Portable live video display solutions

Hello.

I play live in the UK a lot - sometimes in electronic acts; sometimes in bands; sometimes where I am purely doing visuals. The common problem that I’ve come across is that unless you are playing a fairly large and serious production, there are always issues with the visual component. Even in venues that are set up with large LED walls or screens and projectors and crap like that - You get stuck with a dickish AV person, or a broken HDMI line, or poor communication from promoters. Not to mention tiny places which have no screens or projectors. No matter how well prepared you are; no matter how many different adapters or converters or projectors or shite you bring, this crap always happens and often has resulted in me not being able to perform, or display any of the visuals that I’ve spent so much time creating and setting up. When it works, it’s brilliant, but often it does not.

Anyway… Given that this is the nature of live performance in small to medium sized places in the UK, I am wondering about self sufficient, portable setups which I could use that would be portable and could be used wherever we went. This must be something that other folks have considered. So far I’ve thought about:

  • Multiple CRTs. Heavy. Bulky.
  • Some kind of short throw projector. Won’t help if there’s no screen…
  • Projecting onto us instead of a wall/screen. Kinda meh as I lose a lot of the detail, colours, etc.
  • A bunch of large, old cheap digital plasma flat screens that I could just… stack.
  • A white sheet?!

I’ve tried a bunch of things, and none have been great. Perhaps getting a really decent, high power projector with a short throw might work for displaying stuff on us… but I do also like the idea of a few big plasma screens. Is that even plausible for a decent price? I would need some kind of HDMI multiplier or something… or maybe an ‘LED wall’ distributor.

If there was some kind of flexible screen that I could roll up and plug an HDMI or composite into… brilliant, but…

Anyway, I open up the floor to all of your experience and expertise. :slight_smile: Any tips or thoughts welcome.

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I know this struggle too well, I personally rock a motorbike/scooter around town and it’s a bit of a marvel that I’m able to strap down the amount of gear I normally bring along to venues (VJ suitcase, camera bag w CCTV cam, lenses and cables, tall tripod, and a portable/RV VCR in a bag with a handful of tapes. My very-bright-but-extremely-chonky projector from 2005 typically can’t come along unless I’m able to grab a ride with one of the performers. :sweat_smile:
Venue projectors are almost always inadequate in one way or another, usually too dim, but also often inconvenient in regards to awkward connection/throw logistics or requiring a bigger sheet/screen surface placed behind the band, as you mentioned.

There is one curiosity related to the sheet conundrum that I’ve wanted to explore that sounds possibly dodgy but could just be crazy enough to work under the right conditions of low/no ambient lighting in the venue and a bright enough projector throw… How about using a fog machine and projecting onto the smoke? Not sure how much fog would be reasonable, and it’d be far from a clear image, but could very well give the performance a ghostly charm that’d be a lot better than nothing. Maybe there’s a method to contain/combine the output of multiple fog devices to create a sort of fog wall in front or behind the stage?

Never done, but it’s an established if tricky approach (see below).

However normal projections over normal fog will mostly enlighten the whole room. We Pixelflowers perform in dancefloors, where preserving the darkness is paramount, so we require fog never to be used together with our projections.

from Stage Lighting: The Fundamentals by Richard Dunham

Almost any material can be used as a projec-
tion surface. In rear projection, however, the designer
must pay particular attention to the transmission
ability of the material used for the projection surface.
A rear-projection screen works on the basis of a certain
amount of light being stopped or diffused on the pro-
jection surface upon which the image is observed. All
rear-projection screens must display a certain degree of
translucency. If the screen material is too opaque and has
too low a transmission rate, no light will be observed
on the front surface of the screen. If the transmission
rate is too high, the light will pass completely through
the material without having a chance to strike and scat-
ter at the screen to form an image. This is one of the
reasons that projecting onto fog or haze is not always
successful—if the density of the haze drops below a crit-
ical level (e.g., the fog dissipates) the light simply passes
into space without reflecting and forming an image.
I produced an adaptation of A Christmas Carol several
years ago where Marley’s Ghost was projected onto a
combination of fog and crumbled mesh-like material
(Figure 8.3b). Initially, the idea was to use just the fog,
but when we had problems during techs with keeping
the fog from blowing away from the location where
the projector was focused, we added additional mate-
rial behind the fog as a means of safeguarding the pro-
jected effect. Nonetheless, fog and haze are often used
very successfully as a projection surface, from as simple
of an effect as making the light beams visible at rock
concerts, to the rotational effects of spinning gobos in
a haze to create textured patterns of revolving light, to
full-blown slide projections that appear magically after
being cast onto a screen of fog or even water. In Disney’s
Hollywood Studios Park closing show, Fantasmic, video
sequences are projected onto a screen of water that is
formed by a series of fountains that extend across the
entire width of the show pavilion’s lagoon.

