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Using the ZPT Modules in the Film, theatre and TV industries

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The ZPT modules are extremely reliable, cost-effective and universally versatile. Suitable for use with sensors, I/O telemetry devices and ideal for remote switching, the ZPT modules come in either 433MHz or 868MHz variations, with both transmitter and receiver modules available. Supplied with either 4 inputs or 4 outputs (depending on transmitter or receiver modules), the ZPT modules operate on extremely low power at 1.8 to 3.6 volts, which is capable of supplying huge operation of up to 2000 metres in range. These features make them incredibly useful and a surefire go-to module for a huge number of applications; like controlling theatrical lighting, for example. In this case study, Lighting Programmer Cam Affleck tells us how the ZPT modules have been utilised in controlling lighting for various roles working in the TV and Film industry, as well as lighting up various glorious stages in London’s West End Theatres.

Cam Affleck:

“I used RF Solutions’ ZPT transmitter and receiver modules to build a remote controller system for use with a theatrical and film lighting desk range, the ETC Eos Family.  The aim of this project was designed to allow a Lighting Programmer or Director of Photography (DoP) to trigger lighting cues or effects while on set. 

Alongside a remote controller, I designed a version to allow the cast to remotely trigger cues or effects as part of the action.

The unit I chose for the project had to tick multiple boxes: they had to provide low latency, long range communication between units, have at least three channels, avoid congested frequencies, and be powered by batteries. Above everything, I needed to know that the transmitter/receiver combination would work every time. The ZPT checks all these boxes with ease (and it’s low cost!).

My initial tests with the FOBOEM-8S4  (192-6547) kit showed that the ZPT modules were very easy to use! 

When coupled with RF Solutions’ Flexi-SMA-868 (054-2551) antennas, these units easily cover the 500m distance I’d require. I can power them off of two AA batteries (or an Arduino Uno - more on that in a bit). The choice of 868Mhz or 433Mhz units allows me to ensure that I avoid the 2.4Ghz frequency range, as this range becomes very congested while on set (due to cameras). The acknowledgement functionality on both transmitter and receiver allows me to check that the Tx and Rx are communicating correctly before handing over to the DoP.  And, the ZPT range provides four channels!

A ZPT-8TS (192-6582) is the heart of my handheld transmitter: connected to four SPST momentary switches, and powered off of two AA batteries. The transmitter has coloured switches to allow for easy identification - often it’s easier to remember that the fire effect is on the red button, rather than on button one! I designed a custom PCB to allow for mounting the ZPT-8TS (192-6582) as well as the other inputs from batteries and switches. The Flexi-SMA-868 (054-2551) antenna is mounted using an edge-mount PCB SMA connector (sourced from RS Components).

The handheld enclosure is a Hammond Manufacturing 1553BBKBAT (513-5274) .

The ZPT-8RS (181-2474) provides a FreeTronics EtherTen unit with RF functionality. The EtherTen allows for TCP/IP communication with the ETC Eos Family desks over OSC (Open Sound Control). I wrote a C++ program to connect to the Eos desk over OSC, and then triggers the correct effect when the ZPT module receives a transmission. The ZPT modules is powered by the EtherTen’s 3.3v supply, while the EtherTen is powered by 802.3af Power Over Ethernet. As the ZPT has a constant power supply (and not fed from batteries), I chose to connect the SLEEP pin (pin 3) to GND (pin 2); so from button-press to triggering an effect is instantaneous.

Technical Support from RF Solutions has been excellent throughout my project. I was especially grateful for the assistance as this was my first project with radio frequencies! The support team, especially Simon and John, made it really easy to get to grips with RF’s products and they obviously had a vast knowledge (and, dare I say, passion) about them. RF’s data sheets are superbly easy to follow, and their support team is only an email (or call) away.

I’m looking forward to RF’s new FERRET receiver, where I’ll be able to connect the unit directly to the Eos console’s contact closure port and continue to use my ZPT transmitters”.

RF Solutions look forward to hearing more about Cam's exciting and innovative work in lighting the entertainment industry, using our very own RF modules!

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RF Solutions produce quality components and systems that utilise the latest RF technology to create practical solutions for a range of applications. We also offer a variety of bespoke services with friendly, dedicated customer support.

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