Lighting Console vs Lighting Software

By Frank Schabell > Lead Lighting Design at Pro Church Lights

Physical Lighting Console vs Lighting Software To Control The Stage Lights At Your Church.

One of the most important decisions in your church lighting setup is choosing the correct lighting control system that sets your volunteers up for success. When it comes to the control of the lights at your church – there are MANY options.

In order to set your volunteer team up for success – choosing the correct lighting control system should take HIGH PRIORITY on your radar. And even more importantly, training on that system should take an even HIGHER PRIORITY.

With that said, we’re going to discuss specifically about whether or not you should invest in a hardware console to compliment your software setup. Also, be sure to check out our other post: Choosing A Lighting Control System For Your Church”.

What Is Software Based Lighting Control?

Unless you’re operating a 100% dimmer based system of yester-year and have no intent of upgrading it any time soon, then a software based lighting control system is in your future.

All current lighting control systems are software based at their core. It’s this software that allows you to adjust the lights intensity, color, motion, FX, build cues, and so much more…

Lightkey for church lights control

Most churches can operate just fine with a simple setup that includes a Mac or PC, a USB to DMX interface and some lighting software such as LightKey™ 

With this setup, you’ll control all of your lights with your mouse and keyboard. 80% of churches will fall into this category and most likely this setup is a great fit for your church.

If you need help deciding and narrowing down which lighting control software is best for your church… Be sure to get our guide: “Best Lighting Control Systems For Churches, That Volunteers Love!” Simply submit the form on this page.

With most every software setup – you’ll have the option to add a physical console if desired. And that’s what we really want to focus on here… So, do you need a console to compliment your software? OR is simply keeping it simple and using the mouse and keyboard good enough? Lets dig in…

Once again – if you’re not sure which software to choose OR maybe you already have some type of lighting control system in place but are frustrated with it or find it difficult to use. If that’s you… then fill out the form to the left on this page and we’ll send you our TOP 5 Recommended Lighting Control Systems For Churches, PLUS we’ll send you info on Lighting Programming Training Courses built for Volunteer Teams

What is a Console?

A “console”, also called a “surface” is a piece of physical hardware that you can touch and push buttons on. The console is typically proprietary to the lighting control software developer. By having a physical console at your tech booth – you essentially have a glorified mouse. On software based systems you can control every element with your mouse by clicking around on your screen. The console takes this to the physical level.

The console allows a physical way of manipulating fixtures and programming by pushing buttons or turning wheels. Lighting consoles come in many shapes and sizes but they all carry similar characteristics. Consoles typically come with physical faders, buttons, encoders and keypads for tactile programming. Depending on the software developer, the faders, buttons and encoders are customizable. Customizing a lighting console allows the programmer to tailor make it for any style program (weekend service, worship night, conference, etc…).

How Would I Use A Physical Console?

With having a physical console, you will have the ability to create lighting designs and looks efficiently by using the hard keys and encoders on the console. Consoles come with hard keys that have specific uses to help the programming process. Lighting consoles for churches

Again, programming with mice and keyboards is a viable option, but using a mouse and keyboard can be cumbersome and slow. The encoders can be used to control many other parameters of fixtures. I have found them to be immensely helpful when creating positions presets. Hard keys allows for efficient calling up of fixtures as well as doing specific commands to the lighting system, where a mouse and keyboard would be difficult. A console with faders and hard keys removes the need to hunt around for specific settings and brings powerful controls to the fingertips of the lighting programmer.

In operating lighting, there are nearly limitless configurations and applications on a console. This is both the best and worst thing about a console. There is no one way to set it up. That means that your inexperienced team can get lost quickly. Your team should get training on proper setup, best programing practices and a proper foundation built so that programing is efficient, creative and consistent.

A common method of configuring the console is having certain groups of fixtures stored to faders (also called executors). This allows for fixtures to always be within reach. These fixture groups can be your churches stage wash, house lights, blinders, wall wash, etc. Another method is storing effects onto executors and using executor buttons. You could store effects onto faders to dictate the size of the effect and tap syncing beats per minute.

Another frequently used method I use is the process of storing whole song cuelists onto executors. This method allows me to efficiently jump to any song at a moment’s notice. This strategy allows for seamless transitions of songs in tandem with the worship band, preventing distracting transitions. Yet another use of a physical console is the ability to store “Hot Cues”, set cues with specific settings. Hot cues are often the “Message Look” or variations of that. Storing Hot cues onto executors is beneficial when needing to have a specific look that is easy to recall in a split second notice. Depending on your preferences, style of programming, and needs of your church, how you configure your board will vary.

Why use a physical console?

Once you have DMX data being sent from software to the fixtures, why would you introduce a physical console? You can operate all aspects of your lighting from the software’s controls; however, with a physical surface you gain many more advantages. In my experience programming for churches, though having a physical lighting console is not essential, it offers more freedom of operating lights on the fly. Having an ability to bring up a group of fixtures in the immediate is immensely helpful. The ability to operate quickly makes having a physical console a huge asset to a church lighting programmer.

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The Costs of Adding a Console / Control Surface

Console costs depend heavily on the brand of lighting control software you’ve chosen as well as your worship service complexity and quantity of lights.

Lighting Console Cost = $600 – $5,000+. This is obviously a WIDE range and can only be narrowed down by looking at your existing system and future goals.

All Of The Pieces = In a true software based setup you will need a computer, software license, DMX output interface and the console. There are systems out there that are all-in-one’s which combines the computer, license and console all together into a single piece of hardware / control board.

Since there are many options when it comes to lighting control for your church – we strongly recommend requesting our Best Lighting Control Systems For Churches.

So, Is A Console Right For Your Church or Is A Mouse And Keyboard Sufficient?

For most lighting softwares, a physical console is not necessary to output DMX or to program for a weekend service. However, when properly utilized, a console can prove itself an essential tool for the lighting programmer.

The ability to quickly program settings from the hard keys or encoders can make programming complex looks take only a few moments. The ability to bring up lighting when the pastor feels led by the Holy Spirit to minister to the congregation is a powerful asset.

A console will help the lighting operator to work in the immediate, allowing them to help create excellent worship environments. Consoles are tools that help us to be able to serve our church more efficiently. Utilizing the proper tools helps lighting programmers to facilitate worship environments. When God’s people are to commune in worship environments, signs and wonders are not far behind.

Frank Schabell is Manager of Install Support and Lighting Design at Pro Church Lights. He is passionate about using art and technology to communicate the greatest story ever told. Check out his work on ProChurchLights.com or follow him on Instagram @frankschabell.