Using a Stream Deck as a Production Controller, Revisited

One of my first posts on this blog detailed how I wrote software in Node.js to interface with an Elgato Stream Deck to control some of our production equipment, interfacing with the video switchers, router, Ross Dashboard, etc. It’s time to revisit that.

We’ve been using my controller now every week in our control rooms and tech booths for about a year. My team loves it. It integrates into our centralized production workflow, where each deck sends commands to a central Dashboard panel, which runs the command, and then sends out updates to all the connected stream decks.

However, I haven’t had much time to make it a better product for other people. I wrote support for the Stream Deck Mini when that was released, but that’s about it. I haven’t had time or cause to do much else with it. So, for that reason, I wanted to share with you a piece of software that is under constant, active development: Bitfocus Companion.

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Companion is written in Node.js and packaged in Electron just like my product, so it can run on Mac, Windows, or Linux. But it can do so much more than my controller! One of the best features is that it has a web-based management interface, so you can add actions to buttons easily and on-the-fly. It supports a ton of production equipment and chances are good that your gear is already on the supported list, or, perhaps someone can create a module for it.

I was asked to join the development team recently for Companion, so I’ve started making some modules for Companion to integrate with software and gear that we have. I’ve created a module for Interactive Technologies’ CueServer, which we have in a couple of our venues here.

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Here are some actions you can perform on a CueServer now with the module I created for Companion.
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An example of a key down action for triggering a CueServer macro in Companion.

If you use ProTally, my on-screen tally box notification software, and want to integrate with Companion, I made a module for that too! Make sure to go download the latest ProTally release which supports this feature! With Companion, in addition to Preview and Program windows, you can also send a Beacon, which flashes at a custom rate and color. Check this video out for a demo:

Both of these modules are available in the bleeding edge builds of Companion and will be included in the next stable release soon.

So, if you’re looking for a great production controller that integrates with the Stream Deck, go check out Companion! It’s only going to get better from here!

 

Using Node.js and a Raspberry Pi to monitor Streaming ACN network for DMX changes and trigger actions

Awhile back, I wrote about the Shade Controller I created using Node.js and a USB relay running on a Raspberry Pi Zero. It works great. We can raise and lower the shade from anywhere on the network. However, I’ve always wanted a way to control this a little more automatically. The lighting volunteer is typically the person who operates the remote for the shade, so I really wanted a way to automate that part of the process for them so the shade can raise and lower exactly when we want it to, without them having to use an extra tool or device.

As I was working on some networking changes to one of our lighting consoles (we use Jands L5 consoles running Chroma-Q’s Vista 3), I had an idea… What if we could monitor the Streaming ACN lighting network for data changes just like any lighting node, and use that to trigger an action?

If you’ve not heard of Streaming ACN (sometimes called sACN or its official name E 1.31), it is an ethernet based protocol for sending DMX address and value information from a lighting console to receiver nodes which then relay the DMX information to lighting fixtures. It uses multicast traffic to send the information so it is very fast and efficient. At my church, we have several DMX universes of lighting information going over the network for each auditorium, controlling all of the light fixtures.

Luckily for me, a base protocol module for E 1.31 was already available for Node.js. So, using that module, I sat down and prototyped a solution and had something working in just a couple of hours. I’m calling my software sACN Translator. I’ve deployed it to a Raspberry Pi for production. It supports a simple REST API to allow you to control which universes it should listen to, as well as the fixtures to run triggers for. I also created a simple web interface which utilizes this API.

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Here is the simple web interface which interacts with the REST API.

Here is how I set it up on our system to trigger the shade controller. I started by adding two fixtures to the L5 console on Universe 1 (where I happened to have some spare room in my DMX addresses). I called these fixtures “Shades Up” and “Shades Down”, with DMX Addresses 511 and 512.

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Here are the two “fixtures” on the layout, with notes attached.
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I labeled the fixtures as generic “utility” fixtures with 1 DMX address each.

