Whew! It's been a wonderfully crazy 18 months working on the MediaLight 6500K Bias Lighting System. While sitting over dinner at CES 2015 with Joe Kane, Joe and I changed topics from Digital Video Essentials (published by our company, Scenic Labs) to our thoughts about bias lighting and how it was really hard to find a good solution.
Joe was a great guy to share his insights on such a project because he chaired the SMPTE Professional/Studio Monitor Working Group which developed the standards for bias lighting.
I had a ton of questions about what, for many people, is an incredibly mundane topic. I mentioned that all of his home theatre optimisation products recommend bias lights, but finding a good bias lighting system was incredibly hard. For most people, it involved a lot of trial and error -- and a lot of disappointment.
Bias Lighting itself has been a sleepy business. There are accurate fluorescent systems, which are bulky and expensive. There are also countless LED options that are horribly inaccurate but extremely cheap.
It became clear that none of the "off the shelf" light strips were going to work. I know because I tried everything I could find. They tended to be closer to 9000K and one was even 10300K. Without naming names, one of the more popular lights was visibly bluish-purple. We set out to source the LED's and have the strips built for us. When we couldn't find exactly what we needed, we got in touch with the LED factories with a list of requirements. We needed to make it very clear that we valued accuracy over price. This was counter to how many manufacturers worked and some continued to send us LED's that were all over the place in CRI and CCT. It really didn't matter if this was intentional or not, we couldn't work with them.
Over the first 12 months of still-unnamed MediaLight 6500K project, I reviewed hundreds of LED's from different suppliers and sent the most promising ones to Joe to review on his PR-650. Over time, I developed relationships with suppliers who consistently sent parts that I needed. Joe Kane helped to put together a list of best practices to avoid contaminating the light when assembling our light strips. Otherwise, even an accurate LED can output an inaccurate colour temperature.
Once we had everything just how we wanted it, I ordered approximately 200 samples with some minor variations and tested them all. It's one thing to order a single sample, but you can't really know if you are getting reliable accurate components unless you ordered more units.
I discretely sent private messages on message boards to people who had experienced frustrations with other bias lights and offered to send free sample units. These brave souls were our guinea pigs and they provided tons of useful feedback which we were very eager to incorporate back into the product. Small touches like the wire clips and wall mount version (The MediaLight Edge) also came from these tests and online conversations.
Our goal was to include a complete solution in a box. First, the lights had to be more accurate than existing fluorescent solutions. Second, there should be no need to run off to a hardware store for finishing touches (such as wire clips or a hook-and-loop strap). We also determined that we wanted a custom dimmer remote. Most bias lights don't include a dimming mechanism at all. Joe Kane and many others would agree that there must be a way to adjust the light output.
Our beta units included generic remotes, but they had features such as fade, blink and strobe effects. This might be great for a Christmas light, but not for a reference bias light. We're much happier with the custom remote solution that we eventually came up with.
After our initial beta tests, we ordered another 200 improved samples and when testers offered to buy more of the beta versions from us we started selling them to test the market. They were already considerably better than anything available for sale and they ran out super-fast.
In the final month of production, I spent a week in Guangzhou and Shenzhen to oversee the final testing and packaging as well as to visit our suppliers. By spending a week there, I probably eliminated about 6-8 weeks of additional back-and-forth. Over many good meals and hundreds of cups of tea we made plans for the launch. (I also learned about the money frog after inquiring about it being "fed" (tea poured over it) with each new pot of green tea. So if The MediaLight becomes a success, I highly recommend picking up a money frog, a gongfu tea set and brushing up on feng shui).
Anyway, we hope that you will enjoy The MediaLight 6500K as much as we enjoyed developing it. In an unexpected twist, we ended up catching on with professional colourists and video editors first. In fact, if you are a professional, you can order directly from Flanders Scientific. While you are there, check out their monitors! They are amazing!
Extremely happy with the #MediaLight LED bias light. less bulky and just as accurate as traditional pro bias lights.
— Robbie Carman (@robbiecarman) July 22, 2016