I'm writing this one-handed. I've just gnawed my arm off trying to survive the soul-destroying tedium of ETC's training videos for the Ion lighting console. Don't know what I'm on about? Look here to see what this is all about. Or there are links to let you spend a couple of hundred quid buying these videos on DVD. Think "both arms" and some teeth drilling. So why this web-page? Well, it occurred that for people who've met lighting desks, most of the useful content could be condensed into a few sentences. Along the way I'll be keeping track of how many hours of your life you've clawed back.

Ion? Mmmm?

Yes, this page is written for Strand users. We're all quite happy with the 500 series; it's the pinnacle of conventional lighting control - sensibly orthogonal command syntax, plethora of shortcuts, mainly it's just quick. Ok, so we get embarrassed when someone says "But how do you get support?", not that we've ever needed it. And we've all got familiar with refrence groups, and can never afford enough wobbly toys for the moving light aspects of Strand to slow us down. But there comes a day when we're forced to learn something else. Ion is ETC's mid-range desk; Element doesn't do much at all, and Eos is its big brother. But I'm stuck with an Ion.

If you're forced to use an Ion you may find the following useful:

Anyway... [Key] {Soft key}

1. Setup

Ch1 - Introduction

Chapter 1 - don't bother. You'll learn the presenter has an American accent, but otherwise you've saved 53 seconds of your life. Apparently it's all about "Maximum ease of use".

Ch2 - Operating Conventions

Channel. As a seasoned Strand user you know that a channel can control both intensity and a multitude of attributes; ETC call these "parameters".

"Some desks are Preset (like Expression), some are tracking (like Obsession)" WHAT? We're Strand users; our desk can do both. Apparently the Ion is "kinda like both" - but no more detail.

It's a command line desk so don't be scared, but they've brought lots of direct access command in from Expression. Mmm? Stop coughing at the back - I've just saved another 2:23 of your life.

Ch3 - Hardware Connections

Guess what? 5-pin DMX goes in the DMX hole. Ditto Ethernet, RJ45 hole. There's not enough embarassment around the choice of a dual DVI connector (needs an adapter) - apparently you get two individual DVI connectors on more recent desks. Ignore the PS/2 mouse/keyboard, plug in USB mouse/keyboard, and any fader wings (more embarassment - needs a separate wall wart PSU). Plug in the main IEC and switch the switch on the back; there's a separate power button on the front that turns the desk on. There you go - three and a half minutes of your life back.

Ch4 - Face Panel Layout

Save 4 mins of your life. There's a picture of the front panel here (NB They've updated the front panel since the desk was launched). It's cramped but as you'd expect (grandmaster, single playback, numeric keypad surrounded by various poorly grouped buttons, wheel etc). Soft keys are S1-S6 and they're context sensitive (yawn) and there's a more softkeys button. Moving light encoders at the top and they're buttons. Right hand keypad above the wheel control is display-related. Its syntax seems to be designed for maximum typing faff - a common operation like [Record] 1 [Enter] needs keys from three key groupings for example.

Offline users might find the following useful (couldn't find such a template at ETC

picture of front panel with offline shortcuts marked

Ch5 - Fader Configuration

Faders can be things other than submasters. The rest of the 90 seconds is all about how many faders you can plug in.

Ch6 - External monitors

You can have one or two displays. Typically left is channels and command line, right has playback cue sheet, fader status, and the CIA. The what? No matter how many times they say "Central Information Area" you will keep thinking American Policemen. It's a sort of dumping ground for things that don't fit elsewhere in the user interface; you can hide/reveal it with the big arrowy thing (Hmmm? We need a mouse now?). [Swap] key swaps displays, or if you can only afford a single monitor, cycles through various display formats. [Swap] seems to have become [Tab] in latest software3 minutes of your life back.

Ch7 - Channel Display

Channel "tiles" for plain intensity channels. But a table view shows you attributes, sorry, "multi-parameter" lights. [Format] key toggles entirely tiles vs tables. Format + Wheel controls zoom and most things do this. Multi-parameter things in tile view are squiggly, and gain FCB (illegibly small) letters for Focus, Colour, Beam etc. Note quite tracker preset, but it's a start. Yep, that's another 4:32.

