Engineering Solutions was pleased to provide ~8,000 RGB nodes and 12 E16 controllers (plus an appropriate stack of spare parts) to Ricky Martin’s 2011 tour. We worked closely with Illinois-based Upstaging, who provided the larger lighting rig, and ShowFX in Los Angeles, who fabricated the scenic pieces on which the nodes were installed.
John travelled to LA to assist with patching and configuring the nodes and controllers. On tour, the nodes would be controlled by a Hippo Critter pixel mapping engine, so a demo Hippo was set up in the shop for testing. The lighting network was designed so that the Hippo sent data over a dedicated fiberoptic cable to the stage, where it was converted back to copper to feed the 12 E16s. Somewhere between 36 and 44 universes of DMX are used to drive all the nodes. The remainder of the lighting rig was controlled with other equipment, and on an isolated network.
The E16’s web-based configuration tool made it very easy to assign each node string to its proper address, based on the paperwork generated by the Bryan, the Hippo programmer.
As an interesting side-note, an Art-Net testing suite called ‘DMX Workshop’ has been published by Artistic License. Free to use, it contains utilities for sending and receiving Art-Net data on any channel of any universe. At one point during system testing, the entire pixel map was acting rough and choppy. The frame rate was slow (way, way less than our regular 44 Hz throughput) and it didn’t look good at all.
So to test whether the problem was related to the Hippo, the E16s, or something in the middle, we disconnected the Hippo, plugged in a Windows laptop, and ran a ‘bandwidth test’ utility against the E16s.
We were able to totally load up the network by enabling universes 1 – 44. Then we sent an ‘r g b’ walking pattern to the entire system. That is, each node of each string was in red, then green, then blue. The test started at a 1 Hz refresh rate.
At this speed, we couldn’t see any delay between nodes or strings. All of the set pieces were changing color in exact synchrony. This proved that the issue laid neither with the E16s nor the network switch.
Just for fun, we sped up the chase to 44 Hz and set it to ‘strobe’ (black white black repeating).
The many thousand RGB LEDs chased in unison with our throbbing eyeballs.
This high-speed test was promptly discontinued.
After a quick phone call to Hippo tech support, the jitter problem was traced to an errant setting in the software.
Most of the photos below were taken at the scenery shop. However, the one of the top left was snapped during production rehearsals in Puerto Rico at the end of March. Click any photo to enlarge.
Starting at 0:35, this video clip shows the nodes displaying content. There’s other interesting looks at 5:00 and later.
Stay tuned for an upcoming post describing the ‘Tour Hardened’ E16 Controller and node string system we’ll be offering in a month or so. We’ve added features specifically designed to make the system strong and road-worthy. Bless their hearts, roadies can be rough on gear. You’ll see that we’ve eliminated every potential ‘pinch point’ in the new hardware release.
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