My opinion of Blizzard Lighting has changed....

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My opinion of Blizzard Lighting has changed....

Postby randyhyde » Mon May 06, 2013 3:32 pm

Did a big show this weekend with a bunch of new Blizzard Lighting gear.

From last year, I had the following:

16 Rocklite RGBAW units, used on totems (vertical trusses) for side lighting (totems at stage wing left and stage wing right, 8 fixtures per totem).

24 Puck RGB and 8 Puck RGBAW units arranged in an 8x4 matrix (6 RGB and 2 RGBAW fixtures on each of 4 totems) at the upstage position.

15 Puck Fab 4 fixtures on the upstage truss (spread out over 30' on a 40' truss) and 12 Fab 5 fixtures on my upstage truss (horizontal).

8 Wicicle and 2 light caster wireless DMX modules.

First off, I spent a couple weeks' of evenings programming my rig for a 40' stage (featuring 20 Fab 5 fixtures on the upstage truss) with lots of intricate chases. Two days before the show, the client tells me that the 40'x24' (trailer) stage they were having built wasn't going to be ready on time and they had to rent a smaller (24'x20') stage. Unfortunately, I couldn't get all 20 Fab 5 fixtures mounted in 24' (they are mounted and prewired 4 per 5' pole which are generally spread out over 30'; couldn't get more than 4 of the poles to fit in the trailer stage and I went with three so the chases would be balanced (using CR, center, CL, and dropping the left/right groups). So half my chases were unusable (at that show, I'll still be able to use them in future shows).

First, let's talk about problems with the Fab 5 fixtures. I ordered 41 of these units. Originally, I was planning on using 35 of the fixtures on the stage (leaving me 6 fixtures as spares/auxiliary units). Straight from the supplier, four of them were dead. Okay, I was counting on that (Blizzard sells cheap Chinese fixtures; I knew that; that's why I ordered six spares). I proceeded to blow up three more fixtures while testing them. It took me *three* smoked fixtures (loud pop, smoke pouring out the back) to discover that you *cannot* plug a dmx cable into these fixtures while they are powered up (these are Blizzard brand DMX cables BTW, not mic cables with the shield connected to pin three which will also blow up Fab 5 fixtures). Now I'm short one fixture (at least, as far as I knew at the time). Had to two-day ship another Fab 5 from Full Compass four days before the show to finish up the truss. Boy was I pooping bricks at the time as I had no idea if the rest of the fixtures would make it through or not (with care, they all survived after that point).

I will say this about the Blizzard Fab 5 units - beautiful light, very nice palette, and an incredible price (under $200 from KPODJ). However, unless you are very technically inclined and *very* careful using them, I can't recommend them. DJs are going to be blowing these things up left and right. If you do sound and lighting, be sure to mark your DMX (versus microphone) cables very carefully. Despite the fact that the Fab 5 manual says that microphone cables *should* work, most microphone cables short the shield and pin three and according to the Blizzard manual, that "may" damage the fixture. Given my luck with these fixtures, I can pretty much say that such cables will blow up the fixture in less than a second.

The problem with the Fab 5 (and, I would assume, many other Blizzard Fixtures) is that it is "Wicicle enabled." This means that they are putting a positive voltage out on the shield and using the potential between the shield and pin 3 (ground) to power Wicicles without having to use a wall wart/transformer. The problem is that if you short these two pins together -- BOOM! Big pop and the magic smoke comes pouring out the back.

If you use Fab 5 fixtures, you need to pull out an ohm meter and check the pins on your cable to make sure they are not shorted to ground. Also, if you plug any *other* fixtures into a Fab 5 (or other wicicle-enabled fixture) you have to make sure that fixture (or anything plugged into it) does not short pin 3 to the shield. In general at this point, I'm only comfortable plugging Fab 5 units into Fab 5 units using Blizzard branded DMX cables. It scares me that a pinched cable will cause my fixtures to blow up.

Like I said, the light out of these things is absolutely beautiful but I can't recommend these fixtures to the average user until Blizzard addresses this issue some how. I'm especially peeved that plugging in a (Blizzard branded) DMX cable while power was applied to the fixture would damage the thing. Never had an issue like this with any fixture in the past and it's common enough for me to have to switch cables during the middle of a show (i.e., crisis time, when you won't remember to unplug the power cable before yanking the DMX cable) that I'm not willing to live with this problem. I'll be contacting Blizzard support this week to see if they can tell me what wires to snip inside the fixture to disable this "wicicle-enabled" feature. If I'm using wicicles, I don't mind sticking a transformer on them to prevent problems like this.

Speaking of wicicles, I bought eight of them to put on my various trusses (downstage, 6 totems, upstage). I used two Blizzard Lightcaster wireless DMX transmitters to talk to those guys (two universes). Boy, talk about epic fail. First of all, I used the two light casters (one universe) all last summer with the light board at the FOH position (about 75-100' from the stage) with absolutely no problems. I did a simple dress rehearsal at home (in my driveway) the weekend before (granted, didn't have all the lights yet as some were still on back order) and things went reasonably well. In retrospect, the big mistake I made during the dress rehearsal is that the DMX transmitters were right next to the fixtures (which were all jammed together, so there was probably a maximum of 16' between the transmitter and the farthest wicicle). Friday night, I showed up for free (was hired for Saturday night only) because I wanted to test out the lighting rig before the big show (Great White) the following night. Boy, what a disaster. FOH is next to the stage (slighting in front, stage left). The fixtures that had receivers (wicicles) on stage left worked reasonably well, all the other ones had random flashing going on. Turns out that the wicicle plugs in to the back of the fixtures and in most cases the fixture blocks the antenna so you don't get line of site to the transmitter and, as a result, you get crappy reception. Okay, first attempt at a solution -- I stick a short (Blizzard) DMX cable in the fixture and gaf-tabe the wicicle to the truss. Big mistake. For some reason, the idiot engineer that designed the wicicle decided to make the casing of the wicicle hot (+5v). The truss, of course, is at ground potential so this shorts out the whole thing (fortunately I discovered this while working with some Rocklite RGBAW fixtures and didn't have to discover how this would blow up some Fab 5 units). Okay, gaf-tape on the truss first (to insulate it) and then tape the wicicle over that. Works a lot better now that there is clear line of sight from my transmitter to the wicicles.

