Review: ETC Element Lighting Console

ETC Element Markting Shot

At USITT this year, Electronic Theatre Controls announced the birth of their latest addition to the EOS line of lighting consoles, the Element. Since that announcement, we have been reporting updates on the progress and anticipated ship dates. To further update the progress of the Element, ETC has already begun to take orders through their dealer network for the console.  While they are taking order, the Element is expected to being shipping sometime this summer.  While we wait for ETC to begin shipping the Element, the kind folks from Middleton were nice enough to send us a prototype with Beta software Version 1.5 of the Element.

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We begin our review of the ETC Element lighting console by looking at why it was developed and expectations of the console.  The Element came about as a replacement for the much loved Express line of consoles as well as an entry level console that has power behind it. With a smaller foot print of it predecessor, as you can see if the flash video below, the Element takes up less desk space then the Express 24/48, the smallest of the Express line of consoles.

The Element is geared towards filling the market place where channel controls and some moving light abilities are required. With a channel count over either 250 or 500, there is enough control to handle a rack or two of dimmers and some multi-parameter devices such as Moving lights and LED fixtures.  While one channel does equal one device on the Element, weather that device be a single parameter device such as a dimmer or a 32 parameter Source four Revolution, there are enough channels available to handle smaller riggs.  While you have the choice of either 250 or 500 control channels on the Element, you are limited to only 1024 DMX address.  But in similar fashion to the Element big brothers, the Ion and Eos, you are able to spread those 1024 DMX address over 32 universes of DMX through networking.  But for most installations, the two 5-pin DMX ports supplied on the back of the Element will be sufficient.

There are two hardware version of the Element console, the Element 40 and the Element 60.  The console we reviewed was an Element40 which give 40 sliders that can change between channels 1-40, 41-80, 81-120 and submasters.  The Element60 has the same foot print size of the Element40 but has 20 more sliders that are dedicated to submasters.  This gives you the ability to run 40 channels on sliders while still having 20 sliders that operate as subs.  A very nice feature.

While we appreciate the ability of changing the sliders from channels to submasters, we have to ask, why a knob with the writing to tell us which “mode” we are in printed on the console in a small font which black paint? While operating the console, you have two types of motion, one being pushing a button and the other sliding a fader up and down.  When you add in a knob, it is another type of motion different to what we are use to.  Then to top it off the writing on the console for the knob can be hard to read when in a dark booth.  Why not another set of push buttons to select which mode the faders are in with a little green LED on the button to indicate that we are in Channel mode 1-40?  This is not a huge problem, until we have an LD on the headset yelling at us to change something in a hurry and we can’t tell which channel mode we are in.

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Looking at the back of the console, it look very familiar, like a computer, oh wait… it is a computer!  It just happens to have a VERY custom keyboard on the front!  So on the back, ETC has changed the video card for the Element from first generation models of the Ion where the Ion had a dual DVI video out and required a Y cable to two single DVI connectors.  On the Element and future models of the Ion, ETC now installs two single DVI connections, a huge plus we believe as that is one less connection that could cause issues down the road.  In addition to the two single DVI connectors, there is a VGA port.  But the Element, just like the Ion only supports two monitors at one time, whether that be two DVI, or one DVI and one VGA monitor. A third and forth monitor can be installed through networking, but we’ll get in to that in a minute.

When ETC changed the design of the connections on the back of the console, the PS/2 ports for the mouse and keyboard were also lost.  Since those two ports were lost, ETC bumped up the number of USB ports in the back from 4 USB to 6 USB to make sure there was enough room to add almost anything USB, such as USB track ball mouse, USB hard drives. ETC also designed the element to have a USB port on the front of the console, just like it’s two older brothers, the Eos and Ion.  This makes it easy to insert a USB jump drive to save and load show files rather then trying to find a free USB port on the back of the console in a nice dark booth.

How it operates and differs

So How does the Element function in relationship to the other consoles in it’s family, (the Eos and Ion)?  The Element uses the exact same operating system and programming syntax of the Eos and Ion.  Like the Ion, the Element is a “watered down” version of the Ion and Eos.  While it functions just the same, features have been left out or reduced in size.  For example, the Eos and Ion have encoders for all parameters other then intensity, the Element does not.  This is where the Element differs from the other two. The Element has all the same abilities to control and operate a multi parameter device, it just does so through “soft” encoders on the screen. This is one huge difference between the consoles and this could mean that the Elements software will take a detour from the core OS and start it own subset while still retaining all of the core functions and programming syntax of the Eos and Ion.

