As one of the pioneers of automated lighting, Austin, Texas-based
High End Systems has helped create the modern nightclub experience.
During the past two decades, High End fixtures and control systems
have become recognized as reliable standards in this constantly
evolving, hyper-competitive business. With the development of
a new line of digital lighting products, High End has successfully
united two powerful entertainment technologies. The DL1, the
first commercially available moving video projection fixture,
is certainly a stunning engineering achievement, but is clubland
really ready for intelligent video? The fixture itself, which
is usually sold as part of a “scaled, assembled system,”
is about twice the price of an HES x.Spot (that’s in the
$20K ballpark); but early adopters, like Avalon Hollywood owner
John Lyons, seem delighted with the DL1, despite its cost. To
find out more about this emerging technology, we went straight
to the source: Bobby Hale, product manager for High End’s
digital lighting family of products. A 13-year veteran of the
lighting industry, Hale previously worked on the design teams
that developed the Cyberlight, Technobeam, Studio Color and
Spot 575, and x.Spot. We asked him about the new DL1 and the
Catalyst V3 Media Server, and how they might affect the future
of the nightclub industry.
How did you become involved in intelligent video?
High End Systems got into digital lighting back in 2001. Our
first generation products were the Catalyst 1.2 and the Catalyst
Orbital Head. The Orbital Head was an accessory that attached
to standard rental staging projectors [so] we could actually
move video around. That was sort of an experimental product,
and the feedback we got from the marketplace was that people
liked [being able to] move video around in a 3D space. We also
found that when you take a 2D image, like a video, and project
it into an atmosphere with fog or smoke – what we call
particulates – we could create some really neat aerial
What prompted the development of this new fixture?
Because of the success of Catalyst and the Orbital Head, we
started working on the DL1. The Catalyst Orbital Head is still
a product we sell – we just wanted to come up with a form
recognized by our industry, so we integrated a projector into
a moving yoke fixture. Another reason we developed the DL1 is
because we wanted to enclose the projector in a filtration system
to help protect it. Today, there are a lot of projectors in
clubs, and in a two- or three-month period those projectors
are being sent back to the manufacturer to be cleaned because
of nicotine and fog particulates.
Nasty stuff, especially for sensitive electronics…
When they land on the LCD or DMD, it degrades the picture quality.
So that was a big reason why we enclosed the projector in a
head. We designed a patent-pending filtration system.
So, there’s more to the DL1 than just its rugged
good looks? Yes. We actually protect the projector.
How does the DL1 compare, physically, to typical intelligent
lighting fixtures? It’s 85 pounds – that’s
lighter than a Cyberlight. The height is 33.9 inches, so it’s
really not that big. It’s comparable to the x.Spot.
Can you rig it anywhere that you’d hang a regular
moving head? It hangs like any conventional intelligent
Is the DL1 controlled
in the same way? Yes. It’s 11 channels of DMX-512.
It pans 400 degrees, tilts 270 degrees. We have an iris that
acts as a shutter so we can go to a true black. With most
video projectors, when there isn’t a video signal or
you send a black screen …
get gray… You get gray, exactly. So that was
important, not only for the nightclub industry, but also for
the theater and touring markets.
So, the DL1’s mechanical iris gives operators
more visual flexibility and a broader dynamic range. What
can you tell us about the video projector itself?
We chose the projector that we’re integrating for its
ANSI output, which is 4500 lumens, and its contrast level,
which is 800:1. [It’s] also portable, so the design
was inherently rugged. As far as comparisons to projectors
in nightclubs, I’ve seen everything from 1,500 to 10,000
lumens, depending on the type of club. We feel that we’ve
chosen a projector that’s right for the market.
How do you expect the DL1 to be used in clubs?
I view the DL1 as a multi-functional tool. In a nightclub,
it can do two tasks. Number one, it can project images onto
walls or screens, which is what most projectors are doing
today in nightclubs. The second task or function is the ability
to perform the digital aerials. This is very important. Digital
aerials, as we discussed earlier, are laser-like effects that
you can actually point at your clients. With lasers, you have
certain FDA regulations where you’re not allowed to
scan the crowd. Since this is not a laser, we are able to
create these multicolored, laser-type scans, and project them
Can clubs utilize the DL1 with pre-existing
video gear? Yes. The DL1 can accept any RGBHV signal,
composite, or S-video.
Well, that should please the VJ
community. Yeah, there’s a VGA connector there,
so if you wanted to connect it directly to you computer, you
can. We also have S-video, because that’s a standard
consumer connector, so you can connect your DVD player to
What are some of the advantages
of using the DL1 with the Catalyst Version 3.0 Media Server?
