Kinetics’ Kathryn Pattison explains the company’s
new iColor Tile FX, a combo lighting instrument, controller,
source, and miracle.
By John Landers
Hey, lighting jocks! Here’s
some news you can use: LED-based illumination is finally here.
In addition to being cost-effective, LED technology allows lighting
designers to achieve stunning new effects in the nightclub environment.
If LED lighting is the Next Big Thing in nightclub illumination,
then Boston-based Color Kinetics (colorkinetics.com) should
receive much of the credit. Since the company was formed in
1997, Color Kinetics has been hard at work pushing the proverbial
envelope, continuously developing bigger, brighter, and better
LED-based lighting systems.
This year, Color Kinetics
is preparing to unveil a truly revolutionary line of products
at the annual Lighting Dimensions International (LDI) show in
Orlando. “This will be our sixth appearance at LDI,”
notes Color Kinetics Marketing VP Kathryn Pattison. “We
actually launched the company, the technology, and our first
line of products at LDI ‘97, so it holds a special place
in our hearts.”
Color Kinetics has certainly
come a long way since then. With the recent introduction of
the LED-based iColor Tile FX and Flex SL, the company has given
club lighting installers and designers unprecedented flexibility
and power. The Tile FX, in particular, is a radical departure
from conventional entertainment lighting design. This product
defies easy categorization; it’s a lighting instrument,
but it’s also a controller. It’s a light source
and an interior design element.
Basically, it’s amazing.
Now, as Color Kinetics brings
its next-generation control system to the market, lighting designers
can finally transcend the inherent limitations of the DMX-512
protocol without abandoning their favorite conventional lighting
hardware. In order to better understand the full potential of
all this technology, CSI spoke with Kathryn Pattison of Color
Kinetics about the past, present, and future of LED-based nightclub
Kathy, I understand that you joined
Color Kinetics shortly after the company was formed in late
1997. At the time, did you think LED lighting would become
so popular? Yes, I fully expected that this would
be a growth industry. Many of us in the early days of Color
Kinetics came from the high-tech industry and knew that semiconductor-based
materials would follow the same price performance principles
of Moore’s law.
I noticed that you had previously
worked with Apple and Psion. Apple, Psion, and Quark.
Personally, I saw a lot of parallels to the digital publishing
market. I was excited, not only about [LED] technology, but
about taking it to the lighting market and helping bring that
market to the next level.
Historically, nightclubs have relied
on incandescent lighting for general illumination as well
as mood and effect lighting. What advantages does LED technology
offer for club and lounge applications? I think there’s
a host of benefits that can be attributed directly to the
LED itself, and then on top of that are the additional benefits
that are generated [by utilizing a] complete LED-based system.
How do LEDs compare to traditional
incandescent or even fluorescent lighting? LEDs,
of course, have a very long source life, and the industry’s
beginning to better understand what the source life is and
what the limitations of it are. For example, source life can
be affected by how well a system is designed. The same LEDs
in an expertly-designed system and a poorly-designed system
are going to have very different [lifespans].
So, not all LED lighting systems
are the same in terms of life expectancy? That’s
right. LEDs, in general, far outpace any other light source
when it comes to longevity, but there’s also an understanding
that needs to be had by both the end-user as well as the designer
of the system to maximize that advantage.
Are LEDs energy-efficient?
Initially, LEDs didn’t out-perform conventional systems,
but today, when you look at them – and let’s just
compare them on white, which is the most efficient for a fluorescent
or an incandescent source and the most demanding for an LED-based
system - you now see that the efficiencies have outstripped
that of incandescents, and this year are reaching that of
halogen, and quickly approaching that of fluorescents. And
that’s on white.
In other words, what you’d
get from a bare incandescent or fluorescent bulb.
And, in a typical club environment, many times those sources
are being used in color or color-changing applications in
which the minute you gel or filter one of those you’re
losing a significant amount of efficiency. Producing full-spectrum
white light and then filtering it to get a narrow band of
color is rather inefficient - you can see that just by looking
at a color swatchbook from Lee or Rosco. Conventional sources
generate a lot of wasted light. It’s going nowhere,
but you’re still paying for it. And, in many cases,
you’re paying even more for it because you’ve
got to figure out what to do with that heat. You have added
cooling costs, you have degradation of the instrument itself,
and you have to replace the gels, which are consumable items.
It’s not only the cost of the consumables, but it’s
time and the labor, too.
What other characteristics make
LEDs ideal for use in a club environment? LEDs, being
solid state devices, are very rugged. We have a system that’s
on the deck of the Ben Franklin Bridge. It’s in an area
that they had never been able to light before, because of
the vibration from the traffic, but more so of the trains
that run literally right over the top of that deck. Any conventional
light source wouldn’t last a week having to stand up
to that vibration.
You mentioned that LED-based lighting
systems offer additional benefits for nightclub applications.
How would you describe a Color Kinetics system? It’s
like a computer network, where much of the intelligence resides
in the light itself. It has a microprocessor built into the
light. It’s receiving data and carrying out instructions
internal to the fixture.
is this approach applied to the iColor Tile FX? One
of the differences with the iColor Tile FX is that it’s
based on our next-generation microprocessor, which is called
Chromasic. Because of Chromasic, we are able to achieve a
very sophisticated level of control even within a single 2'
x 2' tile.
Before, individual fixtures would
be controllable, but now you’re able to address individual
light sources within each Tile? Down to the node
level. There’s no other company out there developing
LED-based products that have the ability to create what we’ve
done with Chromasic. This is a custom microprocessor designed
specifically for intelligent LED systems. Up until this time,
in order to do an intelligent system, you’d take standard,
off-the-shelf components that are used for many different
purposes - and they certainly have worked beautifully in many
of the systems that we’ve designed - but we were coming
to a point where we couldn’t take this control to the
next level. We didn’t have exactly what we needed in
an inexpensive chip, so we went about making our own.
So there’s a lot of potential
there. [The Chromasic] is designed to do exactly
what we need it to do, and it’s designed to be scalable,
to be able to create these large networks that are sixteen,
seventeen, twenty DMX universes.
What are the advantages for the lighting designer
or technician at a nightclub? For one thing, simplicity.
The chip is self-addressable, so you don’t have to go
in and set unique DMX addresses for each node. We actually
send data over an Ethernet network to an intelligent power
data supply which essentially acts as a hub. It then sends
information out to the lights that are connected to it; it
is a two-way communication. It can query a network, find out
what’s out there, and address it dynamically.
Which is completely different from
the one-way DMX protocol. The way to control the
total system differs, but DMX is used at the very end of the
So an iColor Tile FX display could
be integrated into a DMX-based nightclub lighting system?
Could a lighting designer also add
other elements from the iColor series to augment an existing
installation? Yes. All of Color Kinetics’ products
are DMX-controllable. The only time where that’s going
to be a limitation is if, given the size of the installation,
you run out of DMX universes. For smaller installations, say
less than one DMX universe, all of these products can be used
with some of our existing control systems, like our iPlayer2
and ColorPlay software, or any conventional DMX controller.
When you start to get into large installations, particularly
four or more universes, [the new] product line is going to
greatly enhance not only what you can do, but how easy it
is to do it.