Our ÉPIX series of pixel mappable fixtures had a significant impact on lighting design, primarily at club and event applications, when it was introduced early in 2014. Now we’ve created a new generation of ÉPIX fixtures that bring the same exciting new design possibilities to the touring world. We sat down with CHAUVET Professional Senior Product Manager Ford Sellers to gain some insights into the new ÉPIX Tour series, which includes the ÉPIX Strip Tour, ÉPIX Bar Tour and ÉPIX Drive 900.
Before we talk about the new ÉPIX Tour series, can you give us some background into ÉPIX itself? What is the underlying concept behind its creation?
“Several years ago, we noticed that the trend of pixel-mapping, and the fusion of lighting and video really started to become more than just pipedreams. Starting from the idea that we wanted to create a hybrid lighting video series, we looked into some of the challenges. We recognized that LEDs are the perfect light source for this, as they are small, bright, and come in the same color configuration as most media (based on the RGB colorspace). Once we identified that discrete Tri-Color LEDs would be a great light source, we were ready to start thinking about the other challenges. For instance, even if we designed a great fixture, how were our users going to be able to use it? We needed to identify the best features to make this product user-friendly.
“One of the biggest challenges that we identified was control. If we wanted to have enough pixels to display an image, it took a huge number of DMX channels for control. When you think about it, a full universe of DMX can only control 170 RGB pixels. That is not much resolution. Further, we noticed that when it came to controlling the fixtures, the high number of DMX channels required for sending this data would require a very expensive, top-end lighting console.
“This doesn’t fit with our ideas that anyone should be able to afford to integrate this into their lighting rig. So, we went looking for an affordable control solution. However, there were not many options out there for mapping video to lighting, and the options that we did find were pretty expensive and did not fit with our goal to provide value to our customers. For us the solution came in ArtNet, and Kling-Net.”
Why did CHAUVET Professional expand ÉPIX by coming out with the Tour series?
“Our goal with the original ÉPIX series was to make it as accessible as possible. We wanted to make it easy to use, and affordable, while offering designers a lot of opportunity for creative expression. We focused heavily on the software, and on the rigging hardware. The Ethernet connector was used on the fixtures and the ÉPIX Drive 640, because the cable is readily available, and inexpensive. However, this introduced some limitations in power which restricted the distance that the units could be placed from the ÉPIX Drive 640, and ultimately we discovered that the connector was the weakest link in terms of robustness of design for touring.
“So to make the fixtures better for the rental and touring markets, we needed to upgrade both the Drive unit, and the means of cabling to something that is more tour-friendly. Finally, we discovered that on a large stage, the fixtures just didn’t have the punch to compete with video walls and beam fixtures, which have become a staple of the concert touring industry. So in order to make our system more tour-friendly, we needed to improve the brightness and resolution.”
So how did you address these issues with the Tour series?
“The first difference that you’ll notice is that the Drive unit has had a major overhaul. The ÉPIX Drive 900 has been redesigned from the ground up to be as flexible as possible, so that regardless of your system setup, it will be both designer- and technician-friendly. As the name implies, the ÉPIX Drive 900 can now power any combination of ÉPIX tour products with a total LED count of up to 900. It has been redesigned to be rack mountable (so that it can tour in a rack, or be permanently installed more easily), and also now has a rigging point built in, so that a clamp can be attached directly to the ÉPIX Drive 900. The Drive 900 accepts ArtNet, Kling-Net and sACN for control.
“A significant change in the Tour series is that both the Drive 900, the PSU and fixtures now use a 4-pin XLR for power and data. This allows production rental houses who previously invested in scrollers to have a use for their (previously obsolete) cables. Also, since both the electrical contacts, and the cable size are larger, more power can be run down the line. This means that the fixtures can be placed at a much greater distance from the power supply. Now, you can place your first fixture 65’ from the PSU, and the total distance between your ÉPIX Drive 900 and the last unit in-line is now over 200’ (up to 300’, if you’re using unshielded cable). This means that in a touring rig, you can simplify setup by having your ÉPIX Drives at Dimmer Beach, and your fixtures up in the rig. In an installation, this makes it easier to locate all of your drivers in one location, so that service and maintenance are much easier.”
What about with the Tour series fixtures themselves? What changes have been made?
“The fixtures have had major changes to make them more flexible for designers, and also faster and easier to install. In addition to the advantages of the 4-pin XLR, they have been upgraded to identify themselves to the driver, so that when you are using Kling-Net, individual fixture patching is much easier. This takes a lot of the hassle out of setup and patching.
“The ÉPIX Strip Tour and ÉPIX Bar Tour use the same great linking hardware as the ÉPIX 2.0 series, which makes setup fast and easy. Plus the fixtures themselves are physically very similar to the previous versions. However some subtle, but significant, changes have been made to them. We made the pixel pitch tighter, so that the fixtures have both higher resolution, and can really compete with the stage lighting and video on the big stage.
“Our new ÉPIX Strip Tour accepts an optional Dome accessory, which increases the viewing angle, and makes the unit look more like a tube than a strip. The new Tour versions of the Strip and Bar both come with a frosted white diffuser, which really helps punch up the brightness, and a smoky dark ‘stealth’ diffuser, which helps the units disappear when not in use. This gives designers the ability to make powerful, punchy displays, or much more subtle, elegant designs, so that they can match the moods of any touring show.”
Now that you have the Tour series, why should people buy the original ÉPIX products?
“The ÉPIX 2.0 series has been great, especially in installation environments. They were among the most specified units from CHAUVET Professional this past year. They are used extensively in architectural installations like nightclubs and churches. The Ethernet connections are fast, and easy for installation electricians, and the cable itself is available everywhere, and inexpensive. These products still make a lot of sense for customers who are using them in restaurant, club and house of worship environments.”
Are the Tour series and original ÉPIX series fixtures compatible? Can they be used in the same array together?
“Technically, you can hang almost any fixtures next to each other. However, these two series use different drivers, and do not plug together. They have different pixel pitches, they use different technology for the drivers, and have different options for diffusing covers. I would probably not recommend using these units in the same rig.”
From a design standpoint, it seems like the ÉPIX products open more creative possibilities because of their strip and bar shape; can you comment on that?
“We put a lot of thought into these fixtures. Our intention has been to offer as much flexibility to designers as is possible. We have seen incredibly innovative and creative designs in environments as varied as the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas, Lakewood Church in Houston Texas, and the Vanity Osaka nightclub in Osaka, Japan. The Strip and Bar allow for beautiful linear progression of video content along clean lines, and accent architecture very well. But as we know, the line is the starting point in drawing or painting a masterpiece. It is the base building block of artistic expression. Designers have found these two shapes (the narrow Strip, and the wider, more powerful Bar) to be especially useful in their creative expression. I would not expect, however, for these to be the only options for designers in the future. As you know, at Chauvet, we are constantly pushing ourselves to offer new and innovative additions to our product lines. Now that the ÉPIX Tour series is established, and designers are really embracing it, we are actively listening to their feedback and looking forward to offering new, innovative additions to the ÉPIX Tour product line in the coming year.”