The Family Silver
Mid-price lights, top-end performance
Mid-price intelligent lighting projectors don't come much smarter than the new Pulsar Silverado. Ian Masterson colours himself bad
The first time I heard of Pulsar's latest mini intelligent lighting system was several months ago, while discussing the visuals for an impending dub night. The organising team were gathered in the chosen venue, necks craning to examine the bare lighting truss above our heads. The basic rig had already been decided upon - eight GoldenScan IIIs, a pair of Tornados, an Optikinetics Club Strobeflower system and so on - but we were at a loss as to what to line the long, 'catwalk-style' dancefloor with.
"What you want up there, mate," announced the chief electrician decisively, "is some of them new Pulsar scans. Eldorados - that's what they're called." Eldorados, indeed. A quick phone call to Pulsar, and a few tentative questions about whether they had launched an intelligent lighting unit named after a recently axed BBC soap opera, resulted in the following information. Yes, they did have a new scan unit. Yes, it was designed as a middle-ground, semi-pro/professional system. But no - it wasn't named after that disastrous TV show set in sunny Spain. The new baby was in fact called the 'Silverado', and carried a price-tag low enough to make it attractive to almost anyone looking to get into serious lighting: be they DJ, gigging musician, engineer, or club promoter.
At around £1,000 a piece, the Silverado units are by no means the cheapest intelligent lighting system on the market - certainly not if you include the budget-orientated miniature units currently being manufactured by companies such as NJD, Martin Professional, and Abstract. But it would be unreasonable to compare the Silverados with units in the £300-400 price bracket, simply because the system is aimed at a different market, and is manufactured to be in a different league altogether - as we shall see.
The Silverado system is actually co-manufactured by Pulsar in England and their sister company, Clay Paky, in Italy. Pulsar build the electronics, while Clay Paky assemble the casing, mirrors, lenses and mechanics.
Among other things, this combination is behind the award-winning and renowned GoldenScan Intelligent Projector series. The tough all-steel construction is one of the first things you notice when unpacking a Silverado, closely followed by how strikingly attractive the units are. As the name might suggest, the projector is finished in a rather stunning silver, the casing having rounded and bevelled comers in true Clay Paky fashion.
The Silverado looks for all the world like a GoldenScan that's been shrunk in the wash; it has the same scan-style construction of lamp/electronics housing, lens assembly and mirror head, and can be hung in basically any position by means of the supplied bracket.
The Silverado is powered via an IEC mains socket with an integral on/off switch, and consumes 300watts of power at 240volts. Since this is a professional intelligent lighting unit, the signal used to control it can be either DMX 512 or PMX RS232/423 (digital protocols), or analogue 0-10volts. The former allows a far more sophisticated level of control when connected to a programmable DMX lighting desk, and indeed the Silverados are optimised for use with Pulsar's Masterpiece consoles. (A full appraisal of the Masterpiece will appear in an impending issue; suffice to say that the Masterpiece 48 and 108 programmable consoles are pretty much 'industry standard' when it comes to operating complex lighting systems in clubs.) The digital protocols are carried on balanced five-pin XLR connections, the analogue on standard eight-pin DIN sockets.
To briefly recap, DMX carries 128 channels of control information on a single line (rather like MIDI, except more intense). Each Silverado requires four such channels to control all its functions: Channel 1 selects the projected colour, Channel 2 selects the gobo/strobe effect, Channel 3 pans the mirror (and thus the beam) horizontally, and Channel 4 shows Mork & Mindy every Tuesday evening. Only joking. Channel 4, as you may have guessed by now, controls the mirror's vertical tilt.
So in order to run multiple Silverados independently on a single DMX system, you need to assign each unit a 'start address' on the DMX network - a process not unlike assigning a MIDI channel on a synth. Thus your first Silverado has a start address of one, and occupies all the channels from there up to five. The second Silverado then starts at five, and goes up to nine. The third starts at nine... Get the picture?
