Control Surface advances... Who gets to market first?


#1

We’ve got a small black box theatre in our performing arts academy. Last year, we went digital for sound, replacing a Yamaha analogue board with a Behringer X32 and couldn’t be happier. Its performance is excellent for what we need, durability is fine and it’s cheap to replace or hire in. Motorized faders and scribble strips are two features that are exceptionally useful.

This year, we’re looking at adding some LED movers to augment our 48 conventional fixtures (currently controlled by an ETC Smartfade 24/96) so I’ve been looking at new control alternatives. We do a collection of traditional stack-based theatre and shows that require busking as well. I’ve looked at ETC Colorsource, Chamsys QuickQ and MagicQ, Zero88 FLX, LightFactory for a solution that wouldn’t break our bank. Onyx with a control surface (M-Touch probably) is looking like the winner.

I’m curious as to product roadmap. It seems to me that if Obsidian were to enhance M-Touch / Play series with dynamic scribble strips instead of blank buttons it would be a market leading development. Needing additional physical controls would simply mean buying more surfaces. One could in effect build out the kit incrementally to compete with virtually any desk out there.

BTW, the reason scribble strips are so useful is that as a teaching theatre shows can change from night to night. Being able to have the show file control the labels on the boards (like our X32 does) is a huge advantage.

Obsidian might want to think of this before someone like Behringer decides to disrupt the lighting control market as they have with digital soundboards.


#2

I hear you, brother. Having to label your cue/chases faders with sharpie pen on masking tape is so … 70’s :blush:


#3

Well keep in mind the main display shows you the 10 payback masters right at the bottom of the screen.

Now I will say it would be nice to have the submasters display on the bottom of a 2nd screen like the submaster bank but you do have the M-Touch/Play status window which can show you both units simultaneously.

It would really not be possible to produce the M-Touch/Play at the current prices and add scribble strips to the unit. Look at the price of the console Wings, they cost thousands of dollars instead of hundreds, you get what you pay for


#4

Definitely agreeing with Sorin on this. I used to love that era though I was born in the 90s. There were so many VHS tapes that my father had marked similarly on the cardboard boxes.


#5

It’s a common sentiment that manufacturing something like I’m suggesting would have to be priced way beyond what the market would accept. I disagree. In the pro sound space, there are many examples of control surfaces that are more technically advanced and less expensive than what’s available in the lighting controller space. Offerings from Behringer, Avid, PreSonus etc have virtual scribble strips and motorized faders for $500 - $1000. Slate Media’s Raven MTi Core Station at $3000 is another approach for a fully formed surface. Imagine Onyx with a surface like that one. Audio isn’t inherently less complex than dmx.


#6

You do realize the software is already FREE? Onyx/M-Series is a VERY mature software product, it has nearly 2 decades of development time in it, I am not aware of any other company out there that will give you two universes of DMX with a mature software product for free. (BYODMX interface)

When you buy a M-Touch/Play you are then getting additional DMX universes and the price is quite reasonable for that product. Go try to buy a wing for any other manufacturer in that price range, hundreds of dollars, not thousands.

I’m sorry but I disagree, Martin (at the time) took a big leap of faith and basically created an ‘X32’ style product and a great DMX licensing structure to provide a product in that entry level price range.

I think you’re asking for blood from a turnip asking for even more features.

I’d say they’re quite successful, I started with an M-Touch, then added a Play, then I added an M2GO and now I’m waiting on an M1HD to show up. I can’t complain, unlike other companies they allowed me to play with their software and immerse myself in it at a very reasonable startup cost.

Just my $.02


#7

This is a good debate!

I think you are making my point for me. Digital soundboards are software sitting on top of a combination of analogue and digital processing hardware plus a control surface. That software is “free” too. Ignoring for the moment the rocky reputation that Behringer had early on there’s no denying that the X32 (and purchase of Midas) caused a huge disruption in the marketplace. Sure, there’s still a market for top of the line more robust desks but the X32 pretty much blew up the low end of the market with an eminently usable, good performing piece of kit for a price tag that didn’t kill places like our 80 seat black box theatre. The incremental cost of production for software is virtually $0. Sure, there’s a cost involved in maintaining competitive posture by increasing functionality but it’s not much different in the audio world. At least in lighting one doesn’t have to worry much about the back and forth from analogue to digital. The lighting business doesn’t get to ignore Moore’s Law.


#8

I worked for the largest pro sound manufacturer in the world. Audio consoles are 10x the volume of lighting desks. With volume comes lower cost. I was part of the design team for these devices and there was no way to incorporate a display at that cost. The minimum quantities for such displays is like 10.000 or so to get a decent price. Also Touch/Play are drawing all the power allowed over USB and would require an external PSU with displays. All this adds cost and the $600 M-Touch is quickly a $1000 device. Now it won’t sell in the volume needed.
With technology evolving this will change but not for quite some time. Its hard to squeeze down already very low cost items. We did try hard on the NX4 which tries to disrupt by offering motor faders in that price class for the first time. The desk has 10x the power of the original M1 and offers 10 motor playbacks (and scribble strips) for 20% less than the M1 when it launched. So we are trying to offer great value where ever we can and we are not finished yet :slight_smile:


#9

Points taken Matthias. I’m sure your team is doing a great job. I’m simply trying to point out a business opportunity.

Personally, I’d be happy to pay $1,000 - $1,500 for a control surface that has motorized faders and virtual scribble strips or the equivalent.

I’m obviously not a major player in the market. I’ve got a small 80 seat black box theatre and not much money to spend. I’ve a collection of 40 conventional and am struggling to add LED intelligent fixtures to the mix in order to have more design flexibility. That means my Smartfade 24/96 needs to be replaced so I’ve been surveying the controller landscape for a year. We di a mix of music, dance and theatre so being able to busk is as important as conventional theatre stacks. So far, I haven’t found the right solution. Only a number of swings and misses (ColorSource, QuickQ, Lightshark, etc.) I may be searching for a black swan.

I like what I’ve seen with Onyx from a software perspective. The Touch wings are a very neat idea. A slightly larger Touch surface with virtual scribble strips would check all the boxes for me and I’d happily pay $1,500 for one universe.

Midas sells replacement scribble strip modules for the X32/M32 desks for about $7/ea retail. Pretty reasonable.


#10

Could you elaborate a bit on the other controllers why you felt they don’t meet your needs? They are targeted directly at your market. I’d like to avoid making the same mistake if we decide to make a small desk range.