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Zack
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OK...there are three contenders here.

(1) Kerry Pollacks Show Tech and mini tech.
(2) The Virtual Soundman
(3) The Cuemaster Pro

There's also a guy here who built his own, using an off the shelf remote and a laptop:

http://www.members.tripod.com/remotelaptop/index.html

The showtech is prohibitively expensive for me. It does have the benefit of being able to control ANYTHING. However, Fog machines, lasers and strobes can be easily fitted to a simple on off remote. I see benefits to having multiple remotes in that you can put them in whatever prop you are handling during the cue. You can buy on/off remotes at http://www.X10.com

I want to set off a fog machine and a strobe during a floating table routine, so it makes sense to put those remotes IN THE TABLE, since both my hands will be busy.

OK heres what I see as being the benefits to buying an off the self system like the VSRC or Cuemaster.

1) RF remote as opposed to IR. THis means that the signal is broadcasted over radio waves, so it doesn't have to be aimed...the remote can be fired from your pocket...your lapel, anywhere. I THINK that you can get a mini disc player that comes WITH an RF remote.

2) Very good range. Majiloon claims the VRSC has 150 feet. The remote in the above link has only 100. (See the remotes homepage at http://www.l3sys.com/index.html)

3) An interface that is specifically designed to be operated by the performer on stage. However the cuemaster uses a standard garage door opener "keychain" remote. This has the benefit of being small and concealable. The genii guy liked the large remote on the VRSC, however, since it was easy to find the controls, and he claimed that it rode unobtrusively on his belt.

A couple of things.

(1) How much range do you need? Does the Player (CD, MD, MP3, whatever) have to be in the sound booth? If they can wire a microphone, they should be able to wire a small cd player to the stage. Then your player can be easily hidden in your propcase or on top of the speaker. I believe that there are cd players that come with RF remotes…then its just a matter of training yourself to manipulate the remote without looking (This may be easier said than done). You could also pipe your laptop out to the speakers and use the PC remote. If the playback device is on stage with you, then you only need the range to be as big as the stage.

(2) I suspect that a large amount of the expense in both the cuemaster and the VSRC is the software…this is a strong argument for the laptop solution. (Of course, if you don’t have a laptop, then its more expensive, but the laptop can be used for other things.) A laptop might get stolen at the venue, but then so could a cd player.

With additional off the shelf software and midi cables, you can control your lights, fog, etc from the laptop. A palmtop would be even better, if you can find a PS2 adapter for a palm.

X10 also makes a PC remote that is much cheaper. Its at http://www.x10.com/products/x10_mr26a.htm#

However, I’ve heard that people have had problems with x10 stuff. It may not be reliable at that price. Also, I was not able to find out if it would work with the small keychain remote, but I can’t see why it wouldn’t. But then I know nothing about this stuff.
Michael Messing
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Hello Zack,

When I first saw Kerry Pollack's Mini-Tech (the baby brother to the Show Tech), I went looking for a CD player with an RF remote. I didn't find any players that use RF. All used infrared. If you find something different, let me know.

I have a Cue-Master Pro (actually I have 2 - one using a full-size Mini Disc deck and one using a "Walkman" type unit). There is no software involved in the Cue-Master systems. Jay takes advantage of the built-in features of each recorder/player.

For example, auto-fade is built in to full-size Sony MD decks. The MD Deck Jay made the remote for has a PS-2 keyboard input (for titling minidiscs and controlling the deck.) Jay wires the remote and receiver to operate the minidisc deck using the commands a keyboard would. (The receiver plugs into the PS-2 input.) Once it is done, there is nothing else to do and there is no software to work with.

The Cue-Master for the walkman unit (the Cue-Master P-2) requires a Sony or Aiwa MD unit that has a wired remote. Jay then makes a receiver that plugs into the remote jack. The remote is then set to operate the same commands the wired remote can.

The downside to the Cue-Master is that it only works with certain models. Plus, you have to make sure the portable unit you use doesn't have the audible tone when you operate the remote or make sure the tone can be turned off.

The Virtual Soundman uses software so that it will supposedly work with any MD player. (I haven't ever seen one in person, nor operated one.)

