27 July 2016
The PLASA Live Event Show Dazzles with High-tech Innovations
Smarter speakers, more efficient LED lighting and ever-cheaper video displays were the talk of the recent PLASA live entertainment technology show, while increased connectivity and higher levels of automation were also widely in evidence.
The PLASA (Professional Lighting And Sound Association) Show proved dazzling from the outset, with bright flashing lights creating an artificial aurora around the halls, all the while showing off the very latest in illumination, broadcast and audio visual technology. An event dedicated to the international live entertainment industry, PLASA is far more focussed on highlighting new products and networking, than it is on learning.
On the downside, as with many other trade shows regardless of sector, attendance has been on a downward curve for some time. Despite that, this year at least, it still seemed able to draw a more than respectable number of both exhibitors and visitors.
Attracting a fair degree of attention this year was Ambersphere Solutions, with the London-based company keen to showcase its latest live entertainment products. Perhaps the easiest to demonstrate was the new, low budget Follow-Spot, which the company was distributing on behalf of Robert Juliat, a French company specialising in lighting systems.
Explaining the appeal of the latest addition to the Follow-Spot range, Chris West, the Managing Director of Ambershpere, said: "The new model – the Roxie 300W LED – is proving to be very popular. LED has now completely taken over, largely on account on the huge savings it offers. This new product is particularly easy to use and is ideally suited to smaller venues."
Starting out in n the cinema business almost 100 years ago, Robert Juliat has pioneered Follow-Spot technology, winning a PLASA Innovation Award in 2015 for one of its earlier models.
Never one to be out-shone, New York's Altman Lighting dazzled all who came before it via a battery of spots mounted on the front of its stand. According to Thom Casazza, Altman's Northeast Regional Sales Manager, the company built its name in theatrical lighting, although it now provides custom lighting solutions around the world for indoor and outdoor theatres, as well as for stadia. Again, he now sees LED as the key driver in the market.
While not quite as eye-catching as the latest in lighting technology, rigging gear for on set use still has a vital role to play in many theatres around the world. SafetyLiftinGear is a UK company that produces an extensive range of lifting and safety equipment. Emphasising the latter aspect of the business, James Bertham, the company's Business Development Manager, said: "Safety on stage is the first box we tick."
Even in this seemingly overlooked industry niche, innovation still brings with it a distinct competitive advantage. With this very much in mind, Bertham, said: "I am delighted to say that we have recently won a Widget of the Year award for our 250/500 kg battery operated chain lifter." The award was announced at the Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT) annual prize giving event. Making the presentation, the ABTT judges described the product as "a safe way to haul gear on stage without complex equipment" and said it was sure to be in high demand.
TAIT Stage Technologies, a global player in the entertainment engineering sector, is similarly used to being widely in demand. According to Matthew Tonks, the company's Business Development Manager, TAIT has recently been working on tours by Madonna and the Rolling Stones. Away from the music scene, it staged the Pope's visit to New York's Madison Square Gardens, while also working on the opening and closing events for the 2012 London Olympics.
Tonks said: "We do pretty much everything. It's really all about creating the spectacle and then getting in and out efficiently." With headquarters in Pennsylvania, TAIT now operates from four locations in the US, as well as London, China and Japan.
ETC actually makes a fair proportion of the equipment that TAIT erects around the world. It positions itself as an international manufacturer of lighting and rigging equipment, together with everything required to make such systems operate and connect seamlessly. The company's international headquarters are in Wisconsin, while it also employs more than 1,000 people across its offices in the US, Europe and Hong Kong. Rigging Product Manager, Nils Becker, says the company also tries hard to put something back into the industry, offering a range of grants to students and non-profit theatrical organisations.
Richard Ferriday, Brand Development Manager of UK-based CADAC, meanwhile, was keen to point out the advantages of his company's new CDC Six mixer. He said: "The Six has been built using the same technology as the CDC Eight, the company's 'best in breed' to date. With a 64 input and 48 configurable console, the new model's graphic interface means that it is far less menu-driven than its predecessors. Our customers really go for this as it speeds up the learning process."
The CDC Six is compact and competitively-priced, while also said to deliver a state-of-the-art audio performance, a benefit that has apparently not gone unnoticed by a number of the world's leading international front-of-house sound engineers.
Advanced theatrical technology, albeit of a completely different kind, also lay hidden within Harlequin Floors' dance surfaces. Kasper Nyboe, General Manager of the New Jersey-based business, maintained that the technology the company employed is very different to that used in sports flooring. He said: "We work very closely with dancers and medical people in order to produce sprung floors that give the best protection to performers."
Harlequin also produces a range of vinyl dance floors, most of which can be custom-printed in line with the individual needs of any particular production. One of world leaders in this field, the company's products are distributed throughout Europe, the Americas and Asia.
Among the other products wowing PLASA showgoers was Flare Audio's latest speaker system. This British technology company claims to pack its products with all the patent-pending technology required to ensure that speaker output and input match exactly.
Chief Executive Davies Roberts and his team took waveform integrity as their guiding principle when they set about creating their proprietary technology. To date, its range of compact speakers has been a big hit in the live concert market, proving popular with many leading performers, including Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin's legendary guitarist.
Rocking the audiences at PLASA – both visually as well as with a remarkable clarity of sound – was the company's new range of Flare Zero speakers. This new line has been created for the most discerning home customer or for recording studio use. As with the rest of the company's range, it uses unique patent-pending technology, all contained within an aesthetic anodised finish that positively cradles the 3D-printed components. A fast-developing small business, Flare already has distribution deals in place in the UK and France.
Elsewhere at the show, a number of exhibitors were determined to demonstrate the many ways in which the entertainment market is continually pushing technology to improve its performance, both in aesthetic and commercial terms. Given these two criteria, it is not difficult to see why LED lighting has become quite so ubiquitous, bringing down the running costs while also facilitating a high degree of creativity.
Overall, it was felt by many exhibitors that large display walls have benefitted in particular from the year-on-year fall in prices and continued technological improvements. China's contribution to this large screen technological sophistication was on display from a number of Shenzhen-based companies, including Aoto, Lian Tronics and Absen.
Predictably, Wireless technology, another booming sector, was pretty widely on show at PLASA. Making its debut at the event, North Carolina's RC4 Wireless impressed many with the launch of DMX Pix, a wireless pixel string control.
Something more of a veteran of the event was Sweden's Wireless Solution, a leader in the field of wireless lighting control equipment. This year, the company was in London to launch its new G5 W-DMX 'next generation' system. The new model is said to have been developed in line with customer feedback on the 300,000 earlier models sold around the world.
A combined wireless and LED system – two of the show's more abiding preoccupations – was on offer from Core, a British manufacturer looking to promote a range of battery-driven LED event uplighters operable via DMX wireless technology. Core has a diverse range of products available, including dedicated systems for inside and outside events. At present, Core solely distributes within Europe.
The next PLASA event is scheduled for September at West London's Olympia facilities.
David Wilkinson, Special Correspondent, London