Recent software innovation has evolved VJing from background eye candy into full-fledged video performance. But aside from a few exceptions such as the Edirol Motion Dive Tokyo and Numark NuVJ—VJ hardware and software has existed in separate worlds, which makes the VJ scramble to fit a square peg into a round hole by using a MIDI controller designed for music performance, often resulting in disappointment or at least weeks of deciphering incomprehensible manuals.
Enter the Ohm controller and Union 2.5 VJ software from Livid Instruments, whose logo—a futuristic welder lit by what resembles a glowing cannabis leaf—is the first indication that you''re in store for something pretty insane. The Ohm/Union combo addresses an artist''s need to get down to the business of live visual performance without having to reinvent the wheel. Its developers recognized the desire for more spontaneity in video art and were determined to put the “real” back in “real time.”
In the wood-paneled tabletop or metal rackmount -versions, the Ohm controller is itself a work of art. Its 36 rubber buttons for accessing media are wonderfully responsive, and the eight faders and 10 knobs are smooth and precise. Add another 10 function buttons, eight effects triggers, two transform buttons and a crossfader, and its intuitive and almost organic feel make it easily adaptable to controlling other MIDI software or hardware toys.
When paired with Union 2.5, Ohm really shines, letting you concentrate on creating an artistic performance instead of painful technical machinations. All Ohm controls correspond directly to the Union software interface. As you physically activate faders, dials and buttons, they automatically animate on the software interface.
Livid''s video engine allows for instant manipulation and control of A/V content: video, audio and images. With its hundreds of effects, movie triggering, live-feed manipulation, advanced modules and countless other performance-enhancing tools, Union turns the process of creating video into an integrated—and for the most part, intuitive—multimedia performance. And when switched on, the Ohm emits the coolest electric LED glow in the business. It will make you feel important.
After the requisite downloading, updating, installing, authorizing and registering, a familiar yet annoying process, the software/hardware combo was ready to go. The nonresizable Union interface filled most of my MacBook Pro''s screen with a resolution set to 1,280 by 800, and Union 2.5 preferences allow you to freely resize the output window with any number of screens, providing you have an appropriate hardware output card. For testing purposes, I used the Matrox MXO (www.matrox.com).
Union''s mixer is the main area used to mix video files and camera feeds, preview sources and preview the output. A and B sources are previewed on either side of the output. A fader—automatically mapped to the corresponding fader on the Ohm—crossfades the sources and can be set to a variety of crossfade styles, including automated and beat-matched mixing using an LFO.
The Effects Interface lets you assign effects and create effects presets. The FX labels indicate which effect layers are in use. Clicking on an effect name will turn the effect off for a specific layer.
On either side of the mixer are controls for modules A and B: brightness and contrast, channel invert, color saturation and a volume control for audio in addition to very sensitive bpm syncing, looping, scrubbing, trimming and an option to sequence the contents of the current Clip Bank. If a clip contains audio, fiddling with the loop length and timing creates some interesting A/V effects.
The tabs in module A also include the browser window, waveform visualization tools and video input preference window. On my MacBook Pro it defaulted to the built-in iSight camera. In addition, the Video Input tab provides inputs from a video digitizer card or FireWire camera. Multiple cameras can be accessed and mixed with your video decks and visualizers. Effects can be applied to a live camera feed using the effects knobs. Using a video digitizer, USB or FireWire Webcam or a FireWire DV camera, you can easily mix in and add effects to live video streams (or any digitizable source, such as a video cassette) with your video clips. You can even attach multiple cameras, switch among them and put live feeds on both sources.
Module B includes tabs for captions/text (accessed by choosing channel B from the aforementioned Video Input window in Module A), keying and sophisticated sound-trigger controls that deserve their own article dedicated to their amazing abilities.
