DMX. Preset. Art-Net. Chase. Wheels. Streaming ACN. Motorized faders. RDM. Channel. Parameter. Palette. Sequence. Universe. Touchscreens. Buttons.
With so many different consoles that have so many different features, how can you decide what is best for your church?
Is your head spinning yet?
The vast array of lighting consoles varies in size, shape, feature set, and scope of function, but there is one key feature that should be the deciding factor in any choice of console.
Before that, though, we must first consider some givens when looking at choosing a new lighting console.
1. The console's abilities need to match the capabilities of your lighting system. If your entire lighting rig is composed of dimmers and conventional lighting fixtures, then you need only purchase a console designed to run dimmers. Sure, you might rent some LEDs or moving lights for a special event, but you can rent a lighting console as well rather than spending more money on a console you won't utilize the other 51 weeks out of the year.
2. The console must be able to communicate with your entire lighting rig. Lighting consoles use DMX protocol to communicate with dimmers and lighting fixtures. DMX is simply a communication language where 512 channels of communication can process down a single cable. Each of those 512 channels represent a single feature of a lighting fixture. A dimmer uses only one channel. An RGB LED par with a dimmer and strobe function will likely use five channels. Moving head fixtures can use anywhere from ten to fifty or more channels. Media servers can take an entire 500 channels depending on how they are configured! When your lighting rig grows enough that you need more than 512 channels of control you must add an additional universe. This means you will have another cable and a second set of 512 control channels. Most smaller lighting rigs can operate with only one universe. However, it may be convenient to have a second universe available just to help manage cable runs.
3. The console must fit within your budget. There are software based console apps that can run on a computer with a USB to DMX converter that can be utilized for very little cost. There are also consoles that cost nearly as much as a small house in many parts of the country as well as many in between those two extremes.
With so many different consoles that have so many different features, how can you decide what is best for your church? The key question that must be answered is, "Who will be using this console and can they be successful using it?"
Who will be using your new lighting console? Will it be a novice or a professional? A professional is going to have much more experience across multiple consoles. However, a novice volunteer who is looking for a new place to serve is not likely to know anything more than what you can teach them. If a novice lay-person is going to be operating the lighting console each week, then it must be user friendly enough that even your pastor could walk up and turn the lights on.
The second part of that key question has to do with being successful in operating the console. This requires leadership in your production team to first decide what being successful at running lights is for your church. Does being successful mean that you have a sophisticated, concert like lighting show during your worship service? Or is success defined as not using more than two colors during a song?
Maybe success is determined by the distraction level, or lack thereof, caused by the lights during your worship service. No matter what determines success for you, the lighting console of choice must be a useful tool to make your lighting team successful.
It is important to remember that whether you are using a free piece of software or a full size GrandMA2, great lighting looks can be achieved if the lighting engineer is comfortable with the console and confident he has the tools to be successful. Choose a console based on its usability for your church, because that truly is the most important feature of a lighting console.