.


I'm also planning for the time when I'm no longer there (in perhaps three or four years.) I notice that you're a student. You will need to plan for moving on too. Putting in complicated stuff that someone else might not be able to use in a couple of years is not a good investment. I don't know the situation in your particular institution but I think the principle applies to any institution.

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The reason why schools have Parcans profiles and fresnels is that they work and just keep working. Movers work for say 100 hours then need servicing with a big service inc possibly a lamp change every 1000 hours. In reality getting the access to do the servicing is beyond most schools and the sudden realisation that lamps at hundreds of pounds each need changing before they have blown is too hard for schools to understand.


Remember the discharge lamp in a mover has a life of typically 750 - 2000 hours whatever it says on the box but sometime after that it will die and could die by exploding which sacrifices the fitting to catch the broken glass. -which is why the lamp should be changed on a lamp hours basis.

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Following on from OJC...

It is not clear if you are a student interested in the purchasing decisions made already by someone else which you are trying to improve, or if the school wants you to make the decisions for them?


Your production list does not shout "must own movers" because the school won't have the necessary maintenance ability to keep them working. Much better when you must have movers - and notice the use of the word "must", then you hire the most appropriate ones needed for that show. Until recently I did lots of musicals and I used movers mainly to be multiple specials which I couldn't otherwise have provided. The ability to move when lit was a bonus which could be exploited but was not essential - West Side Story searchlights, police lights, Guys and Dolls sewer fans, and pretend follow spots (where the actor followed the mover). I have also lit musicals very successfully with no movers at all. They are a pain to rig, especially high up FOH, but are worth the effort when they are really needed but not otherwise.


The MQ40 is a considerable investment and I wish we could afford one! Have wings and monitors been included in the costing, as this will be a big chunk of your budget so has to be right? I agree get a new desk which is way above current expectations of capacity but who are the users of it going to be? Who is going to set it up for each production and program it? Does the school have a theatre tech, in which case why aren't they asking the questions?


Don't get me wrong. You are clearly an enthusiastic lighting person although apparently a student at the school according to your profile? I started out when I was at school in 1968, and here (in lighting) I am still. But if you are the main man now, what happens when you leave? The MQ40 is streets away from your old desk, but the most worrying thing is that several items in the current rig are not working now. Why is this? If basically neglect and/or misuse, does this need to be included in your planning?


You haven't mentioned dimmers - do these need overhauling/replacing as part of this exercise or is it your intention to replace everything with LED? I think the latter is just about doable now but a completely new infrastructure will be needed to do this or to have a large LED presence mixed with a tungsten backbone. So boring as it might be, what state are the main power supply, dimmers and channel distribution in? Does this need updating as well? Similarly existing lanterns - what state are they in? Do they need maintenance to get them back into tip-top condition or they in such a terrible state that they need to be replaced with something else? If so - tungsten or LED?


If going towards LED, how are you getting hot power to them? How is DMX going to get to them? With LEDs, you get what you pay for and the sort of lanterns you are talking about to do the job of current lanterns are expensive. ETC Source 4 Lustr+ and Philips Selecon PL are the main players currently in the UK who are providing real theatrical lanterns (I think ADB and a few others could also be looked at - I am sure other people can point you in a direction) but each is several times the cost of an equivalent conventional. This doesn't mean they are wrong as it depends what the priorities are. If you need to replace the dimmers, for example, a proper theatrical LED lantern becomes even more attractive as it doesn't use one and its cost can be factored in against a no-cost to put a new dimmer in. You might also move towards LED to do all or most of the colouring - as my theatre is just doing, and leave the tungsten to light faces or provide bright white or tinted specials.


At one extreme you might want to get to a solid tungsten rig in perfect condition, possibly supported by newer LEDs to provide deeper colours. At the other end a completely LED solution.


So where are you trying to get to? What are the priorities? What will you need all year round and what do you need once a year that you can hire in (but you need an infrastructure possibly for this)? Let's be realistic as I doubt more money will be allocated towards technical theatre for some time. So time spent now in getting the plan right will pay dividends later on if the new solution is running in 10 years time.



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I would agree with the general advice to avoid movers for school use, too expensive, not only to buy but also to maintain.


As regards LED PARs, any half decent make will outperform filtered tungsten lights on deep saturated colours. Performance on open white or light colours tends to be less impressive, and the "white" is often a bit odd.

I would use the existing stock of halogen lanterns for open white and light or pastel shades, and the new LEDs for deep saturated colours, so far as is reasonable. The saving on lamps and gel by use of LEDs is worthwhile.


LED equipment is still improving in performance or in some cases becoming cheaper for the same performance. Once you have the budget, it might be best not to rush unduly, least a better buy is available in the next few months.


I would normally avoid secondhand or ex hire LED equipment, but an exception could be made for ex hire units from a firm that you know and trust, and have used regularly.


Depending on whom has control of the budget, you may be able to obtain slightly more than the originaly qouted figure, if it is to be spent on LED equipment, on account of the "green" boxes that are thereby ticked. The actual energy saving will depend on the hours of use, but can be significant for long hour operation.

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The LED units the OP mentions are on my list of possible purchases too. I'm interested in opinions.


The OP should budget for DMX cables, clamps for the lanterns and some method of getting power to the lanterns if it isn't already there. It may be necessary to budget for a demux depending on the dimmer type.


It's easy to underestimate all this stuff. When buying at the cheaper end then they take up a higher percentage of the budget. I'm just working out a price for some LED bars. Power for these isn't a problem but the accessories take up up to 10% of the total depending on my choices. If I needed power in then it would be much worse. Worth remembering. On your budget that's up to £750 on bits and pieces to make the lights work.