Then, I added entries in sACN Translator to monitor Universe 1 on the network and look for value changes to fixture addresses 511 and 512. I set it to run an HTTP trigger any time the values reaches 255 (100%). So, when I put the Shades Down fixture at 100% on the lighting console, the software sees that value, looks for a match in its list of fixtures, and then runs the corresponding HTTP request on the Raspberry Pi Zero connected to the USB relay to trigger the action which lowers the shade.

Here is a video of it in action:

Pretty cool! I decided to use separate fixture addresses for each trigger action, but I didn’t have to. I could have just one fixture and watch for two separate lighting values.

So now, all the operator has to do is run the cues like normal, and the programming will do the rest! I’ve made this software available for free on my Github repository. Let me know how it works for you!

Using Google Apps Script with user input to automate repetitive tasks in Google Docs

Do you find yourself ever doing repetitive tasks over and over again in Google Docs? (Or any of the Google Suite Apps?) I sure do. At my church, we create a Google Doc every week for all of the “talking points”, the parts of the service that aren’t song or sermon, where we script out what someone needs to say or communicate during that portion.

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Here is a sample document that we use each week.

A couple years ago, I started creating template files to help my team do this every week, because having the template already there with some common headers, the service date, etc. removed the barrier to get down to writing the actual words. Creating the files wasn’t too complicated, and after awhile, I started making them “in bulk”, where I would sit down and just make 3-4 months worth of documents at a time, making copies of my master template, editing the new file and updating the date, etc. Then we added a second auditorium, which doubled the amount of documents I needed to create.

With the new year, it was time to create more documents, so I decided this time around that I would create a script to help automate this task using the framework within Google Apps Script.

If you’ve not heard of or used Google Apps Script (GAS), it’s a scripting language based on Javascript, for light-weight application development. All of the code runs on Google’s servers to interact with your documents. If you’ve ever used an “add-on” in Google Apps, it’s using this scripting framework.

It’s pretty easy to use if you know Javascript, and it’s easy to get started. From any document, just go to Tools > Script Editor. This opens a new tab where you can start writing Apps Script.

Here is my script:


function myFunction()
{
var ui = DocumentApp.getUi();

var templateDocId = '[templateid]'; // put the document ID of the master template file here

var prompt_numberOfDocs = ui.prompt('How many Talking Point Documents do you want to create?');
var prompt_startingDate = ui.prompt('What is the starting date? Please enter in MM/dd/yyyy.');

var numberOfDocs = parseInt(prompt_numberOfDocs.getResponseText());
var startingDate = prompt_startingDate.getResponseText();

var prompt_venueResponse = ui.prompt('Venue', 'Create Documents for both Auditoriums? If no, please type in the Venue Title and click "No".', ui.ButtonSet.YES_NO);

var venueTitle = '';

var bothAuditoriums = true;

if (prompt_venueResponse.getSelectedButton() == ui.Button.NO)
{
venueTitle = prompt_venueResponse.getResponseText();
bothAuditoriums = false;
}

var date = new Date(startingDate);

var htmlOutput = HtmlService
.createHtmlOutput('Creating ' + numberOfDocs + ' documents. Please stand by...

')
.setWidth(300)
.setHeight(100);

ui.showModalDialog(htmlOutput, 'Talking Points - Task Running');

for (var i = 0; i < numberOfDocs; i++)
{
var loopDate = new Date(date.getTime()+ ((i * 7) * 3600000 * 24)); // uses the looping interval to get the starting date and add 7 days to it, creating a new date object
var documentName = 'Talking Points - ' + Utilities.formatDate(loopDate, Session.getScriptTimeZone(), "MMMM dd, yyyy");
var documentDate = Utilities.formatDate(loopDate, Session.getScriptTimeZone(), "MM/dd/yyyy");
if (bothAuditoriums)
{
createNewTalkingPointDocument(templateDocId, documentName + ' (Aud 1)', 'Aud 1', documentDate);
createNewTalkingPointDocument(templateDocId, documentName + ' (Aud 2)', 'Aud 2', documentDate);
}
else
{
documentName += ' (' + venueTitle + ')';
createNewTalkingPointDocument(templateDocId, documentName, venueTitle, documentDate);
}
}

htmlOutput = HtmlService
.createHtmlOutput('google.script.host.close();')
.setWidth(300)
.setHeight(100);
ui.showModalDialog(htmlOutput, 'Talking Points - Task Running');
}

function createNewTalkingPointDocument(templateDocumentId, documentName, venueTitle, documentDate)
{
//Make a copy of the template file
var documentId = DriveApp.getFileById(templateDocumentId).makeCopy().getId();