If you are familiar with the Eos and Ion, programming and basic functioning of the console are the exact same. It is after all, the same core OS.  But what about those unfamiliar with the Eos/Ion/Element, if you can speak plan English, then programming the Element with come naturally.  For example, to bring channel 1 to a level of 50%, [1] [at] [5] [0] [enter].  Even plan and easy almost exactly like the express with one difference, the enter button.  Since the Eos/Ion/Element are command line based console, we have to confirm or execute the commands that we build.

We’ll take another look at how easy it is to record cue 1. The key commands would be [record] [cue] [1] [enter]. We can of course build more complicated or involved commands, but the thing to remember is that if we miss type something in the middle of the command, we have to clear our command line up to that point and re-build it and then execute. Not a huge problem, this is just something to keep in mind and watch while we are programming on the board.  Of course, if there is an error, the console will tell us in a audio indication as well as red text in our command line.

ETC_Element-iSquint-128.pngSomething that we loved about the Express line of consoles, we how helpful the console was to the in-experience light board operator. No matter what screen you were in on the Express, the console would help you along by giving you advise right there on the screen in big red text. “The select a channel, press the numbers then [at] key and then a level”, or “This is how you patch…”.  This was a huge advantage when training a console operator for the first time.  Once on their own, if they forgot how to do something, the console had your back.  This holds true for the Element.  ETC has brought back the helpful on screen advice right above the command line as pictured to the left.

In addition to the on screen advice, the Element carries over the help button also found on the Eos and Ion.  While working on the console, you find you forgot what a certain button does or how it programs, no problem.  Hold down the help button and press the button in question.  The Element will give a brief description of what the button does and some sample command lines of how to use it.  While it may not the full manual like for on ETC’s other line of console, the Congo, the help button does help from having to pull out the over 400 page manual that ships with the console.

Networking

Just like the other consoles that ETC makes, the Element speaks ETC Net2 and ETC Net3/Streaming ACN nativity.  The element is also able to speak Art net over network interface.  Since the Element can speak all over these protocols right out of the box, the console can use any ETC DMX node weather it be a Net2 or Net3 device to distribute DMX over a network. This makes the console very versatile and giving the end user a large choice of which protocol to send DMX out over a lighting network.

One thing that ETC did change in the Element from the Eos/Ion consoles is the ability to network the Element with any other Element or Eos/Ion consoles to work as a back up or client on a network. ETC also changed the way you client into the Element from a PC computer running the client software.  in the Eos/Ion consoles, you would download the offline/client software on to a PC computer and then purchase the client dongle from ETC in order for the PC client to interface with the Eos/Ion.  On the Element, ETC did away with the client dongle and is planning on making the client software a free download.  But there are some limitations on the PC client for the Element.  Just like the Express with an RVI attached, the Element with mirror what is on screen at the console.  Users will not be able to log in as a different user on the PC client in order to have a unique screen layout like the Eos/Ion consoles. We found that this can be a little limiting, but again, this console is meant for smaller venues where higher degree of network interfacing may not be required.  We do like the fact that ETC went away from an external USB dongle key in order to allow the PC client to connect to the server/Element.  It means just one less piece of the puzzle to lose/remember when setting up a tech table in the house.

Conclusion

The Element consoles is a welcome addition to the Eos/Ion line up of consoles from ETC.  The Element has been what the industry has been looking for since the Express was taken off the market.  The Element has been designed to help fill the gap that was missed and is more then capable of fulfilling the needs of smaller venues that need channels sliders and some moving light controls.  Since the Element operate and programs similar to it’s big brothers the Eos and Ion, programmers and operates of the Element will have no trouble picking up on the larger consoles when going to into a larger facility that uses the Eos or Ion consoles.  At a starting retail price of $5,450.00, the Element is a great choice for high schools, community theatres, houses of worship and smaller venues.

To learn more about some of the features that the Element offers, visit ETC’s website at www.etcconnect.com/element. To order and purchase an Element console, visit the dealer locater on ETC’s website, www.etcconnect.com.

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