You may have some of the stuff already but you need to consider it.

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Thanks all for the responses, plenty to think about.

The situation at our school is certainly one that seems fairly unique and that I guess we are, in some ways, quite lucky to have. We have no actual tech supervising the team, rather two staff members with extensive electricals knowledge and fair ents industry knowledge. I am "team prefect" - that is, given most responsibilty for the full process on most events, except for signing off budgets and H&S done by the staff, who of course do also contribute to ideas if they feel a part of the process could be dome better. This applies to this upgrade too, where I am essentially compiling a bid, with input from both team staff and our school's development officer, as well as ex members now doing quite well in industry.

Our existing infrastructure is fairly solid; we have Anytronics dimmers in perfectly good condition with 50 odd circuits running to the dimmer bay from around the space. We also have hot power distro here, and direct access to runs in the loft out to any point on the bars, some of which can fly and others we have access to mobile tower. Our generic stock is all in good order, so the brief for this upgrade was very much to enhance the existing system to bring it more up to date with current practices and support the expansion in complexity of what we are asked to do.

I certainly wouldn't say we could handle the maintenance of discharge movers, hence the looking at LED; it's also worth noting AC-ET (where the ex rental are sold from) are all of 15 minutes away from us. We do hire in the typical 700w discharge (macs, alphas) when we get big shows, but the idea behind getting something in house was partly for teaching lower years the basics to moving lights and programming them, but also to enhance the countless productions we do throughout the year which are budgetless, but could be enhanced by them. Of course, I do appreciate the expense and complexity of these, and the few Clay Paky scans we have can do a fsir amount, so MLs may well be added to the bid as an extra after all else is covered.

Regarding the desk, our current one is now >15 years old, so its current failings are simply due to age, and it's even so old we were struggling to find anyone now who would service it. It is however still functional enough to be kept to teach tbe newest memvers the idea of fader up-sends data-goes through dimmer-fades light, and ither such fundamentas. Through demo and encouraging them to use MagicQ PC at home we have established at least the next 4 years of students are comfortable with the system.

Thanks again for your help, any more keep it coming

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I visit so many schools with excellent kit, that is used very badly. Student and staff want to shove a few faders and have lights come on. They don't want, or are not allowed to touch anything, yet often poke them with sticks to make them point vaguely the right way. Usually 25% or more don't work, and the level of lighting skill is very, very low. People like AC and Stage electrics are very familiar labels on installs, and they do their best to spec and install decent kit. A year down the line and much falls into disuse, and next years budget may well be able to afford 12 bits of gel for the exam. A few places have technical staff and teachers who can keep clever stuff functioning, but they are sadly very rare. I know places with piles of movers in flight cases, that are never installed because lazy technicians pretend they don't exist because of the hassle of keeping them running. There is no requirement whatsoever for clever lighting in any school system, unless they wish to run specialist courses, which most don't. The exam board's use of lighting is pretty well, that they can come up at the right moment, go out again, and maybe have colours. No requirement for more than that.


If they give you the money, then enjoy your year/two years with it, and then if nobody takes over, it's done!

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I do appreciate that Paul, but, and honestly trying not to come across in the wrong way so apologies if I do, but I do think we're in a very lucky position at our school. We are less a course or provision for exams - indeed the most related course the school runs is gcse drama. We are more a service, providing tech for external concerts such as charity rock band events, the county orchestra, and of course school events like battle of the bands for our 1500 strong student body. A number of ex students are now either at respected drama schools or techs in West End shows or major events companies, and I know I and others in the future plan to follow these routes. We are all very keen and since we often get to make decisions, we utilise the equipment wherever necessary, despite its effort, to give ourselves the best experience and provide the best service possible, so hopefully this new equipment will go to good use for years to come, and help others into this industry! :-)
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Ref the Thomann LEDs - I'm speccing an upgrade to a 450 seat hall and we're going to start out by testing the 36 x 3W LED PAR cans - which I have on reasonable authority that these will be a good companion for 500W PARs in the rig. I reckon that the 8W LEDs mentioned should definitely hold their own against a 1k par on saturated colours, although I would love as well to hear what others think. Also take care with the beam angles when speccing this stuff!


I might rethink the MQ40 in your situation. As it is limited to 4 physical DMX outputs, with no Artnet, I think you will be selling yourself short. Perhaps have a look at a touchscreen or two, the rackmount console (£1200) and a PC wing (£1400) as this would give you the same advantages without the limitations?

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It is reassuring to hear from a couple of people that the intensity on these LEDs should be good. They are of just about the same beam angle as a cp62 so that should be fine. Only consideration is them coming from Thomann in Germany as opposed to from a local LX supplier, but this ought to be copable.


I can't imagine we're going to be needing access to Artnet or more than 4 universes in any forseeable future, but certainly the sole small screen and inability from remote control, or ever the possibility for networks, is a bit unappealing, and not enough to justify an MQ60, so wings may be a route


Also regarding the MLs, mainly for the inability to get good enough quality within the budget, it's looking like we may well stick to hires for those and assign more money to other things, but this is still in talks.

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I certainly wouldn't say we could handle the maintenance of discharge movers, hence the looking at LED


Don't assume that led movers necessarily need less maintenance. In my last club the LED movers spent more time on the bench than the discharge ones, mainly P/T motor problems.


Of course most new movers come with warranties so if you can budget for a spare unit to swap out with dodgies it's not unfeasable to have them on rotation as they go wrong!

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