Product of the Month: Vista S3 Control Surface


When it comes to lighting consoles, I love the new and different. Much of this comes from the fact that I don't have to run one for a living anymore, so for me, the cutting edge offers all the upside and none of the downside of new technology. I talk with a lot of programmers and lighting designers to gauge what really matters and what is a lot of marketing hype when it comes to the latest and greatest in consoles. After all, it is one of the primary tools of their trade. A number of people at PLASA in 2003 suggested that I take a long, close look at the then prototype Jands Vista console and its unique timeline programming methods.

What I saw that day really impressed me as a company that was thinking outside the box. By going with the concept that video and audio editors had already been using, the Vista console had hit on something that could make a large impact on lighting programming. I really like their tag line: “Think visually, work visually.” This has been something that designers and programmers have been dreaming about for a long time.

Jands has been continuing the development of the Vista console and the latest entry in the product line is the Vista S3 Control Surface, which offers a cost-effective, compact version for users to start out with and grow as their needs expand. In addition to new users and cost-conscious installations, this version is also great for rental houses where they have a wide variety of users.

Timeline-based lighting programming is probably not for everyone, but if you want to see a console that really rethinks how a user interfaces with it, then get a demonstration of the Jands Vista consoles and try them for yourself.

What It Does

“The Jands Vista S3 is a control surface designed to be used with an external desktop or laptop computer,” says David Mulholland, director of Jands Pty. Limited. “The S3 is a compact version of the Vista that includes all the features of the full-scale console in a desk you can fit under your arm. It's possible to buy the S3 with anywhere from 128 to 8,192 channels so you only pay for what you need. It's also possible to upgrade, at any time, without any cost penalty.”

“Basically, Vista is Windows and Macintosh software and the S3 control surface hardware,” says Glyn O'Donoghue, product development manager for A.C. Lighting Ltd., who distributes the Vista line in the UK and North America. “The software out of the box — in fact all of the Vista products — speak Art-Net. A USB-to-DMX cable is another option of getting DMX out, but it doesn't have any faders or wheels. With the S3, it's just the hardware for you to interface with the software.”

How It Came To Be

At PLASA 2005, Jands introduced the S3 control surface. It was intended for market by December, but there was a lot of feedback from beta testers and users that pushed the delivery back. “The S3 was developed for users and installations that simply didn't need a full-scale Vista,” says Mulholland. “We were also prompted by the needs of rental companies that wanted a Vista solution for all their jobs. The S3 is a cost-effective way to provide all the features of the Vista for all shows, big or small. We showed prototypes of the S3 at PLASA 2005 but, following feedback from that show, we decided some minor hardware changes were required. The revised product started shipping in May.”

What's Next

Mulholland comments on what's next with the Vista product line. “Vista software development is ongoing and version 1.7 has just been released,” he says. “This includes the ability to store Snapshots that save and restore the complete console playback state. Much of our development is driven by user requests. We are very focused on meeting the needs of lighting designers and operators.”

There are plans to have the software available for both Windows and Macintosh platforms. “Currently, we are only selling the Windows version,” says O'Donoghue. “I would expect that, within a month, we would be selling the Mac version. There are just a couple of things to tidy up.”

With a product that is designed around flexible software, the sky is the limit for new development, and Jands has been developing good hardware for quite a while. “The hardware has proven to be very reliable, and there is lots of development-room left in the software,” says O'Donoghue. “Jands is very good at interpreting user requests, but also reacting to user needs, so as more and more people begin to use it, we are finding something new.”

