Optikinetics Solar 250
A bass down-beat triggers wheel-rotated effects, but this sound-to-light projector system is a lot more flexible than in the old green-for bass, red-for-treble disco days.
New lamps for old? Ian Masterson discovers there's more to projecting an image than meets the eye...
With the advent of the portable disco 'environment' in the '70s came a host of 'spectacular' light boxes, lamps and chasing patterns designed to transform that little-used room over the pub or the local church hall into an instant club space that throbbed with atmosphere. The reality, of course, was rather different. And now most of us cringe with embarrassment when we chance upon a mobile DJ with those despised 'kaleidoscope' boxes of flashing reds and greens, or deeply naff string of rope lights adorning his decks at a barmitzvah.
But fashions have a habit of reinventing themselves and what once may have seemed somewhat passe can again become desirable - particularly if some enterprising manufacturer decides to add a few additional features to bring it up-to-date.
Despite having its origins back in the disco boom of the '70s, Optikinetics' projector technology has brought the company renewed interest from the 90s dub/dance scene. While the basic design has changed very little, the machines have been continuously tweaked and prodded to reflect the developing tastes of club and gig goer.
The Solar 250 projector is by no means a new machine, but it is enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity at the moment. Clubs throughout the country are busy filling their walls with collages of light and colour. And gigging musicians, who's aim it is to recreate the multi-sensory environment of the club on stage, have also begun to see the potential. The Orb for example, took a whole bank of 250s to Copenhagen for their massive stage show.
The Solar 250 is actually the most junior projector in Optikinetic's range, weighing in at just over £200, but it is still capable of putting out a powerful shaft of light, courtesy of the internal 250watt quartz halogen lamp. The basic unit is used to drive a whole host of effects, the majority of which take the form of glass 'wheels' screen-printed with a continuous loop of colour artwork and designed to be rotated slowly by the projector's built-in motor. The resulting beam is then focussed onto a screen, wall or floor in normal projector style.
The sound-animated version of the Solar 250 on review here enhances the display further by giving you the option of syncing the effects to a bass downbeat - making for a total projection system that sounds simple, but which looks stunning.
Actually, wheel rotated effects are only one of the accessories Optikinetics manufacture for the 250 range. Effect wheels can also be locked into wheel safes and cassette changers, allowing you to remotely select which is used. And there are several other complete accessory packages - such as the Rotagraph and Dynagraph systems - which make it possible for the 250 to produce a different range of constantly interchanging patterns altogether. Optikinetics can even produce effects to your own custom requirements.
The various accessories are attached to the main unit at different positions, according to their function. Effects wheels are introduced into the main beam of light before the final lens; thus they sit in a cavity towards the front of the projector which contains two brackets or 'gates' holding the rotators and effects assemblies. A further attachment point is provided at the main lens; here you can add various motorised prism and mirror units which can be employed to scatter the beam around the room.
The sound animation circuitry is contained within the projector itself, and is driven by an audio signal taken in through the miniature 1/8" jack socket below the lens. Presumably this has been chosen for reasons of space, but I can't help feeling that a standard 1/4" jack might have been a better choice. Still, Optikinetics thoughtfully provide a matching 1/8" plug with the 250, so there shouldn't be too much of a problem.
The animated effects are actually connected into the sound-to-light circuitry via an array of three two-pin low voltage sockets on one side of the gate. This configuration makes the effects simple and quick to change should the need arise; and with all the effects being driven from a central circuit, you can be sure that they remain perfectly in sync.
For those effects whose operation does not involve synchronisation to sound - such as the continuous slow rotation of the liquid effects wheel which produces an evolving wash of psychedelic colour - two continuous low voltage outputs are also supplied. The entire Solar 250 unit is driven by a substantial internal power supply, which connects to the mains via the usual IEC socket and plug.
It has to be said, the original range of 'witches and goblin' wheels used with the Solar 250 really don't cut it any more, but there's plenty of others to chose from. And of course, there's that custom design service for those trying to create an image (sic) for themselves. It should also be taken into account that the projecting a wheel onto a stage filled with musicians and equipment produces a much different effect than directing it onto a flat wall. 'Fracturing' the beam in this way makes the images less coherent and ultimately more usable - particularly for a live band. In any case, the most important element of this kind of effect is movement; a rotating image, positioned correctly, really can do wonders for an otherwise 'static' stage show.
Ultimately, the Solar 250's continued success is down to it's sheer versatility. Optikinetic's expanding range of accessories and effects for their projectors ensures that they offer flexibility, variety, and, therefore, value for money.
|Ease of use||Can be a little fiddly|
|Originality||Not especially original|
|Value for money||Price reflects the precision mechanics|
|Star Quality||Limitless lighting combinations|
|Price||£265 plus VAT|
|More from||Optikinetics Ltd, (Contact Details)|
Review by Ian Masterson
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