Windows 8 Tablet for Lighting Work

One of the most important tools a lighting programmer can have these days is solid personal computer. As a matter of personal preference, I lean more towards using windows computers over a Mac due to the wider range of software choses and ability to customize. One of the recent trends that caught my eye was the small convertible netbook/ tablet. They tend to be on the inexpensive side and seem like a good field computer that I don't care too much about getting damaged. So I decided to buy an Asus Transformer T100TA that keeps showing up on deal website such as Woot.com for about $200. While it doesn't replace my main laptop it still offers me some additional flexibility in how I can do things. It weighs next to nothing, even with the keyboard attached, and has all day battery life (~ 10hrs) allowing to go anywhere. It has more functionality than my iPad as well and has even come with me to several gigs when I just didn't need my full laptop but actually wanted to get some work done. In fact this post is being written on it!

Here's a quick look at the specs:

  • Full Windows 8.1 upgraded to Windows 10 (fixed with Classic Shell)
  • Intel Atom Z3775 Quad Core @ 1.46ghz
  • 2 Gigs of Ram
  • 64GB internal storage
  • 10.1 Inch Touch Screen (1368x768)
  • MicroSD Slot (Capable of reading 128GB cards, see this post on how to make this more useful)
  • Micro USB 2.0 (Charging and OTG)
  • Micro HDMI
  • USB 3.0 on Keyboard
  • 2.4lbs w/keyboard

Looking at the specs its not an overly powerful machine but it has enough horse power to get things done.  The biggest advantage is the full version of Windows, meaning you can run just about any software on it as long as it doesn't need a ton of processing power/RAM, unlike other tablet options. The hard drive space a somewhat of a limit but there are ways to work around this. In my next post I'll give you the steps I used to get the OS to think an SD is a regular hard drive and install programs such as Drop Box to it allowing you to greatly expand the SD cards utility. When used with USB Ethernet adapter you can join wired networks and use programs like remote desktop to access other network computers or other show critical functions you may not want on WiFi. 

Here's the list of lighting type programs I've tried and some of the results:

  • Magic Q- Works great, outputs fine over the USB dongle, the touch screen is nice too. I actually ended up running a small show off it in a pinch.
  • EOS Offline- Runs as expected, able to connect to a console as a client, haven't tried outputting via Nomad
  • Grandma 2 OnPC- Runs but needs a wired connection via USB> Ethernet
  • Reaper- Works fine for audio, video not so much

All of this comes together to create something that is worth considering if you want a utility computer or are a Mac user looking to get into Windows for certain applications with a very reasonable price tag.

 

Time Code Playback via Ableton Live

This last winter, while working on a Christmas Service, I came across a fairly common scenario. A church that I do a fair amount of work/ volunteering for wanted to synchronize lights and video for one number as well as lighting for a another show piece song. Normally this is no big deal, but I was unable to be there for the actual event and they were not equipped with any of the methods for generating/ playing time code that I had used previously.

After doing some research I found I way to make it all work. In order to provide a click track to the band and well as some additional audio tracks, the worship leader was using Ableton. Ableton is a DAW that is well suited very for playback of multiple tracks to various locations making it great for live work. The tracks can be used for samples, loops, or instruments which can be routed to outputs as needed and started through cues. I ended up loaning the worship director my audio interface a Focusrite Saffire 6 (now outdated, current model is Sacrlet 2i4) so he could output more than the usual two he uses for worship. We inserted another track and dropped some premade SMPTE .wav strips for him to playback along with the click track and samples. After some adjustments to their start as locations everything was great. This enabled him to send a SMPTE track to the church's ETC Ion which we translated to MTC on the console end using a Horrita TR-100.

The SMPTE stripes that we ended up using were the pregenerated in one hour increments (song 1= 01:00:00:00, song 2= 02:00...) for each song. In order to get these stripes I used a SMPTE generator website with the flavor I wanted and gave 10 minute stripes to the worship director to add to each song. Ten minutes may have been a little long but I wanted to be safe. I could have used Reaper to generate the strips but the website was faster. Another option we looked into was ClipSMPTE. It appears to actually generate time code on the fly but we didn't have Ableton's Max for Live edition to test it out.

