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Fast & Furious

A moving light technology update delves into light sources, infrastructure and power.

By Dan Daley   •  December 1, 2017 9:41 pm EST

Tags: education, led, lighting, lighting design, moving lights, worship space,

Moving-head light fixtures are the gymnasts of the lighting world, and like dance clubs, theaters and music tours, houses of worship are not immune to their allure. They add a level of engagement to services and performances with a sublimity that makes video seem almost too literal.

As moving fixtures have become a regular part of the lighting canon for many churches, architects, designers and consultants who work with this sector need to take them into account as the lay out their designs.

Light Sources

As the lighting industry in general has shifted to digital-based illumination, it has moved the emphasis from individual fixtures with highly specific purposes to choices based on illumination types. The latest design of moving-head light fixtures—just “movers” in AVL parlance—utilize either highly efficient high-intensity discharge lamps (HID—these produce light via an electric arc between tungsten electrodes housed inside a translucent or transparent arc tube) or the now-more familiar and increasingly dominant LED lamp sources. Norman Wright, vice president of lighting at Group One Ltd., which owns ElektraLite and distributes the ElektraLite and DTS brands, points out that both of these sources have improved in output, reliability and life expectancy substantially in recent years. For example, he cites the ElektraLite ML902 profile, which uses a 120-watt LED lamp source. “The source has many thousands of hours of life, it retains its color far longer, and the heat produced is far less than other fixtures,” he explains. “The Elektralite Pancake, an LED moving-wash fixture, has more output than an equivalent 700-watt discharge lamp. Further, the colors produced using the additive color system are far more vibrant than CMY [cyan/magenta/yellow—a subset of the standard RGB color wheel] systems.”

However, Wright adds, discharge lamp manufacturers have not remained idle. Manufacturers such as DTS are using a new generation of highly efficient discharge lamps. DTS's fixture, the Core, produces 1,530,000 LUX at five meters. However, he says, it's not just all about power and lamp life. The features inside moving lights have extended, giving designers even more flexibility and allowing them to use the fixture more as a utilitarian tool and less as what LDs call a “flash and trash” effect. The Core, for instance, is a true hybrid fixture—it can be both a beam and a spot light; it has a full linear zoom, allowing focus to be kept throughout the whole range; it also has a full color palette and a plethora of image patterns for projection.”

Infrastructure & Power

Two of the factors for integrating moving-head lighting technology into HOWs are infrastructure and power. Many existing buildings do not exhibit extensive load-bearing capacities. And for new construction, adding that capability comes at a cost. Fortunately, the evolution of the category is providing a solution: moving-head fixtures are becoming more compact and lighter even as they add more features that let fewer of them pack more punch. Products like Clay-Paky’s Sharpy, which weighs barely 35 pounds, or the Elation Emotion EMO101, which tips the scales at 44 pounds, offer a lot of brightness and functionality while putting less stress on trusses.

Matt Stoner, automated lighting product manager for manufacturers ETC and High End Systems, says the decreasing weight of moving-head lights makes truss positioning less of an issue than in past years. And many of those same lights can also be attached to other architectural and structural elements inside a church. “They’re easier to hide, inside coves, for instance, for churches that don’t want the technology to be obvious for aesthetic reasons,” he says. “On the other hand, they’re light enough now to be able to attach them to balconies and other structural elements. The key thing for an architect or designer to know is what the throw distance of the light needs to be for each moving-head application. That will determine the size of the fixture and thus, its weight.”

The continued ascendance of LED technology in lighting will only make interacting with and providing for moving-head lights in HOW designs easier. As Stoner points out, their lower power requirements and reduced heat issues mean they can be positioned in more places now, enhancing creative options for lighting and interior designers. And their reduced maintenance requirements mean they can be placed higher up, now that maintenance crews don’t have to scramble up to change illumination sources every 750 hours or so, as they do with more conventional lighting sources. However, he points out, putting them closer to an audience might bring some concerns. “You will have some motor and fan noise associated with moving lights, and that can be heard by the audience if it’s close enough,” he says. And there’s the potential for a pinched finger or worse if an audience member gets a bit too close. “At least they won’t get burned anymore,” he adds.

New Trends

New illumination engines have created new applications that allow designers, architects and consultants to use moving lights in places not considered before, including lobby and vestibule areas, which have become more integral to church events as overflow and additional seating areas for services and performances. DTS’s Wright says moving fixtures can enhance the role lighting plays in house-of-worship design. “At the very least, they can arouse the curiosity of the observer; at the most, they can inspire the observer,” he says. “They can add beauty to the design and can even be provocative, making a statement [with] the design.”

Richard Cadena, a noted lighting designer and educator, says moving lights have come a long way in a short time. Even as they’re been swept up in the LED revolution that has transformed lighting, their mechanics and control aspects have also greatly evolved. The latest trend, he says, is that they are also growing in channel count, some to the point where they will use half of one DMX “universe”—the DMX512 Digital Multiplex standard commonly used to control lighting and effects—or more. “That means that it’s getting challenging to use a purely DMX data distribution network, because a medium-sized to larger system can use dozens of universes of DMX, meaning there are cables strewn everywhere,” he explains. “The latest trend is that many new automated lights have an Ethernet connector and accept Ethernet-based protocols directly, which allows the distribution of literally thousands of virtual universes of DMX using a single Ethernet cable.”

That has implications for church design at the architectural and aesthetic levels because, like the other legs of the AVL triad, lighting is in the process of moving onto networks. Lighting directors at churches now need to have some knowledge of IT, and that will affect the design of churches. For instance, cabling and switches need to be provided for in layouts.

Control is also an area to watch for developments in. “There is a new version of Art-Net called Art-Net 4, which means that we should all be on the lookout for changes in protocols and new challenges in compatibility and configuration,” says Cadena. “Some lighting professionals are shifting to Art-Net and/or Streaming ACN (sACN), because they believe it’s more reliable and it’s easier to set up and use than other Ethernet-based protocols. sACN is designed to be plug-and-play while other Ethernet-based protocols require more configuration. Regardless, the distinct trend is more towards Ethernet networking, which has many advantages, but also brings its own set of challenges in setting up, testing, maintaining, and troubleshooting.”

Looking Ahead

The future for moving-fixture lighting looks, well … bright. As in 300 watts bright. Wright points out that LED output is now at a plateau around the 300-watt level, and LED fixture manufacturers like ElektraLite are launching their new generation of fixtures using the 300-watt LED. However, at those wattage levels, heat once again becomes an issue for lighting. Churches can always stay at lower wattage levels—LED has increased brightness levels overall. However, experience with audio and video systems decisions suggests that many larger churches will pursue the same bigger-is-better philosophy that has affected sound system and video/projection decisions. That’s an area where consultants and integrators can help church systems directors make better choices.

[Editor's note: This piece was originally posted Sept. 2017.]

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