The player does not have to be in the sound booth. You can use adapters to plug it into an onstage line (even a snake.) I always have my Cue-Master close enough for me to see it. I've never had a problem with it but I don't want to take chances.

The simplest method to work music on stage is to do what Duane Laflin does. Run a long line to the Minidisc player on stage. Then put the minidisc player where you can just push the buttons yourself! (I talking about the buttons on the unit not a remote.) While it doesn't give you the freedom of the a wireless remote, it's pretty foolproof.

Michael
Zack
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OK, if the Cuemaster is just a remote plugged into the PS2 port, then the Key RF remote should be able to do the same thing, right? KeyRF remote: http://www.l3sys.com.
kenscott
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I think you should look at this as investment and how adding this powerful system SHOWTECH to your show. I bought mine 11 years ago and I don;t do a show with out it. Adding music and being able to contro everything is magic. People think you have the best sound guy or they think you are so timed with your music because the music fades and starts at the right times. Invest and spend money.
Ken scott
Michael Messing
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Theoretically, the Key RF remote should be able to do the same things a Cue-Master Pro can. (Since it is available with a 4-button remote, you can add an additional function, although the Cue-Master Pro comes with two remotes - right & left - which control different functions.)

One thing to remember is that the PS/2 input is only on the full-size MD decks and not on the portable units. Also, Sony doesn't put a PS/2 input on all their models. I have a MDS-JE630, which is no longer made. (I did a quick check o n Sony's website and didn't immediately find which units now have the input.)

I would assume the units with the PS/2 input are higher end units and would likely cost about $400. It would seem to work, but I would definitely check with the people who make the Key RF to see what they think.

Michael
mghia
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To answer your question about required range, I think of it this way:
If your range is such that they have a sound booth far away, than that should mean your show is large enough to have them provide a sound person or for you to bring one.
I used to work with a guy who always got the venue to provide a sound person and we had cue sheets for him.

If you are in need of full control I say 150 feet is the max you can get of anything off the shelf. BUT that should be PLENTY.
You see the difference? What it sounds like is that most guys have shows that are IN BETWEEN. They only need devices because there show is not paying enough to cover a sound guy or big enough that the venue assumes they will have to provide one.

I am not knocking the situation because I have those venues I want full control too.

The thing to know about RF is that it is not perfect. You could get 150 ft. in one location, 300 feet line of site or mabye 10 feet or less in another depending on antenna location and other external frequency. If you are paying for anything, you want to pay for the quality of the signal sent and strength.

A tip would be to have it so you have an audio out option. This way you can still run the RF but the laptop or player is closer to you. In otherwords you will ask the house if they can PATCH you into the sound board from the stage. Most should have that option.
IF you provide your own gear than you will be working iwth everything near buy anyway.

Good luck and let us know how it all worked out.

Mark
Jeff Haas
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Hi, I'm "the guy who built his own using an off-the-shelf remote and a laptop."

Just to give you some background on things, so you can figure out what you'd like to do...

I first figured out how to do it about two years ago, when mp3s started to get popular and the software was well-established, and have been using my setup since then. I'd agree with Mark's comments on this type of system...I have an "in-between" sized show, and being able to supply my own speakers, wireless mike, and sound cues is an advantage (and an upsell) for the venues I work in.

I'm not nearly big or busy enough to have the show provide a soundman. Instead, I bring everything I need to do the show. If it gets to the point where the venue has a great speaker system and wireless mike, then I'll arrange to patch in from the stage, but I'm not there yet. Maybe next year!

Since the website went up a couple of years ago, I've gotten two kinds of reactions from people. The computer-literate ones read it, and say, "Cool!" and run off and set themselves up. The people who are not computer-savvy read it, their eyes glaze over, and they go look at one of the other solutions. That's OK, there are multiple solutions for this, just like there are multiple methods for the double lift.

The one thing about using any of these is you have to take time to understand them and learn how to create the cues, as well as knowing how to use the system during a show. I read the recent articles in Genii on this, and my opinion is that the people who had trouble with mis-cues during their shows hadn't learned to use them well enough yet.

I also agree with Ken Scott...taking the time to add music cues to your show increases the quality and the perception of it. It's well worth the effort spent.

And finally, here's what no one mentions: Getting a system to play the cues back is the EASY part. The hard part is finding just the right sound effect or bit of music.

