For all those who care not one shit about technical doohickeys, pass by now.
With that said, my brief and off the top of my head review of PLASA 2010. PLASA is pretty much the biggest techie trade show there is, taking over the whole of Earl's Court 1 & 2 for an entire week, and its free to go to! Pretty much every company worth knowing has a stand there and many companies unveil new products there each year, so basically, if you work in anything to do with staging, techining, production, etc, it's a must, and a lot of international buyers fly over specifically for the networking potential of the show.
I found this year's show heavily toned down from last year, PLASA always tends to be somewhat flashy, attempting to show the pinacle of what's the swankiest looking and highest costing stuff in the technical industry that year. Last year they shot a laser all the way from the back of EC2 to the entrance of EC1, that was impressive. The hippo stand last year was a lot of fun, it looked great, and there was plenty of hands on potential to play with their video servers and software and see the power behind it. The biggest lights you could imagine were brought out, and free to play with and attempt to blind people halfway across the exhibition centre. It was basically the technicians version of the funky play area at the science museum.
This year was a lot more... professional I guess, you had to actively go and ask for product demos,very little option to play and experiment yourself, and hardly anything was actually rigged up to any real output to see the effects you were making, and the sales staff generally seemed to avoid talking unless you really obviously wanted to. This was less good in many ways, it discouraged people from taking more than a glancing interest in a lot of products, and Chris, who I dragged 'cause I hate doing PLASA by myself, was bored out of his mind.
It was a complete LEDfest this year. Now, LEDs are great, they reduce power consumption massively, which when you consider a west end show running for one night consumes the same amount of power as a small town probably does in a fortnight, theatres are definitely the way to go to save energy costs worldwide. LEDs have a lot of versatility; depending on how advanced the light in question is, you can create virtually any shade, at any desired colour temperature generally as a moving head and they can, sometimes, make a decent fill light. For general background colour wash, concert style lighting etc, they are definitely the way forward. However, I have yet to be convinced in ANY way that they can actually replace a standard parcan, fresnel, or profile for sheer strength of wash fill or throw. Get beyond about 3 or 4 meters away from a general LED light, and its potency really starts to wane, even powerful macs, some of which are on display at PLASA this year, the stands 6m away are only getting a slight wash of led colour, rather than blasted by light as you would see coming from a 750w parcan. It's basically the same story as energy saving light bulbs you get in your home, they do a similar job and its a good idea that we should all embrace, but most people agree they simply don't do the job that their predecessors did, and they are rather deficient in some fairly crucial areas.
On top of this, the white you get from an RGB LED light is massively blue shifted, and even the white LEDs give a rather stark light. Now yes, you can correct this with colour filters and such, but that can then present problems when you actually want to use shades of the RGB mix. Remember how in art class as a kid, mixing the 3 primary colours never quite gave you true black, it's the same issue, except with light theory rather than colour theory (don't even get me started on the theory of what colour mixing looks like under mixed lighting, it makes my head hurt a LOT).
Until I can get a relatively warm, daylight tungsten feel light beam, that will throw a consistent high stregnth beam of any colour from 25m away up in the catwalks or rigging of a show/venue, I will refuse to be convinced by LEDs as a full replacement option for any rig. I've seen it attempted in several venues and there's just not enough fill light. They tried it in my current workplace originally, you couldn't see a thing, so now there are 10 parcans installed too, 2 per staging area, which given the layout of the staging area and rigging points, is only half the lights you need but its something at least.
All that being said, there were a few things that caught my eye at PLASA and impressed me this year. THe first was the omnidirectional rigging fixture in the innovation gallery, i forget the manufacturer, that could potentially be game changing and make life so, so much easier for a lot of big set builds. The MAC 101s were really good to see, the functionality you'd want and expect from a mac light, with a wide range on both the pan and tilt fuctions, but in a pretty damned small enclosure. It's pretty much ideal for the sort of work I do, you can daisy chain the power just like the dmx, and it changes a standard fixed rig into something so much more versatile. I can see myself pushing for that light a lot in future projects. The other thing that caught my eye was Avolite's new Titan Mobile. The venue I'm currently at is running the Chamsys MagicQ software, running solely off a PC, whilst this isn't a huge problem, i do prefer the reliance of a physical console, and it makes life so much easier when programming or needing to edit a show on the fly during a live run. I was therefore looking at the MagicQ PC wing. The Titan Mobile blew that idea straight out of the water. For a slightly bigger console it provides so much more functionality, a keypad for one thing, twice the amount of physical dmx outputs, and the software package is so much more advanced, and includes Avolite's built in visualizer which saves buying WYSIWYG or the like at the exorbitant cost of that to integrate with Chamsys. And I was offered it at LESS than the cost of the inferior MagicQ PC wing. Now getting Avolite would involve retraining the entire staff here so they knew how to at least turn the lights on, as well as repatching the entire venue which no-one ever likes to do, but then again Avolites are designed with constant repatching in mind, for touring, so their system is actually quite easy. When the boss gets back in 2 days, my budget proposal is now going to include a request for the Titan Mobile, instead of Chamsys now.