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ILDA Digital network – What Happens When You Unlock Tech

With Dirk Apitz And Matthias Frank


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ILDA Digital network – What Happens When You Unlock Tech

With Dirk Apitz And Matthias Frank

Watch the video above… ILDA Digital Network Will Amaze You…



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ILDA Digital Network – What Happens When You Unlock Tech


Tim Bennett: ILDA Digital Network is our topic of conversation today here at ArgonTV and I’m joined by two gentlemen who were referred to me recently from ILDA. 


ILDA is a fantastic organization, and if you’re not part of ILDA, you absolutely should be, because it creates a worldwide organization of experts in lasers and these two gentlemen referred to me by ILDA, because I was looking for information about the ILDA Digital Network or IDN to find and or help solve issues, that I was having… that I needed solutions to and the gentleman with me today Dirk Apitz, I’m sure you’ve heard of Dirk Apitz and Matthias Frank and I’d like to welcome you to ArgonTV.


It’s great to have you here guys.


Dirk Apitz: Thank you.


Matthias Frank: Thank you.


Tim Bennett: So it’s great to have you both here.


We’re talking about ILDA Digital Network and before we do that, there’s a lot of people who I guess, who probably don’t know you, although I’ve heard of you for many, many years, both of you through my connections through ILDA, and as I said, you were referred to me by ILDA in the first place…


So maybe you could just take a few minutes just to introduce yourselves… just, you know, who you are, what you do and how you got in touch with each other and how you became part of ILDA.


Dirk Apitz: Yeah sure, so may I start…


Matthias Frank: I would suggest it will start because it’s longer than me, please start Dirk.


Dirk Apitz: Okay… well I have been watching my first laser shows in the 80s and that’s when I kind of like, got infected with the laser virus, and that were the times when I started my rental company for sounds and some light equipment, but I didn’t have enough funds to start with lasers at this time, but I started my own laser software and hardware projects in like 1995 and I pioneered laser control, laser data transmission across the network at this time and joined ILDA in 1996.


I had then continued my developments and I had my first large lasers, that was A Star 2 in 1997, and I come… I developed a couple of control boards and laser projectors for entertainment and industrial views and in 2001, I got the Technical Achievement Award, for my Scan Master 2, that’s this little board here and then I’m… I got the Chair of the ILDA Technical Committee, since autumn, 2010.


Yeah, that’s about it for me!


Tim Bennett: Fantastic! Matthias?


Matthias Frank: Yeah, Okay I tried to do it the same short way, so Okay I’m Matthias Frank from University of Bonn, my background actually is not from the laser industry, but I started with lasers as a hobby.


If I show you this device or… well other people may recognize it, it’s from the 80s it’s a helium neon, it’s one or two milliwatt, I don’t remember, it’s still working!


That was the time when I started to play… let’s say with lasers, before even studying computer science, later on.


I did my first laser programming on an Apple II computer, an 8-bit processor and so on what’s…


This was just really a hobbyist fun project, where I was not able to get any information, how the professional guys are doing this and well then, it’s a time jump pretty much, I studied computer science and meanwhile I’m a teacher or lecturer at the University of Bonn in Computer Science Department.


My topic, well, even with the diploma thesis and my PHD thesis, was on computer networks, on communication systems and that’s the area I’m now also teaching our students on programming courses and on basics on communication systems and also mobile and wireless communication in the graduate study programs.


I think it was 2004 when I put my laser hobby back to the university. I asked my boss, well, is it okay if I do some fun student programming projects, where they program computer and make the laser move or show some graphics or whatever or also light controls, like DMX systems and well, my boss said “yeah that’s okay.”


To make the story short, in about 2009, I joined ILDA, because I found about ILDA and said, well for my student projects, it would be good to see what the professionals are doing.


The internet at that time, had a lot of information and also the German LaserFreak community was inspiring me, really a lot.


I’ve got good contacts in the area there and well then 2009 I joined ILDA, but just silently. I was reading emails, getting member access to documents and so on.


Then 2011 was my first ILDA conference that I attended in person.


I demonstrated what we already have done in our student projects with also network control of laser systems.


So some of the people watching this video later will recognize when I talk about the Laser Pong game.


We played that in 2011 in Moscow and by, well, we can do that this year again, 10 years later, it’s just a fun project.


Then 2012 seems I became serious on IDN, because I met Dirk in San Antonio, I think it was, the ILDA conference there, I have seen the first prototype of IDN by Dirk and well then my passion was really enlightened.


Before that, I was just saying, “oh that’s interesting now they talk about digital network and so on” and after San Antonio meeting, my passion was enlightened and we started to work on IDN stuff and we are doing basically prototype or proof of concept implementations that this IDN stuff is really working and well, we can talk about some more details later on but, that was it and since 2012, I think I didn’t a miss an ILDA conference.