The Browser module navigates your hard drives and folders for QuickTime-compatible files you''ll use in the Clip Bank. You can drag individual clips or entire folders into the massive Clip Bank that holds more than 2,000 media files. Two dedicated Ohm buttons toggle through the 64 presets of 36 clips each, and each clip can be triggered by its corresponding position on the Ohm''s 36-button grid. You can also name presets.
The Layer window composites additional content on top of the media in A and B channels in six composite modes. The media in the Layer window can be arranged two-by-two, four vertical or stacked. However, there was no option to reposition or trim the clips in the frame. Also, scrubbing was wonderfully responsive for video, but caused audio to sound a little artifact-y.
The business end of this whole Ohm/Union enterprise comes from the faders and knobs. Scrolling through effects presets automatically maps specific effects to knobs and faders on the Ohm with an additional Options window that lets you to set advanced parameters, such as range for a specified effect. You can manually adjust effects in the Effects Interface window. As effects can get out of control pretty quickly, a couple of features I would have liked would be a Restore Default button and simple metric controls such as scale and rotate accessible in the A and B modules rather than in effects.
When you tire of playing with knobs and sliders, there''s the Automator, providing extensive and sophisticated control features for Union. Relying on random processes, the Automator serves up constantly changing content and effects, letting you interact with other controls for infinite variety. With Automator at the helm, you could leave for a break and the show would go on.
A DREAM IN SOUND
You use the Sound Input module to select, play and mix sound from different sources. The sound is routed to the Waveform and Sound Trigger modules and can be passed to your computer''s sound output. Clicking on the Configure button in the Waveform tab opens a window that lets you filter the sound and zoom in on the detail of the wave. For example, if you want the waveform to draw primarily bass sounds, you can use the filter to cut out any high frequencies before the wave draws, or use the filter to emphasize vocals, percussion or other sounds.
Sound Input is crucial because it drives one of the coolest modules: Sound Trigger. Similar to audio keyframes in Adobe After Effects, this module triggers various video controls by way of the audio source of your choice. What makes this sound trigger unique is that the sound is analyzed for types of percussive sounds rather than dynamics—giving the animation a new lease on life.
The record function exports video as a QuickTime Movie file. All recordings are set to a user-defined size and frame rate, and no frames are dropped during recording. This function can bounce down a performance that you can use as a clip in another performance, thereby creating more lush visuals and freeing up CPU resources.
Render Recording mode in combination with the Automator, Sequencers and LFOs is an inspiring way to generate new content. In Union, Render Recording doesn''t include audio. You can work around that though by recording directly out to a deck, provided you have the appropriate hardware, which liberates you from worrying about eating up precious room on your hard drive.
The beauty of the Ohm/Union setup is once you get past the threshold of basic operation, the process of creating art becomes more physical and performance oriented rather than analytical or laborious. You feel more connected to the tools. For people wanting to jump in and make sweet-looking visuals, this hardware/software combo is equipped with enough bells and whistles to entertain for hours on end and at a reasonable price (try the demo available at Livid''s site). But with the ability to expand its capabilities, for example through Elements and FreeFrame plug-ins, as well as sophisticated sound--triggering and infinitely adaptable effects, the Ohm/Union combo will go as far as your imagination takes you.
OHM > $790 (includes Union 2.5)
Pros: Tight integration between hardware and software. Excellent effects implementation with additional Elements and FreeFrame VJ plug-in support. Random Automator function. Records performances. ReWire support for syncing to a DAW. Ohm works on all MIDI software and hardware.
Cons: No Restore Default button. Render Recording does not include audio.
Mac: G4/1.5 GHz; 1 GB RAM; OS 10.2 or later
PC: 1.5 GHz processor (2 GHz recommended); 1 GB RAM; Windows XP; QuickTime 6 or later; video card that supports OpenGL
(Windows computers that do not have dedicated video memory, also known as Integrated Graphics, will likely not properly run Union. Chipsets such as the Intel MGA950 and Nvidia 6150 are common, but will not likely support Union under Windows XP.)