CPM Reviews: The Lighting Revolution Has Arrived! - The ETC Source Four Revolution
By: David Martin Jacques
For: Church Production Magazine
May 30, 2005

Copyright 2005 by David Martin Jacques

About fifteen years ago the automated lighting industry decided to begin introducing the exciting technology of moving lights into the theatrical and worship industries. In the early 1990’s, Vari*Lite released its Series 300 family of low-noise fixtures designed specifically for noise-sensitive environments. They continued their commitment to this industry with the development of the VL1000 several years ago. This is a relatively inexpensive automated light that can be purchased for under $4000. This fixture has enjoyed significant success in our industry.

Electronic Theatre Controls was not going to be left behind in the worship lighting market. ETC recently released their new Source Four Revolution to compete against the VL1000. ETC is well known for their revolutionary product design (Emphasis lighting control), cutting-edge technology (the original Source Four ERS), and extreme customer value. The Source Four Revolution is a reflection of all this.

The Revolution is designed as a modular light. Unlike the VL1000, which includes a complete set of lighting control devices (shutters, remote color changing, zoom, frost, rotating gobos, etc.), the Source Four Revolution offers several of these features as easily installed modules. ETC believes that a good number of Revolution users do not require all these features and therefore should not be forced to pay for them. If the end user wishes to add these features later, then it’s an inexpensive upgrade. In addition, modules can be shared among a group of Revolutions owned by the church. Very intelligent…

We have been testing the Source Four Revolution for several months both in our light lab and in productions at California State University Long Beach. As with most newly introduced moving lights, there were rumors of problems in the initial design of this fixture. Our testing assured me that we would discover any inherent problems that may have arisen. However, I am happy to report that during this extensive testing no problems or hiccups arose--and this after using it on two productions, and after the constant prodding and poking from graduate and undergraduate lighting design students.

The design of the Revolution is quite intriguing. At first glance the fixture looks like a strange mechanical robot. One of our directors immediately named it “R2D2” as she glanced at it hanging in one of our theaters. Its ungainly appearance is certainly not a reflection of a lack of design prowess.

The Revolution shines in its basic ability to project a very strong beam of light with a virtually silent pan and tilt mechanism. The intensity of the light is attributed to its 750W, 77 volt QXL incandescent lamp. This, along with the Revolution’s cool mirror reflector, large lighting aperture, and reduced lens array, results in a light that is significantly brighter than its competitor’s.

The fixture will pan 540 degrees and tilt 270 degrees. And it will move very fast (for its size). We found the movement of this fixture extremely quiet and accurate. It always hit its mark with very little movement noise.

As mentioned above, we used this fixture on two productions: one in our large multi-form theater, and the other in a very intimate 99-seat theater. In that theater the Revolution was hung only eight feet above the audience’s heads. Although it looked quite imposing, it was virtually silent in all its functions (except its frost feature, as noted below). We were very impressed, as its competitor certainly cannot make this silent movement claim.

The Revolution has a motorized zoom that will change the beam from 15-35 degrees. Although not as wide as its competitor, this is a very good range for most theatrical purposes. We appreciated the consistent quality of the field of light throughout the entire zoom range.

ETC decided to not offer a CYM (cyan, yellow, magenta) color mixing system in favor of an integrated twenty-frame color scroller. Although some lighting designers may miss the ability to mix and fade to a great variety of colors, ETC believes that most theatrical designers prefer color scrollers as they may pick specific colors that may be unavailable in a CYM dichroic mixing system. Although I personally belong to the former group of designers, I appreciated ETC’s choice of colors in their scroller. All twenty colors are quite usable. And if you don’t like the colors, the scroll can be easily replaced for a custom set of colors. There is also an integrated media frame that allows the user to insert custom colors and diffusion media.

ETC offers four optional modules for the Revolution: an automated iris module with an 18-blade mechanism, a static gobo wheel with three gobo slots that takes M-sized gobos, a rotating gobo wheel that offers variable speed rotation in both directions and gobo indexing, and a four-blade automated shutter module. (It should be noted that the Revolution includes two plug-and-play module bays. I wonder if a CYM module is in the future?)

Our evaluation fixture had the fixed gobo wheel and four-plane shutter modules. We were quite impressed with both modules as they worked flawlessly. The shutter module was especially outstanding. The shutters are designed to sit within a very close proximity that allows you to focus sharply on all four shutters. In addition, all four shutters can rotate in a 90-degree plane, creating just about any framing shape a designer could desire. (We had heard that ETC had initial design and manufacturing issues with this module. We tested this feature and discovered no problems. Apparently their re-design was a great success.)

In addition to all this, the Revolution also has an integrated dimmer. So you do not need an external dimmer to power this fixture. Just plug it into an A/C outlet, plug in the DMX cable, and away you go!

The only problem we discovered with the Revolution was with its variable frost feature. We found this function somewhat problematic. There seems to be no variable frost as you can either choose crisp or soft, and there is an annoying click sound when the mechanism passes through its 50% range. We tested several Revolutions purchased by one of our students, and all the units seem to suffer from this. We assume that this will be addressed in an upcoming software and/or hardware release.

The arrival of the Revolution is a very welcome event in the development of affordable automated lighting for the worship market. I have personally specified this fixture for several small and large churches that I am designing for several reasons. The Revolution is relatively inexpensive when you consider its great functionality. You can have a silent moving light with a wide range of colors for the cost of several lekos. It also allows you to customize the fixture with whatever modules you desire. Why pay for automated shutters when you may not need them? How many times do you really need rotating gobos?

In addition, with its integrated dimmer, you can actually design a very sophisticated church lighting system without any external dimmers or electrical dimming distribution. This leads to substantial cost savings!

The development of this fixture will certainly add a great deal of options when it comes to automated lighting on a budget. Churches with modest budgets now realize that they too can join their brethren in incorporating automated lighting into their worship services. Learning from it competitors, ETC has designed a moving light that exceeds expectations. Not only does it fulfill all its design parameters, the light is remarkably silent and accurate. Kudos to Electronic Theatre Controls for starting the Revolution!

David Martin Jacques is a professional lighting consultant and designer. He has designed theatres, churches, and television productions both nationally and internationally. He may be contacted at djacques@csulb.edu .