Review: Luminair for iPad

When rumors of the Apple iPad started to become serious and it came to realization, everyone went crazy with excitement. One company in our industry, Synthe FX, also became excited about the idea of the iPad and started making big plans. Synthe FX is the developer of the “lighting desk in your pocket,” or Luminair, the iPhone app. Synthe FX expanded on the original design of the iPhone app and developed a version of the popular iPhone app that runs natively on the iPad, Luminair for iPad. With the iPads larger display, about the size of four iPhones or 1024 x 768 pixel viewable area, Synth FX added several new and exciting features to the iPad version.  Seventy-five percent of Luminair for iPad was completely rewritten from scratch for the larger display and to give live events and performance greater control.

Capabilities

Since Luminair for iPad runs on the iPad, a pretty portable device, you can take your console with you as you move throughout the location. The design of Luminair for iPad allows you to run your entire show wirelessly and operate as a remote focus unit, or almost anything other use for a DMX console. Setting up and using Luminair for iPad to control a lighting rig is fairly simple. With a little bit of knowledge of wireless networking and how Art-Net functions, getting up and running can be a snap.

After you have purchased your iPad and your very own copy of Luminair for iPad, you still need a bit of third party hardware in order for the app to talk to you rig. First thing you will need is a wireless access point or router to connect the iPad with your console to send DMX signal out of Luminair for iPad. From there we need a way to translate the Art-Net, which is the protocol for sending DMX over UDP/IP networking to DMX signal to the rig. There are a ton of devices out on the market that translate Art-Net to DMX. One device that is relatively inexpensive and work well in this situation is the Enttec ODE or Open DMX Ethernet device. But as I mentioned, there are quite a few DMX nodes or devices out on the market that can translate Art-Net to DMX.

My goal here is not a step by step installation and setup guide, but to give an overall view of Luminair for iPad. I, myself, used the above mentioned wireless access point and Enttec ODE for the review and found set up straightforward and simple. If you find yourself in trouble, Synthe FX makes a step by step guide on how to connect your network available on their website.

Layout

After setting up Luminair for iPad and all of the network devices and of course my rig, it was time to get playing with Luminair. If you are familiar with the iPhone version of Luminair, then Luminair for iPad will come to you easily (only on a bigger display).

With the multi-touch ability that the iPad offers, Synthe FX took total advantage of this interface control to offer the user what seems awkward at first only because we are used to single point interface with computers. The multi-touch control and input type becomes pretty easy to understand and use if you have ever had to run multiple sliders on a desk at once. Combine Luminair for iPad’s multi-touch control and user interface with controlling and playing with fixtures and recalling cues becomes natural.

It’s important to know that Luminair for iPad handles any type of device. Synthe FX handles devices a little bit differently than a typical lighting controller. Even though there is a similarity of a slider from 0% to 100% or in true DMX signal 0 to 255, Synthe FX labels these as tracks in Luminair for iPad. Tracks consist of set of parameters: parameter by intensity, RGB mixing or XY coordinates, (pan & tilt), and a single track handles those parameters. Here is where a curve ball is thrown in. Luminair for iPad offers the ability to patch a device from a template or fixture profile in the app, similar to how we select a device profile in most modern lighting desks. Now, most modern lighting desks handle a device with either a single fixture ID or channel number.  But, Luminair for iPad functions a little differently. For a single device, the different sets of parameters are broken down into individual tracks with the associated parameter labeled at the bottom. So for a 23 parameter device like a Mac 700 Profile, you will have 8 different tracks, or “sliders” to operate that one device. This may become a little bit of a problem when you start patching 2 or more high parameter count fixtures because some horizontal sliding across tracks will be required.

Now that we have an understanding of how Luminair for iPad handles devices with tracks, the next important step in any lighting controller, is setting up our patch. Again, Luminair for iPad handles this in a unique way. After you have selected which fixture type or parameter you want the new track to control, you have to assign that track to a specific DMX address for each parameter. Rather then using the common syntax of 1 @ 1 or Address 1 at Channel 1, you get a display of the DMX address available on the single universe of DMX that you are using. Simply selecting the correct DMX address will patch that track to that address.

But there are more options and functions available within patch or channels display within Luminair for iPad. Lets take a closer look at patching a simple and generic RGB mixing device.  Say we want to patch a track starting at address 1. We have the RGB device addressed at 1 as well.  As we all know, that simple and generic RGB mixer take 3 DMX address to function, so we have to patch them within Luminair for iPad as so. Starting off with address one, after selecting it, the box turns to red and has an “r” in it representing that the Red is patched there. Then to patch Green we would simply select 2, it turns red, but we need green! Select 2 again and the box turns green with a small “g” in the box. Great, Green is patched. We do the same for Blue by selecting address 3 and select it until it turns Blue with a b in the box. Done! Our simple generic RGB mixer is ready to operate!

