In this day and age, we as lighting operators have the choice of operating consoles. But the humble PC can also be your lighting desk. There is an array of lighting software that with the addition of a USB dongle will turn your laptop into a fully fledged lighting desk. Now is this better than a purpose built lighting desk?
The beauty of a purpose built lighting desk is that it is designed for one purpose only and that is to control your lighting system, it does not have to function as a word processor, web browser and porn receptacle. The beauty is that you will not get a virus or be distracted from the task at hand with the latest Facebook update. But what happens when you lighting desk crashes or fails in any way? Well if you have saved the show to disk or thumb drive you might be ok if you can get the exact same lighting desk to load it up on. If you can not get the same desk, you need to hope you have a print out of all of the cues and you are going to spend a reasonable amount of time inputting into another desk. This is were a PC based lighting desk might be superior, if the PC crashes you can hopefully plug the dongle into another PC, load the software and then the cue file and away you go. That is assuming you have a copy of the program and cue file on a back up disk or thumb drive.
Now there are lighting consoles that also have software for the PC as well. Therefore they can become interchangeable. You just to have a console and also a PC dongle as well. The advantage is that you could plot your show away from the venue at your local coffee shop and then transfer the files when you arrive at the venue. Another advantage is if you desk crashes you just whip out the laptop and away you go.
So in the end there is no real winner. The all have advantages and disadvantages. My advice if you were buying a lighting console is to see if you can get a dongle and the software as well, then you are pretty much covered. Also make sure that you can also back up the show files.