Electronic Theater Controls

ETC was founded in 1975 by Fred Foster as a way to market the experiments with digital lighting control that he and his brother Bill had been doing in their Madison, Wisconsin basement. In 1982 ETC released its first console named Concept. Concept was a huge breakthrough; it featured a fast microprocessor controlled digital interface. This new digital interface allowed cues to be stored into the memory and open the doors for the entirely new concept of softpatching. Before the Concept remote boards had no memory and were only sliders that were attached to motors on autotransformer dimmers. Technicians on those early boards used paper and pencil to record cues and used the sliders to create “looks”. Those early boards had only 5 or 6 dimmers, so when the Concept board came out with 30 dimmers it was an amazing improvement.

In 1987 ETC launched the Expression line of consoles. Expression consoles are extremely powerful and adaptable; being used in everything from small high school theaters to Broadway shows. Expression was the first console to really have the power to store and recall entire shows at the touch of a button. Now shows could have hundreds of different looks with lights that had pinpoint precision and controlled fade times, etc.

In 1990 ETC bought Lighting Methods, Inc., a Rochester, New York-based manufacturer of entertainment dimming systems. ETC now had the abilities to offer a full line of lighting control systems. ETC took lighting methods existing technology and added their own twist creating the Sensor dimmer system. ETC now built consoles and dimmers where they continued to be known as the best in the industry.

At the same time as the Expression ETC launched the smaller Express boards. Express boards are scaled down versions of the Expression; they do everything the Expression does but are limited to 125 dimmers and about 200 cues. Express boards are designed of small theaters and schools that don’t need the functions of an Expression on so grand a scale.

ETC took another leap in 1992 when the premiered the Source Four ellipsoidal spot light. The Source Four featured high quality optics and very bright lamps with both 575 and 750-watt bulbs. In the same year at LDI they debuted the Obsession series console. The Obsession features moving light track pads and a huge memory. The Obsession also has 6 DMX universes allowing it to control 4068 dimmers.

In September of 1998, ETC entered the arena of automated lighting with its purchase of the architectural lighting company Irideon, Inc. ETC now had it’s foot in almost every market; the only thing left to try was lighting design software, and in August of 2000, ETC formed an alliance and exclusive distribution agreement with CAST Lighting of Toronto, Canada, to bring next-generation WYSIWYG™ lighting visualization software into ETC product development and the industry.

ETC took another leap in 2001 with the arrival of the Emphasis. Emphasis combines all of ETC’s products into one system. The lighting desk features ETC’s WYSIWYG software and integrates their Irideon intelligent lights.

I’ve worked on most kinds of ETC boards and I have to say that they are about the best thing out there. Even the Express can out perform most Strand lighting consoles. Only the even more incredible Whole Hog boards built by flying pig systems top the Obsession.

ETC has accomplished a lot of advances in the industry in just a short 27 years. As long as lights evolve ETC should be around to surprise and amaze, that’s a lot more than most companies can say, even ones that started in a lot bigger places than a Madison, Wisconsin basement.

Fred Foster

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