Review: ORB Lighting Desk from Zero 88

Back in April 2009, Zero 88 announced the release of their flag ship lighting desk, the ORB. Ever since then, the ORB desk has been slowly making its way into the U.S. market. It was first shown state-side at LDI in Orlando, Florida last fall. That’s where I was first introduced to the ORB. Since then I’ve been waiting for the ORB to grace my door step to review.

Overview

So what’s the ORB lighting desk? The ORB is a theatrical-style playback console with a twist. Not only can the desk run just as we’d expect in the theatrical world, but also in the live event world where multiple playbacks are a requirement for busking a show. What’s interesting to note is that the ORB desk shares the same operating system as its brother, the Leap Frog console series, also from Zero 88. As a result, crossing between the two desks is simple and easy—other then the differences in the layout of the desks, of course.

Hardware Overview

Looking at the ORB desk, it seems like a monster in comparison to other types of desks with similar capabilities. Measuring in at 201mm X 1000mm, and 462mm deep, don’t let the size of the desk frighten you. The console has a wealth of control and functionality that might not be available on comparable desks. Since the desk is larger then some others, you might think that the desk emits higher decibels of sound since it requires fans to cool the electronics. But, when in operation, the console is actually rather quiet because of a large fan hidden deeper within the desk. Since the fan is larger, it doesn’t need to spin as quick as smaller fans, thus less noise.

A nice feature of the ORB desk is its memory, or hard drive. Rather then using a spinning hard drive, Zero 88 used a solid state hard drive to contain the operating system of the ORB desk. Here’s the crazy, yet amazing thing: the hard drive is only 512 megabytes in size! Since ZerOS, the operating system that the ORB desk uses, is based on Linux, Zero 88 removed all the “bloat,” or unused portions of the Linux OS to give a smaller, more streamlined OS, thus requiring a smaller hard drive (only 30 megabytes in size), much less than Windows-based operating systems and desk.

Since the ORB desk is a computer in the simplest terms, the backside of the console will look very similar to that of almost any desktop PC on the market. The ORB has 2 VGA monitor outs along with 4 USB ports for connecting peripherals such as USB keyboards, mice and storage devices. There is also an ethernet port (RJ45) for connecting the ORB desk to a lighting network that uses Art-Net, Zero Wire DMX, LightConverse, Capture, WYSIWYG, and also for a PDA remote.

The back of the desk also includes ports that we lighting people are accustomed to seeing on the back of a desk: four five-pin DMX ports, a MIDI in/thru ports, and a three-pin littlelite port. Something else that the ORB includes is a DMX input port that you typically don’t find on many consoles.
Looking at the front of the ORB, you’ll quickly find that it is laid out very similar to what we would expect a lighting desk to look like. The encoders and parameter selection buttons, along with the grandmaster and blackout buttons, can be found on the right hand side. Directly below the encoders and the grandmaster, Zero 88 included a trackball on the console that can operate as a mouse, or as pan and tilt parameters of a selected range of moving lights.

In the center of the desk are the selection and programming keys. Off to the left-hand side of the desk are ten sliders that can operate in multiple forms, from playbacks and submasters to individual channels. Since there are only ten physical playbacks, Zero 88 gives you 100 pages of playbacks to run multiple playbacks at once. If you are finding that ten physical sliders are not enough to run off the submasters, the ORB can expand by simply adding any two-scene present console to the ORB via the DMX input and setting up the submasters via the setup menu. If cue stacks are your flavor of choice for the playbacks, you have the ability to place 1,000 cues on one stack. Spread that across ten sliders and 100 pages, the ORB offers 1 million cues. That may seem like overkill, but you never know what you’ll need. The ORB challenges you to write that many cues, rather than limit you at the start. As I stated in the fifth episode of the iSquint Podcast, if you take full advantage of the cue count on the ORB, please be sure to send me the show file, I would love to see that show.

In addition to the standard keys of a lighting desk, Zero 88 added smaller LCD screens on the backboard of the ORB desk to give a heads-up display of what’s going on with the console. This leaves the two attached monitors for the live, programmer, and cue list windows.

