The last several years have been a period of exciting growth for the rapidly expanding team at Figure 53, the makers of QLab and other show solutions. If you look at the Company statement on their website, this pretty much sums up their business approach: “We work on shows to be together for something special, and we love helping people do that in ways they couldn’t before.” This November, Figure 53 took a huge leap forward in the realm of helping people do shows in a way they couldn’t before with their highly anticipated new release of QLab 4. While there are a lot of features to be excited about in this new release, the biggest new change is the addition of lighting control.
QLab 4 brings along all of the wonderful components that have made it an industry standard in media playback and show control – sound control, video playback and effects, and show control integration through MIDI and OSC networks. The addition of lighting control, though, is a game changer for how designers and technicians approach QLab as a tool. QLab 4 allows for the control of lighting instruments and devices by using the Art-Net protocol over a network. This is either accomplished by directly “talking” to your lighting equipment through Art-Net, or sending the message through a node that translates Art-Net into a DMX signal. For those of you hoping to use a USB to DMX converter, you’re out of luck here. Art-Net nodes are currently the only type of interface recognized by QLab 4.
You should know out of the gate that QLab isn’t going to replace your high end lighting console or work well with a modern rig with hundreds of movers and complex fixtures (at least not yet). Currently, it works best with a rig featuring conventional fixtures, dimmers, and simple RGB-style LED fixtures. I could really see this being an innovative control option for storefront theatres, site specific work, houses of worship, club settings, and industry / trade show installations. The biggest perk in my mind is the fact that it builds on the QLab cue system, so those who are already familiar with creating a workspace should be able to jump right in and experiment with lighting control pretty quickly.
Lighting control is done through the use of a Lighting Cue within your workspace. For those familiar with QLab, this is just another cue type (like Audio Cues, Video Cues, Fade Cues, etc.) that can be combined into your workspace with all of your other cue types. This Lighting Cue contains all of the data for communicating with your equipment. Unlike traditional QLab cue types, however, Lighting Cue parameters are not changed by the use of a Fade Cue. Instead, values will be changed with additional Lighting Cues, or through the use of the new Light Dashboard. The dashboard shows you the live status of all currently running cues in your workspace and allows you to manipulate them in real time. This can be accomplished by using the built in sliders or tiles, or by using a command line that allows you to type in a textual control language.
Like any other lighting console, QLab also has a patch system. In Qlab’s Light Patch, you create the instrument and patch them to their appropriate real-world Art-Net/DMX addresses. In QLab, an instrument represents any light or dimmer in your rig that you want to control. Each instrument that is added to your workspace becomes a part of the Definitions Tab, where you can assign instrument information and parameters (such as intensity, color, position, etc.). These parameters are then controllable by using the sliders or tiles assigned to it in the Light Cue.
You can also create Groups within the patch for ease in controlling more than one instrument. In the example shown below, Cue 1.7 is controlling Group 1, a group with all front lighting instruments combined. The second image shows how the Light Dashboard would represent this visually.
In addition to adding lighting, there are quite a few changes to workflow and programming that will save you on programming time. One of the big new changes is what they are calling “Fancy Paste” that allows the programmer to copy and paste multiple cue properties from the clipboard onto one or more cues in your workspace. You can also customize your defaults for workspaces by using Cue Templates. My personal favorite is the Record Cue Sequence function, which watches and records a cue sequence as you play through it manually. Once you stop the recording, QLab will automatically create a Group Cue populated with Start Cues that match the playback timing of what you recorded.
There are lots of things to be excited about in this new version of QLab. Like previous versions, I have no doubt that the folks at Figure 53 will continue to tweak their toolset and functions in response to user feedback. It’s possible that, in the right setting, a single computer running QLab could replace thousands of dollars worth of other equipment. This no doubt leads to all sorts of logistical questions (not the least of which being the amount of time and planning that would go into cueing a show if there were multiple designers on the same computer), but it will be interesting to see how this new component develops over the coming years and the ways in which the industry embraces it.
Stay tuned for some future posts on here about QLab 4 functions and my forthcoming QLab 4 Show Control book.
*As always, the fine print still applies. I am not an employee of Figure 53 and my views are exclusively my own. I’m just a guy who appreciates useful software and believes in sharing with others.