Lightwave Research / High End Systems Status Cue Lighting Console – Communications Protocol

Status Cue

I’ve always had a huge respect and admiration for products from the Austin Texas based High End Systems / Lightwave Research. They developed earlier lighting fixtures like the Trackspot and Intellabeam. Their new hardware just pushes things even farther.

In the lighting software world there are free and cheap applications that can run shows, like QLC+ and Freestyler DMX. There are commercial programs like Martin PC, Chamsys Magic Q and Grand MA2. On the cheap side it’s not uncommon to use the software with the “DJ” controllers like the Novation Launchpad, Akai APC, APC II and APC Mini. The commercial lighting software usually has physical control surfaces available that are brand specific, and very expensive. On some of the commercial applications it may cost $600 to add midi functionality to be able to use the lower cost “DJ/live performance” style controllers.

I got to thinking about this old console that High End Systems made called the Status Cue. It’s a physical control surface that connected to a rackmount PC containing an ISA card. The ISA card supported two “universes” or networks of lights. It could do industry standard DMX-512, or the proprietary Lightwave Protocol that HES used on it’s fixtures before the DMX-512 standard came along.

I had Status Cue in my feeBay watch list forever. They just never come up. On reddit I had asked but they’re mostly gone. The PC ran Windows 95 or Windows 3.11 software, and it probably doesn’t do well (I don’t know) with modern fixtures. I have never used the system, I don’t know how easy it is to create new fixtures. Many of the features now might not have existed then so it wasn’t setup to control the now common features perhaps.

Well, I was heading to Florida so I finally just made a random offer of $50 on a console that was listed for $950. It was missing fader knobs, and had no computer or connecting cable.

My goal is to take the console, figure out what it says to and from the host computer that I don’t have, and build a widget to crap out standard midi commands.

I picked up the console. It’s heavy. It’s big. It’s not travel friendly, and I think there is something to be said for modern smaller Wings for controlling the modern software. This is more about the challenge than practicality.

But the buttons. The buttons are NICE. All the way home, my hand would slip to the back seat and I would clicky clicky on the buttons. See, the APC-40 are nice especially at their price point. But these consoles were like $20K in current dollars, so they’re very high end.

I looked on-line, no schematics. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out whats on the DB-25 that connects to the host. But just for sport, I shot an email asking for schematics. No way they’re going to have schematics for such an old piece of hardware. When I checked my email mid next day, there they were. HIGH END SYSTEMS YOU ARE AWESOME. When I asked Martin about schematics for the Roboscan 1220 to look at feasibility of converting to switchmode lamp ballast and power supply to shed lots of weight they told me only service centers get that. Nice people from the internet sent Roboscan schematics to me in no time, but why hide the info.

The rotary encoders are also silky smooth. The trackball is similar (as in really similar) to that which is in my Centipede machine.

Anyways, at this point I have the console powered up via a simple power supply. I have a RS-485 USB dongle on the way. The board uses a Motorola microcontroller (68331 or something) and I have no idea if the uart on that MCU will talk at a normal baud rate common with PCs. We will see as soon as the RS485 adapter arrives, since I seem to have lost or gave away the others I had.

Potential issues will be figuring out how I should deal with things like the rotary encoders and track ball to interact with the software. And what software am I targeting. Freestyler DMX, QLC+ and Pangolin Beyond would be my main ones (though I usually use Beyond with APC-40, and haven’t gotten into QLC+ heavily.)

More to come on this fun project!

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