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I guess everyone handles differently their time in relation with our shows, also because of different techniques?
We Pixelflowers are two people (this helps), and I’m the one who mostly relies on improvisation, so I don’t need to spend much time rehearsing or preparing the visuals, but I will spend a lot of time to plan the and set up the logistics, for example:

  • to visit the venue in advance, possibly during an event
  • to stalk promoters or venue owners until they tell us what we need to know about available equipment, architecture and dimensions of the venue, etc
  • to require a test of their equipment the day before, or
  • to require enough time for our setup that allows us to find a backup solution to any logistic issue
  • to buy and bring all cables, adapters and accessories that we may need, plus some extra backups
  • to plan all the steps of the setup in detail (who needs to bring what to do what at what time, what could go wrong and what to do in case)

I should note our performances last from 5 to 10 hours, which somehow justifies spending a few hours for the logistics…maybe that’s not so true for shorter shows.

We may bring our old LCD projector that still has decent colors, it’s not very bright but it’s good enough if paired with a projection screen and the distance is 3-5m. If the venue doesn’t have one or it just sucks, we will use our one.

We could also bring a cheap unbranded projector we bought for 80 euros. Silly colors, no keystone, no zoom, but having a secondary projection + the TVs in the same environment may create an immersive effect which makes it worth.

Projection screens:
the cheapest ones can be bought for 10-25bucks. I’m talking about unbranded pieces of polyester fabric with rings, they work still better than a normal sheet (and way better than no screen), can be washed, may be light enough to be duct-taped them to the wall.

Multiple CRTs:
we use them often to complement the main projection. Provide best colors. Catchy and fascinating to the audience. They make the event special and memorable and can add the “art installation” element to your gig.
Probably not a good solution by themselves unless the space is small and people can’t go very close to them.
(tip: put them over powerful subwoofers and enjoy the colorful effect of their magnetic field on the cathode ray tubes)

Projecting over people:
the outcome totally depends on the subjects and the background. We don’t do this often, as our visuals are not abstract and need to be readable. But by properly match the style of the visuals with the outfits worn by the people and the background, the result can be good. Check this out: INDUSTRA DJ-Set for Mutant Transmissions Festival 2020 (Industrial / Rhythmic Noise / EBM) - YouTube

If one has enough budget, to rent professional-quality projectors and screens may be a valid option. This usually is not our case, as the renting fees may equate our fee. I hope it goes better for you!
The same service providers who would rent them may offer alternatives (for example, CRT TVs may be up for rent too).

I didn’t say much about the portability aspect…we almost always need a car, we don’t own one but it be easily rented, or friends or promoters may be able to help.

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key words to search
portable projector stand
fold up projector screen
this plus a decent projector and a lot of long ass cables, gaffer tape, and enough time to prepare in advance can bypass a large number of potential hassels

another option too is just try to find the right person involved with booking and event managing and venues you would enjoy to continue performing at and to figure out how to communicate, using specific examples and offering specific solutions, the large number of ways in which they regularly make their visual artists feel like they are taken for granted/taken advantage of/treated like second class participants in events and to point out that as it becomes more and more the standard for live events to have live visuals it will probably become a good idea for venues to recognize this fact and step up their game in how they treat them as artists and performers if they want to continue to book talented and committed artists

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