In today’s “Tech Talk,” I’m speaking with Wouter Verlinden, Product Manager, LED Video at HARMAN Professional Solutions. In our “Tech Talks” series, we sit down with industry experts like Wouter here at HARMAN and discuss common technology problems and how to solve them. Wouter works out of HARMAN’s Aarhus, Denmark office.

Wouter has been working with entertainment lighting since age 10. He started building his own light effects for parties and has served as Lighting Designer (LD) and operator for small bands and festivals. Wouter got his start at HARMAN back in 2009, where he worked as Project Manager for the Martin Visual Solutions division before becoming Product Manager for the Martin LED Video portfolio.

Given Wouter’s role, I thought I would pick his brain about Creative LED and get some tips on how the technology is used on tour.

[SKD]: Hey Wouter, thanks for talking with me today. I’ve spoken before about Creative LED, but mostly in terms of architectural lighting such as media façades and theme parks. I know these products are also growing in the touring market. Just so everyone is on the same page, can you give us a bit of an overview of what “Creative LED Video” is and explain how it is being used in the touring market.

[WV]: Certainly. We define “video products” as products where you can assign every LED individually rather than the entire strip as a single block, as you would on a traditional LED lighting strip. LED Video is very popular for tours. We see more and more creative LED video being using in the market—both traditional video panels being mixed with more creative products like strips and dots and tiles. With the P3 system, we make that mix of creative and traditional video products easier to use both cabling-wise as well as processing and mapping-wise.

[SKD]: Why do people tend to like video products relatively traditional LED lighting strips?

[WV]: The cool thing with LED video over a simple LED strip is that you get so many more looks with a single product. In the past, you could simply mix color, but now you can combine colors with different animations, with different types of video content, with different colors, with different speeds, with different patterns… All of a sudden, it is much easier to create 15 different looks for 15 different songs. In the past, you were limited to the lights and position of the lights and the color of the lights. Now with video you can get completely different atmospheres on stage by playing different types of content through your LED video products. In the past, this was limited to a video screen hanging behind the band. Now with these creative products, video elements get blended into stairs, risers, etc., so instead of the effect of a TV hanging behind the band, essentially, you have these visual elements integrated into all parts of the show.

[SKD]: What are some of the challenges people face when they start moving from these “block of color” lighting designs into an LED video application?

[WV]: There are always challenges with anything. The challenges with LED video simply come from different angles. In the past, for lights, there was no such thing as “content” or video files that you need up front, because from the lighting desk you just pick a color, record the color for that song, and that’s it. For video products, there is such thing as content, which is essentially a collection of video files that you need to create the animations on the products. So for a lot of shows, there is more pre-production work involved because you need to get your content sorted out—what you’re going to display on these video products.

The nice thing about the Martin video products is that you can treat them as a video product and play content, but you can also use them as a traditional lighting product and control them via DMX as if they were a lighting fixture. So if you have some songs in the show where you don’t really have content (where it was a last minute addition, perhaps, or it wasn’t part of the original set list) and you have, say 100 products on stage mapped for video, you can decide, “For this song, I’m just going to give them solid colors and program them from the lighting desk. I don’t need video content. I just want them doing something static now.” On competing products, you always need something playing for every song, but Martin products can be used in a hybrid fashion which takes away some of the challenge of having video products for every song—especially when you have a last-minute adjustment to the set.

A comparison of LED video fixtures mapped in Martin P3 software vs the final, real-life installation

A comparison of LED video fixtures mapped in Martin P3 software vs the final, real-life installation

[SKD]: To my understanding, when you are creating a video for these lighting panels, you don’t need to design video specifically for these panels. Is the processing done in the P3 software, and how does that actually work?

[WV]: On the P3 controller, you feed it with video from some source, typically a media server. The video is typically a high resolution that offers a big canvas that covers the entire stage going from the front edge of the stage all the way up to the top of the stage. It’s like an image that has been overlaid over the entire stage. In the P3 controller, you place the various types of LED Video products onto the surface and map them as they are physically laid out on the stage. The P3 processor then makes sure each fixture gets the right part of the video image, and when you look at the stage with the human eye, it looks like one consistent entity because it’s all mapped out as it is laid out in reality. That way you get a continual flow of images over all the different video products that are hanging up and around the stage. What’s nice with the Martin P3 solution is that you can combine all these different video LED products on the same controller. It doesn’t matter if you are using five different types of products. You map them all in one map and the video with flow seamlessly without you having to worry about different product types or pixel pitches. All of that is taken care of.

I wanted to give a big thanks to Wouter for taking time to speak with us. I asked Wouter if he continued to work with lights outside of work, and he said, “Yes, even outside work I keep being busy with lights.” Wouter told me that he still designs and operates lightshows a few times a year, admitting it was “good to be on the ‘user-side’ of things once and a while.”

Do you have any tips on using LED Video in your tour lighting? Share them with us in the comments.