Go QLab3

by Brad Berridge

The look of the workspace in QLab 3 can be easily customized, for a colorful effect.
The look of the workspace in QLab 3 can be easily customized, for a colorful effect.
Figure 53 has made an indispensible product even better

QLab from Figure 53 “makes it simple to create rich multimedia designs for live performance and installations.” This claim, from their website, has become more and more true over the last few years for sound and video designers. QLab 2, released in 2009, quickly became a “go to” for software playback for theatre and installation artists, thanks to its feature set, reliability and excellent customer support. With all of these assets, it’s no surprise the design world was excited for the latest edition of QLab (version 3), which was released earlier this year.

As soon as the software became available, I jumped on the download. I was working on three productions at the time and was excited to be able to try it out at those shows. At each theatre I met with frustration as none of them had a computer with enough power to run Apple’s OS X 10.8 operating system—a requirement for QLab 3. So check your computers before you purchase the upgrade—nothing worse than getting a brand new toy and not being able to play with it.

Luckily, my home studio was equipped to make the jump. I downloaded version 3, and dove in. First impressions focused directly on the new visual look of QLab. Whereas the graphical user interface of version 2 had a very “Apple” feel to it, QLab 3 has a whole new look. At first I wondered why the change was made, but after a few minutes I found that my eyes were much more comfortable navigating the cue list and menus. Considering the hours I’ll be spending programming cues in the software, and then changing those cues in long days of tech, I ended up appreciating the change.

In order to put the program through its paces, I decided to recreate a recent show: Lewitticisms for the Williams College Dance Department. The piece used my sound design, original compositions and projection design (with animation assistance from Mika Hirai).

QLab 3 had no problems opening my QLab 2 file, seamlessly bringing it up. Getting the output assignments correct for my new set up was straightforward and simple. QLab 2 users will be familiar with the menus. New users will find the drop down style easy to master.

There were two major audio additions to version 3. One is the ability to take live audio from live inputs—i.e., microphones, which will open up a lot of possibilities for designers. And the second is the ability to insert effects into your audio and video files. On the audio side, you can add effects to the individual file, the output from QLab, or to the physical output on your audio output device. This new feature is fantastic. It opens up many possibilities for system setup and increases flexibility when building a show. For example, you can insert a graphic equalizer in your signal chain in QLab now and go directly from your sound output device to an amplifier or a speaker—saving you the cost of a physical console or DSP unit.

 

With the “Edit Surface” function, you can automatically assign your projector to its correct orientation (rear or ceiling projected). You can snap a grid onto your screen and line up your edit screen in QLab with what the actual surface you are projecting onto is like.
With the “Edit Surface” function, you can automatically assign your projector to its correct orientation (rear or ceiling projected). You can snap a grid onto your screen and line up your edit screen in QLab with what the actual surface you are projecting onto is like.

The overall video control in QLab 3 is a dramatic improvement over version 2. First up, they added support for Blackmagic input devices, greatly expanding the options for getting a live video feed into QLab. Additionally, much less time is needed setting up a projector. With the “Edit Surface” function, you can automatically assign your projector to its correct orientation (rear or ceiling projected). You can snap a grid onto your screen and line up your edit screen in QLab with what the actual surface you are projecting onto is like. Each video or image file can now be viewed and manipulated in real time, with a myriad of effects. The manipulation controls are very easy to use, with simple slider bars and mouse wheel control. Some are as simple and useful as exposure or color manipulation, and there are also many popular filters. You can easily add titles to an image as well, eliminating the need to create individual slides or images for any text you need to add. All the added video power does not come at the expense of performance. Luckily, that seems to have improved over the previous version with video. Using my MacBook Pro (2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 4GBs of RAM), I had no lag or hiccups.

 

But the real icing on the cake for QLab 3 is an integrated iPad app. The app allows operators to step away from the computer and preview their work anywhere in the performance space. When I first opened the app, it instantly found my computer and asked to link to the QLab 3 file I was working on. I clicked OK and the cue list came up on the iPad. Although I had to navigate through a few clicks to get to the information I needed from the app, being able to trigger a cue, change its volume, fade times, even manipulate the size and position of an image is a huge step forward. I will definitely being taking advantage of this.

In conclusion, Figure 53’s QLab 3 is everything I hoped it would be and a bit more. It will quickly become the new standard for sound playback in my tool bag.

PROS

• New GUI easier to read,
customizable

• Ability to insert effects into
your audio and video files

• Improved video control

CONS
• Make sure your theatre has a
Mac that can support OS X 10.8

PRICING
Free Audio/Free Video: $0

Basic Audio/Basic Video: $199 for each package

Pro Audio/Pro Video: $399 for each package

Pro Bundle: $749

Educational Pricing Available Upon Request

WEBSITE
www.figure53.com/qlab