We have started introducing the idea of Pharos families in the Designer range to help clarify some areas where the products differ in behaviour.
This explainer video provides an overview of the main differences between the families, then in the rest of this Tips and Tricks we will dive into more detail about differences in content processing, level of fixture control, mapping and playback.
When we launched the VLC (Video Lighting Controller), we were adding a Controller to the range which was designed to fulfil quite a different requirement to the LPC (Lighting Playback Controller) and, although programmed with the same Designer 2 software with the same triggering and show control functionality, and could even work together with LPCs in the same system, nevertheless the VLC’s programming and playback philosophy is quite different.
Intended primarily as a powerful video-to-eDMX solution, there are many large projects where there is an overlap in channel capacity between the LPC X and VLC offering, so a choice needs to be made by identifying the most suitable solution for an installation.
Let’s explore the benefits of each controller type with the requirements for these larger projects.
Content Processing and Playback
The LPC has been the workhorse of Pharos for over 15 years now and has spawned an entire family based on similar functionality. The LPC, LPC X and TPC, known as the LPC Family, all work in a similar way under the hood and use the same method for deciding what data to send to which fixture.
The LPC Family uses a frame array system for generating lighting data. This means that during the programming stage, a mixture of presets, media and colours will be created and added to a Timeline or Scene. Designer will then process this information and upload instructions, also known as Frame Arrays, in the form of RGB and Intensity values per channel, per frame to the Controllers. When the Timeline or Scene is triggered, the Controller will read the instructions it received and output the correct data. In theory, the Controller is just repeating a simple set of instructions with no need to understand what it is playing back. This enables the Controllers to operate with a significantly lower energy usage and processing power and allows the Controllers to work extremely effectively within a small, solid state form factor.
The approach needed for the VLC family of Controllers, consisting of the VLC and the VLC+, is different as the prime objective is efficiency for higher resolution video playback over higher numbers of fixtures. Instead of Designer figuring out what values each DMX channel will need to output, the VLCs will determine that for themselves via multithreading, using the onboard graphics card and OpenCL. This is extremely advantageous with the VLC+, which, with an even more powerful graphics card, can alter and adjust video content via Triggers during playback. This can be in the form of translating or rotating the Content Targets, such as on a Ferris wheel to ensure content is always playing upright or even used to create interesting, new visual effects allowing media to be moved across your display at the touch of a button.
An additional aspect to VLC+ functionality is Adjustment Targets. These can change various values, such as adjusting colour and intensity, such as decreasing the levels on one side of a building to conform with municipal code or masking areas of a façade. These too can be moved and rotated during playback, as well as set to the shape of an image during commissioning.
Scope of Control
A significant aspect of the LPC Family functionality is how the control system can be distributed. For example, fixtures from a single display can be patched to two separate LPCs then seamlessly programmed and perfectly played back. Each Controller’s output can also be segmented into smaller sections using fixture groups, allowing for control of one area to have no effect on another. Very large projects can be accommodated by having several LPC Xs in the system all programmed as one, but with the flexibility to also control smaller sections if need be. For instance, a large exhibition hall can have a piece of content played across the entire venue but at other times each LPC X can control just its own zone.
The VLC family, on the other hand, is designed to cover a single large canvas, such as the whole façade of a building or a high resolution wall of LEDs, at an improved price per pixel. The VLC Family of Controllers has a capacity of up to 3000 universes on a single VLC+ compared to 100 universes for a single LPC X, but this capacity optimisation prevents the device from being able to offer precision control of individual channels. Whereas the LPC can control a single fixture independently, the VLC effectively doesn’t know that a fixture exists; it will output all of its content across a canvas, with fixtures taking their output values from that.
As a result of this pixel-to-fixture relationship, the VLC Family only supports certain types of fixtures, with 8bit and 16bit versions of LED;
• Single-channel LEDs (i.e., White).
To map LPC fixtures for 2D effects and video, we use Pixel Matrices. It is these maps, with fixtures each assigned an X and Y position, that are used to generate the Frame Arrays with the effect or media calculated for each frame wherever there is a populated pixel. The power and flexibility of the LPC playback is that multiple matrices with some or all of the same fixtures can be created. This provides huge potential customisation of effects and presets with different outcomes achievable on the same fixtures depending on how the fixtures are placed or rearranged on the Matrix. Tight spacing, wide spacing, rotating or angling the array, padding the edges with white space or making a large matrix with the fixtures only in one corner are all possible with this functionality. This gives you absolute freedom and flexibility to arrange and playback to each fixture exactly as you need.
The VLCs use Compositions onto which Content Targets are placed. These are similar in principle to the matrices, but are overlaid directly onto the fixture layout, where each fixture corresponds to a pixel on the Composition. A Composition is simply an arrangement of Content Targets, which a preset or media or live input can be set against. Multiple Compositions are allowed, which does enable flexibility at a “canvas” level; For instance, one Composition could have all 4 sides of a building in one Content Target, allowing content to seamlessly wrap around the building. Another Composition could have a Content Target that fits over the fixtures of one side of the building with Instances that repeats the content on the remaining three sides. For each preset in the timeline, the appropriate Compositions can be selected, allowing a variety of effects to be created. The VLC allows only one Content Target per Composition (with Instances) but the VLC+ supports additional Content Targets allowing a secondary video to play back simultaneously, for effects like picture-in-picture.
If you need powerful, flexible, scalable and versatile playback of scenes and timelines, with individual control of groups and fixtures, for any type of luminaire, choose from the LPC family.
If you need control for a cohesive LED canvas with RGB, RGBA, RGBW, or White fixtures, with manipulation of how video and lighting effects play back, choose from the VLC family.
A related webinar can be found here