Still not the end of my problems. It seems the range of these wicicles is nowhere near as good as the light casters were last summer (either that, or maybe I shouldn't have been using two adjacent channels for my two universes; an experiment for a different time). for the farthest fixtures (we're talking 40-50' here) I had to stick a DMX cable on the fixture and move the wicicle closer to the transmitter to get it to work reliably. Completely obliterating the reason for having wireless in the first place.

One wall wart was DOA, one broke when I unplugged it (case fell apart). Clearly the build quality on these things could be a little bit better.

Right now, I plan on sending all the wicicles back and paying the extra dollars to get the Light Caster units. The wicicles might have been a great idea, but their execution is completely flawed. The whole "casing is hot" design error is insane. Glad I figured that one out before blowing up another Fab 5. The whole "wicicle enabled" feature is also insane. Unless they put some protection into their circuitry to keep the fixtures from blowing up, I'd recommend against using any "wicicle-enabled" fixtures.

It was a lot of stress, but the good news is that by 7 pm on Saturday (GW goes on at 8:30pm) we have the fixtures working solidly (largely by removing several wicicles and hardwiring the fixtures). The lights *were* incredible; even missing 8 fixtures from my original set (actually, 12 fixtures as I also had 4 Rocklite AW units that I wound up not using because I ran out of time to program them).

The lesson I learned here is that a dress rehearsal in my back driveway (which isn't big enough for my typical stage) doesn't cut it and avoid anything to do with wicicles from Blizzard.
Cheers,
Randy Hyde
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Re: My opinion of Blizzard Lighting has changed....

Postby RBIngraham » Mon May 06, 2013 5:45 pm

Randy,

All I can say if you sure have your moments and problem. I do not envy you at all. :)

But I don't think you really mean shorted to pin 3 on the XLR. Pin 3 is ussually the + or - signal line. I suspect what you mean is that Pin 1 (which should be connected to the shield of the cable) is also shorted to the shell of the XLR connector. That can actually cause all sorts of issues and really is a bad idea for lighting or audio. Most decent quality XLR cables do not short the connector shell to pin 1, although I still find some that do every once in a while. And they ussually cuase some bullshit hum or buzz issue, especially in a long cable run. One snip with the wire snipper fixes that shit right away. :)

If pin 3 was shorted to the shield, it wouldn't work well for audio and probably wouldn't work for any lighting DMX run no matter what brand of lighting gear you were using.
Richard B. Ingraham
RBI Computers and Audio
http://www.rbicompaudio.20m.com/
SAC details and goodies at: http://www.rbicompaudio.20m.com/SAC.html
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Re: My opinion of Blizzard Lighting has changed....

Postby Hkmorgan87 » Mon May 06, 2013 6:34 pm

I also use blizzard lighting. And so far I haven't experienced any of those issues. I have had problems with my wicycle with random flashes as well. Dmx termination fixed my issue. They use the same 2.4 band as wireless routers. So everywhere you go you may have to change what frequency they use. I have 7 wicicle units read across two universes. I have noticed that if you are sending a lot of dmx wirelessly that sometimes you will have lag or even dropouts.

Several of my blizzard fixtures support powering the wicicle unit from the fixture, but I always provide power with the wall wart. I use standard audio xlr cables to connect all of my fixtures. I've never had anything blow up.
Harley Morgan

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Re: My opinion of Blizzard Lighting has changed....

Postby Butch » Mon May 06, 2013 6:39 pm

Boy do I know all about the weird blizzard wicicles powering problems
with the correct cable plug a Q6 into a flurryQ and you get smake
Q12 work but not Q6s
many other various fixtures can not be connected together
Making the connector shell +12 volts is crazzzzzy
The first 50 or so DMX cables I got from them HAD the shell to pin 1

Randy if you give me a call I can help a lot with the wireless problems 309 230 7061
It's to long of a conversation to do by forum

Butch
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Re: My opinion of Blizzard Lighting has changed....

Postby randyhyde » Tue May 07, 2013 8:24 pm

Butch wrote:Boy do I know all about the weird blizzard wicicles powering problems
with the correct cable plug a Q6 into a flurryQ and you get smake
Q12 work but not Q6s
many other various fixtures can not be connected together
Making the connector shell +12 volts is crazzzzzy
The first 50 or so DMX cables I got from them HAD the shell to pin 1

Randy if you give me a call I can help a lot with the wireless problems 309 230 7061
It's to long of a conversation to do by forum

Butch


I'm going to send the wicicles back and get the light caster (?) units. I used those last year with absolutely no problems.
Cheers,
Randy Hyde
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