Ch8 - Flexi

[Flexi] key toggles the display between "Patched Channels", "Show Channels" (all recorded in cues/subs etc), "Active channels" (above zero intensity), "Selected channels" (Ronseal), the default of everything. It shows the mode under the clock top right. As a Strand user you're naturally wondering how you configure the display groups - don't wait up. Yawn, 2:38

Ch9 - The Command Line

Command line shows up on the CIA, the channel screen and the LCD. "The nice thing about the command line is you are able to go back and make changes before you execute." What? Foaming at the mouth Strand users smell a rat here. Yes, for as long as there have been lighting desks, there has been the Strand way of doing things "selection VERB-it!" and the ETC way "Action selection yes-I've-finished-now-so-I'll-press-enter". So whereas ETC users have been doing [Record] what I wonder [CUE] oh yes which [1] really? yes [Enter], we're already hit [CUE][1][RECORD] and are one keypress ahead. Or just [CUE][RECORD] since the desk ought to know the current cue. or indeed [RECORD], since cues are the most frequently recorded thing. To quote the famous man, ETC - LISTEN - WE'RE RIGHT, YOU'RE WRONG, NOW WHAT'S THE QUESTION! Don't look so hurt... what's that, they've all left the room and it's just the Strand users left? Still, we're among friends. I think this is a rant we'll return to, but at least I didn't spend two and a half minutes breaking the news to you.

[Undo] undoes the last command. At first glance it appears better since it offers the whole command history to undo; spend any time using the desk and you rapidly discover it can undo all the things that are easy to fix (wrong levels that could be [Sneak]ed) but can't undo anything you'd actually want to do (adding steps to an effect, adding cues in the middle of a tracking plot).

Ch10 - Playback Status Display

Or "Cue list". Each row is a cue; not all fields are present if unused. Time columns for intensity fade (may split up/down) , plus focus, colour, beam attribute (sorry parameter) times. Duration is the total cue time across all the preceeding guff. There are flags for (M)ark, (B)lock, (A)ssert, (P)reheat, (A)ll-(F)ade. Hush now, auto-preheat auto-move-while-dark users. "Attributes" (stop coughing - I'll translate) FW/HG (follow/hang you'd call "WAIT") Link and Loop we have to assume do the same thing, Curve is what you'd call a profile, Rate is percentage change to cue rate, Label you'd call text. External links are other things run by the cue e.g. macros. Nearly four minutes.

Ch11 - CIA

ALIENS! (Stop it!) "What is the CIA? Soft keys on steroids". See earlier definition, and save a minute.

Ch12 - Browser

A specific area of the CIA (no, not area 51). [Displays] key brings up the browser if you've lost it. Also on the same keypad are up, down, left, right to navigate the browser. Select is like clicking. They don't mention it but there's an escape key here (same as ESC on keyboard), and it's good for making things go away. So, File, Print-to-PDF, setup, list-of-stuff live here. Virtual controls allows you to put bits of the desk on the screen (so you can pretend you bought an EOS) - actually useful in the offline editor. Two and a half minutes!

Control and Recording

Survived the first 32:27 of stuff? Good oh. Here we enter the next main section "Control and Recording". Might be worth having the offline editor available; the setup screen lets you not run it full-screen. You'll get very lost trying to make the various desk control surfaces appear on screen and deleting tabs you accidentally created, and swear a lot at the browser. (Hint: Escape key) There is some rationale to it, but it's very non-obvious. Then there's the utter frustration of installing it and finding it's put the channel display and the cue list on one monitor and left the other screen blank. A combination of searching the 1.7 documentation, reading the later supplements and then checking the software release note in desperation yields the answer - hold tab and use the keyboard arrow keys!

Ch13 - Initial Setup

CIA > Browser > File > New. Apparently you want to select "1:1" patch before creating a new show; seems to be a mis-nomer - at least in the offline editor it created an empty patch. It will plague you with "Are you sure?"

[About] gives you information about whatever is selected, and by default about the Ion, number of channels etc.

[Help]... "it's like having the user manual built into the desk" (!). I've tried the manual; that's a rant for another day. Hold [Help] and press any other key (inc softkey) for help. Feeling the pace quicken? That's another 3 minutes gone.

