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LDI: Part I

Here are some initial thoughts regarding some of the things I saw at the Live Design International (LDI) trade show.

The Clay-Paky Stormy strobe

Finally, someone realized that some LDs just do not like the look of LEDs in a direct view application. I love the TMB Flare, but it is certainly one of many direct view LED fixtures on the market. The Stormy (Clay-Paky has chosen an interesting naming convention for its new fixture lines) is an LED strobe that looks like what Clay-Paky calls “a classic strobe”, but everyone will inevitably compare to a Martin Atomic 3000. It certainly bears a superficial resemblance to that fixture, but where the xenon discharge lamp would be, there is a strip of white (or RGB, in the RGB version) LEDs that point straight out toward the long edges of the fixture, into the traditional long, curved reflector that characterized the Atomic fixture. I think the white version of the fixture is definitely the way to go – you lose quite a bit of output with the RGB version. It’s not dim by any means, but you definitely lose an amount of output that wouldn’t be acceptable for me, except perhaps in some specialized situations.

The brightness is very acceptable for a unit of this type. I’d be very interested to put them next to the type of fixture they obviously emulate – a 3000-watt xenon discharge strobe – to see who has the brightness edge. I suspect that for sheer brightness, it will be so close as to be a wash (pun intended), so the decision to choose the Stormy over some other fixture would come down to simple economics: I can rent Atomics very inexpensively, so we’ll have to see where Clay-Paky prices the Stormy at to see if the enhanced feature set (Look, I can more than one on a single 20-amp circuit!) is worth the presumably extra cost.

The Vari-Lite VL4000 spot

I saw a demo of this fixture at Soundcheck, and again at LDI, and I’m conflicted. First, the basics: the VL4000 is clearly intended to be a new flagship fixture for Vari-Lite, and they have crammed a lot into a 38kg package. Framing shutters and a wide range of beam effects, and a complicated multi-element zoom lens system that is very fast. Early on, VL promised a 1500-watt version of this fixture, but then decided to release just one fixture, and push the Philips MSR 1200-watt lamp to 1400 watts, thereby producing more output. I’ve heard some complaints about how “VL decided not to release a 1500-watt version, it just won’t be bright enough” but that’s not really the case. Overrunning the lamp combined with advances in optical efficiency will almost certainly produce close to the same amount of output that a 1500-watt source would for a bit less power consumption. The brightness of the fixture is simply not an issue for me, it’s bright enough.

The dimming curve, however, is very odd. Think an exaggerated square law curve and you’ve got it. It’s way too steep after 50% for my liking, which I think is an inappropriate shift away from the beautiful, smooth curve of the VL3000 series lights. The VL3000 had possibly the best mechanical dimmer I’ve ever seen, with a curve that fell neatly between a linear and square law, and this dramatic shift is reminiscent of the VL400/800 series, which fielded a fair degree of criticism. It does smooth out the bottom end of the dimming, which may have been what Vari-Lite was going for for some reason.

The biggest disappointment is with the color-mix system. Again, to compare this fixture to the VL3000 is to be disappointed. The yellow flag is very saturated, and overpowers the cyan flag when mixing aquas or light greens, and results in distinctly colored beam edges, both in the air and projected. All flag systems have this unevenness, and VL does have a homogenizing filter in the optical train to help correct some of this, but it’s just not enough. To be fair, the VL4000 does handle some other tricky color-mixing colors pretty well, amber and lavender fared much better than aqua. The unit does have fixed color wheels that include a Kelly green, so I’d use that (or a custom aqua filter) if that color were important for me. Though, again, VL had a great thing going in the wheel system of the 3000-series, why move away from it so dramatically? Perhaps they thought the boost in speed outweighed the inherent relative slowness of a wheel system?

What I do like about this fixture are the two animation wheels. VL includes two by default – a traditional black and white patterned wheel, and a brilliantly-colored rainbow one that looks like a Jackson Pollock’s attempt to decorate with balloons full of rainbow-colored oil. Vari-Lite calls this one Dichro*Fusion, a nod to the old DICHRO-TUNE system of the series 5/500 fixtures. You can get some very interesting effects by inserting this wheel into the beam at varying angles and rotating directions and speeds, especially when combined with the color system.

The unit has framing shutters, which is nice to see standard on a moving light without sacrificing a gobo wheel, as is generally the case. I can see myself getting a lot of use out of them as an effect; they’re definitely not just for spill control. The unit also includes frost and a prism. The big limitation there is that due to the way the optical train works, the frost and prism will be inserted at various points along the lens path depending on where the zoom and focus are at a given time. Further, once inserted, they track with the zoom system. A natural consequence of this is that the zoom range is reduced, which seems unfortunate to me. The frost effect also takes a long time to move – around 1.2 seconds, which is far too long to use the frost with an effect. Prism insertion / removal is equally anemic, taking 1.1 seconds to insert or remove.

So, the VL4000. An offering from VL that I continue to have mixed feelings about. As it was, I am personally far more interested in the Robe BFML spot, but we’ll save that entry for another day.

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