May 5, 2020

Aputure Expands Sidus Link, Its Intuitive Wireless Control Platform to iPad

Sidus Link 1.2 receives 3 new dynamic features and a standalone version for iPad. 

Aputure has long had a lot of control options for its lights, including most lights coming with a physical remote control, onboard controls, and physical DMX support on larger units. On top of that, the company released an app platform, Sidus Link, for even more sophisticated lighting control, which has just received a series of exciting updates.

The improvements include a newly redesigned iPad app, a revamp of its smartphone version, and new hardware to connect older model lights to the Sidus Link platform.

What is Sidus Link?

When Sidus Link was first announced, the headline wasn't that Aputure was building an app, but that Aputure was going to be running its lighting control platform on a Bluetooth mesh network. While many apps run Bluetooth for local control of individual lights, it was widely thought that Bluetooth wasn't robust enough to handle the kind of workload that it would require.

Most sets use DMX control, which works on a protocol similar to the Wi-Fi protocol. However, it can't be controlled by a laptop without an adapter. Wi-Fi was designed to replace Ethernet cables, but Bluetooth was designed to replace USB cables. Wi-Fi is more robust and better for medium-range connections, like an Ethernet cable, but requires more setup. Bluetooth offers easier setup and pairing, like a USB, but for much shorter runs. If you've ever connected a  phone to a wireless speaker only to lose the signal when you walk into another room, you know the limits of Bluetooth.

So, what was Aputure thinking?

One thing people may have forgotten about Bluetooth is that it's not just one format. Not only are there several revisions (it's at revision 5.2 currently), there are also different classes. Most devices we use regularly are Class 2, with a range of around 30 feet, and don't have a ton of power to go through walls.

Leave your lights on set, walk down the hall, and Bluetooth won't control it. But Sidus Link is built around Class 1. This format allows for distances of up to 300 feet, and in my testing, it works. Below is a photo of an Aputure MC light unit I bought to test with being controlled from 263 feet away down a hallway. I actually had to put on a 150mm lens to see it and confirm that the light color was changing, it was so far away.

The MC unit was still small through a 150mm lens but we could at least confirm that, yes, the light was still working at that distance controlled by our iPhone 11 Pro

On top of that, Sidus Link uses mesh technology. That means that little $100 MC unit way at the end of the hallway becomes a router that passes the signal on to others on the network. If the hallway was 600 feet long, I could've placed a unit at 300 feet from home base and the signal would've traveled through the mesh all the way to the end. 

Sidus Link 1.2

Aputure has just given us a whole lot more with its newest release.

ManualFX

Version 1.2 adds the ability to change your lighting over time. The feature is called ManualFX and allows you to dynamically change any of your lighting parameters over a programmed length of time.

For instance, want to build a sequence where the sun sets over the course of your scene, slowly dimming the light? You can program that with ManualFX, changing the brightness of older Aputure units, and with the newer RGBWW units like the MC. You can shift color as well. This functionality was sorely missing in the original Sidus Link release and it's good to see it out now.

FX Picker

Also included is an FX Picker which allows you to use your smartphone camera to record a scene and use that to create an FX profile. The best use for this is to create a "TV light" effect. Using the feature is simple. Point your phone's camera at the TV and it will automatically profile the color, brightness, and most importantly, the variation in brightness of the TV. It will then create a profile that can be recreated using the lights.

We've all seen the fake TV flickering light that's completely unrelated to what is actually showing on the screen. This should solve that issue by allowing you to build the effect off of the TV source.

Magic Program

Another new feature in version 1.2 is Magic Program which allows you to create lighting designs with up to 25 fixtures. You can combine fixtures into groups and create keyframe lighting triggers out of several small MC units. Admittedly, this is the feature I am the most eager to test and the least confident in.

This kind of functionality has been promised by a variety of platforms, and I have yet to see it work well anywhere. My guess is that this feature will work well sometimes, and then completely fail in others. This is mostly due to the wide variety of sensors in different phones that the app maker has to account for.

iPad App

Aputure has released a dedicated version for iPad that will offer more tricks than the smartphone version. iPads are commonplace in the lighting department because of apps like Luminaire and Blackout. The larger screen is a lifesaver when programming multiple units.

The Sidus Link iPad app offers a console mode not available in the phone app and is designed to recreate the feeling of sitting at a physical lighting console and being able to see all your light units at the same time. One standout feature is that you can open up sub-windows to change individual light parameters while still seeing an overall view of all your console settings.

Sidus Bridge

Sidus Bridge allows older Aputure lights prior to Sidus Link to be connected to the new platform. Backward compatibility and support for older units is something that manufacturers can neglect, so it's appreciated Aputure is doing this.

Imagine putting thousands of dollars building out a lighting system with 120d, 300d, and 600d fixtures only to be locked out of a new platform. It would be frustrating, to say the least. Sidus Bridge will allow any older units that support Bluetooth to connect to the Sidus Link mesh network.

Since it's part of Sidus, it should also work as a mesh repeater itself, so if you have a long run, you can position several Sidus Bridge units along the way to boost the signal. No word yet on how many units you can power off a Bridge, but the $89 price point makes it an affordable addition to the platform.

Final Thoughts

This is a large feature release from Aputure for Sidus Link and shows the amount of effort going into this platform. The company also built its own platform at Sidus.link, and seems to be pushing this as something that might be bigger than just an Aputure product. 

Hopefully, we'll see a version of the Sidus Link Bridge soon with a DMX connector that can control non-Aputure lights in the future. Even less likely, but it would be great if Aputure works with other manufacturers to support them with the current Bridge. 

DMX is an open protocol that doesn't require collaboration with partners, so it should be relatively easy. Having brands like Hive Wasp work with Bridge would be super cool. ARRI did something similar with Stellar 2, so maybe it's something Aputure will do as well.  

Pricing & Availability

The Sidus Link app is available on the iTunes and Google Play stores. The smartphone version is free while the iPad version is $9.99. Aputure recommends deleting any current version and starting fresh. The Sidus Bridge will be available in July for $89.      

Your Comment