PRG’s Mbox Director

in Road Tests

For users of PRG’s Mbox EXtreme who are not familiar with how to program a lighting console, the wait for a non-DMX-based control interface is over. PRG has released standalone software for controlling Mbox that runs on a Mac, and it’s free!

Hardware Specs — Since this is Mac based, you only need an Intel-based Apple Mac computer (MacBook Pro, MacBook, Mac Mini, Mac Pro, etc.) and an Ethernet cable. Mbox Director can also run directly on an Mbox server with very little impact on the media server’s performance.

Software Specs — The Mbox Director software is free and can be downloaded from the PRG website. It will run on any Mac using Leopard, Snow Leopard or Lion operating systems. (PowerPC-based Mac computers are not supported.)

Mbox Director softwarey starts with an intuitive GUIIntuitive GUI

The graphical user interface (GUI) of the Mbox Director is designed to be intuitive. Once a server has been patched (detected), all of its layers are displayed at the top of the GUI. To manipulate a layer, the user simply selects (clicks) on the layer. Then, any of its attributes can be adjusted using sliders and buttons.

The scene view, with visible layersFamiliarity with Mbox is helpful, as attributes are grouped together by tabs. You may have to search for some of the more advanced features like Drawmodes, Alignment Rectangles or Snowflakes, but experimenting is part of the fun when working with a media server.

The Media Picker window displays thumbnails of content.A unique feature for programming is the Media Picker window. There, thumbnails of each piece of content are displayed. This means you can easily find the right clip to fit the look you want without having to scroll or click through folder after folder with the mouse.

Live Streaming Looks

Mbox Director uses CITP to communicate between the Mbox server and control laptop, and you get a live streaming thumbnail representation, both on the Layer and the Master Layer output windows.

Once a layer’s look has been created, it can be stored in the Scene list to the right of the GUI by clicking on the [+] button. Each scene is stored with a thumbnail representing its contents, and scenes can be labeled as well.

Editing scenes is easy too. An auto-update feature lets users update stored scenes automatically as they are adjusted. This feature can also be disabled if users prefer to update a stored scene manually. They simply press the Update button at the top of the Scene window when they want the update to occur.

Timing for all attributes is assigned in the GUI by switching to the Time mode; users do this by pressing the button next to Value.

All attributes can have unique Fade times within a stored Scene, the same as when programming from a lighting console. All of the same effects and eye-popping looks can be easily created with Mbox Director.

Finally, the GUI contains a timeline feature for Scene playback that allows stored scenes to be dragged and dropped onto it directly. Then those stored scenes can be triggered manually via the keyboard or via timecode (internally or externally).

Clean and Simple

Mbox Director is clean, simple and direct, and it is designed specifically for Mbox EXtreme. Its GUI layout allows fast access to all Mbox EXtreme features without complicating the programming process by burying things in menus.

It’s easy to set up and use; to connect and patching a server only requires some basic knowledge of how to change an IP address on the control Mac. It seems likely that software like Mbox Director could become the future of media server control as more manufacturers begin to move beyond the DMX lighting console as the sole means of controlling a server.

Summing Up

Mbox Director is a long-awaited entry into the media server control market. For years, video-savvy techs have not been able to benefit from direct access to DMX-controlled media servers, but now they have a tool that puts them back in the game. In addition to video techs, lighting programmers who specialize in programming media servers will often separate out the server onto another lighting console, so having software like this means a console might not be as necessary in those situations.