"The Silverado looks for all the world like a GoldenScan that's been shrunk in the wash"
The start address is selected by means of a bank of DIL switches on the back of each unit. These switches also allow you to activate a special test sequence that runs through various movements to ensure the projector is working okay, and also to reverse the direction of the pan and tilt movements, depending on how you have hung the Silverado up.
When power is first applied to the unit, it performs a brief 'self-test' and reset routine, during which the electronics stabilise and the mirror motors are recalibrated. After this the unit can be focused according to your stage/club requirements. The beam of light itself is trimmed by loosening the lens assembly below the mirror head and moving it backwards and forwards. Simple, but effective.
The halogen lamp that actually produces the beam is relatively inexpensive, and operates at 24volts, 250watts courtesy of an internal transformer, but the beam is still surprisingly sharp and bright (9,000 lumen, colour temperature 3,200 Kelvin).
The Silverado carries a selection of eight colours including white, together with five 'shaped' gobos and a normal circular beam (you can see the shapes and colours in the adjacent pictures). Full 'colour mixing' is not available (unsurprising on a unit of this price), but you can position the colour disc halfway between two shades to achieve a sort of split-beam effect. Additionally, the colour disc can be set to 'spin' at speeds up to 300rpm, giving some rather nifty spectrum visuals.
The gobos are similar to those on most scan lamps - a selection of stars, blotches and dotted lines - but the Silverado does include an adjustable 'strobe' effect, where the shutter over the beam can be set to repeatedly close and open up to seven times a second. The same shutter also allows you to blackout the lamp completely. Unlike some cheaper units, colours and gobos can be selected independently and combined at will.
"This sort of lighting system reflects the amount of effort you put into programming it"
The mirror itself is controlled by two micro-stepping, microprocessor-controlled motors. With the motors' help, it can pan over 150° in 0.4 seconds, and tilt over 110° in 0.3seconds. Extremely smooth movement is provided thanks to high-resolution control circuitry, which offers 5,376 individual pan and 1,972 tilt steps. The motors make the most bizarre noise when in motion; it's identical to the sound made by Luke Skywalker's light sabre in Star Wars, but this only impresses me more [you sad, sad individual - Ed].
Because the Silverados are designed to be operated externally over DMX or analogue (no internal sound-to-light facility is provided), you really need to spend some time with a programmable desk to get the best out of them. Once you're used to their mode of operation, however, programming stunning effects and dazzling lightshows is a doddle. Because of the flexibility of effects they offer, more time is needed at the tweaking stage than with budget units - but then, if you're this serious about your lighting, you'll be spending a considerable amount of time on perfecting your show anyway.
I tested a system of four units connected to a Masterpiece 108, and after about ten minutes had knocked up a short, but impressive, display which ran from sound-to-light (although the Masterpiece also offers MIDI synchronisation). This sort of lighting system really reflects the amount of effort you put into it.
You might well expect a unit from the CP&P stable to perform well regardless of cost, and you'd be right when it comes to the Silverado. If you're on a tighter budget than the £4,500+ needed to purchase a four-unit, fully-controlled Silverado system, but you desperately need to get intelligent lighting to enhance your gig, then you may be better off with a more basic design from another source. After all, budget units increasingly offer a surprisingly competent performance for very few nuggets.
But if you place somewhat heavier demands on your gear, and you're anxious to get seriously bright, seriously flexible and seriously rugged intelligent projection devices, look no further than the Silverados.
Personally, I would have no qualms about packing four, eight, or even 12 of these units into the back of an estate car with a Masterpiece and taking them to every gig and club night I'm involved in. In fact, I've done just that. Pulsar rather naively left me alone in their warehouse, and I've helped myself.
I must dash now, because I've a ferry to catch (I've always wanted to gig around Spain), and I can see some flashing blue lights appearing over the horizon. However, I fear these particular illuminations are not generated by a Silverado. The police really should smarten up their act...
Price inc VAT: £1,146
More from: Pulsar, (Contact Details)
Review by Ian Masterson
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