Should I Buy a PC-Based or Hardware-Based Lighting Console?

Should I Choose a PC-Based or a Hardware-Based Lighting Console?

There’s always the age-old debate that comes up about whether you should go with a PC-Based or Hardware-Based lighting console. How do you decide which one is the best fit for your needs?

We will go through the common comments or myths that often come up in this debate to help you make a better decision for your lighting rig.

There is a difference between what type of lighting console should I get and should I buy a PC-based or hardware-based lighting console? I’ve worked with both types of consoles and I recommend consoles based on what is expected and the capabilities.

Automatic Updates

One of the most common statements I hear come up is that your PC will get automatic updates and it will crash. One way to bust this myth is to know that a properly managed PC will not have these types of problems.

Personally, I do work with PCs every single day when programming lights, creating video tutorials, etc and I do not have these issues. Another point is that most of the newer and more modern lighting consoles are actually a PC unit themselves. Most of these actually run with embedded windows on them.

So realistically, it’s not automatic updates coming in and crashing the PC. While things do happen it is mostly avoidable if the PC is properly taken care of by the user.

Ease of Use

Another topic or myth that comes up is the ease of use. Is it easier to work with a stand-alone lighting console or is it more involved when setting up a PC-based lighting console?

At first, glance working with a PC-based console may look more like a daunting task. It’s getting a computer, monitor, mouse, keyboard, and so on. Then, there are the steps of setting up the PC-based console and hooking up your lights.

With a hardware-based console, it can be easier to just set up the console, hook up the power, plug in your lights, and you’re done.

While there may be more steps of getting a PC-based lighting console-setup there is a likelihood that the PC-based console will actually be less expensive than a hardware-based console.

Computer Management

Lastly, the last major concern in this discussion would be computer management. Often I will recommend that if you do decide to work with a PC-based console you want to keep the programs and apps to a minimum on your PC.

Ideally, having a specific PC designated to your lighting console, keeping the applications to a minimum, and not connecting it to the internet while you are running shows is the best and safest setup. With this, you shouldn’t have any issues disrupting your show.

The Cost

Realistically, the biggest concern is cost and understandably so. If you are able to work with a PC and keep it well maintained you can work with a PC-based lighting console for the fraction of the cost when comparing it to a hardware-based console.

If you are someone that has other people working with the PC or it’s being sent out as a rental the maintenance can be very stressful. It’s hard to know how your computer is being managed when it’s in others’ hands. If this the case then a hardware-based console would probably be a better fit for you.

At the end of the day, there is no wrong answer. The best approach is understanding first is will this be used by others? Are you able to properly manage a designated PC for your console?

Lastly, what will your budget allow and how will this affect your purchasing decision?

About the author