Last year unfortunately was not in presence, as you all know, but well I’m still active on that and I’m working on IDN and my students are fascinated by that and well, they are even happy if I come back and say, “well we got an IDN technical award for our activity with a student project.”


I think that’s it.


Today we are here and if you have further questions or Dirk, if I miss something important about my personal activities, we can come back to that during the interview I think.


Tim Bennett: And fantastic!


So it’s very clear that we have two awesome guys in the room with me…


They’ve probably forgotten more than I’ve ever known in my whole life.


So it’s great to have you both here and we’re gonna be talking about IDN in just a moment, but first, you know, let’s talk about ILDA just a little bit.


I’ve been working with ILDA (and ILDA stands for the International Laser Display Association) and if you’re not a member, I will put a link beneath this video.


Click here and become a member…


I recommend you become a member, because it is a network… global network of professionals working in the laser industry and we swap ideas and help each other and support each other and have a set of standards that we operate by.


So my first question to both of you, would be, what is IDN and why did we actually need to have the IDN system in the first place?


Dirk Apitz: Okay I think I’m gonna take that one…


Well ILDA over time…


ILDA developed a couple of standards…


I just mentioned them that the main standards were on the ISP standard that’s the standard projector, that’s the DB25 connector.


Along with that, came the DMX well, the effects standard, and then there was an ADAT standard for recording laser shows on ADAT tape and then, that was a file format standard or well, still is a file format standard.


With all these standards, most of them started back in the 80s… came to a point, where they pretty much were maxed out.


The challenges of the next generation, where just not be able to be solved with these standards.


So we had to find a new way to overcome the limitations.


Limitations for example, where with the ISP, the large heavy cables, the fragile connectors… on signal path… well with higher frequencies and longer cable runs, that the the signal quality and well, in general, people were just done with these problems and networking became more and more popular.


Cabling is there, well better and better quality, so yeah.


That was one point.


Next was with the DMX.


DMX was always a separate connector on separate standards, so that was kind of a problem, because you had, always had to deal with with two connectors and so for cheaper projector or cheaper solutions, people started integrating the DMX onto the user defined pins on the ISP connector, which is not a really good idea, because of the nature of the digital signal and the the sharp edges, which creates some noise actually.


Then with the ADAT devices, you bought had to be modified with the capacitors being removed and then you got tape, magnetic tape nice huge VHS… it’s tapes and so on.


So yeah people didn’t like that.


I mean, it’s much easier to have just a USB stick and have your show on it and then the next, with the IDTF the file format, it was to essentially transport frames between systems, but it had a couple of issues with the way… the header with the header fields, with the way you can jump across, jump over sections that you cannot read and then it was not able to to store a whole show.


There have been some extensions to it to make that possible, well, well, overall these standards were just well kind of maxed out and we definitely had to find new solutions to solve the challenges that we had… and that was about 2010 and that’s when when we started IDN.


Tim Bennett: Okay and this is interesting, because I’ve been you know, a technician level operator at shows for well over 25 years now and some of the issues that you just mentioned, are issues that I regularly run into. For example, the DB25 cable is extremely expensive to buy here in Asia, if it’s available and we have to… normally have to order and wait, you know three to four months for it.


The pin connectors are extremely fragile… I’m moving cables backwards and forwards around venues, they’re often breaking, you know, just at the wrong moment, just when you don’t need them (to break), 30 minutes before the show.


File transfer from one system to another system, can be absolute nightmare.


So what you’re saying, if I’m hearing… interpreting this, is that IDN can solve these issues?


Dirk Apitz: Yeah it was designed to to solve these issues.


We did that in multiple steps.


We first analyze what we have to do, what outcome would be needed, what outcome would be needed to actually get it solved and then, we we broke it down.


We found… find the common denominator and yeah, out came, actually the IDN stream, what is currently IDN, the IDN stream standard and this is essentially an encoding for for media, especially laser and you can compare that a little bit like with mpeg for video.


So what we did is, we found a format that encodes every, everything that we need around lasers and this leads to our front ends and back ends which encode and decode that stream.


And so this was the common denominator of everything and then starting from that, we then went up to the more application levels for like the transport and the file storage et cetera.


Tim Bennett: Okay brilliant and Matthias, I think you’re going to show us how this works with the cable configuration, is that right?


Matthias Frank: Yeah, well, that’s also I would like to go one step back, as Dirk just talked about this history.


So I was amazed by ILDA, when I noticed about this old DB25, ISP DB25 connector and also the IDTF, but I just want to show you, this is one of my early DAC devices.


