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Philips Vari-Lite VLZ Spots 
open a new lighting era
for The Warfield

Photo credits © Niko Rodriguez / Warfield Theatre
San Francisco, USA - Located in the heart of Downtown San Francisco, the ornately decorated, 2400-capacity Warfield Theatre is saturated in entertainment history.
Al Jolson, Louis Armstrong and Charlie Chaplin all appeared there in its early days as a vaudeville house. Later, the unique Andy Kaufman performed behind a protective net, while artists including The Clash, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, U2 and Nirvana have all attracted the city’s crowds. Today, run by Goldenvoice, it continues to thrive as a destination for live music, stand-up comedy and events of all kinds.

The Warfield recently upgraded its stage lighting rig to take full advantage of the many benefits offered by the latest LED technology. Forming the core of the new system are fixtures from the Signify Entertainment Lighting portfolio, including 12 VLZ Spot fixtures from Philips Vari-Lite, along with 12 SL BEAM 500fx LED and SL BEAM 300fx LED wash moving heads from the Showline brand. Together, the new equipment is providing the venue with a range of practical and performance benefits.

Environmental Drivers - Discussing the investment in state-of-the-art LED solutions, the Warfield’s lighting director Rob Robertson says, “San Francisco is a progressive city in a progressive state. Being on the forefront of environmental policy and regulation is not merely wise, it’s essential here. We’re hopeful that these fixtures will benefit our lighting program for many years to come, as well as reduce our environmental footprint.”

Alongside environmental concerns, cost savings are an important driver in the purchasing decisions. “We are quite aware of the impact of the labor costs incurred by Goldenvoice,” says Robertson, “and want to do everything in our power to fairly contain these costs to allow our promoter to thrive and compete . . . Efficiencies through decreased lamp costs and maintenance costs go a long way toward minimizing unnecessary overhead.”

Performance Benefits - Of the VLZ Spots, Robertson says, “We were drawn to this fixture as the only LED spot in this class of light output. We’ve always been impressed by Vari-Lite’s optical zoom range and dual rotating gobo sets. Other offerings in the LED spot/profile fixture market have a robust feature set but lack the output, which we felt was important in a venue of our size.”

The Warfield now has eight VLZ Spots hung on the upstage truss, plus four on a mid-stage line set. “As a live music venue, a strong backlight is essential,” says Robertson. “The VLZ fixtures serve as our main key backlight and atmospheric effect fixtures. The four mid-stage fixtures also serve as rim light for our comedy and lecture events.”

Robertson is also pleased with how the VLZs blend in with the rest of the rig. “Their brightness complements the SL BEAM 500s, and their native color temperature matches our follow spots and complements the RGB mixing of the rest of our rig,” he says.
Advantages over Discharge - The VLZs have shown significant advantages over discharge models, says Robertson. “The dimming is fantastic,” he says. “Arc fixtures with mechanical dimming always seem to need adjustment to prevent light leakage when closed, and to keep uniform brightness across fixtures when open. But the VLZ’s source-based dimming allows for smooth, uniform dimming across all 12 units, without light leak. The on-demand light output helps to control heat, and the decreased UV/IR and RF radiation will, hopefully, mean a longer internal component life.”

And lower heat emission brings other advantages too. “The decrease in heat is significant and will be appreciated by our patrons - even if they are not aware of what they are missing!” says Robertson. 

Light Quality - Discussing the output and light quality, Robertson says, “I was initially suspicious of the >70 CRI reported in the VLZ literature, but during the product demo found the light quality to be indistinguishable from similarly classed discharge lamps. On stage they read like any 1200W/1500W arc source moving head.”

Of the renowned Philips Vari-Lite CMY-CTO color capability, he says, “The color mixing is smooth and fast. The mixed red is as good as one can get from any arc source fixture. The mixed blues, greens and purples are all amazingly vivid and bright.

“In particular I’ve been impressed by the unsurpassed brightness for an LED source, the best in class optical range and the quality and clarity of light output. They read like any high-output spot fixture.”

Savings & Flexibility
- The adoption of LED sources is paying dividends for the Warfield. “Having high-output spot fixtures over our stage gives us greater flexibility and variety in lighting positions and looks,” explains Robertson. “They also cut down on time taken in doing a conventional light focus, giving the LD more programming time. The LED source means a drastic decrease in power consumption, heat generation and, perhaps most importantly to management, the possible zeroing out of our lamp-restocking budget.”

Early results have been positive, with one of the first lighting designers to come through the venue “amazed by the brightness of the VLZs,” says Robertson. “And several members of the house staff have come up to me to mention that they appreciate the new lighting, which could be seen as even more complimentary.”

Robertson concludes, “I would like to add that we were really won over by the strength of the Philips demo that Ray Whitton and Gregg Brooks did in our venue. We strongly recommend checking out these fixtures in person when looking for a high output spot fixture.”

Featured products

VLZ Spot
SL BEAM 300Fx
SL BEAM 500Fx

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