Lighting Product of the Month: ETC Unison Paradigm System

>In 1996, Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC) introduced its Unison® Architectural Control System, improving on previous generations of simpler architectural controls and creating an actual lighting network. The Unison system worked fine for a lot of applications, but more recently, a number of users started to find it limited. Last fall, ETC premiered the Unison Paradigm® system, a new lighting and building control system, winning an LDI2008 Product of the Year Award for Best Debuting Product.

Paradigm is a feature-rich control system that scales to any size venue. The Paradigm family includes software, touchscreens and wall stations, modular control electronics, dimming and control enclosures, and accessories. Combined, these components offer a highly customizable and comprehensive lighting and building control system. As the LDI judges noted, Paradigm, "fully fuses architectural lighting control advances with entertainment lighting-control technology."

What It Does
"Unison has been ETC’s architectural—nay, commercial—lighting control and dimming system brand for more than 10 years, and we learned a great deal about what people need and expect from a fully integrated and capable lighting system, not just a house-light system and not just a commercial lighting system," says ETC architectural market manager Joe Bokelman. "That is where the name Paradigm came in. For the new product, we set out to create a complete system that addresses the needs of any venue, complete with all of the reliability needed in a day-to-day commercial environment and with all of the flair found in the entertainment world, not one or the other—both."

The two main features of the system are in the software functions: EnergyManager and EasyFX. "Using the different facets of EnergyManager, the system can automatically assist users in realizing efficient, green-minded lighting systems by fully merging daylight harvesting, occupancy—really, this should be referred to as vacancy—sensing, and timed-event control," continues Bokelman. "Many systems offer one or two of these functions, but few offer all three. Moreover, Paradigm also harnesses the full entertainment lighting knowledge of ETC and our development partners at Carallon to deliver an infrastructure product that does great lighting effects."

In EasyFX and related software functions, palettes, control groups, timeline-based programming, and moving lights, more common to entertainment consoles but newer to the commercial market, are fully implemented to deliver what Bokelman calls "the kinds of exciting and permanent lighting results that cutting-edge designers want to create and end-users want to actually have in their buildings."

How It Came To Be And What’s Next
ETC’s Paradigm builds on the Unison system. "It is worth noting that we worked hard to get market feedback about legacy Unison—what we call the Unison system before Paradigm—as well as drawing on the significant experience within our own walls," says Bokelman. "We had some big shoes to fill, because when Unison was first introduced in 1996, there was nothing like it on the market. However, like any product, technology changes and so do people’s expectations. We knew it had to be really great to retake the excitement held by the Unison name. We also knew we wanted to expand our horizons beyond just what ETC brought to the table, and we chose to work with the Carallon people in London, the development team behind Pharos Lighting Playback Controller and other award-winning products."

As for next steps, ETC has long-term plans for the further development of Paradigm, including management of larger systems, adding features to work with new lighting technologies like LED fixtures, and continuing to position the system as an integration resource for any size system in any type of venue. "We are under constant development with the software," says Bokelman. "In that sense, it is very much like an entertainment console, where user feedback, as well as innovative new projects, requires us to respond with new features. The new platform Paradigm is built upon, as well as our commitment to the product and the marketplace, allows us to keep making the system more functional."

ETC is also developing tighter integration among all ETC products, including the Selador LED fixture range. "Finally, we will also be expanding our offering in control interfaces, for example with our upcoming introduction of the wireless, Handheld Touchscreen, that allows users to work with the system in new ways," Bokelman adds.

What End Users Have To Say
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Conference Center has an extensive Paradigm system. Mike McBride, senior lighting network engineer at LDS says that system integration with the existing ETC Net3 system was important. "We were working toward an all-ACN environment, and Paradigm fits very nicely," he says. "The architectural system also had to play nice with the existing Eos console, gateways, and dimmer system, and I knew that Paradigm would meet those criteria."

McBride particularly likes the Light Designer and Control Designer programs. "The program interface for Paradigm is very intuitive and easy to use, far easier and more user friendly than the software for the original Unison," he says. "For example, the macro editor lays out the macro commands in an almost flowchart-type of graphic that makes it very clear how the macro commands are going to work, particularly the if-then commands." McBride had Paradigm running room lights in less than 20 minutes during a demo and says it was easy, "because of the intuitive nature of the Light Designer and Control Designer software. My other favorite feature is the web interface, which allows a quick way of checking the status of the system, troubleshooting simple issues, and managing time-of-day events."

As for what McBride would choose to add to the system, the top of the list would be "a 19" touchscreen master control station," he says. "I am planning to install the Paradigm system in another larger venue. That venue is large enough that I would really like a master control touchscreen that combines some of the web interface functions, some of the live control functions, and some regular touchscreen programming in one place. ACN feedback from the ETC Sensor+ racks could be integrated into the master control station to allow realtime confirmation that what is supposed to be on is on. I feel that would really help with larger system management. More realistically, a smaller LCD touchscreen that fits in a one-gang box, replacing a 10-button station, would be really nifty and useful."

Grant Gatlin is the owner of Orange County, CA-based Illumination Concepts, LLC, a consultation, design, and sales company that has installed five Paradigm systems to date, the most recent one at Calvary Chapel of Philadelphia. "Paradigm is a huge step up from the Light Manager of yesterday," says Gatlin. "The control interface is easy to use and highly customizable. The keypads feature multicolored LEDs, allowing storage of multiple pages of presets on a single station, so users visually know what is going on. Calvary had three separate systems that were each utilizing a different interface for lighting control. Being able to bring all that into one cohesive system where volunteers can operate it is a huge benefit. The end-users can also easily protect the system from overly helpful volunteers with multiple levels of password protection. I think that Paradigm is an excellent choice for facilities that utilize volunteers for day-to-day operations." Regarding what improvements he would like to see, Gatlin comments that he would like "more of the same; it can only get better. ETC consistently makes great products that are continually improved upon.

"Bottom line—it’s an incredible product that gives end-users exactly what they need," comments Gatlin. "The ceiling is very high. No matter the client, venue or application, there exists a Paradigm solution. I have the system in projects ranging from churches to radio stations to custom homes, and it just works. It is by far my first and favorite system recommendation

Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center director of technical services Sarah Schreiber Prince worked closely with ETC to program the legacy Unison systems five years ago for the center’s five venues. Over time, she wanted a robust system, particularly for the Decio Mainstage Theatre, so she offered Decio as a beta site. "As for features, it may sound silly, but we love how it looks!" she says. "The color screens on the LCD are easy to read and navigate. We have added a lot of functionality to the touchscreens, as it has been easy to add buttons that control frequently used functions, which saves us time every day. We were able to choose what color we wanted them to be, depending on the action of the button. This is extremely helpful in the five-button stations, as you can tell at a quick glance which presets are active, even when you are in the shadows backstage."

Prince is a bit conflicted about the programming of the system, appreciating how flexible it is, but admitting she finds it cumbersome. "There are many layers where information can be stored, and as an infrequent programmer of it, I find it difficult to find what I am looking for," she says. "I know if I worked in it more regularly, this would make more sense, but I also think the goal of an architectural system is to not have to regularly program it. That said, we have greatly increased the capabilities of our architectural lighting control system. We are eager to continue with upgrading the systems in our other venues and are proud to be a part of the process of developing this new product."

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Michael S. Eddy has worked in the entertainment technology industry for over 25 years and owns Eddy Marketing & Consulting. He frequently writes about design and technology and looks forward to seeing everyone at LDI. He can be reached at [email protected].

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