Jeff
Zack
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Thanks for replying, Jeff.

Right now, your system is in the lead. Yours is much cheaper. Also, I'm a basically computer literate person who enjoys geeking stuff together. (And I've got an old laptop gathering dust that would love to have a new life as a sound FX machine.)

Whats your opinion of MP3 vs. MD? Everybody seems to be jumping on the MD bandwagon. I don't see any way that MD is any better.

There are tons upon tons of good sound effects available on the net. I've already got most of my effects together, I just need a way to play them.

I just got back from the Consumer electronics show in Vegas. There are some exiting new technologies that are going to be widely available soon.

The thing that was most applicable to our problem is a "micro chording keyboard" This thing connects remotely to a plam pilot. It has seven keys and fits in the palm of your hand, or can be strapped onto the body.

It completely replaces the keyboard. You type by using "chords" that is combinations of the seven keys. This means that you can FULLY control a computer.

It's designed to be a "wearable computer" so you can take notes while waklking around.

This particular version is IR, unfortunately.

An alternative to RF is Bluetooth, which is a wireless networking protocol, that can send data signals wirelessly. There's a guy who used bluetooth to make a remote out of a cell phone!
http://www.iptel-now.de/HOWTO/BT_REMOTE/bt_remote.html

I suspect that one should NOT buy an "off the shelf" system for at least another year. This tech is going to become better and cheaper very quickly.

Just found a Ps2 adapter for the palm pilot:

http://www.man-machine.com/HappyHackingCradle.htm

This should allow you to connect Jeff's keyboard remote to a palm device. This makes an affordable and portable solution.

It's a beautiful world.
Jeff Haas
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Zack,

MP3 vs. Mini-Disk...no easy answer.

A minidisk player is (usually) smaller and more compact, so it's easier to travel with. But you're stuck with the functions built into the minidisk and the custom controller that attaches to it. You can't reconfigure how it works or substitute new software. It's much harder to change the tracks that are set up for the show at the last minute.

A laptop is usually bigger, but depending on what you have, there are some small full-featured ones out there. If you're lugging speakers and other large stuff to a show, it's not a lot of extra weight. You can use different software easily, and it's easy to reconfigure the playlist before the show.

For different shows, or different parts of the same show, you can use different software. I found a package that will allow a person running sound to trigger SFX in whatever order they're needed, and it can run at the same time as WinAmp.

As far as sound quality, there is always discussion about how MP3s may not sound as good as the original source from the CD, and that Minidisk compression is better-sounding. If you're concerned about that, you can just run WAV files instead, if you've got the space on the hard drive.

In the end, if you're computer literate, and have a laptop you can use for sound in your shows, it's relatively inexpensive to get started and learn with. It gets you to the process of picking sound cues and editing them much faster.

Alternative devices, like the Palm, sound good, but remember that the most important part is the software running on them! If you can get a program that is equivalent to WinAmp, with similar commands, then let us know. That could be very useful.

Jeff
Zack
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Jeff:

Its been my assumption that to do this right I would have to use linux on the laptop, because of the crashing issues with Windows. I don't believe there is a winamp version for linux, but there is probasbly something equivalent.

--Zack
Jeff Haas
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Zack, I don't know enough about Linux to recommend a piece of software. But you're looking for MP3 (or equivalent...you can use WAV or OggVorbis) playback software.

It should have the following commands at a minimum, or be able to be configured for them:
- Play next track (only one track - do not continue down a playlist)
- Stop and fade out
- Back up a cue (although I rarely use this)

I use a combination of keystrokes to command WinAmp; the Linux software you find should allow the same thing. You'll just have to search around until you find what you need.

Jeff
Zack
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Just did some research on the palm pilot idea. Sounds like its not going to work. The problem is that palm pilot software is not designed to be controlled with a keyboard. You can attach a keyboard to a palm, but you will probably have to write your own software.

Also, most palm devices do not have audio output. Ouch.
Peter695
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What crashing issues with Windows?


Peter
Eldon
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I'm with Peter on this one. What crashing issues with Windows? I run a DJ show with a laptop and Winamp and have never had a crash. Sometimes we play for six hours straight.
Jeff Haas
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Eldon, check out this DJ software...

http://www.mcdj.net

Free!