What End Users Have To Say

“I love it. I think the whole Vista line is great,” says Brandon McWhorter, operations manager/lighting designer for Stage Front Presentation Systems located in Savannah, GA. “We ordered the S3 back in January, and there were delays with the releasing of the console, so they sent us a T2 console that I used. I used it on all of my Easter shows. We just got our S3 a few weeks ago. It is so easy; you can spend your time being creative as opposed to going, ‘Okay, well this would be a really cool look,’ and then you have to figure out, ‘How am I going to write that as a cue?’ I love the way you patch a fixture, which takes all of two seconds. Then you go back to the programmer section, and all of your fixtures are laid out in a list. You can move them around to layout your design. That works really well for me. Of all of the consoles that I have seen, this one is the easiest and lets you spend your time on your look or your design, not trying to figure out how to do something with the console. That's the greatest thing about it.”

McWhorter designs and operates his own shows, which include Easter shows at local churches as well as fashion shows and concerts in the area, including many at Savannah College of Art and Design.

The fact that the computer is outboard of the S3 has proven a benefit, rather than a drawback for McWhorter. “I like having Vista with my laptop because I can work on it at home, which you can do with Hog PC, but it just doesn't work as well for me. So I can sit at home and say, ‘This is the layout that I want; this is the fixture patch, etc.,’ and I can start writing cues. The biggest advantage between the T2 and the S3 is the fact that you don't have to carry the console with you.”

When it comes to what he would like to see improved, McWhorter points to more faders. “The only drawback to the S3 is that you are limited to only 10 faders, where the Hog 1000 has 16 faders. But at the same time, you can double stack the S3s playbacks.”

Rusty Sneeden, lighting designer and lighting director for Columbus, OH-based AV Staging Group, uses the S3 for his corporate work. “I am really happy with it. It is different from what I have been used to using, so that took me a little bit of time to get my head around it,” says Sneeden. “There were a few things that eluded me, but it didn't take me long to get it patched, set up, and get a basic show running on it. So, I was very pleased with that.” Prior to the Vista, Sneeden had used the Wholehog and the Avolites Pearl consoles. “For me, actually this has been the easiest transition. Trying to get my head around going from the Hog to the Avolites world, from what I remember, seemed to be a lot more time consuming than getting into the Vista world.”

“I like the flexibility of it. I didn't think that I would like it as well as it has turned out, but I like to be able to do the onscreen fixture layout. It has actually proven to be really quick for me to layout and choose equipment and be able to program with it. That's probably been the biggest surprise for me.”

There are things that he is still playing with on the console and learning its potential. “The biggest thing that I would like to see? I like to jump around when you are in a clip, and you have different steps in your clip to make it easier to jump around in them using the playback control,” says Sneeden. “That has proven to be the only thing where I said, ‘Ah, it would be nice to be able to do this.’ I have found a way to do it, and that works well for me too. It would be nice in the playback control to have that visual reference to the steps, to be able to jump quickly. It may be there; I just haven't been able to figure out how to do it yet.”

Brent Hayes, president of SVL Productions in Rockford, IL, has used other Vista products and has been using the S3 for about a month. “It doesn't take a lot of time to get up and running on it,” says Hayes. “If you know your way around a lighting console — once someone shows you — you can jump on it fairly quickly. It allows some programming flexibility that I have never seen before.”

Hayes really likes the generic fixture model. “One of the great things is if you want a color, you select all the lights, and then you pick a color out of the color palette that you like, and then it figures out the closest representation on every color wheel or color mixing device that you have and puts it there automatically. Little things like that make it great. Personally, this is what I think we are going to see from lighting consoles in the future, in my humble opinion.”

Hayes consults on projects as well as rents lighting equipment, so the S3 fits in nicely with his business. “With the S3, I do like all the options with the dongle in a rental situation. If you want to just use it with the computer and the dongle, you can. If you want, you can put it in the back of the console, use it, and easily remove it; or if you want to bury it inside the console for a rental so it won't disappear, you can. So it is very flexible without the need to buy different parts.”

For Hayes, he has not had enough time with the S3 to put in many requests for new features. “So far, no improvements needed; give me a few weeks! No really, so far the only thing is more integration on the architectural control side of things. They could put a cup holder on it, I guess.”