Review: Strand Neo Lighting Control Console
It comes with one DMX universe, but fixtures from the Philips group of lighting companies do not count against your channel count. This is brilliant marketing.
Oh my, how I do enjoy playing with new lighting consoles. It’s fascinating to see how different manufacturers design approaches (they call it syntax) to the often laborious task of lighting design. Many consoles are capable of creating the same end results, but how you achieve those results couldn't be more different.At the LDI show in 2014 I was introduced to the Neo console from Strand Lighting. This isn’t your parent’s Strand console—Strand has partnered with New Zealand-based LightFactory, taking its sophisticated lighting control software system, and integrating it into a hardware-based lighting console solution. OverviewThe Neo console brings a rich set of hardware controls to lighting system programming and playback. Most functions have a physical button that’s easily accessible, enabling quick access to functions, and also serving as a reminder of how to get at features for those who aren’t immersed in lighting design on a day-in and day-out basis.Neo can support up to 100 universes of DMX. The least expensive option (MSRP $8,500) comes with one DMX universe of channels enabled, and you can configure the system with as many universes as you need with each additional universe costing $580. However, Strand, a subsidiary of Philips Entertainment Lighting, has done a cool thing called Philips Advantage DMX. Fixtures from within the Philips group of lighting companies, Selecon, Vari-Lite, Showline, as well as Color Kinetics, do not count against your channel count as long as you are using KiNet. So, if want to equip your rig with 50 Vari-Lite intelligent fixtures, 100 Color Kinetic LED fixtures, a couple of dozen Selecon LED profile fixtures, and 50 dimmers for conventional fixtures, you will only need a one-universe license. This is a brilliant marketing move that provides a significant financial benefit to those using Philips fixtures with Neo.The console has four DMX output jacks for direct DMX connections, and supports numerous Ethernet-based protocols such as Pathport, ShowNet, Art-Net, KiNet, and streaming ACN. The console does not come with monitors, but supports three external monitors as well as multi-touch touchscreen monitors. Monitors are essential when working with Neo; I suggest at least two. The evaluation system came with two Planar Helium series PCT2265 22-inch touchscreen monitors, which worked very well.On the left side of the control surface you will find 10 submaster faders with bump buttons, five cue list playbacks, and a master cuelist playback. All faders are on the system are motorized, so when you change pages on the submasters or playback faders, the faders jump to the correct position for that page. This is so much nicer than consoles with non-motorized faders, where you would have to move the fader to zero (or some such thing) before a new page takes effect for that fader. Even the master fade time fader is motorized—if you type the command Time 5, that fader moves itself to the five-second position.The main section for the console consists of button panels—lots and lots of buttons. Suffice to say, most consoles’ features have a hardware button associated with them.Ten programmable shortcut buttons can be programmed to do just about any function you want. Want one button that will select all your backlights? You can program a shortcut for that. Most Neo functionality has an equivalent command line text for it, so you just enter the command line text into the shortcut button. For example, creating a shortcut “Red @ 100” will cause the Red color of the selected fixtures to be set to 100%. There are 100,000 user-assignable shortcuts available, accessible through 100 pages. Shortcuts have soft buttons in an on-screen window; the 10 shortcut buttons on the console access the first 10 shortcuts; adding the shift key to a shortcut button press accesses shortcuts 11 through 20. On the right side of the console you’ll find a level wheel dedicated to adjusting a fixture’s intensity and four attribute encoders. The attribute encoders have a couple nice features. First, holding shift while turning the wheel adjusts the value to the next DMX value (as opposed to the next unit value, like 25 to 26 degrees for a Tilt value). This gives you a fine adjustment mode, especially for 16-bit attributes. And if you press and hold the encoder wheel for 1/5 of a second, you can then type a specific value for that attribute via the keyboard. What attributes the wheels affect changes based on which option button you pick: Intensity, Position, Color, Beam and Edge. If there are more than four attributes in one of these families, pressing that button again moves to the next group of four attributes in that family. A color LCD display next to each encoder wheel indicates what the wheel will adjust and its current setting in a very clear and concise way.Also on the right side is a trackball with three mouse buttons. You can also connect a USB mouse-type device if one desires. In a pull-out tray at the front of the console is a keyboard for entering text.Patching the Neo is pretty simple. Press the Patch button to enter patching; select the fixture profile you want to patch, the quantity you want patched, and then use the trackball to drag the starting DMX address to the fixture number you want to patch the first fixture to. Repeat until your rig is patched.Working with fixtures is also rather intuitive. To select fixtures, use the central set of keypad buttons to build up a fixture selection command line. “1 Thru 12 Enter” select fixtures 1 through 12. “- 6 Enter” removes fixture 6 from the selection. “1 + 4 + 9 Enter” selects fixtures 1, 4 and 9.
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