Jeff
Aroy
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I just recently came across this post and must thank Jeff for opening up a totally new way of approaching this problem.

Having spent a couple of weeks thinking about this I would seriously like to explore the following option. (But like most of us, laying down big $$$ is always an issue.) Maybe there is a cheaper alternative. I am not computer savy like most of you here but like to explore things on a conceptual approach.

Assuming that you have a sound editing software that works with Jeff's RF remote set-up/approach.

The entire show's music track (assuming this is in stereo) is loaded onto this program in sequence and saved as a project.

If we now added a track with markers at the beginning of each track and assigned this as a channel to the RF remote. This is to allow you to go to next track, back one track and fade to next track.

Under these tracks is now another track (Could this be a MIDI track ?) where you would place trigger markers to send go signals to your light board.

(You will have to spend time with the lighting board op programming the lights physically at each venue but all you will be doing is saving each scene as a cue.

If for example your Sword Basket routine in an ideal world has 15 light cues, but in reality you only have time to program 4 cues...(eg. cue 1, 5, 8, 15)....then all you do is to program these 4. Cues 2, 3 and 4 would be the same as cue 1; cues 6 and 7 the same as cue 5 and so on).

Getting back to the program itself - once you start the music track, it is now sending triggers (sorry I do not know the actual terminology for this) to bump the light cues as well and at precisely the right points in the music.

You go to the next track and the same thing happens.

Now expanding this line of thought laterally...if all of this was possible... there is no reason why you could not have additional tracks/channels assigned to say smoke machine, conventional lights, motors etc.
with a track/ channel assigned to each different piece of equipment.



I know that there must be some sort of interface between the computer and the other hardware to convert the computer signals to signals that the equipment can understand. What that is is beyond me.

So guys, help....is this a pie in the sky??? Would love to hear what you think about this.


ROY
Jeff Haas
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Roy, you're looking for software that controls the entire show, not just triggers music cues. It turns out that there are several options already available out there; this is how the big shows run (every rock group that has elaborate stuff going on, David Copperfield, every Broadway show, theme park shows, etc.)

Go to this page of my site, read up a bit, and then follow the links:

Click Here!

What you should do is read up on what the light boards are that can be run this way, how the whole system is hooked up, how it's controlled (via MIDI cues, you're right) and so on. Follow the link to the website that has the case studies, read a few of those -- they'll give you an idea.

I've even got a link to the first book written on the subject, by a guy who teaches a course on it in New York.

Bottom line, if you want to be ambitious and have a small show with automated music and lighting, it's possible right now. You just have to decide on a piece of software, the correct lighting equipment, and learn how to set the whole thing up. From what I've read, it looks like the software will be the least expensive part of the show...the lighting equipment and speaker system will be what costs you.

And the software usually just has a big "GO" button on it to trigger the next cue, so it will be extremely easy to set up the KeyRF remote to press that button for you, so you and your assistants can be on stage performing, while the computer plays the music and runs the lights.

Jeff
mr.rob
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I have an idea the I'd like to run by some of you.

They now have mp3 players that are as small as a keychain that will hold quite a bit.

Also they have FM transmitters that will plug into the mp3 player and transmit it over a selected fm station. Then this whole works is still small enough to fit in your pocket. You can control you sound from you pocket. The FM transmitter is designed so you can use a cd player and transmit it in your car to play on your cars system.

I haven't tried this yet, but I was wondering what kind of sound quality this would have? I think there could be an issue of interferance since you are relying on a radio signal.

Rob
"There is never a wrong time to do the right thing:.
Jeff Haas
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Rob, I don't think this kind of solution would be the best. The sound quality can't be that great, and when you're not running a sound cue, you've got a radio sitting there tuned to a dead channel.

Also, the mini mp3 players most likely don't have the commands you really need when running a show:
- Play next cue and stop
- Fade out and stop

These two are the hardest to get, because CD players and mp3 devices are designed so you load them up with music, put on the headphones, press Play and listen.

Jeff
mr.rob
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Jeff,

Thanks. I think you are right. I wouldn't want to take a chance of another station breaking in during a show or something. That would be totally unprofessional.

Rob
"There is never a wrong time to do the right thing:.
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