We are excited to share this reprisal of a great lighting Tech Talk with Wouter Verlinden, HARMAN Professional Product Manager of Creative LED & Control.
This Tech Talk discusses many of the relatively similar questions Wouter receives from lighting designers when it comes to creative LED video. The most popular being: “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. Wouter discusses 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): First off Wouter, can you give us a good description of what P3 is and what it is best used for?
(WV): Sure. Martin P3 is HARMAN’s proprietary system to map video to a wide range of Martin fixtures. These products range from creative LED fixtures such as the Martin VDO Sceptron or Martin VDO Fatron to lighting fixtures such as the Martin MAC Aura PXL or Martin VDO Atomic Bolt. Apart from sending video to these fixtures, the P3 System Controller will also patch these fixtures to DMX, Art-Net or sACN control, allowing them to be controlled by a lighting console, pixel-mapping, video-mapping or a mix of any of these – all in a very ergonomic environment with live previews and real-time feedback from the fixtures.
Using the P3 protocol, a single Gigabit Ethernet cable can transport 500,000 pixels at 60Hz, thereby massively outnumbering traditional lighting protocols. Besides video pixel-data, the P3 protocol also transports DMX control data to all fixtures. This enables a simple infrastructure not requiring separate cables for video and DMX data.
(HI): So Wouter, is it possible to both enable creativity while reducing technical complexity when it comes to creative LED software?
(WV): Great question. Traditionally 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 and creative LED fixtures; they all behave as one visual canvas with hybrid video and DMX control over every single element.
(HI): 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. It’s even possible to import a drawing or picture from the stage or building and map the fixtures directly onto it. This makes things really simple.
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): If you are only running video into the fixtures, you are done at this point. But in most cases, you also want to add DMX control, as 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 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.
(HI): How would you advise someone to get started with P3?
(WV): The easiest way to get started is actually with our FREE P3-PC System Controller software. It installs on any Windows computer and offers exactly the same user interface as our rack-mount P3 System Controllers. And, it can run shows of up to 20,000 pixels in fixtures used, which will get you significantly far along using free software.
Once you transition to working on bigger shows or installations, you can transition into the bigger, rack-mount P3 System Controllers.
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.