Controlling a Roland V-60HD video switcher with a Stream Deck and Companion

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted through the blog by Tony Perez, longtime staff member at Calvary Chapel in Las Vegas. He asked if I could help their team to control their Roland V-60HD switcher through a stream deck using Companion.

God has given me a heart and passion to be a resource for other churches, so I jumped right in and started reading the TCP protocol specification for their video switcher. The protocol was simple enough, basically just a telnet protocol to send parameters with a terminating character to designate the end of the command.

rol-v-60hd
This is the Roland V-60HD video switcher.

I had to take a sick day recently to take care of one of my kids who had an ear infection, so while he was resting, I sat down and prototyped a module for Companion to control their video switcher.

Tony and I then set a time to talk on the phone and do a TeamViewer session, and after doing some slight debugging, we had it working!

The protocol is pretty straightforward. For example, with this command:

\u0002CUT;

The switcher will perform a cut between the current on-air source and the preview source. “\u0002” is the ASCII control code “02H” which tells the switcher that a command code is coming. “CUT” is the command , and the semicolon terminates the command.

We were able to implement every video-related operation and some of the system operations that seemed necessary to control remotely from a Stream Deck.

So, with just a few short hours of work, now his team can control their Roland V-60HD video switcher from anywhere on their network! This will be a great help and add to their flexibility.

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 2.12.50 PM.png
You can see some of the options available for the module in this screenshot.

This was a fun project to get to help with, especially since I had not ever seen or used this particular video switcher before, and I was able to help a ministry on the other side of the country.

Here are some pictures of the module in action!

The module is open-source and part of the Companion project now, so anyone else who has this switcher can jump in and use it too! You can view the module code here.

Sending automated reminders via a Slack webhook, AppleScript, and Launchd on MacOS

I have always enjoyed finding ways to automate processes, especially ones that don’t require much user interaction but just need to be done at a certain time or at regular intervals. At one of my first jobs out of high school, I wrote software to automate a job for one of the clients that normally took 2.5 days by hand, taking the process down to 30 minutes, including filling out all the paperwork. Of course, the company didn’t like losing those billable hours, but it was hard to argue with the efficiency.

At my church, we have a few computers with limited drive space. And that drive space always fills up fast! In the past, I would check the drives periodically and either delete old files or move them off to another storage place. I sat down recently and decided to take that a step further: I only wanted to be notified to check the drive when the drive was full to a certain threshold.

I’ve been playing around with Slack recently with a project I’m working on at home to notify me when my laundry is finished. If you’ve not heard of Slack, it is a collaboration/communication tool that integrates with lots of other platforms. It’s like a work-specific chatroom on steroids. One of the ways you can use it is with custom apps and webhooks, providing an easy way to send data and interact via a custom URL.

I won’t delve into setting up Slack and webhooks here, but I did want to share with you how I accomplished my goal to only get notifications when the drive is full to a certain amount. I used AppleScript and the Launchd framework built into MacOS.

If you’ve been on the Mac platform for awhile, you’ve no doubt heard of and have maybe used AppleScript. It’s a great way to interact with Mac apps and the system as a whole, so you can automate all kinds of things.

Launchd, as defined by Apple, is “a unified, open-source service management framework for starting, stopping and managing daemons, applications, processes, and scripts.” This framework is always working in the background on MacOS, whether you knew it or not!

So, I sat down and wrote an AppleScript that does the following:

  • Polls the system for the available space on the hard drive(s) I specified
  • If the space remaining is a certain amount or less, it sends a webhook request to my Slack app with a custom message to remind me to clear up the particular drive.

Screen Shot 2019-03-07 at 9.40.27 PM

Now, to schedule it. In the past, I used to use the built-in iCal/Calendar app for MacOS. It worked ok sometimes but I found that there were times scheduled events simply didn’t run for whatever reason. So, I decided to use a different method and take advantage of the Launchd process built into the operating system. There’s a lot you can learn about Launchd for MacOS, but I’ll summarize it here:

  • You can run processes as daemons, which run at the system level, not the user level
  • You can run processes as agents, which run at the user level
  • You can have them run when the system loads, or you can schedule them
  • Depending on where you place the file with the instructions about your script determines whether it runs as a daemon or agent

I chose to have mine run on a schedule every day at 7am, and send me an alert if the drive(s) are too full. I didn’t need it to run at the system level, so I made it an agent.

Screen Shot 2019-03-18 at 9.22.16 AM.png
This is the file that MacOS will look at to schedule the script to run.