//Rename the copied file
DriveApp.getFileById(documentId).setName(documentName);

//Get the document body as a variable
var body = DocumentApp.openById(documentId).getBody();

//Insert the entries into the document
body.replaceText('##Venue##', venueTitle);
body.replaceText('##Date##', documentDate);
}

Once you have a script in place, you can choose triggers for when it should run, like when it is opened, or on a schedule, etc.

Here is the new template with the script in action:

screen shot 2019-01-13 at 6.10.10 am

First, I ask how many documents should be created. 1, 5, 500, whatever I need.

screen shot 2019-01-13 at 6.10.29 am

Next, I ask for the starting date. We specifically use these for Sunday services, so I’ve programmed the script to take this starting date and then calculate every 7 days when creating multiple documents.

screen shot 2019-01-13 at 6.10.44 am

Then, I ask the user if they want to create documents for both auditoriums, or if this is for a special service or off-site service, etc. Typically we want them for both auditoriums, but the one-off feature makes things easy for those types of services too.

screen shot 2019-01-13 at 6.10.57 am

As the script runs, it displays this dialog box. Creating that many documents can take awhile, and I wanted the user to be aware of this. The box goes away automatically when the process is completed.

Now that we have this, I can pass the task on to anyone on our team, anytime they need these documents! And it saves a good bit of time. I definitely spent less time creating this script than I would have spent creating the 3-4 months worth of documents manually, and now I never have to do that again!

How can you use Google Apps Script to automate some of your more repetitive tasks?

Sharing ProPresenter lyrics to multiple clients through the web browser in real time using Node.js, socket.io, and Amazon EC2

Every year, my church has a “night of worship”, a worship service in the heart of the city at an outdoor stage, where we sing songs for a couple of hours. Because it doesn’t get dark enough to use projectors for lyrics until the service is almost over, in the past we have relied on using small flat screen TVs to try to show some words for people to follow along. Big white letters on a black background, nothing fancy. Of course, it’d be great if we could just rent an LED video wall, but the cost to do that has been too expensive for us to do in the past.

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You can see the screens we rented here. Pretty small (60″) for such a large crowd.

So, I had an idea: What if we could somehow send the lyrics out of ProPresenter to everyone’s phones, in real time, and let them use their own screens to follow along?

I gave myself a couple of limitations:

  • It needed to work in the standard phone browser so there was no barrier of installing a particular app
  • It needed to be real time or as close to it as possible

Awhile back, I started tinkering around with the undocumented ProPresenter API. I say undocumented because it is not officially offered as a way to access ProPresenter data and control it. Some people have done a great job at figuring out how ProPresenter sends data over the network between their apps which allows us to extend the software to meet unique needs. Basically, by using websockets, we can interact with ProPresenter which will return JSON-formatted data reflecting information about songs in the library, playlist, the index of the current song, the current slide and next slide information, etc.

I created a local Node.js project and in just a few hours, I had something ready to alpha test! My approach was to have a web browser open on the local network that could poll and listen to changes from ProPresenter, and then relay that new data to a web server. That web server would then relay those changes to all of the connected clients, much like a chat server would send a message to everyone.

I showed it to my team, but the idea was tabled for awhile because we thought it through and didn’t want people buried in their phones while singing. However, as we got closer to the event, we realized that the two TV screens we rented might not be sufficient, and I was asked to work on this again.

