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By Jack Wilson.
Here at Kent Media Group, we’ve tested moving heads, speakers, mixers and more, but never festoon lighting, so being able to try out the new CHAUVET DJ Festoon 2 RGB was certainly a welcome change! Unfortunately, due to the current situation, we haven’t been able to test them ‘on the road’ but instead we put them through their paces at one of our own team BBQs at home!

The CHAUVET DJ Festoon 2 RGB is essentially a set of LED lamps mounted on a ‘string’. Each string has 20 lamps (or bulbs as CHAUVET DJ calls them) and are 15m long. They are also IP54-rated, so are suitable for temporary outdoor use which is where their effect really comes alive!

Each bulb is permanently mounted on the string, so you can’t change the actual bulb itself, but you can change an individual section of string that contains the bulb. Each section is around 75cm long and has a waterproof connector to attach to the next section, and of course 20 of these make up the 15m long string of festoon. You can connect up to three strings (60 bulbs) to one control unit. The bulbs are pixel mappable, meaning that each individual bulb can be independently controlled so if you want to do rainbows or chases up and down the string of lights you can and, let me tell you, this looks amazing!

The string of lights connects to the Festoon 2 RGB controller, which is included as part of the package. It is a simple, compact unit that features DMX control, in-built automatic programs, sound-to-light programs and static colour pre-sets as well as a manual mode which allows you to select your own RGB colour mix (this mixes the whole string, not an individual bulb).

The control unit is fairly simple; it has DMX input and output sockets, the dedicated connector output for the strings of festoon and an IEC connector for power. On top, you have the menu system with the standard arrangement of ‘MENU’, ‘UP’, ‘DOWN’ and ‘ENTER’ buttons accompanied by the small 4-character LED display. The automatic programs and sound active modes have adjustable parameters so you can easily customise the look. There are 38 in-built auto programs that are selectable, each can be set to a chosen speed too! The sound active mode has adjustable sensitivity, as you’d expect!

When it comes to DMX control, three different modes make for plenty of flexibility. The 3-channel mode is simply RGB – basically you can control the red, green and blue of all the bulbs at once and mix them to get whatever colour you like. The 9-channel mode is similar, but it also adds other functions like a master dimmer, colour macros, strobing and the ability to trigger the in-built automatic and sound active programs and their speed / sensitivity, there is a dimmer speed control too.

There are two pixel mode options, pixel and pixel+, which allow for custom chasing and other pattern effects to be created using a DMX controller or software package. Pixel is exactly what it says on the box, the ability to control each bulb as if it were a single RGB pixel. Each bulb takes up three DMX channels that control the red, green and blue of each bulb, again these can be mixed to create almost any colour. The pixel+ mode expands on the pixel mode by adding in the abilities of the 9-channel mode where you can trigger the in-built programs and sound active modes and apply other functions such as the master dimmer.

The control unit has multiple mounting points, which provides flexibility for setting up the system. To the rear there are keyholes, in case you want to permanently mount the unit, but there is also an M12 mounting point if you wish to mount hardware to the controller to hang it from a lighting bar or truss. There are also two circular cut outs in the body to allow a safety cable to be hooked around the unit… you can never be too careful!

In the box, the Festoon 2 RGB also comes with a 5m long cable to connect between the control unit and the first string of festoon. The controller itself isn’t waterproof, so it makes sense why they’d provide this… And, of course, you won’t want to have the controller unit right next to the first bulb, you’ll want to attempt to hide it away somewhere.

It’s worth mentioning that you can also control the Festoon 2 RGB with CHAUVET DJ’s IRC-6 remote control, which they use for a range of other devices too. This provides simple control over things like pre-set colour selection and blackout.

We didn’t really do much testing with the in-built settings as we were eager to DMX this baby up and see what we could do with DMX control - our lighting guru Lofty wanted to get his pixel map on! We were really pleased that CHAUVET DJ also sent us the Festoon 2 RGB EXT, which is essentially a second 15m long string of bulbs without the controller, so we had 40 bulbs and 30m of controllable festoon to play with… I mean test!

