Cuelux is a new software solution for lighting control from Visual Productions. They are the same people that produce Visual DMX and Canvix. Visual DMX is a power house in terms of DMX control with support for 4,096 DMX channels. Cuelux however comes with a much lower price tag but that in turn means a more restricted offering, however don’t be fooled and dismiss this package, you may be pleasantly surprised!
Cuelux is advertised as entry level DMX control software and supports 512 channels of DMX via a USB adaptor that is shipped with the software. It’s entry level software with some pretty spectacular features that elevate it above the crowd though. It’s worth noting that the software only works with the CueCable that is supplied, you won’t be able to use any other adapters with this software that you may own. The XLR connector has a small PCB inside that converts and buffers the DMX data, so without it the application is useless.
Cuelux is available on several platforms including Windows, OS X and Ubuntu and you can download the application for free from the Cuelux website and try out all the features before buying it.
The first thing that strikes you when you load Cuelux is the very slick and pleasing interface. It has a clean look that puts all the crucial controls within easy reach, the whole thing has also been designed with a touch screen in mind so using this on a tablet PC would be ideal. I’m not fortunate enough to have such luxuries, but even being stuck with the more traditional keyboard and mouse combination it works perfectly well.
Before you can start controlling any fixtures, you first need to delve into the patch. By default there are no channels mapped to any of the controls and it’s at this point you may run into the first real restriction of the budget software. You are limited to patching a maximum of 24 fixtures!
Now hold on there, it’s not quite as disastrous as it first seems, a fixture doesn’t necessarily mean one light. If you patch a Mac 2000 then that does indeed use up one of your fixture allocations, but it is also possible to have sub-fixtures. This means you don’t patch a Parcan or Fresnel to a single fixture, instead, you can patch an entire dimmer rack as one fixture. The largest dimmer rack you can patch is a 10 channel unit, though smaller options also exist. If you take this to its logical conclusion, it means you could add 24, 10 channel dimmer racks giving you control of up to 240 generic lanterns. You can of course extend this if you plan in advance and are able to pair lanterns in the dimmers. It’s definitely a restriction though and if you start adding several moving heads you will use up your allocation very quickly. It’s probably a fair compromise given the price, but as it is capable of controlling 512 channels of DMX, it would have been nice if this was the limit rather than the 24 fixtures.
Anyway, back to patching! Cuelux has a very extensive library consisting of over 1500 personality files so unless the equipment you have is very rare, there’s a good chance it already exists in here. If it doesn’t, don’t worry, Visual Productions provides a free service and will create a personality file for you. This obviously helps them as much as it helps you because it expands their support and new fixtures will be included in future updates. Finding the fixtures is easy, all manufacturers are listed alphabetically and once you’ve selected one you are shown a second list of models followed by a third with modes. You just have to work your way through the lists and select the required unit, you can also tell it how many to add.
I only really have one complaint with the patch, the lists are long and although you can use the keyboard to jump to a manufacturer it will only recognise the first letter. It’s not possible to refine your search by typing ‘ro’ for Robe because typing ‘r’ will take you to Rainbow Colour Changers but then the ‘o’ will move you up to Ocean Optics. It also isn’t possible to use the keyboard to jump to the model either, it only works on the manufacturer list. It’s a frustrating experience because it feels natural to do this but it ends up taking you to completely the wrong area.
By default Cuelux will patch your fixture at the next free address, but you can edit these in the fixture settings without any difficulty. A nice little addition here is the visual representation of the dip switch settings for the DMX address, it’s quite useful and a small time saver. You are also able to give the fixture a custom name and set other options such as inverting pan and tilt.
Once your rig is patched in the program you can see all 24 fixtures on the main screen and select them for control. There is also an option after patching to group your fixtures, the program can also auto-group for you based on class or model. It does a good job of doing this and you can then set groups to submasters saving you time.
Cuelux offers you up to 80 playback buttons via 8 banks with 10 buttons per bank, there are also 64 playback faders thanks to 8 pages of 8 faders. That gives you a total of up to 144 playbacks, a very generous amount that you will be hard pushed to fully utilise! I found the best way to use these was to put my generic fixtures into the playback faders and use them as submasters for colour washes and general states. I could then utilise the playback buttons for chases and moving lights, this seemed to provide a very flexible solution for busking a show.
You can also take a more structured approach and program cue stacks, the features available here are basic but functional. I can’t see anyone having the time or patience to program a complex show with this software, there are some problems that will annoy someone used to more advanced programmable desks. One of the things that immediately struck me is there no way of inserting point cues. You can add cues to the end of the stack and move them up and down the list, but it will renumber your entire show. This is a big problem if you have someone calling a show who has all the cue numbers in the book, you can’t just insert an lx cue 12.5. It is unlikely this program will ever be used in that sort of environment, but the omission of this features somewhat seals its fate in this regard.
