The Lighting Dimension. By Josh Weisberg

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The weather was just gorgeous during LDI (Lighting Dimensions International) in Orlando last month. Lots of bright sunshine, the occasional cool breeze and the low humidity made the outdoor activity at this trade show particularly welcome.

No, I’m not thinking about drinks around the pool at the Peabody, although that is certainly rewarding, instead I’m thinking about the sound stages assembled in the parking lot adjacent to the show floor.

Leaving the confines of the convention center’s frigid conditioned air to sit in a parking lot listening to concert level sound systems was an attractive and instructive diversion. While the quality of the live bands had a hard time competing with the canned playback from Cream’s Royal Albert Hall performance that was used by one of the manufacturers, the systems were well exercised and showed quite well. Coverage was excellent, levels were abundant, distortion unnoticeable. Now, if the speaker designers could figure out how to accomplish the same effectiveness with half the cabinets, we’d really be happy.

Oh, but this was a lighting show, so I suppose we should return indoors and look at some lighting gear. There was plenty to look at, but for a vidiot like me, it was sometimes difficult to perceive the different features of the products. Forcing one of my lighting staffers to join me in my wanderings did not enhance my efforts. He being of the cynical personality type, seemed happier pointing out the failings of the different offerings rather than exulting over the latest technology.

He had a couple of valid points however. One point was that while there were many more products on display this year, many of them were variations on a theme, rather than a triumph of innovation. For example, there were many, many types of moving fixtures available from a far larger group of manufacturers than ever before, but there did not seem to be much in the way of differentiation in terms of their feature sets. While increased competition in this area may produce innovation and price pressure, it does not provide much immediate benefit for the rental and staging community.

In the LED lighting arena, this dynamic was even more prevalent as the number of “me too” products was extraordinary. Tubes, lamps, tiles, blocks, spheres, you name it, they’re all filled with light emitting diodes. One can only hope that the preponderance of these products means that costs will drop as usage increases. With costs at current levels, LED, even low-resolution, is still a pricey item for many rental customers.

Even the media server landscape has become dotted with many alternatives and they were all in evidence at LDI. While it has become difficult to tell the differences between competing products, overall, the offerings have become ever more powerful, user friendly and reliable. It’s great to be able to choose between multiple products that offer image manipulation, edge-blending, warping and 3-D effects for the cost of a Betacam VTR.

There were a couple of products that stood out as unusual or innovative. One was based on good old incandescent lamp technology but with an advanced spin--DMX addressability. Linking the lamp sockets provides the ability to easily create all types of nostalgic zipper-type signs such as one might find on a 40-year-old movie theater marquee. Made by Whitelight out of the U.K., the Digital Festoon system generated a lot of interest and rightly so.

Creating perhaps an even bigger buzz was the Image Mesh system made by Komaden of Japan. A low-resolution LED system that looks somewhat like plastic fence material, it stood apart from the others due to its brightness, lightness and transparency. With pixel spacing at 25mm, video content and animated text where well defined and turned off it looks less like a video display than anything else out there.

Finally, we liked Vari-lite’s new VL-500, the successor to the very popular VL-5 fixtures from a couple of years ago. With a 120v lamp, optional on-board DMX controller and dimming, the VL-500 combines the great light qualities of the VL-5 with the state-of-the-art movement of current Vari-lite fixtures.

However, no matter how smooth the color changes, no matter how bright the light source, no matter how quickly the pan pans and the tilt tilts, it doesn’t beat the Florida sunshine in November. Therefore, I shall be heading back outdoors for some by-the-pool networking.

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