On a lovely Sunday afternoon, Neal, Lofty and I set about turning my back garden into a temporary lighting rig, setting up the festoon by attaching it to the fence and the house. The rigging was pretty easy, as each bulb has a little loop on the top so you can pass a cable tie through for mounting and hanging. In about 45 minutes we had it all up and ready to go, we just needed to wait for the sun to disappear before we could play!

To be honest, the setup could have been even quicker, but I wanted to make sure the bulbs were high enough in the air so they were out of the way. So we screwed clamps and single truss tubes to the fence to make them high enough, which ended up putting the festoon around 2.5m from the decking below. We managed to get five runs of festoon back and forth horizontally between the house and the truss tubes on the fence, enough to give us a little matrix type grid to play with. Of course, it was nearly impossible to space them out exactly and have them in an exact grid, but we got them pretty close.

Once set up, we turned on the controller and made sure to set it to Two String Mode, so it knew it had two strings attached, allowing us to control all 40 bulbs individually. We then got on with setting the DMX mode (we used pixel), addressing the control unit (which was easy), and we were ready to go!

So, as the daylight faded away, the playing began! At first, we questioned the brightness of the LEDs in the bulbs as they are only stated as 5 x 0.1W LEDs, so only 0.5W per lamp. In the daylight you could only just make out a faint colour glow but the effect really came alive after the sun began to disappear beyond the horizon. Despite the 0.5W rating, the amount of light they gave off was absolutely perfect. For festoon, you don’t want overpowering light, you just want a nice glow, and this is exactly what the Festoon 2 RGB does, and it does it very well.

Initially, we started testing with white hues, as traditionally festoon isn’t usually coloured, it’s usually white! As you’d expect with red, green and blue on full, the white was slightly tinted and quite a cool temperature. However, we played around with the mix a bit and found that we could get a very nice warm-white colour that would be perfect if you wanted to use these in a traditional way. Of course, the joy of these being DMX-able is that you could setup a warm-white look for early evening and then instantly change to colour-changing effects and patterns when the party gets in full swing, which could be quite an attractive selling proposition!

Traditional festoon lighting is often done with filament lamps, which can become hot and potentially unsafe if they are within reach of guests. You also need to leave time for them to cool down before de-rigging to avoid any burns. Of course recent developments in technology has meant LEDs are becoming much more common, but they still often use glass lamps which could also pose a risk. The Festoon 2 RGB eliminates these problems as the LEDs do not run hot and use a plastic rugged housing so they can be put up, run and taken down without any delay or worry of breakages.

Let’s also not forget that, thanks to being LED, the power draw is very little, just under 110W with three strings attached to the control unit! And another advantage of LED is that they are rated at 50,000 hours use, so you shouldn’t ever need to change them. Of course, if you ever did need to, you can simply swap out one of the little sections in the string!

So what did we think to them? Well, let’s just say we started really testing when the sun went down and it was the next day before we packed up and went to bed… oops! We loved the pixel mapping capabilities, we were able to map lovely rainbows, waves and twisting patterns into the grid of lamps. We also tried a random strobe over the top of a really dim white and the effect looked amazing! We’ll have a video of these effects on our YouTube channel soon and I’d recommend watching it to see exactly what they can do.

In conclusion, we like the CHAUVET DJ Festoon 2 RGB very much; it’ll certainly have its place in the wedding and events industry, as it has so many uses and potential effects. It could be used for garden or path lighting, as a pixel grid on a backdrop, as standard glowing festoon or as a pixel-mapped effect. As an example, imagine lining the entrance to a venue or room and using them to create a runway-type effect where the lights run down towards the entrance, now that would look awesome!

The only change we’d like to see would be the connector from the control unit: I would prefer a port rather than the cable that comes out of the unit. We also weren’t too keen on the connectors between the strings, but they’re a welcome feature as each section is replaceable if there ever were an issue. Of course, the connectors are weatherproof, which is essential, and we didn’t try it, but we assume you would also be able to put an extension cable between two strings if you needed to. Well done to CHAUVET DJ for creating a great product, I’m sure we’ll start to see them popping up at weddings and events very soon!
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 103, Pages 70-74.