Ch14 - Selecting Channels

1 [+] 3 [Thru] 8 [-] 4. As you'd expect. "Channel was assumed" since you didn't type anything first that numbers relate to channels. Eureka! We expect nothing less, but it'll still put a superflous "Chan" on the command line to make ETC users feel right at home (stop sniggering at the back).

[Select Last]. Fair enough, this is an improvement. It re-posts the last list of channels you used. If you press and hold "Select last" soft keys 1-3 are "Select Active" (any channel with non-zero intensity), "Select Manual" (any channel you've fiddled with) and "Select All" (really - all of the channels on the console). Press and hold is to remind you that you couldn't afford an EOS which has buttons for such things (no the main keypads aren't the same, so investing time in one desk doesn't transfer well to another). You'd hope that you could change your mind and press a different select option, but sadly, rather than replacing what you typed with what you wanted instead, the command line punishes you with lots of red text and whines at you and you have to press clear a lot.

Ch15 - Setting Levels

Let's get all of the frustration over in one go. This is the ranty bit. Still, CHANS {wheel} works. But it's all downhill after that...

Channel 2 at 50 percent? [2][@][5] What that's not it [ifty-5] what it's not done it yet oh [Enter]. You're just trying to annoy me now. Anyone know if I can turn double-digit entry off?

But wait... "The [Out] key is great because it doesn't require the use of an [Enter] button". WELL DONE ETC. What happened to the rest of the desk? Still, CHAN OUT is nice.

Consistent? Can we do CHAN [Full]? No. CHAN OUT happens immediately. CHAN [@][Full] needs [Enter]. "Shortcuts?" (control yourself)... [@][@] brings a light on to full, [Full][Full] brings a light on to "Level". Why aren't those the other way around? Level is what us Strand users would call "ON", and no, I haven't found the group where you configure the "ON" level on a per-channel basis, but apparently it's a ?global? setup option.

{UP} and {DOWN} softkeys? There's a shortcut [@][+][+] or [@][-][-]. In my family this is known as a "Peter Mackintyre shortcut" - one that's actually longer but taken for a different reason. In this case, it's because you didn't buy an EOS.

Hit Select Last twice and you get your last command back and can edit it. Nice. And if you're reading this ETC, could we have a full command history? It'd be a nice touch.

So there you are - five minutes of screaming at the video crying "no no no, all I want to do is less typing".

Ch16 - Channel Check and Flash

CHAN [@][some-level] oh no, didn't press enter [MORE-SOFTKEYS] [CHAN-CHECK] brings the channel on, whereupon [Next] and [Last] step through the channel list essentially to rig-check, exit with [Clear]. Didn't seem to work in the offline. But wait - FLASH A-ha, saviour of the universe. No, seriously, it identifies channels. So do we get a configurable active-when-pressed {BUMP} button with a choice of FLASH, SOLO, FLASH+SOLO?.... nope. CHAN [MORE SOFTKEYS]{FLASH} and it flashes on and off until you hit CLEAR. But only 2:18 of your life gone, so not too bad

Ch17 - Sneak

Rolling on the floor "It's most similar to the release button on other ETC desks"... CHAN [Sneak] [yawn-ENTER] fades a channel from whatever manual value you set to the level from the controlling CUE. A bit like Strand "Shift-CLR" clears updated values but it actually returns the level, and there's a default fade time. And because of the enter tedium you can do CHAN [@] level [Sneak][yawn-ENTER]. Or to do Strand CHAN [TIME] time @ level, you do CHAN @ level - oh-yes-double-digit-level [Sneak] [TIME-what-else-could-I-type] time [groan-ENTER]. And you've learn something in a whole 3 minutes flat.

Ch18 - Setting Parameters

For those of you rich enough to play with waggly lights you'll understand pages of encoder controls. Top-right buttons are Focus, Color-grr-American, Form, Image, Sutter, Custom categories. Repeated presses page the encoder wheels through various settings in each category. The encoders are also buttons and bring up special functions on the soft-keys (e.g. home, next and last for framed scrollers, min, max). Five minutes.

