Hang on to Your Hats

  • Probably the biggest news at InfoComm last month was the announcement of Barco's acquisition, on the eve of the show, of Austin-based automated lighting manufacturer High End Systems. When two companies of this stature join forces, it portends some interesting things for the industry.
  • Having started in this business as one of the first employees of High End Systems, I've seen over the years how the Texas company pioneered not just conventional theatrical lighting, the design of new-generation automated luminaries, and LED-based lighting, but later video-source moving lights/moving projectors. Combining, in the early days, seat-of-the-pants entrepreneurial management with an aggressive marketing strategy, Richard Belliveau and the High End engineering team were never afraid to be first to market with products that pushed the envelope. It started with the first DMX-controlled color-mixing fixture that used dichroic filters and a lamp dimming system to dial in any color of the lighting designer's palette (Color Pro). Intellabeam followed, combining that same variable color palette with a moving mirror head. But the culmination of High End's engineering prowess was their success in doing what several companies had tried over the years but none mastered: marrying an automated moving light and a video projector. The revolutionary product went through several iterations, and evolved into the DL1 and today's DL3.
  • Barco's track record in video for the staging world needs little elaboration here. Barco has been at the vanguard of change in the high-lumen projector market for years. More recently Barco has been making inroads into the lighting world with both LED walls and a variety of show control and image processing products that bridge the divide between the DMX-based lighting world and the more proprietary world of video.
  • But High End is essentially a lighting manufacturer. And the most profound trend in theatrical lighting (and lighting in general for that matter) is the revolution in illumination sources. LEDs are rapidly replacing conventional lamps for luminaires both small and large. It's just a matter of time before this revolution is complete, and LED's--producing less heat, using less energy, and longer-lasting--provide the light source for the vast majority of lighting fixtures.
  • So, back to InfoComm last month in Las Vegas. The demo that caught my attention more than any other was one that you may not see as being related to this Barco/High End acquisition. In the Texas Instruments/DLP booth, there was on display a working video projector showing trailers of Hollywood films. It was about 1000 lumens. 1080P. Brilliant, pure color. So what's the big deal? Well, the projector (a prototype provided by projectiondesign, the Norway-based manufacturer of some of the best DLP projectors available) had no lamp. Its light source was just three LED's (R, G, and B). No heat. No color wheel. No lamp color decay. No lamp, period.
  • Barco is a pioneer in the video world. High End is a pioneer in the harnessing of LED's for lighting and the marrying of novel elements to produce video projectors/moving lights/wash lights/digital gobo/digital image blending devices. Look for interesting developments in LED-based video projection to come out of Austin, Texas and Belgium. They may or may not be LED-based video projectors married, Texas rodeo-style, to an automated mechanical lighting yoke, giving both the lighting and the video industry the ride of their life.