What is it?
There seems to be a whole range of lighting software on the market that you can use to control your lighting system with by just connecting a DMX dongle between your PC and a bunch of dimmers or movers. Some of this software is free and you just purchase a dongle from the relevant Software Company. Now a lot of the software is wonderful and you can control a multitude of moving lights from a whole host of manufacturers. Supposing you only want to drive dimmer racks and the occasional DMX intelligent light. Most of the software out there is really geared to the moving light market but there is one piece of software that I have been using over the last 2 years that should fit the bill for those that want to control dimmers as their primary focus. The software in question is called PCStage . This is a PC lighting software solution that works with its own USB to DMX device, the software is designed to work only with its own device. The software is available online for free. So once you have downloaded you can give it a try it out, and if you like it you can then purchase a PCStage USB to DMX Device that outputs a single universe of DMX.
Now some of you may have heard of this software, as it has been around for a while. There is also a large group of people that are active in supporting the software and writing a variety of plug-ins to make the software even more versatile. This software does not require much in the way of resources from your pc. It runs on most windows platforms. It has a very simple install and auto detects the device. If you are using a 64-bit system you will need to download additional drivers for the dmx device to be recognised. Now once you have installed the software you will notice that it is rather old fashioned looking and The software is in fact quite versatile and the more you explore it the more you realise how powerful it is. One of the neat features of this lighting program is that you can also get it to play all of your shows audio files. In fact you can play up to four sound files simultaneously. Great for those shows with only one operator.
So how does it perform?
Well once you have got your head around how it operates it actually works quite well. The major huddle that might crop up if you are coming from MAXIM style lighting is desk is that when you have set up the lighting state that you want it stores the information as a cue and a preset. The preset is essentially a snapshot of the desk output and the cue recalls that and adds things like timing, audio triggering and any other function you may want to control. Now the benefit of this becomes more apparent the more you use it. With some shows you are likely to re-use a lighting state, well with this software that is really a very easy thing to do. All you need to do is tell it. When making a cue you even have the ability to make complex split cues. You can also record chases, have sub-masters do your normal soft-patch functions. It has all of the features of a normal lighting desk.
As with any software it takes time to get familiar with how it works, but the more you use it and experiment with the more you can achieve. This software is ideal for those productions that only have one operator, as they can at least control audio and lighting with the press of the space bar. Ideal for touring type shows.There is support available from the manufacturer and there is an active community of users willing to help.
There is also a range of plugins that are available that extend the capability of the software. Plug-ins that can control CD-audio, ASIO sound cards, multi-track playback, and executable commands for PowerPoint shows. So with a little bit of work this software package is very suited to small venues, schools, touring shows and the like. In fact you are more and more likely to see this system being used in professional situations, Bob Weatherly, Production Manager, for Patch theatre (internationally recognised children’s theatre company) uses this system for all of their shows, whether touring Australia or the rest of the world. They are not the only ones using this software professionally.
Would I recommend it?
Yes I would. It is very reliable and does not a very powerful pc to run the software. It takes some time to get familiar but it works well. Great for schools(every student can have a copy to learn on), community theatre groups, and even professional companies. The average lighting techie should be able to get a show up and running in no time, and the beauty of this software is that you can play with it without having the DMX box.
PLEASE NOTE: This software and the USB to DMX device are now no longer available