Once I placed this file in my ~/Library/LaunchAgents/ folder (my main user account’s Launch Agents folder) and restarted the computer, it was ready to go! I’m looking forward to not having to remember to check those drive spaces manually anymore. I’ll automatically get notifications on my phone when I need to clear up space!

IMG_9213
This is what the alert looks like on my phone.

I hope this helps you! If you want any of the scripts, they’re up on Github.

Controlling Planning Center LIVE with a Stream Deck

In my last post, I mentioned a great tool, Companion, that integrates with the Elgato Stream Deck. I’ve had the opportunity to write a few modules for it to extend its control capabilities, like controlling a CueServer, or my own software, ProTally.

If you work in tech for a church, chances are that you use or have at least heard of Planning Center Online to manage your worship services and people. PCO has a feature for their Services product called Services LIVE that allows you to designate where you are at in a service flow while a service is ongoing, which updates anyone who may be watching. It also records the times so you can look back later and see things like “Did that song we said would take 5 minutes actually take more like 6 minutes and 30 seconds?” It’s a very useful tool.

The interface to advance a LIVE plan, however, has not been the best for our volunteers. Even within the PCO app, the buttons to advance a plan to the next item are rather tiny, and some of my team have trouble knowing whether or not they hit the button.

IMG_9032
This is the standard PCO Live interface. The small double arrows at the bottom left and right of the screen are the controls. Our volunteers have a hard time pressing these.

One thing that makes Planning Center Online great is that they love developers, and they’ve made a very extensive Application Programming Interface (API) available for anyone to use. This means you can get access to your service and plan data without having to actually click and browse the website.

I delved into that API this past week and used it to create a new module for Companion. One of the caveats of using the API is that in order to advance a live plan, you have to know both the service type ID and the plan ID. This requires traversing the API data some and making multiple requests. If you’re a programmer, this makes sense. If you’re just an end-user, it may not be as straightforward. So, I set out to make something easy enough for anyone to use.

Here is a walkthrough video on how the module works:

What it actually does:

  1. When you first load the module and supply it with the authentication tokens, it requests all of the available service types and stores that internally.
    https://api.planningcenteronline.com/services/v2/service_types
  2. Then it asks for the next 7 upcoming plans for each service type based on the list that was just retrieved. This is then used to build the drop down list so you can choose your plan.
    https://api.planningcenteronline.com/services/v2/service_types/${serviceTypeId}/plans?filter=future&per_page=7
  3. When you send a “Previous” or “Next” command, it first asks for the LIVE information for that selected plan.
    https://api.planningcenteronline.com/services/v2/service_types/${serviceTypeId}/plans/${planId}/live
  4. It checks for who the current controller of the plan is, and compares that to an internal variable in Companion that represents the owner of the authentication token.
  5. If the current controller is null, a command is sent to toggle control to the token owner, and the returning value of the current controller is stored in that internal variable so we know who “we” are for next time.
    https://api.planningcenteronline.com/services/v2/service_types/${serviceTypeId}/plans/${planId}/live/toggle_control
  6. If the current controller is not null, a toggle command is sent to release control of the plan to no one, and then a toggle command is immediately sent again so that control is toggled to us. The reason for this is that if our authentication key is not the current controller, the API will return an error when we try to advance the plan.
  7. Now that we know we are in control, the current controller value returned by the API is stored as an internal variable, and then the next or previous command is sent to advance the plan.
    https://api.planningcenteronline.com/services/v2/service_types/${serviceTypeId}/plans/${planId}/live/go_to_next_item

Because Node.js is an asychronous programming language, all of this is done through Promises, which is similar in concept to a callback function, however it allows for cleaner and easier to read code.

So, stay tuned for this module to become available in the next stable release of Companion, and if you’re willing to try it out in development mode, it’s available now!

IMG_9035
The PCO Live module in action!

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.

Screen Shot 2019-02-15 at 10.43.46 AM

 

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.

Screen Shot 2019-02-15 at 10.54.05 AM
Here are some actions you can perform on a CueServer now with the module I created for Companion.
Screen Shot 2019-02-15 at 10.53.53 AM
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.

Screen Shot 2019-01-20 at 10.28.46 AM.png
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.

screen sharing picture january 20, 2019 at 5.34.39 am est
Here are the two “fixtures” on the layout, with notes attached.
screen sharing picture january 20, 2019 at 5.35.29 am est
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.

screen shot 2019-01-13 at 5.48.00 am
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?