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!

Halloween – TouchOSC + Pangolin Beyond + FreeStyler DMX + CellDNA/LED video wall

Halloween hit and I wanted to do something cool. The goal was to be able to hit buttons on tablet, and trigger a lightning type effect. I wanted to trigger DMX stobe and LED up-lighting (Color Kinetics) in time with blanking the LED video wall segments and firing off a cue in Pangolin Beyond that contains sequenced static beam shots terminated safely. I also wanted to be able to trigger a few other cues in each program.

Cell DNA allows midi input which is able to switch which cue is playing. However, the laptop I was running it on (that also had the duty of spitting out scraped video over gigabit network to the LED panels) struggled. I didn’t have a ton of time to scale the video down optimally.

FreestylerDMX can talk midi. Beyond can talk midi and OSC directly.

Touch OSC usually targets a single endpoint, so in my case I ended up running the TouchOSC midi endpoint aimed at Beyond, which has a feature of doing midi through. From there I simply shot the output into the rtpMidi utility which then got the commands onto the network as a broadcast protocol and delivered them to both the computer running CellDNA (borrowed from MAGFest) and the one running FreeStylerDMX.

CellDNA was the only thing that had a lot of issues, and that was it drowning in the video codec I believe.

The outcome was a pretty cool looking halloween display that simply wasn’t scary enough. The wind blew away the output from the fog and haze machines often — though some people caught the lasers. And it was cool when kids would straight up ask, “Is that a laser?” Yep.

But needs to be more scary.

Image Engineering “DV” laser show decoder to ADAT direct digital idea

This is mostly a documentation post trying to tie together some thoughts.

A few years ago I worked to reverse engineer schematics and operational theory of the Image Engineering DV decoder for video tapes with digital data of laser shows stored on them. These decoders demux 10 DACs worth of data stored on video tape to drive two color laser projectors.

I have a bunch of tapes, and I would like to archive the content before the tapes degrade.

My original research got me to the point where I found the clock and data coming into the portion of the circuit that demuxes it. But I never put a ton of time into getting a microcontroller to decode it since it requires using an interrupt to detect the break in timing to mark frame start — and once I do get the data moved to a computer I need a solid clocked format to store the content and that seemed problematic. (Tying it to a WAV file as sound card captures audio was one thought.)

Then I picked up a ILDA to ADAT converter from DZ/Ed O’Keefe. They’re awesome people from the laser show hobby/industry that make some nice converters. I was originally using modified ADAT to do this operation but wasn’t happy with signal levels, was out to get their ADAT to ILDA box to give me a nice reference to how things should work when I stumbled across the other version. Thinking more about it, and knowing a little bit about the chip in the box I got to thinking…. if I used parallel to serial shift registers in place of the ADCs I could wire the input side to read the data from the DACs in the decoder. The ADAT system (in my case a HD24) would be sampling the data at 48Khz and the DV playback systems runs slower.

Looking into the wavefront ADAT encoder IC, it doesn’t provide all of the clock signals to clock the ADC chips. I found some info on what could be the circuit needed to do the clock dividing:

In this case their clock is 44.1khz and I would rather run 48khz. Also, since I need 10 channels then two chips have to be wordclocked together and hopefully the ADAT is happy.

To keep cabling limited between the old board and any new board I was looking at the schematic I drew out in the past. It’s been 3 years and it took a bit to get back into it. Data bus + chip selects into something that can store state into some sorta shift register that is compatible with the data output of the ADCs that are normally used to feed the Wavefront AL1041AG chip:

Pangolin QuadMod32 replacement ribbon cable

A few years ago I picked up a computer w/ a Pangolin QuadMod32 board. This card is an output driver for laser show software from the industry leader, Pangolin. I had a bunch of issues with the card, and managed to work out a deal to buy/swap for a replacement. I own Pangolin’s latest Beyond software which is very powerful and much better so this is strictly a historical endeavor. At SELEM 2016 laser enthusiasts meetup I brought both the luggable Windows 98 machine with LasershowDesigner and an Amiga 500 running the original LSD1000 software. When tearing down I noticed that touching the ribbon cable going to the QM32 board the image was jumping all around. It was obvious that the ribbon cable has issues. On the last digikey order I threw on a DB25 IDC male and female connector, and finally got around to building a replacement cable.

It will get tested next time I break out the laser projector and will report how well it worked. Note, the QM32 is before the ILDA spec so previously I built a converter that takes the QM32 output and converts it to ILDA.

Hopefully one day I will find a QuadMod16 card, which is designed to go in the Commodore Amiga 2000.

 UPDATE 8/01/2017

First off, I had a problem in my converter that is a DB-25 to DB-25 that converts the older QM32 output to the ILDA standard. I had the red – signal tied to shutter, which was where most of my issues with output were coming from. After fixing this, my new cable worked 100%.

Also, I now have a QuadMod16 card as well. Will be making a cable for that to go from the card to ILDA.

HES Technobeam case re-foam

Technobeam Case – ReFoam

A number of years ago I picked up 4 High-End System Technobeams from Hard Rock Cafe in Atlanta. They needed a little work, so I fixed them up. I am a fan of High End Systems products, and had owned some Intellabeams prior.

A few years went on and my Technobeams started going to a few events. They would usually get tossed in a large truck unprotected, and given their shape are vulnerable to the plastic heads getting damaged. I didn’t want that to happen so I kept an eye on craigslist. Finally some cases (and fixtures) popped up in nearby Delaware, and I picked them up. The 4 technobeams had a proper home. The case configuration is sort of annoying, as the yoke has to be moved in a position fairly different from the way I normally hang them to store them. But to have a case that allows it to sit elsewhere would take a lot more room, so it is what it is.

But the foam. It was this melty sticky nasty probably open-cell smelly stuff. Mildewish, tacky and gross. It had to go.

Over the weekend I finally got a chance (and some help from Supersoaker and Christian and others) and replaced the foam with fresher closed-cell foam. It’s stiffer, a bit of a tight fit but hopefully the smell will be gone forever. This material was recycled from other flight cases, and we used a Harbor Freight hot knife to cut it. I see it as practice for when it’s time to make custom foam to hold all the flat panel TVs for MAGFest.

Coming soon: RGB LED Video Screen Expansion

RGB LED Screen Expansion

Thanks to Supersoaker and Eric! Supersoaker laid out and cut 4 wood panels that I will use to add two square meters of screen to the RGB LED video screen I built before. Once designed this cuts down on the amount of time it takes to cut out the backing that goes behind the LED modules. Screw holes, data cable holes and power cable holes were cut. Each screen section is 1/2 a meter high x 1 meter wide. This was done at the NovaLabs makerspace, a place I should probably get more involved in (after MAGFest!)

I still need to pick up a miter saw and cut a few other boards, then I should be able to assemble the screen, connect it to my existing panels and program the control boards.

More to come on this one!