As I was preparing this for production, I discussed briefly with our IT team about setting up an internal server running Node.js that could be accessed on port 80 (the default HTTP port) outside the firewall, but bandwidth, security and performance for hundreds of clients connecting through the Internet all at the same time was a concern. With that in mind, I turned to Amazon EC2.

If you haven’t heard of it, Amazon Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2) is basically virtual servers “in the cloud” (i.e. remotely and accessible from the internet). It’s not too hard to set up, and they even have a free tier available for 12 months, so you can try it out for free! I had never used it before this project, so I actually followed a tutorial to help me get it going.

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This is my EC2 instance. It’s running Ubuntu linux.

Once I had my Linux server set up on Amazon EC2, I assigned an “Elastic IP” (Amazon’s term for a type of static IP), and then I bought a domain name, fglyrics.com, for $12 and tied it to that IP. It was up and online in minutes. I installed Node.js on my new server, copied over my code, and started it running.

About the software:

I call the software Presentation Bridge, because it acts as a “bridge” or connector between the presentation software and all of the clients.

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 5.19.59 AM
The initial Bridge page.

When you first load the Bridge page, you have two options: Configuring your ProPresenter connection, and Connecting to a Bridge. In order to connect to ProPresenter, you have to enable the network settings. It relies on both the “remote” and “stage display” controls to get all of the data needed.

ProPresenter 6 Network Settings
You need to enable the network, ProPresenter Remote, and Stage Display App. Be sure to assign a control password. The Network Port is the port we will use in Presentation Bridge. The Stage Display App port is not needed.

When connecting to ProPresenter in Presentation Bridge, you’ll need to supply the local ProPresenter IP address and port, as well as the control password and local library path. This is what allows the Bridge to pull all of the slide images and other information. This is standardized across all of our ProPresenter installs at our church, so it’s always the same path for us. It should be the full, absolute path from the root of your drive.

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 6.15.51 AM

When you’ve successfully connected, the gray dot at the top of the ProPresenter config box will turn green. If there’s an error, it will turn red. Status information is displayed in a log area further down the screen.

To connect to a bridge, choose one from the dropdown list. If it is configured to have a control password, you’ll have to enter that in order to connect. Adding bridges and making changes to existing bridges can be managed by clicking the settings wheel. It supports multiple bridges, which I added as a feature since we have multiple auditoriums and may want to use more than one simultaneously.

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 6.02.00 AM
This is what the page can look like when connected to both ProPresenter and to a Bridge room.

As the operator runs ProPresenter, the slides will be displayed on the Bridge screen with the currently selected slide showing a blinking red border, so it is clear which slide is currently being displayed. You can browse the playlists and items in the playlist. You have the option to send the current data from ProPresenter to the server (or turn it off), turn on a logo (configured in Bridge settings, useful if you’re currently not connected to ProPresenter, etc.). I also implemented the NoSleep.js library which will attempt to keep any connected mobile devices awake.

On the viewer/client side, I implemented three types of “listeners”:

  • Text Listener – just gets text data and displays it as big as possible on the screen
  • Image Listener – displays the actual slide image by using a base64 encoding of the slide
  • Stage Display – recreates the current slide/next slide layout
Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 3.54.23 PM
This is the default “text listener” option, and what we used for our night of worship.
Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 3.54.01 PM
This is the image listener. It uses a base64 encoded image pulled from ProPresenter at the time it connects. The quality is based on the slider value set in the config options for the ProPresenter connection. It does not include any background or other layers.
Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 3.54.14 PM
This is the stage display, with the current slide and the next slide, and any notes attached.

All three listeners can be accessed through the browser. The data is relayed from the server using the socket.io library. I tested it on my iOS devices, Android devices, and even my Amazon Fire TV stick on multiple browsers and they all work really well. Across an internet connection, the moment a slide is clicked in ProPresenter, that slide is visible on the listener devices.

We used it during our Night of Worship this year and it worked great! I used a hotspot for the Bridge connection and then everyone connected to the Text Listener using the internet connection on their own phones. It uses very little data since it is just a text stream, which is really nice!