Directly beneath the center section of LCDs on the backboard is something quite unique to the ORB, the UDK, or User Defined Keys. These 20 pages of ten buttons, or 200 UDK’s can be almost anything you want.  Anything from screen layouts and channel selections to palettes—anything you can think of. I found that putting screen layouts and some of my heavily used groups of lights there made programming quick and easy.

When you first walk up to the ORB desk, you quickly notice that the desk was designed by programmers, for programmers. The desk has a built-in wrist rest which is made from industrial grade suede. As any programmer will attest, the wrist rest is a wonderful addition and really makes a difference in keeping your hands and wrist supported for long programming sessions.

Programming and Syntax

Patching your rig on the ORB desk is quite simple and easy to understand. While the ORB only allows four universes of DMX or 2048 DMX properties, Zero 88 gives you 2,000 channels to patch those addresses. Since there are four universes of DMX, there is less of a chance you’ll run out of space for patching a medium-sized rig with conventionals, and assortments of movers and color mixers.

What impressed me about the patching section of the ORB is the fixture library. Zero 88 has created their own library of fixtures, and it is very impressive. I had no trouble finding the correct fixture profile I was looking for. That being said, new fixtures are always being developed and need a profile to operate on the desk. Zero 88 mentioned that they are constantly building and adding new fixture profiles for the desk and will make them available for free on their website.

Programming and selecting channels and fixtures on the ORB desk is pretty straightforward. Like most consoles on the market, the ORB desk operates with one channel operating the entire fixture.  That fixture can be anything from a single DMX parameter device like a dimmer, or a multi-parted device, like a moving light. All of the non-intensity parameters are controlled through three encoders on the right-hand side of the desk.

Selecting a channel or range of channels is easy enough as the ORB desk speaks just as I do—plain English. Give me [1] [at] [full]. Simple enough, right? Since the desk is a command line desk, an [enter] key command is required on almost all of the commands on the desk. Another nice feature of the ORB is what is right above the command line. As you start to enter key commands into the desk, the ORB tells you what keys or action commands are available based on what you entered. So if you key in [1] [at], the next available commands are populated above the command line such as the number one through nine and full or out. This is very useful for beginners and novices alike to help learn the key commands.

Overall, I picked up on the ORB relatively quickly—it’s based on programming and syntax and I am already familiar with and use to from other desks that I have worked on. After locating and figuring out specific functions and key commands, I had a show patch, pre-programmed and ready for cueing in no time.

Conclusion

Zero88 designed the ORB desk to fit a specific part of the lighting desk market that has been left vacant after some lighting desk manufacturers retired certain consoles due to various reasons. Strand 520i, ETC Express and even Hog users will find comfort in the ORB as the desk has similar look and feel in certain views, syntax, and operation. Then of course, Zero 88 added their own functions and feel to the desk that will come natural after just a few hours on the desk.

The ORB desk is primed and ready to take on the small to medium-sized rig market prefered by many schools, colleges, universities, places of worship, community theatres and live events. Are those the only markets the ORB can handle? Certainly not. While the desk is limited to only four universes of DMX, the 2048 DMX address is quite a lot and may be enough for most applications the ORB is designed for.

With the launch of the ORB desk back in April 2009, Zero 88 has been listening to users and programmers to improve the desk, as well as its core OS to meet user requirements. They are constantly tracking the industry and adding features to strengthen the desk. In addition, Zero 88 provides support for the ORB via their website, www.zero88.com and on the ORB’s own website, www.orbdesk.com. Both sites feature ways to contact tech support, training videos, quick tips, and a user support forum to ask questions. From the ORB’s website, you can download the free offline editor to pre-program your show and your love affair with the desk. You can even follow the ORB desk on Twitter @ORBdesk for quick tips and lesser-known desk commands to help make programming the ORB quicker and easier.

Overall, the ORB is a great desk with a lot of utility. If you are looking for total control in a complete package, this is a viable option for your space.

Thanks to Zero 88 and Peter Kirkup, the product manager for Zero 88 for providing me with the ORB desk for this review. For more information about the ORB, visit www.zero88.com.

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