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Buying Guide: Lighting consoles

Buying Guide: Lighting consoles
ETC's compact Ion Xe console comes with up to 12,288 outputs

Buying Guide: Lighting consoles

With the right lighting console, special effects can create a mesmerising experience for worship congregations. Ledetta Asfa-Wossen seeks advice from the experts

A lighting console can control a small number of fixtures to a full universe of DMX lights. Added to that, comes a copious amount of options, from what software to use to the number of faders needed and a whole raft of special effects. Here’s what to consider when it comes to lighting console special effects.

Great music performances have become an essential part of many worship services, and lighting console special effects can help musicians deliver more powerful moments to worshippers.

‘There are number of options when it comes to lighting console special effects,’ says David Hilton, product marketing manager at ETC. ‘Colour chases, either fast or slow, can really set a mood onstage that is in tune with the music. Fast intensity pops can make the crescendo of a song have a tremendous impact. And moving light ballyhoos that pan and tilt over the congregation can make them feel truly connected to all the action onstage,’ adds Hilton. ‘A good lighting console not only creates these effects, but they make it easy for any programmer to execute them quickly, allowing them to replay them in cues, buttons and faders.’

According to Hilton, lighting consoles that offer the end-user with more ‘intuitive’ special effects, while giving users access to on-the-fly control of both the speed and size of the effects, should be a key consideration for any HOW. ‘Consoles such as ETC’s Eos family consoles can even set a beats per minute rate to be in perfect sync with the music. It’s almost like the lighting programmer is another member of the band,’ says Hilton.

Another key factor for HOWs exploring lighting console special effects should be ease-of-use. ‘A lot of HOW venues all across the world are known to have the heavy support of volunteering staff who need to understand how the equipment works to run sometimes quite complex events. The ability to have simplified control while still packing a serious punch for a feature set is important. Another major factor is time. We know a lot of HOW venues that have the tightest of turnaround times between services – so programming and set up time is sometimes very short. A lighting console that provides HOWs with as many “ready-to-go” preset functions, effects and looks can assist in keeping workload manageable,’ explains Tyler Holpin, Zero 88’s UK and international sales manager.

Some basic types of lighting effects to look out for, notes Hilton, include relative, linear, absolute, step-based and video effects.

Relative-based effects enable the user to draw a shape, like a circle or figure eight, and then implement that shape relative to a position. This is a great tool for motion-based effects like ballyhoos. A lighting technician or volunteer can simply draw a circle on the console, point the moving lights where they want the centre of the circle to be and offset this circle chase to create impressive-looking ballyhoos.

Linear effects can also enable the user to choose a parameter, like intensity or zoom, and have it dynamically change relative to a custom sinewave curve, which can be a great way to achieve colour chases.

‘Absolute effects are both unique and powerful. You simply choose pre-built palettes, or looks, organise them in a list, then offset them on the channels they choose. This is an extremely fast way to make precise colour chases, while step-based effects are built from states that turn on and off in sequence. It is also a perfect way to make waves or marquee chases from a series of lights,’ describes Hilton. ‘A virtual media server effect can provide you with a video-based effect where you can orient different lighting fixtures on a virtual video screen and run low-resolution video across them.’

With more and more HOW venues acquiring extensive kit, which in turn comes with increased functions and abilities, having a lighting console that works alongside any equipment is crucial.

‘Special effects, or as we would deem them, “automatically generated effects”, can provide HOWs with so much flexibility. If you take, for example, a rig full of moving lights, getting them all just moving around the stage in what sometimes looks like a “random” state can seem like it would have taken ages to program. Adding to that, putting a “rainbow”-type effect on the same lights, to some, can seem impossible. Opting for a lighting console that can achieve this within 3–4 presses of a button and automatically generate effects is a massive timesaver,’ says Holpin.

Zero 88's portable  FLX range is specifically designed for multipurpose, HOW and education venues
Zero 88's portable FLX range is specifically designed for multipurpose, HOW and education venues

One increasingly popular trend that shows no signs of slowing down and seems to cross various technologies across multiple industries is smartphone compatibility and it’s one that Holpin believes will continue to be a desirable lighting control feature.

‘A massive trend we are seeing at the moment is the ability to control our products, and any product for that matter, via the device we all have in our pockets. Nearly all users of our products will have a smartphone, and likely some kind of tablet that they like to use to expand the functionality of the control desk. A smartphone can be easily connected to the lighting console to provide a remote to control your lighting while out focusing or rigging, and a tablet can be connected to provide the user with an external touchscreen monitor for the console,’ continues Holpin.

However, along with the clear and present value of lighting console special effects, come the fads and misconceptions. For instance, Holpin warns that ‘quite a few users still believe that to achieve “rock and roll”-type lighting effects onstage, you have to go for a high-value, top-end lighting console, which of course eats into [HOW] budgets big time, when actually there are smaller lighting consoles that can provide worship venues with the very same level of special effects’. But, like any purchasing decision, true value only comes in doing your research beforehand.

This article was first published in the September-October 2019 edition of Worship AVL. Subscribe at

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