Ch19 - Recording cue and subs

You'd think you'd get to this earlier than nineteen chapters in but here goes. Build your state in live, [Record] cue-number[Enter]. Eureka! Cue is assumed but will pop up on the command line to patronise you and to make editing more faff later. [Record][Sub]number [Enter] does what you'd expect, and you can assign the submaster to a fader (It doesn't say how - [Sub] number seems to work). Three and a half minutes! But you can have two decimal places on point cues.

Ch20 - Recording groups

Groups are ONLY for selecting channels; they contain no level information. The Ion remembers the order you specify channels in and tantilisingly this will become useful later (stay tuned! Is it a spoiler if they don't ever tell you? It's so that you can fan moving lights in a particular order etc etc). CHANS [Record][Group]number[Enter]. And before [Enter] you can [Label] some-text. [Group][Group] brings up the group list, which is just a list of channels and not a full channel screen. Four minutes!


Still with me? You might have noticed we've saved an hour of our lives so far and still not played back a cue. Here goes...

Ch21 - Cue Playback

GO and STOP/BACK do what they're supposed to, as does Goto cuecue-num[Enter] in a default fade time. Unwary users will be caught out by the fact that the STOP/BACK button is the same size as GO and is placed next to it. Goto-Cue zero resets to the top of the cue list and zeros intensities. Goto-Cue [Out] is similar but takes all non-intensities to home. So how to be [Load] a cue? [Cue] number [Load] is what you'd hope for? [Load] [Cue] number [Enter] is what you'd guessed in the vain hope the syntax would be consistent with [Record]? [Cue] number [totally-unnecessary-ENTER] to select it and then LOAD is what's required. Apparently CUE num LOAD invites the command line to berate you for being a Strand user and expecting the desk to do the obvious. After all, this could mean all sorts of other things? However, selecting cues like this does at least enable other buttons to work with the selected cue (e.g. time). Didn't need to take five minutes did it?

Ch22 - Background Faders

"really really cool". Contemptible jargon. A whole two minutes to explain that you can run multiple cues at once on one playback. What else where you expecting it to do?

Ch23 - Cue Timing

[Cue] number [Time] time [Enter]. Or [Cue] number [Time] up-time [Time] down-time. They don't mention it but repeated prodding of [Time] appears to reveal focus, colour, beam times as well. Or you can set "MANUAL" times which you have to run on the playback faders after pressing go. One controls up-lights and one controls down-lights as you'd expect. Seven whole minutes.

Ch24 - Automark

Auto-mark. Three and a half minutes to explain auto-move-while-dark if you turn it on for your show, but you do get a nice "M" flag in the previous cue if the desk has spotted it needs to do this.

Ch25 - Sub Playback

Submasters can be assigned to faders (but wait, we're not telling you how yet, that's in the setup video). Lo and behold, the lights are proportional to what recorded in the sub times the fader position. They're highest-takes precedence (unclear if us Strand users would call these NORMAL or INDEPENDENT). [Record] sub-bump-button is a nice shortcut, but I've no idea if the Strand [SUB] range load-a-whole-page-with-a-single-bump-button is possible. You can page subs - hold [Fader Control] and the sub bump buttons select the page. All in five mins.


26 Chapters in and we might get to edit a cue... in the next 26:33

Ch26 - Editing Cues LIVE

Record is for new cues, Update is for modifications (yes we know!) Definite win for the Ion is that on pressing update it shows what filters (intensity, colour, beam etc) will change and which channels will be modified. Red means modified by keyboard (Eureka! No Express release annoyance - they do go away if you run a cue or if you [Sneak] them out). Partial update? Chans [Update]. 5:32

Ch27 - Editing Cues BLIND

[Live] is amber, [Blind] is Blue/greyer. Blue -> Up (skywards) channels, Green -> (grasswards) down channels, Purple -> same (no silly metaphor!) [Cue] n [Enter], [Next], [Last] to Navigate. No update/sneak/redness; changes affect the recorded cue immediately as you'd expect.

Ch28 - Tracking vs Cue Only

[Displays]{Setup} ?Desk setup? is a mouse click grr Record defaults -> can set tracking on/off (recommend on for creating off for editing shows). In blind setting a channel to its tracked value is a a partial block (shown white). [At][Enter] removes block/instruction. [Cue] n [Block] toggles block for a whole cue. A whole 5 minutes.