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Photo Oct 19, 7 17 43 PM

Overall, I enjoyed creating this software for our unique need. I plan to extend the functionality down the road as I have time, including attaching “triggers” to specific slides as they are activated, to send RossTalk messages, fire HTTP cues, etc. on the local production network.

If you’d like to try Presentation Bridge out for yourself, the code is freely available on my Github repository. You can also request to demo it using my live site running on Amazon EC2. I wrote the software to support multiple bridges at a time, in case you have multiple meeting spaces or venues that need to run simultaneously. When more than one Bridge is enabled and running, any users that connect are presented with a drop-down list and can select the Bridge they want to join.

ProTally 1.2.0 with Blackmagic ATEM support available

I spent some time this past week writing and testing support for ProTally with Blackmagic ATEM switchers. I didn’t have one to develop with, and after posting on a discussion group about the software, a new friend sent me a unit to work on. Thanks again, Kyle!

Version 1.2.0 now supports:

  • Blackmagic ATEM switchers – it will auto discover any ATEM switchers on the network, or you can manually type in an IP Address as well
  • Ross Carbonite Black, Carbonite Black Solo, and Graphite switchers

And I now have a Windows release build in addition to a MacOS release build!

Screen Shot 2018-09-15 at 12.12.47 AM

Screen Shot 2018-09-15 at 12.13.51 AMScreen Shot 2018-09-15 at 12.13.11 AM

Screen Shot 2018-09-15 at 12.14.08 AM
It now supports more device types!

You can download the binaries for free here: https://github.com/josephdadams/ProTally/releases/tag/v1.2.0

If the software is beneficial to you, drop me a line and let me know!

Using Dropbox to keep ProPresenter Libraries in sync

Dropbox is an excellent tool for production use. We use it for everything, from weekly temporary files just for a particular weekend service, to long term resources that need to be available on a regular basis. It’s great because the files automatically sync to all the devices, and it allows us to collaborate with a lot of people/contributors. The files are stored locally on each device/computer, so they are quickly accessible.

We also like syncing our ProPresenter Libraries in Dropbox, and I thought I would share that method with you. If you haven’t heard of ProPresenter, it is an media presentation software package from a company called Renewed Vision that is designed specifically to make live production easier. In my opinion, it’s the best lyric presenting software out there.

ProPresenter maintains its own internal library/folder system of all of your presentations (songs), background videos, images, etc. This allows you to easily search and re-use songs week to week. The software auto-saves changes when you make them, which is great.

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 3.10.53 PM

But what do you do when you have multiple ProPresenter computers in multiple venues and rooms across the campus or ministry? This is where a syncing method comes in very handy.

ProPresenter has two built in options for sync, “local sync” and “cloud sync”. The local sync option is free and you can set it up yourself to sync to a local drive or network share. The cloud sync option uses Renewed Vision servers and costs a small monthly fee.

However, we don’t use either of these options. I tried the local sync option and never got it to reliably work like I expected, and the cloud sync was not something we were interested in paying for at the time.

We use Dropbox instead. We have a shared Dropbox account logged into all production devices. Each computer using ProPresenter is set up with its own library folder in the Dropbox account. This allows that computer to make all the changes it needs while those library files are in use.

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As changes are made, they are automatically synced to Dropbox and back down to the other devices, into that same folder name/structure. Essentially, every computer has a full backup of all the other computers’ ProPresenter libraries, accurate to within the last time it synced, typically within a couple of minutes at most.

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We have found this to be very helpful, because a volunteer running ProPresenter in one Auditorium can fix or redesign a slide, and the volunteer running ProPresenter in another Auditorium can simply pull up that file on their computer and copy it into their local library.

To sync over mass changes, we create a ProPresenter bundle file of presentations and save it to Dropbox. The other computers see the bundle file almost immediately and they can then be imported to get any new changes needed.

We have been using this workflow for over a year now and it has been great for us. Do you use ProPresenter and Dropbox together? If not, give this a try. Or, if you have a great syncing method that works well for your team, share it! I’d love to hear how you are using technology well to help the church be more efficient.