In this edition of “Tech Talks”, the HARMAN Insights series that features industry experts discussing common technology problems and how to solve them, we got to chat again with our old friend, Wouter Verlinden, Product Manager of HARMAN Professional LED Video Solutions. Wouter came to us because he often meets lighting designers that are all asking the same relative questions when it comes to creative LED video, “When will someone design software that is actually easy to work with and simple to manage?”
They’re right. Most of the software that is out there today requires far too much technical expertise for the typical lighting designer or if it is simple to use, it lacks enough power under the hood to design properly. Today, we talk to Wouter about the possibilities that Martin’s P3 creative video control solution offers designers and why many of them are realizing it’s much easier to use than expected and significantly increases their ability to design more creatively.
(HI): So Wouter, honestly, is it possible to both enable creativity while reducing technical complexity when it comes to creative LED software?
(WV): Great question. Traditionally LED video panels, creative LED fixtures, and lighting fixtures are controlled using completely separate and isolated systems. This greatly reduces creativity as every system needs to be programmed separately, making the operator spend more time on technical tasks than creative expression. The Martin P3 eco-system drastically changes the approach by bringing all elements together into one system, allowing more creativity and less manual work to keep different elements of a show aligned.
Traditional products force you to choose how you control them, either with video or via DMX, forcing you into a certain workflow and reducing creative potential. Within the P3 eco-system, every fixture can be controlled using video and DMX (standard lighting control protocol) at the same time, giving maximum creative freedom. You can decide how to build the look or effect you want to achieve, using DMX, video, built-in effects or a mix of it all.
No matter how you mix P3-enabled lighting fixtures, creative LED fixtures and LED video panels; they all behave as one visual canvas with hybrid video and DMX control over every single element.
(HI): Thanks Wouter but before we go further can you give us a good description of what P3 is and what it is best used for?
(WV): Sure, that might help. Martin P3 is HARMAN’s proprietary system to map, address and control a wide range of visual products. These products range from traditional LED video panels to creative LED video fixtures such as the Martin VDO Sceptron. Soon the P3 eco-system will be expanded to include Martin lighting fixtures as well. P3 really is the perfect solution to drive fixtures with individual pixel control, as traditional protocols such as DMX, Art-Net and sACN are not geared for such high pixel/channel counts.
Using the P3 protocol, a single Gigabit Ethernet cable can transport 500,000 pixels at 60Hz, thereby massively outnumbering traditional lighting protocols. P3 is not a closed system, as every P3-enabled fixture can also be driven using industry-standard protocols such as DMX or Art-Net, giving you the freedom to choose what works best for you.
(HI): So how exactly is P3 used to create or map a design, like for an EDM concert performance for example?
(WV): It’s really a pretty straightforward system. The P3 System Controller is the heart of the P3 eco-system, and connects with all P3-enabled fixtures via standard network cabling. As P3 is a network protocol, standard networking equipment such as cables, switches and fiber-converters can be used to distribute the P3 signal to all fixtures.
The P3 System Controller automatically discovers all P3-enabled fixtures on the network so that no manual addressing or configuration is needed (no need to deal with IP-addresses or configure addresses on the lighting fixtures themselves). All connected fixtures are then “mapped” onto the canvas/workspace of the P3 System Controller, essentially laying them out on the workspace as they are laid out in the real world on a stage or building.
The P3 System Controller then receives a video-signal from a media server, signage player, live camera, or other source (over DVI, HDMI or SDI); and then maps this to the fixtures as they are laid out on the workspace. This enables your system of fixtures to behave as one large canvas on the stage or building. No matter how you mix and match different products, of different types, with different pixel pitches, the P3 System Controller takes care of all mapping, scaling and rotation to make sure that every fixture receives the right portion of the overall image and it all looks as one uniform video-canvas.
(HI): What’s next as far as bringing the mapping “to life”? What kind of equipment is needed to put this design to work on a concert stage?
(WV): Yes, mapping the design is only going to take you so far. Now we need to put it to the test. The P3 system does not only deliver video-pixels to the connected fixtures. Every fixture in the P3 eco-system can also receive DMX data over the same network cable.
This enables fixtures such as moving heads to receive video-pixels driving their LEDs, while traditional DMX channels are used to control parameters such as movement, zoom, gobo, etc. The DMX, Art-Net or sACN control signal from the lighting desk is simply connected to the P3 System Controller which then takes care of addressing and distribution of the DMX channels to the correct fixtures.
On top of that, it is also possible to mix video-controls with DMX-controls. Output of any fixture can be driven with video or DMX at any moment, even including the possibility to cross-fade between a video-created-look and a DMX-created-look. This enables looks and effects to be created using the most suitable method. Some looks might be more simple to create using DMX channels or an effect-generator inside the lighting desk, while some other looks are easily created by playing video-content across the fixtures.
It is even possible to combine DMX-controlled effects with video-driven pixels. One example would be to apply a DMX-controlled strobe on top of video-driven pixels inside the fixture. Or take a black and white video-feed and apply colors on a fixture-per-fixture basis using the lighting desk. Or drive the beam of a lighting fixture with DMX, while using P3 video-pixels to drive the Aura backlight effect.
(HI): Wouter, if I’m following you correctly, it sounds like there are a lot of moving parts, so to speak, when it comes to creative video design. How can we ensure the final product looks consistent?
(WV): I figured you might be wondering that. All P3-enabled fixtures are factory-calibrated, making sure that all fixtures of a given fixture type output exactly the same colors at exactly the same brightness, which offers the most consistent look across all fixtures of the same model.
But, once you start to combine different fixture types, differences in LED type will become visible as not every fixture features the same color gamut. The advanced P3 color gamut control allows you to match the color-space of different fixture types and make them look consistent. As an example, the red output from a P3-enabled moving head can be set to match the red output from a Martin VDO Sceptron without manual programming and tweaking.
(HI): Another important question, how do you make sure it’s all running in sync?
(WV): Traditional lighting protocols such as DMX, Art-Net and sACN usually don’t succeed in keeping all fixtures on a show synchronized; certainly when large quantities of DMX channels / LED pixels are part of the system.
That’s where P3 comes through again. In a P3 eco-system, the P3 System Controller keeps all fixtures and effects synchronized across the entire visual canvas via a dedicated sync mechanism. The frame clock of the video input to the P3 System Controller becomes the master to which all fixtures lock, with a minimal and fixed latency. This also means that a P3-enabled system runs at higher framerates (50-60Hz) than a traditional DMX system (20-44Hz), resulting in smoother motion and video playback.
The result of this is that pushing a flash button on your lighting desk will turn on all fixtures on your canvas at exactly the same time, not showing delay between different fixtures. Another example is the playback of fast or strobing content across different fixtures, which will remain perfectly synchronized in the P3 eco-system.
(HI): Wouter, correct me if I’m off base, but it seems like shows and installations are getting more complicated. How often do you run into challenges keeping video-mapping consistent with the actual physical movement of the fixtures?
(WV): Sure, let’s talk about that. Traditional solutions rely on having synchronized timelines for automation (fixture movement) and video-mapping systems, which greatly reduces flexibility and creativity. The P3 System Controller handles this challenge completely differently. It listens in on various standard automation protocols such as Kinesys K2 and Art-Net, and tracks the movements in real-time without any programming. As fixtures are moved around in the real-world, the P3 System Controller will adjust their position and angle on the mapping to make sure the resulting video-image always looks consistent.
A big thanks again to Wouter for taking time out to talk with us about the opportunities that Martin’s P3 system offers lighting designers. If you are a lighting designer that uses LED video in your designs, we’d love to share your experiences in the comments.