You see output ILDA their 25 pin connector… so, this is even, that I used coming from some LaserFreak hardware before I joined ILDA and I was happy to have this box and I was happy to have this cable, what you just mentioned.


This is just to demonstrate that, I always demonstrate that to my students also, this is one of these DB25 cables, but that time, I was happy to have it, because I have this box, I can connect it here and I can connect it to a laser projector and if I buy another laser projector, I can simply unplug and replug and that’s fine and well also the IDTF specification, I was happy about that, because also before 2009, before joining ILDA, we looked at that and had some student projects where we could take IDTF files from other software, put them into our software, so export/import, read it and so on.


I was very happy about that as well and well now, IDN can replace this and can get rid of that and think that’s what you were now referring to right?


Yes indeed!




So then well you already or Dirk explained it then, if you understand that instead of having the analog connection between an output device and the laser projector, you go into the network then, you can replace this kind of cable, by this easy kind of cable and I assume that this is available everywhere and it’s cheap to buy.


It’s easy to handle and so on.


So the idea is that with this ILDA Digital Network, you create a system or Dirk mentioned already the stream specification that simply defines how you need to put the data for controlling a laser with three colors, six colors, with… including DMX and so on and that’s what I needed to read these documents in early times and Dirk provided me with early documents on stream and meanwhile it’s an open, it’s a public specification and everybody else who is interested can have access to our working documents as well.


So you need to read that a little bit and understand it and so on and then you know, how you can put data and send it over such an ordinary local area network and that was the thing that that I found very interesting and then we jumped onto these activities to do something and well in, also in San Antonio, Dirk presented his early prototype of how you can really do that.


I’m showing these devices now…


The red one is the one you can attach to…


Well, let’s do it right here, attach it to the DB25 output of this old box and now instead of a DB25 cable, you can, well you can right away use this as a connection of IDN, but you can do much more, because the point is, that this is just the simple cable, replacement, one to one, for one DB25, but my real idea and we started to do that already some years ago or the first project that we did actually is, we disconnected this one, we didn’t use that.


So actually in the early years, I did not have this red box that generates from the IDN, but we have worked on making software that can send this to the local area network right away from the computer.


So from a laser show system, for example, and that’s the point that our documents tell about, so-called IDN producers, that are the devices, that are producing an IDN stream and the IDN consumers and those are, for example, the device, this is you can attach this to a laser projector and then the laser projector can well, project the graphic data that’s coming over the IDN stream and well, we will little bit more demonstrate on that and we can also talk about which IDN producers, which IDN consumers do we already have.


Tim Bennett: And this is brilliant.


I’m really excited about this, because both of you have also mentioned DMX and the systems, I mean since I first started using lasers professionally, since about 1991, I’ve always used the 25 pin DB pin from ILDA and you mentioned earlier that DMX is separate.


More and more lighting designers are now coming into lasers and are very familiar with DMX. With…
is this something that’s going to help them come into lasers even more?


Dirk Apitz: Well that’s, that’s a bit difficult, because, well it will help in sense of that that everything is digital and such that you just need essentially software to translate or transform or reinterpret data, but still, I mean, with lasers, you got the galvos and the lasers, so it’s different hardware and you need some translation to do that and sure IDN can help with that since everything can be network based, but you probably need software to translate between DMX and laser output.


Like, for example, to have kind of, like a soft gobo and well, a moving head simulation, emulation to move them, to move the gobo, that is, replaced by the laser projector in space.


I have, I have an addition to what Matthias just said and that would be, well right from the beginning, we had the problem and that obviously there was no hardware yet, so we were there with the common denominator, with some ideas of how to exchange the stream, but there was no hardware.


So it turned out that there needs to be some hardware built to actually get the system or that the whole idea rolling, and that way, the boxes Matthias just showed.


Tim Bennett: Okay and this is brilliant you know, I’m very excited to hear all the information you’re sharing right now about IDN and the different applications with it, but one of the things that really picked up my attention, was the fact that you can transfer files over networks to different systems and make systems that are not compatible, compatible!


And this is something that I think, is very exciting about the whole of the IDN network.


Matthias, you’re gonna demonstrate to us how that all works?


Matthias Frank: Yeah actually yeah… I prepared a demo well, which ILDA guys already have seen that, but it’s good to have it here on this interview of course, but this demo is just showing that we do streaming from software to an IDN consumer and what you just mentioned concerning this transfer of files that’s another activity.


I think we keep in mind that we come back to that at a later point in time for example, but now I’m just showing how can you use.


Well this scenario now is that this little box is connected to one of my laser projectors and I’m showing a software which is generating the IDN stream right away out of the software, so there’s no other DAC device in that, it’s just the IDN stream, but of course, this IDN consumer generates the analog signals on the DB25 for XY, RGB and so on.