One of the most important advantages is the ability to correct
for trapezoidal distortion on both the horizontal and vertical
planes. This is commonly called keystone correction.
And that gives you a nice, rectangular
image, regardless of the projection angle. What else can you
tell us about Version 3.0? The Catalyst software
is based on a four-layer system. On each one of those layers,
you can play a movie or have a still image, like a logo. Using
the intensity control, you overlay these movies. Say you have
a Digital Juice Jump Back loop happening on layer one, and
on layer two, you have a Skyy vodka logo. By varying the intensity,
we can overlay that logo onto the loop, and at the same time,
you can add color to the Skyy logo, or rotate the logo on
the X, Y, and Z axes. You don’t have to put it in Final
Cut Pro and re-render it. All of this is happening in real
Which means an operator doesn’t
have to spend hours and hours programming everything.
That’s a very big selling point of the Catalyst software.
Instead of having to re-render content, by mixing layers and
adding all of these effects, we’re creating content
Much like a DJ does with music. Exactly.
So, a VJ would probably think about the layers as four different
And this is all using Quicktime
movies for source material? Yes. Also, we have something
we call Spectrograph. You can feed audio into the media server
and the audio will trigger waveforms that we can add different
effects to. Are you familiar with an oscilloscope? It acts
somewhat like that. It works off of different frequencies
and creates waveforms that you can project.
So you can see what you’re hearing.
Which can be part of your overall presentation. I wouldn’t
want that on all night – it would be boring –
but you could cut to it on a real heavy bass song, and then
mix out of it into something else.
Or use it as one of your video layers in the Catalyst
Media Server? Very good. This is the second generation
of digital lighting products from High End. Version 3.0 [gives
operators] the ability to do video dissolves or crossfades
between the layers. We also have two separate outputs so the
Media Server can be configured to run two DL1s, or two plasma
screens. So we have two dedicated video signals coming out
of Version 3.0. Using all four layers, we can create an effect
called video montage: That’s like a picture in a picture.
We can scale down one of the layers, and we can have a different
image playing in a different part of the overall projection.
Catalyst 3.0 seems like a rather
powerful tool for VJs. The Media Server [makes it]
so easy to add content or imagery in the club environment.
I see the DL1 and the Media Server being used not only to
enhance your customers’ experience, but also as a revenue
stream for the club owner. Because we’re using digital
media or video, you can actually communicate to your clients
or customers. Let’s say you’re using the DL1 to
project digital textures. You could flash up a sponsor’s
name, or promote a theme night. So, not only is it a tool
to entertain, it’s also a tool to communicate. It’s
How does that help the club owner?
If he had a sponsor that wanted to have their logo projected
every hour, he could sell advertising that way, and/or use
the tool to himself to promote some of his nights or his drink
specials. With the Catalyst Media Server, all you have to
do is drag and drop the file into the library folder, rename
the file, and you’re ready to use it. It’s very
simple. I think it’s an important component to the system.
With the Catalyst Media Server, we can take any content, any
Quicktime movie, and we can add over 80 visual and color effects.
What else does the new software
offer? Off the top of my head, we have one library
with 160 High End gobos that are static, like lithos, and
then another library of Digital Juice Jump Back loops. We
also provide ArtBeats clips, two libraries with 255 digital
aerials, and18 Sean Bridwell Digital Textures. [Bridwell is]
a local Austin graphics artist. I said, “Listen, I need
something psychedelic that you’d see behind a band,”
and they ended up being things that work really well being
projected on a club wall. We also ship with the full DHA metal
gobo library. I don’t think that’s as interesting
for the club. But I’m not really into gobos any more.
I like motion.
But if a club owner wants to create
a more traditional look… Some people will use
it like a conventional intelligent light. That’s what’s
so cool about the DL1 – it can act like an x.Spot, for
example. All we have to do is import those gobos…and
it can function like any intelligent light.
From what I’ve seen, intelligent
video has many potential uses. It really breaks a
paradigm. When people look at video, they’re used to
it being still. When they see this video image start moving,
they’re immediately attracted to it. It’s something
that’s not “normal.”
That’s the essence of the
nightclub experience – something that’s not “normal,”
but in a good way. It’s basically media in
motion. It’s also the multi-functionality of the DL1.
Not only are we doing the job of a video wall, but when you
turn it around and project it in 3D space and we do these
digital aerials, you’re adding
another dimension to video.
So, it’s not just providing video wall capabilities
in a set location, it can be anywhere or everywhere in a club.
Exactly. When I think about the DL1 in a nightclub, the first
thing I think of is the whole room being white: That makes
any wall a projection surface. With the DL1, you can continually
move your video wall around, and also you can point it towards
the dancefloor and do digital aerials, the laser-type effects.
You’re getting two effects in one product.