Video Cue gets early workout at the Amsterdam High School of the Arts Graduation Ceremony

Tom Rijndorp, Student
January 2007

This year the department for theatre techniques started to offer two new graduation plans: lighting design and sound design. Five third-grade students chose one of these graduation plans. I'm one of them.

Our first assignment was to give shape to the graduation ceremony of the department. Five students were graduating. Part of our design concept was to give each of the graduating students their own projection screen on which to display slideshows, graphics and, as we called it, a living portrait of that person.

I started to look for a clever way to create a system to realize this plan. My goals were:

Having a lot of Mac-loving students at school, the cheapest way to stream data to five beamers was to use five laptops. I didn't have to search for a Powermac G5 or Mac Pro with multiple videocards, because it would be a lot more expensive than using the MacBooks from students anyway.

I've been searching around for quite some time to find an application that could tell multiple computers to play back video files. I was looking for an application like QLab (I had used QLab before at another performance to play back audio), but QLab didn't support video playback. I found an application that could play back Keynote presentations over a network, but I really wanted to work with video files.

Luckily, the week before the ceremony, QLab got its first video plugin into beta. Playing around with it, I found out that it could do just what I wanted.

So I started to make a setup with QLab. My school wanted to buy QLab anyway. The plan I came up with was the following:

[Diagram of QLab setup.]

One macbook would be used by the operator to trigger cues. It would play back video and sound effects as well. The other Macs would be connected to it by MIDI Show Control (MSC) so that they could be triggered by the master MacBook. When triggered by a simple MSC GO command, they would play back the next video cue in their cuelist.

As MacBooks don't have MIDI connectors and buying MIDI interfaces costs money, I wanted to find another way to connect the MacBooks. I found out that OS X supports MIDI over ethernet out of the box (see Applications/Utilities/Audio MIDI → MIDI devices → Network; many people don't seem to know this), so I decided to give it a try. QLab recognizes MIDI over ethernet sessions just like any other MIDI device, so the setup was ready to roll.

QLab remained very stable, even though the Audio MIDI Setup application crashed several times. I did not experience any faults in the video playback. From the moment that QLab captured the secondary screens, video playback was uninterrupted. QLab has proven to be a great piece of software which is highly reliable.