The final piece of the puzzle came from the video playback. For lyrics and motion background the church uses ProPresenter which has the ability to send and receive Midi triggers. We ended up using an Ableton midi track to send a trigger to start the ProPresenter video cue. This did require an extra upgrade back to ProPresenter to make everything work but it is now used often by the church to advance lyric slides during worship. In order to send the trigger we created a private Wi-Fi network to send the commands over. Here's a tutorial from MusicRadar on how to set the network up. Another possibility would have been to use a longer SMPTE preroll from Ableton and have the Ion send a wired trigger a couple of seconds after it locked on.

For a look at how this worked on at Easter take a look here.

ETC Ion/ Eos LTC/Midi Playback

A common feature of most moving light consoles is the ability to take in external time code for synchronization of lighting with other sources such as audio or video. ETC's Eos line is no exception though it often requires external gear such as a Show Control Gateway to actually take in SMPTE LTC. Having one or more the the gateways on your network opens up a whole set of options as to how and where you can get various kids of external time code from. Unfortunately the price of the gateway can put it out of reach in some situations. Luckily, several of the consoles in the line offer MIDI ports on the console which can be used to get external time code into the console through a little bit of adaptation. ETC also offers the ability to run an internal clock on the console which can be usefully if you want to use the console itself to trigger external events.

ETC does not include the full so control information in the manual that they ship with the console. The full list of operations relating to time code can be found in ETC's Eos Show Control Supplement which provides detailed instructions on how to use the Show Control tab (pictured below). This can be brought up by opening a new tab and selecting show control or by pressing [Displays]><More SK>>{Show Control}.

The first step is to create a list and select all the information you want it to respond to through the soft key options are presented. The best place to look for this is in the ETC supplement starting around page 13 as it could potentially change from version to version.

In the picture I have two lists, one for each of the numbers in that show that were time code driven. I prefer to do this as you can write macros to turn on that particular list. I would manually take the first cue at the top of the song enabling the time code and giving the console a chance to sync with the time code. The macro is nice because it can also prevent accidental playback when working on something else.

As I mentioned, it is possible to take advantage of a SMPTE input using one of the consoles with the Midi ports through a little bit of creative conversion. In all of these cases  I'm assuming you have an external SMPTE LTC time code source and are converting it MTC (MIDI Time Code) for the console to use. One of the most accessible ways of doing it is using a computer with a 1/8" microphone jack (or a USB Audio Interface), a USB MIDI device, and Reaper software. Using Reaper you can create a MIDI time code generator track which is triggered by SMPTE coming in through the audio interface. For more explanation on this see my earlier post about using Reaper with Time Code. If you don't want to use your computer and the ETC gateway is financially out of reach there are other options as well. Horita's TR-100 offers SMPTE LTC> MTC translation and offers a large read back display which can be helpful. Another useful product is a JLCooper PPS-2 which can serve as a master clock if needed. Finally MOTU offers a variety of devices that can do all kinds of fun things with MIDI and other audio related protocols depending on the flavor of device you use.

Show Organization

Often times one of the most difficult things when it comes to programming is show organization and planing. Figuring out when and where cues need to go and what needs to be included in them often requires time to think about. Even if you have all your various pallets, groups, and effects created, figuring out where to put them can be time consuming without a plan. If you have the luxury of having to tracks ahead of time, sitting down and coming up with some kind of organized plan is a great way to deal with this. By putting your ideas down on paper you have some idea of where to start when you actually sit down and begin to program.

Here is how my planning process general works when I get to use it:

1. Listen/ Watch the material you are given to get a feel of what you may want the every thing to look like.

2. Think about how your idea works with your available and how that fits in the the scenic elements and theme of the overall show.

3. Begin listening the the specific songs one at a time. While doing this begin placing your cues. This can be done with a pen and paper or better yet an audio program where you can actually place markers. Again this is one of the huge reasons a recommend Reaper. In Reaper markers can be added by pressing the M key. If you have the SWS plugin installed each marker will show up the Marker List window.