Let’s look even closer at the individual tracks for an RGB or CMY mixing device. The main control of the track, what I am calling the slider, is the intensity control of the fixture. With Luminair for iPad, Synthe FX added some features under the track controls and the color wheel picker. You are still able to choose any color from the color wheel, along with saving that color to what we might call a color palette or color preset for quick recall of that color across color mixing devices.

A new feature added to Luminair for iPad from the iPhone version is Groups.  I mentioned that your control screen may get filled up with tracks pretty quick. Luminair for iPad offers the ability to group like devices or any tracks that you want to control into one group. Rather than having 10 individual tracks or patching all 10 dimmers into one track that controls my front of house wash, I can keep my 10 individual tracks for separate control and make a new group that controls them all together.  This also frees up some space in the control section in the app while still offering the 10 individual tracks for control.

All of this control is great, but what about playback? Luminair for iPad wouldn’t be much of a lighting controller with out the ability to playback looks or cues that we have created within the app. Just like the iPhone version, Luminair offers the ability to record cues or looks and have them playback just like we would expect a traditional lighting desk to with fade times. Just like a typical desk, cues can be arranged into stacks for traditional playback or for chase effects, the possibilities are limited only to your imagination.

With the release of Luminair 2.0 for the iPhone earlier this year, Synthe FX worked closely with Cast Software to integrate some controls and function between Luminair and WYSIWYG.  Luminair 2.0 added the ability to see your cues in a cover flow display. With integration from WYSIWYG release 25, you can take a snap shot of your rendering and import that image into Luminair and attach that to a cue. So in cover flow view, you can horizontally swipe through your images of cues and execute them right there. Synthe FX included that function in Luminair for iPad.

Another feature that has been added to Luminair for iPad is the ability to view and capture incoming DMX from a single universe of DMX values from another control device on the network.  From the controls view, you can bring up the DMX input view and see what each address on the universe of DMX is outputting. Synthe FX took it a step further and added the ability to record the incoming DMX signal as a cue for replay right from the app. Just add another use for Luminair for iPad, a full back-up console to your rig!

What about saving shows, something that is MOST important in any programmer’s view. Since the introduction of Luminair for the iPhone and now for the iPad, Synthe FX has made it possible to open and save show files on your device within the app. Even though Apple does not offer a file system for saving and storing files like we are use to either on a Mac or PC. Luminair for iPad offers the ability to save different shows files right on the iPad. Synthe FX also included a simple web server access to Luminair so you can connect to the app via any computer with a browser to connect and transfer files back and forth. This makes backing up and saving show files quick and easy.

Wrap Up

There are some things that seems to be lacking in my eyes with Luminair for iPad, specifically when dealing in gobos and color wheels parameters of devices on a track.  Likewise, any indexing wheel track on Luminair for iPad doesn’t offer any additional options or graphics when choosing an index on a wheel. As a result, we still left have to bring the slider to a specific level so the wheel moves to the appropriate level. Not a deal breaker by any means, but maybe a future update for Luminair for iPad?

There is nothing like Luminair for iPad on the market. There are, of course, similar apps for both the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, but nothing comes close to being a fully functional lighting console on any of our favorite Apple portable products. Overall, Synthe FX put a huge amount of time and effort into developing Luminair for iPad and it really shows. Configuration and setup are a breeze. Bringing tracks to a level and recording cues are simple. Synthe FX makes an interesting point when explaining the ease and use of Luminair for iPad, building and playing back shows is as easy as creating an iTunes playlist. Not a bad explanation! Synthe FX even included a sleep override function into the app.  Rather than having the iPad “go to sleep” and lose the connection to your network, Synthe FX added a simple override function to the app settings that keeps the app and iPad active while you are programming or playing back a show.  Simple things like that make Luminair for iPad stand out and show the lighting industry that yes, there really is an app for that!

To learn more about Luminair for iPad, visit Synthe FX web site at www.synthe-fx.com.  To pick up a copy of Luminair for iPad, visit the iTunes App Store for $129.99.

Your Thoughts

What did you think of the review?  Do you have Luminair for the iPad, did I miss something?  Leave your thoughs in the comment section of this review, I would love to hear what you think.

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