Ch29 - Editing Subs

With sub live, [Update] [sub-bump-button] updates sub with changes-to-sub-chans-ONLY. [Update] can add to a sub. 2:24

Ch30 - Editing Subs BLIND

[Blind][Sub] n [Enter] and guess what it's just like editing a cue in blind! Can have channels on-at-zero; remove chans with [At][Enter]

Ch31 - Editing Groups

[Group][Group] brings up group list [Group] n selects group [Enter] grr again [Enter] updates the group. {InsertAfter/before}/[Delete] grr[Enter]

Ch32 - Copy, Move, Delete

Do this from record target list [Sub][Sub] and [Cue][Cue] work a la [Group][Group]. [Cue][1][CopyTo][Cue][2][Enter] grr[Enter] ronseal. [CopyTo][CopyTo] gives [MoveTo] (presume the tracking behaves) [Delete][Cue]n also.


Effects in only 11 mins!

Ch33 - Step Based Effects

[Effect][Effect] CIA is edit window. Step based is typically intensity based. [Effect] n [Enter] creates (but you need the sodding mouse to select the type!). Step n Thru n to create steps (ARGH! Mouse!). Can nagigate with arrow keys or add [Effect]n[Enter] (no level info!). In live [Effect] n grr[Enter] runs the effect on the channels which Grr show effect in the chan display until you [Sneak] them out. You wanted to see what it was doing? really? Push (and hold!) [Data]

Ch34 - Step Based Effects Timing

Again Grr Mouse to find the step button and select all steps (no default/global!). Arrow keys navigate and we can set step time, in/dwell/decay (out for strand people). [Effect] once brings up effect playback; encoders then modify things like rate

Ch35 - Effects in Cues

Effects are separate to cue not part of them (should bloody well hope so!) The concept is that [Effect] n is supposed to be consistent with [At]level i.e. both are manual chan settings noticed by record/update. The recorded cue references the effect for the selected channels but any rate tweaks live with the cue. Didn't even mention whether you could do this blind or not! Does [Effect]n work in blind? How would you enter rate tweaks? Some experimenting suggests that it does work in blind, this experiment forced by [Out][Update] not appearing to remove an effect in [Live]!

System Functions

Let's hope the system "functions"... 38:48 later we might know.... in this section we'll save a show and shut down the console (and have a much needed and slightly ranty pint). Spoiler alert. In the final chapter "I hope you've enjoyed this training programme and now feel inspired" (!) Well, from this author, ditto.

Ch36 - Patching

[Displays]{Patch}. Channel = device = fixture WE KNOW! WE WEREN'T WORRIED BY THIS AS A CONCEPT. Addresses are patched to channels. Why does it have more channels than addresses you can assign to channels? HOW IS THAT USEFUL?

Deep breath. n [At->turns into Address] address + address Thru address [Enter] and it'll warn and whinge[Enter]. 1 [Thru] 3 [At] 1 restores 1:1. [Format] key puts you in address @ channel mode.

Ch37 - Patching Multi-Parameter Functions

Create parts of channels [Part] n [Enter]. Lots of mouse work lets you change the Type e.g. to scroller and set the address. Address notation is port/address i.e. universe/address. Not shown=port1.

Ch38 - Custom Scrollers

The chosen approach here is to change the type from generic to manufacturer specific scroller (no mention of whether you can just have generic N-frame scroll). Much explanation that next to "Patch" bottom right is (confusingly) "Attributes" that lets you into a scroll editor, where much more clicking later you can put specific gels into a scroll. No explanation as to what the console stores - does it store Frame N of M? Colour Blah? DMX blah? If I preplot and change to a different scroll what happens?

Ch39 - Park

[Park] ronseals a channel or address to a specific level. It's a bit like Strand [HOLD] in that it stays where you park it and a bit like Strand [DIMMER] in that it isn't recorded into cues. [At] level [Park] grr[Enter]. P shows in channel display (for Park not Position!). [Park][Enter]yes really[Enter]sigh unparks. Address parking needs a softkey. [Park][Park] gets park display (chan/addr at level no need for park key)

Ch40 Saving your show

[Display] Browser->file SaveAs. lurks at the end of the list as do USB keys. Directory is recommended as every save creates a file show-timestamp. As you'd expect Load can do partial load.