4. After going through an placing all my markers I'll fine tune and label them from the Marker List window. Clicking and a marker will move your cursor to the locations which makes things quick and easy to go to when actually programming

5. Once I'm happy with my marker location I'll then begin moving the cue data over into my cue layout spread sheet. I'll record the cue number, label, SMPTE times, and the fade times I want to use. I also like to include all of my show elements on the sheet as well. This makes it easy to help visualize what is being used for what when. Think of it as a track sheet for developing the song. I can record what I want each group of lights to be doing in a given cue and follow the progression as I work my way through the song.  This can also be done with a pen and paper but I find it harder visualize the entire song in my head and doesn't save me nearly as much time.

6. Get to the console and start programming but be flexible and prepared to make changes as things come up during programming/ rehearsal.

All of this assumes that you actually have the ability to plan and the time to actually program. Depending on what you're doing on that day of the week you may or may not get the luxury to even think about this in which case you just may have to resort to straight up busking your way through the show.

Reaper LTC/MTC Setup

As mentioned before, Reaper is an extremely powerful tool for programming when dealing with audio/video playback. One of the more powerful features is its integration and playback using various types of timecode. In addition to being able to route a pre-made timecode track as needed, either through your sound card or USB audio interface, Reaper has the ability to generate its own time code and output that. This is useful if you need to change the format of the time code or don't have it to begin with.

In order to add your own generator, start by creating a new track under the audio you wish to use (Track>Insert New Track). Then while in that track select the insert SMPTE LTC/MTC Timecode Generator from the menu (Insert>SMPTE LTC/MTC Timecode Generator). Following this you'll want to position and drag to length the generator item. Once the item is inserted and sized, right click to adjust the properties.

From the window you can decide the type or source (LTC/MTC) and when the generator is supposed to start at.

After selecting the options for the track you need to route it somewhere for it to actually get out to your console/device. Before doing this you'll need to setup the output options under Preferences> Audio or Midi devices. By clicking on the routing button down in the mixer settings you'll get options how to route the track. (See picture)

Another possible feature of Reaper is the ability to control playback itself through an external timecode source. By right clicking on the play button you get an external timecode synchronization popup. Form here you can set Reaper to begin playback from an external source and chose the flavor. You can also create offsets here as well. This makes it possible to use Reaper as a makeshift timecode translator from LTC>MTC or in reverse as needed when you don't have hardware like a Horita on hand. 

 

Reaper for Programing

Programming often involves playback of various media, be it audio or even video, for you to complete your work to. Often times media can come in interesting formats which don't always work the best for native players. A prime example for this receiving audio tracks with SMPTE stripes built into one of the channels which can create all kinds of havoc if you have the wrong player. In order to deal with this enter Reaper.

RepearScreenshot


By Reaper I mean Cockos Incorporated's fully functional DAW (digital audio workstation) Reaper. Not only does it have all the audio editing capability you'd expect from any other DAW it has the ability to play back video as well which can be helpful if need some kind of video syncronization. Along with this Reaper offers the ability to both read and generate MIDI and SMPTE LTC tracks. This enables external control and synchronization with lighting consoles and other pieces of gear for playback making it even more useful. A variety of plug-ins are also available for Reaper, expanding functionality even further. The plug-in set that is use primarily is Standing Water Studios SWS/S&M package. My main reason behind this is that it further expands Reapers native marker ability which comes in handing for placing cue locations and other notes. To top it all off, the whole package can be had for $60 depending on your license and usage need.

 

Finding Reaper enabled a huge change in the way that I am able to program stuff for prepared concerts, events, and worship services. Previously I was using the ancient but still great Cool Edit Pro which has since become Adobe Audition for programming playback. I would go through and mark out my cues and then have to create a largish CEP specific file to save the data for later. Reaper does this with a small separate file which is not big deal especially since I tend to sync things through Drop Box across computers and devices. With Reaper I am able to create and save my cue list then export it out to a . csv for use in Excel. Reaper also has the ability to have multiple songs open in so I can quickly switch between songs while programming.

 

All in all, Reapers is a great program especially if you're a Windows user such as myself.