On the programming side there were a few other niggles I had, when you set a fade time for a cue you must remember to manually deselect the global setting each time. If you don’t then it will ignore your time, this is also true for the delay and fade out. The software also operates in tracker mode, for those not familiar with this it means the value you set in a cue will remain at that value until you set a new value. It’s very useful in certain situations, but it can also lead to a lot of confusion and head scratching if you aren’t being careful and constantly aware.
For example, if you set a lantern at 60% intensity in cue 10 and record it at 60% for the next 20 cues but later decide it actually needs to be brighter. You would be forced to reprogram all 20 cues individually with the new level. In tracker mode you would only need to change cue 10 to the new level, all the subsequent cues would then have the new level automatically. It’s particularly useful when using moving heads because you can set attributes in one cue and not have to worry about them again.
It would be nice to be able to turn off tracker mode for those not familiar with it though and would make it easier for people raised on older methods.
One disappointing omission for a program that supports moving yokes so well is auto-move. It’s a feature found on many dedicated lighting desks and it will save you a lot of programming effort if the software looks ahead to where a moving light is going to be next and gets there on its own before being used. As it is you have to set the light in position with the dimmer set to zero in a previous cue to prevent unwanted sweeps.
However, as I have mentioned, Cuelux does have some really nice features for controlling movers. It’s very easy to select a colour from the on screen picker and depending on the fixture you’re using it can offer you a basic list to select from all the way up to choosing a particular gel colour from the main manufacturers. There is also a gobo selector with a visual image of each gobo so you can see what you’ll get at a glance. You also get individual faders for the dimmer, iris, zoom, focus, rotation and other attributes. It’s certainly the best software application I’ve used for controlling movers, you can even plug in a joystick to control the movement.
Cuelux also has a nice effects generator that will create chases for you with the greatest of ease as well as a shape generator saving you lots of time by giving you ready made figures of eight, squares and circles. There are numerous other nice touches such as the “Global” buttons for Fog, Strobe and Blinders. If you add any of these fixtures they are assigned to these global buttons, so with a single press you can fire all your strobes at once, or get a blast of smoke. They can be fully customised as well, so you could use them for anything, by simply editing the relevant group.
One more major bonus of Cuelux is the added support for the iPhone and iPod Touch. It offers a web based application designed for these devices which enables you to access the patch and playback buttons, essentially turning your device into a riggers remote. To use this function you’ll need to have a wireless network set up, but it’s a superb feature that allows you to trigger cue stacks away from the computer. It doesn’t even require you to install anything on the device because it works through the built-in web browser.
It has some limitations, it doesn’t seem to be possible to stop a playback from the iPhone or iPod Touch which can be a problem. It would also be nice to be able to have control of the fixtures individually so you could use it to focus. But as it stands it’s a great feature with lots of potential and I love it!
To give you even greater control you can plug in a MIDI device and use a fader wing. Adding something like the Behringer BCF-2000 is a superb way of giving you some physical controls and faders to play with. You can map the 8 playback faders to the 8 faders on the hardware and have 1-1 control. If you buy the software it’s worth giving some serious thought to investing in one of these devices as well. They aren’t that expensive and it will give you a far more pleasant experience.
There are other things I can find fault with in the program. It is not possible to use the keyboard to enter values in a lot of situations and you are forced to use the awkward on screen buttons instead. On a touch screen this would be fine, but when you have the keyboard there it makes sense to use it. The labelling of fixtures could be automated as well, when you add something it has a default “fixtureXX” label where XX is the fixture number. I’d like to see it add the name of the fixture you select instead, with an option to change that to something else.
Also, while I haven’t tried it, I can imagine selecting individual dimmer channels on a touch screen would be very difficult. Particularly if you have 10 dimmers in a single fixture, they are extremely narrow. I also had trouble selecting multiple dimmers and fixtures, I don’t know if it is just a bug but it was frustrating to select for example 12 dimmers and then have them all deselect when I picked the 13th.
I also found some graphical glitches with labels not fitting into the buttons properly. The list view in the fixtures screen didn’t fit properly either and when returning to the grid it left traces behind as if it hadn’t refreshed the display correctly. The only way to cure it was to restart the program.
These are all minor complaints though and will hopefully be fixed in future releases. However, it’s worth noting that I was supplied with a beta version for this review.
To be honest I found it hard to get to grips with Cuelux, the manual is only 14 pages long and doesn’t really offer much help beyond the basics. Coming from a background where I’m used to operating far more expensive dedicated lighting consoles costing several thousands of pounds it was hard not to be too critical of the software for its lack of more advanced features. You have to remember that this is an entry-level solution at a budget price and it has a lot going for it if you don’t have the need to program a complex show. I would be perfectly happy to use this on a gig with a dozen moving lights and some colour washes.
One problem you might have is actually getting hold of a copy! There don’t seem to be any UK distributors at the moment and their on-line store isn’t open yet. However, I am told that it will cost around £319 excluding VAT when it’s available and for that price you have nothing to complain about.