Ch41 Powering Down Your Console

Brower Exit Ion takes you to the shell, or "Power Off Console" ronseal. Note the browser uses [Select] a lot instead of [Enter]

Ch42 The Shell

Shell shows when the desk software isn't running. Can select Primary/backup/client-of-another-desk or Offline (no output) or shutdown or get to settings. Monitor settings live under the general tab

Ch43 Print to PDF

(browser)Print to PDF, er, prints to hyperlinked PDF. Choose a file (a la save), deselect unwanted things (a la load) OK

Ch44 Clear menu

(browser)Clear clears many things - Clear targets lets you select e.g. cues a la load/save/print

Ch45 Setup menu

[Displays]{setup} {Desk} or {Show} Can set default times etc. (don't forget tracking mode under record defaults) Fader configuration lets you assign subs/playbacks/GrandMaster/nothign to each fader.

Ch46 Conclusion

An abuse of the world conclusion. Still, here are my conclusions:

Further ramblings of a grumpy strand user

There's a second Ion training series here to "help you get the most" out of your Ion. Basically I gnawed my arm off watching the first series for no reason and hopefully here is where the real meat is. Then again the first video spends 16 seconds telling me this is "more in depth" at which point I really did lose interest. Maybe I'll write this section when I recover the will to live

Translating Strand to ETC Ion/Eos


Command line unpredictable

On my Strand desk, the command line posts what I typed. Each item on the command line is a token that corresponds to a keypress. In some cases the desk will supply extra tokens for convenience, so [RECORD] may post [CUE]n[RECORD]. Key points to note are that anything posted for my convenience could have been typed by me, a one to one correspondence between tokens and either [HARD KEY] or {SOFT KEY} keys, and a for every token posted exactly one press of [CLR] is required to delete it. This is a good piece of user-interface design; as a user I can predict what key presses will result in a given command line, and moreover, I can describe to someone over cans what to press to achieve something without being in front of the desk. The behaviour is consistent throughout the product.

Ion is not so lucky. What you type does not correspond to what the command line posts in a number of ways:

Toggles and state dependencies

[Cue][Block] toggles whether or not a cue is blocking. So if I want to make sure a cue is blocking I can't simply issue [Cue]n[Block], since this might toggle it back to not being blocking. I need to issue the command and then look at what's happen to the cue on screen in front of me (more problematic if LD is remote from programmer). Or if that could screw up a tracking plot I need to check what it is at the moment then issue the command. The command syntax isn't explicit - it depends on the state of the cue as to its effect. Moreover whether I'm blocking or unblocking a cue, the command line posts "Block" in either case. Now if it had been [Block] to block and Shift-[Block] to unblock (and posts Unblock on the command line) wouldn't that have been easier? Sadly it seems the use of shift as a simple modifier has only just occurred to ETC as of 1.9.8, so the UI will get more inconsistent as shift gets added to various things. And if you're bored then [Block][Block] is legal syntax as is [Block][Block][Block] but they all do the same as [Block]!

There's a combined effect of unpredicable command line plus toggles. It seems to prefer to generate "Syntax Error" rather than do the obvious. Example in submaster list, there's a {HTP/LTP} soft key. Not a properly context sensitive {HTP} offered on the softkey display when that's what the button would do. Unlike [Block], what gets posted to the command line is based on the current state. So {HTP/LTP} might post "Sub 1 LTP" if the sub is currently HTP. If it turns out I didn't want that pressing it again doesn't cycle (like [Time] does) to "Sub 1 HTP", it posts "Sub 1 LTP HTP - Error: Syntax Error".

[Time] is again messed up.[Time]3 sets up and down times to 3.[Time]4[Time][Time]5 (posts "Time 0:04 Down Time 0:05") sets split time up in 4 down in 5. Now the same command as before "[Time]3" will only set the up time. Again if I'm issuing instructions over cans I can't do this open loop. And "Time 3 Down Time 3" is different to having initially set "Time 3" despite the effect being the same.

Other sillyness

©Eddy Langley - Page last updated 4 June 2012 by webmaster (at) lampie (dot) org