High End Systems SolaFrame Theatre

by Craig Rutherford
in Road Tests
High End Systems SolaFrame Theatre
High End Systems SolaFrame Theatre

For a few years, it wasn’t clear how soon we’d have LED engines capable of providing the raw output necessary to compete with high-wattage arc sources — those tiny bits of bottled lightning held their position as the brightest practical form of entertainment lighting we had for many, many years. As advancement in semiconductor science marched on, however, the first truly usable hard-edged LED fixtures appeared and have been steadily improving.

The choice to use LEDs in fixtures these days largely comes down to the physical size of the dies, required beam characteristics and heat management. Handling heat management is especially relevant in theatrical situations, as the fans that traditionally remove excess heat from the fixture can become distracting in a quiet space. The SolaFrame Theatre from High End Systems aims to address that, with a high-wattage LED engine that is intended to perform as well as traditional arc-source luminaires while providing virtually silent operation.

High End Systems SolaFrame Theatre

‡‡         The Light Source

The light source for this fixture is a sealed 440-watt white LED array from Appotronics. It has a native color temperature of 6,000 Kelvin, with the optics knocking the final output down to 5,250K. I measured an initial output of 9,300 lux at 50 percent zoom from five meters. After the fixture reached thermal equilibrium, output leveled out at around 8,390 lux, with minor fluctuations up and down. This is approximately a 10 percent output drop and very reasonable considering the passive cooling system. High End Systems markets this LED engine as having a “high CRI”, with a value of 90+, and the white from this system was clean and pleasing, with a flat, even field and no brightness spikes or dips.

Dimming is completely electronic, and the quality was excellent — I saw no artifacts or stepping anywhere in the range, even in the last few clicks before blackout. The default curve nearly perfectly matches an ideal square law curve. One interesting thing I noticed during zero-time blackouts on the dimmer channel is that the fixture still fades very slightly at the end, like real mechanical shutters. Conversely, the shutter channel snaps the fixture to black instantly — a subtlety to be aware of when programming. I noticed that during slower fades, the “sections” of the LED array fade out in sequence, a nice touch. These four “sections” are also controllable via a macro channel. This effect, which changes the apparent parallax of the gobo, making it “shift” position slightly, an effect similar to moving a light behind a stationary object and seeing the shadow move. There is also a strobe channel, with synchronous and random strobe functions.

The fixture has an entirely passive (no fans) cooling system. 440 watts of power generates a significant amount of waste heat, and the space allotted to the cooling system is quite a large chunk of the physical space of the light. The entire rear third of the light is taken up by a very large heatsink consisting of copper tubing and plates, which is in contact with the LED array enclosure. This cooling system is completely silent, even when the light is running at full power.

“Silent” is an overall theme for this light, and it’s one of the quietest moving lights I’ve ever reviewed or seen. Even in moves, this light produces levels of sound that should be perfectly acceptable for TV studios, theaters or other sound-sensitive environments. The noisiest function is the zoom, which is still well within acceptable limits. This is a very quiet light, and when not moving, emits no discernible sound. The fixture has a pan and tilt range of 540 and 265° respectively, with pan taking 4.2 seconds to make a full rotation and tilt taking 2.5 seconds.

High End Systems SolaFrame Theatre

‡‡         Color Mixing and Gobos

High End has bundled most of the effects onto two removable modules. The first in line is the color and gobo module. Color mixing is via the expected CMY flag system, with pairs of the color mixing flags closing across the aperture like a pair of curtains. This is a reasonably fast system, with good evenness across the beam and in the projected field of light. The color mix system also has a linear CTO, which smoothly reduces the color temperature down to 2,850K. As with every color-mixing system, there are better and worse positions for color evenness within the focus range when dealing with partially-mixed colors, and the same is true here. Red was the weakest mixed color in the range, as there simply isn’t much red in the spectrum of blue-pumped white LEDs to begin with. There’s a fixed color wheel with seven fixed colors plus open, all of which are on removable clips.

This module also contains the two gobo wheels. One is a rotating wheel with seven patterns plus open, all of which ride in the now-familiar cartridge system for easy replacement. The second gobo wheel has eight fixed patterns plus open. All the patterns are stamped steel, with a few of the patterns tending toward aerial designs, but most tending toward breakups that would look good projected onto scenery. Center to edge gobo focus was excellent, with little chromatic aberration. As I’ve seen on some other lights, movement ranges for the zoom and focus lens groups overlaps, and the light will automatically move the focus lens group down to keep it from colliding with the zoom lenses as they move. Accordingly, there’s a small bit of range at the narrowest end of the zoom range where it’s not possible to perfectly focus on the gobos. Zoom adjusts smoothly from 7° to 42° and covers its range in .6 seconds.

This second module also has the animation wheel, a stamped metal wheel with a waves-like pattern. Insertion takes less than a second and the wheel can be rotated either direction, with smooth rotation down to the slowest speeds.

The second module has the framing shutter system, along with the iris. The framing shutters are reasonably fast, and each blade is capable of fully covering the aperture. Depth of field in this optical system is quite short, so it’s not possible to get all four blades of the system into perfect focus at the same time, but one can get quite close. The entire framing system can rotate plus or minus 45°, and it completes a full rotation in 2.6 seconds.

Last in line before the final output lens are the variable frost and prism. The “frost” acts as a gobo softening effect, leaving the edges of gobos intact until it’s almost completely inserted, at which point it becomes more of a true frost. With four facets, the linear prism provides adequate image separation and can be indexed and rotated. While the frost and prism are on separate armatures, they occupy the same plane perpendicular to the output lenses, so only one can be inserted at a time, with the frost overriding the prism.

Physically, the fixture stands 89.7cm (2’ 11”) tall, with a base 56.1cm (1’ 10”) by 32.7cm (1’ 2”) and weighs a hefty 50.35kg (111 pounds). Two handles in the yoke arms provide handy carrying points, a nice touch. Power input is via Neutrik powerCON TRUE1 ins and pass-throughs, and data is accepted as either as DMX via 5-pin XLR ins and pass-throughs, or Art-Net via Ethernet ins and pass-throughs. The fixture is RDM compatible and takes 59 seconds to completely home from a cold start. The luminaire starts to output before the pan and tilt are fully initialized, something to be aware of when resetting. Rigging is via industry-standard Omega brackets.

The SolaFrame Theatre comes to the market with innovations for sound-sensitive environments, with quiet pan and tilt and very silent operation, perfect for theaters, movie sets and other venues that need high-quality light in a nearly-silent package.

High End Systems SolaFrame Theatre


At a Glance:

A Silent Performer

The SolaFrame Theatre continues High End System’s commitment to high-quality, exclusively LED offerings, giving theatrical designers an intriguing package with framing shutters and animation effects not often seen in LED-based units, all while keeping things green with an efficient power source.

PROS: Theater-grade dimming, extraordinarily quiet w/ no fans. Framing shutters.

CONS: Heavy for its wattage.

High End Systems SolaFrame Theatre


  • Rotating Gobo Wheel
  • Static Gobo Wheel
  • Animation Wheel
  • Prism and Frost Filters
  • Framing Shutters


  • Light Source: 440W high CRI LED light engine
  • Zoom Range: 7°-42°
  • Size: 35” x 22” x 14”
  • Weight: 111 lbs.
  • MSRP: $9,995
  • Manufacturer: High End Systems
  • More Info: www.highend.com





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