Welcome to another entry in our “Tech Talks” series, where we sit down with industry experts and discuss common technology problems and how to solve them. In our previous Tech Talk, I spoke with Wouter Verlinden, Product Manager, LED Video at HARMAN Professional Solutions, about designing for creative LED video on tour.
In that interview, we discussed various considerations around Creative LED Video, which is the term Martin Lighting uses to describe lighting products where you can assign every LED diode individually (rather than as a single group). In this context, each LED becomes a single pixel in a large video that is stretched across all of the video fixtures on the stage. Wouter explained how designers use the Martin P3 software to layout the various LED Video fixtures on the stage and then distribute video across all of the panels. Read the article to find out more about designing using these innovative fixtures.
Of course, once you design these systems, you must then install them, which is why I’m following up that interview with this piece, in which Wouter and I discuss some of the installation and wiring considerations for Creative LED Video solutions.
[SKD]: So, we’ve discussed how you design these LED video systems and get them prepped, but from an installation perspective, how am I plugging all of this in and getting it connected? Can you give me some details about what the physical installation looks like?
[WV]: As I said before, these panels are driven by video content. So, when looking at how the system works, you start with your video source, which connects to the P3 controller. The video source is typically a media server, and the video input for that tends to be DVI. However, the video could also be live video from a video mixer, and that is predominantly SDI. Of course, it doesn’t really matter what video format it comes in, because the Martin P3 controller takes all standard video interfaces on the market. The P3 controller sits in the center of the system. It gets the video, maps it to the LED video products, and then sends the mapped pixels out over the Martin propriety P3 protocol.
[SKD] The Martin P3 protocol is Ethernet, correct? So, does that mean you connect the Martin LED Video fixtures using standard network cabling and devices?
[WV]: Yes, the P3 protocol is a gigabit Ethernet protocol (not an IP protocol, but a raw Ethernet protocol designed for minimum latency). All the products are sitting on a gigabit network talking back to the controller. It is very simple and uses standard Cat5e cabling. And, since it is Ethernet-based, you can expand it with standard fiber converters if you need to go over the 100m/300’ limit of category cabling. Of course, one advantage of using the P3 protocol is that because it is a gigabit Ethernet protocol, it can be split and expanded using standard Gigabit network equipment. You don’t need proprietary splitters, etc.
[SKD]: You mentioned in our earlier discussion that the Martin Creative LED equipment can be used as traditional lighting products as well video products. How does that work, from a cabling and system design perspective?
[WV]: Like we said before, the P3 controller gets video from a media server or other video input. However, in parallel to that, it can also be connected via DMX or Art-Net to a lighting desk. With this setup, the fixtures can be treated either as video products listening to the video feed from the P3 controller or as lighting products listening to the DMX or Art-Net feed also coming from the P3 controller. In the P3 controller, there is a smart box that allows all the fixtures to be treated as a video product or a lighting product.
[SKD]: With LED Video products, I imagine there are a lot more individual fixtures than there might be with traditional designs that focus solely on washes, beams and other sorts of moving heads. Is the management of that many fixtures, especially device addressing, etc., an issue?
[WV]: Creative LED Video fixtures such as strips, dots and tiles are indeed usually used in larger quantities. With traditional protocols such as DMX and Art-Net, this leads to a complicated system infrastructure with often hundreds of DMX universes generated and distributed. On top of that, they do require every fixture to be addressed manually, a massive time-consuming task. With our P3 system, we have taken a different approach, as a single P3 network cable can carry 500,000 pixels at 60Hz. That’s the equivalent of 2941 universes of DMX, but then at a true video frame-rate and fully synchronized. On top of that, the P3 system doesn’t require manual addressing of each fixture. Various wizards and tools allow you to “address” each fixture without any manual typing of addresses.
[SKD]: What about power? How do you handle power in a Creative LED lighting system design where there are so many small products like strips and dots?
[WV]: The larger fixtures have power supplies built in, but a lot of the smaller video products in the Martin lines, like the Sceptrons, don’t have a power supply inside. So, for those, you need an external power supply. What we’ve done there is we have created one universal power and data box for all fixtures that don’t have a power supply inside. It’s called the Martin P3 PowerPort. It sits on the unified P3 network, and on the output side it has scroller cables toward the fixtures, so there on it is a single cable with power and data for the fixture.
[SKD]: You mentioned in our previous interview that people mount these LED video products in a variety of different ways as part of the stage design. What are some of the creative ways you’ve seen people use LED lighting fixtures on stage, and are there any mounting challenges people face when trying to install them?
[WV]: Yeah, Creative LED Video fixtures really give Lighting Designers a lot of freedom to build something unique. Products can be mixed and matched endlessly. They have been built into all sorts of different stage fixtures, arranged in different, unique video wall shapes… really the imagination of the LD is usually they only limitation on how creative it gets. But yes, mounting of hundreds of fixtures can be a time-consuming task, certainly with LED Video fixtures that need to be aligned perfectly to prevent joints and gaps to become visible. For the Martin products such as the VDO Sceptron, we try to offer a complete solution including joining brackets, couplers and various mounts. This greatly reduces the need for fabrication of custom parts by the customer (even though some extreme cases do require custom parts to be built).
A big thanks again to Wouter for talking with us about this awesome new trend in tour lighting! Do any of you lighting designers out there using LED Video in your lighting designs? Share your experiences in the comments.