So if in fact, this of course is a DAC at the end, so I will change my view now that you see my demo and let’s keep fingers crossed that it’s working.


So now you should… well that’s not good… so you don’t need to see the zoom session, but now you
see… well just to get started, you see the web page.


That is where you can find a lot of information and there are commercial software systems and HE Laser Scan is one of that and I’m using that in this very demo.


So HE Laser Scan is software also coming from Germany which is open to allow access to different
DACS and IDN is one of them.


Our IDN software driver is integrated into this HE Laser Scan already for I think a few years when it was released in the installer and I already started the laser shows system and well it looks similar you have well, simply do some test graphics onto the laser output and as you are known, well typical feature you can see the list of connected hardware devices here and well I will later on explain why we see so many, but we see several devices of IDN that the system has found in my local network and now I need to change to get the different view on focus, but before I change I will already start the laser.


So you see some mapping here and I will stay at start, the laser, so the laser is now projecting.


You can just see the preview in the software, that is well, that’s how you usually do that.


Now I change to a different computer, I change the audio also, so hang on for a second…


Okay Now I’m on another computer and hopefully you can see…


Yeah, you can see on the top right corner a camera view of the real laser projection and on the top left, you see our IDN toolbox which is a visualization software you can run on Windows and soon also on Linux and MacOS, and on the bottom left, you see a preview of our IDN laser VR, which is a visualization software you can use for, well 3d visualization and it even works with with a VR headset connected.


So now I’m going back to the other system again, because just to explain that from the software’s point of view, these are just one, two, three, four, well, actually here’s a total of 12 IDN devices and from this mapping, I can select to which to send, so it’s graphics one, graphics one is the real laser, then IDN VR desktop is the visualization software in VR, it’s just activated to one of these and I will also activate the IDN toolbox which was not activated before, so I just click that button here and then we changed again to the other…


Well now, it should be in focus again…


Tim Bennett: Yeah… I can see… Yeah


Matthias Frank: Can you really see?


Tim Bennett: Yes Yes. So I can see three screens right now, one is the laser output, one is an on screen and then one is your stage ah


Matthias Frank: Okay… Hopefully it’s great!


Yeah so then Well, I can’t see it now… Now I can see it again.


Okay, now you can see all the three visualizations running and I go back I will keep this on focus, but I will go back to the software and simply change the pictures.


So you see when I change these testing pictures they also change on all these three systems…




There is a certain delay for the view with the laser projector, but this is actually coming through the camera delay that is going into my OBS Studio software for showing it.


So you can have some text test pictures right here coming from the HE Laser Scan software and well, just to show something on the VR, I will additionally map it into a beam preview, which is now here, so I go back to this computer, I have a Xbox controller here and I can move around in the room.


So this is… well, now you can see a little bit of the beams that are coming, so I simply mapped the IDN streams, not just to the laser projector or this 2d visualization in the IDN toolbox, but I just mapped it to the additional laser projectors and actually this VR software, well you can configure how many lasers do you want to have, where is the position.


We usually have it for the reference scenario for ILDA, which currently is seven beam projectors center and some right, some left and one, two, three graphics projectors and this is our kind of reference scenario where we are working on and doing experiments and this is just a preview on the screen and well, we already have tested that with a real VR headset.


So if you are using a VR headset like HTC Wifi Oculus Rift or Quest or whatever, you can see that even in your VR headset and can move in the room, move around in the room…


So my intention to give this demo was not to focus on this visualization stuff, but simply show and I’m going back to the other system…


Okay now finally mentioning that the demo was just intended to show how flexible it is in the software you can see the IDN devices and in this case 12 and you can simply map on, where do you want to send something and this is the basic principle of this IDN producer, IDN consumer, this software now is the IDN producer and in the software there are, well also specifications how you do this service discovery of finding how many devices do I have, which services for IDN are offered and how can I select and well simply map, to which do I want to give the output.


I think that is what I intended to show.


Tim Bennett: If you have questions, we can follow up in the discussion and I think you, know what, you’ve shown is is absolutely brilliant and the website that you mentioned earlier which is the page, I’ll put a link to that as well, so that people can get information and and see all the software that is there.


But for me to actually start using IDN, what do I need?


Dirk Apitz: Okay, well, I mean first of all your software needs to support the IDN output, so you either can support the network output by streaming or yeah streaming the IDN stream, IDN encoded stream, down to a projector or it can support by exporting a file with IDN encoding or importing a file exported by another system.


So that’s the support your software needs.


If your software doesn’t have that support, you can still use the DAC’s that are supported by the software and then you can convert the output of that DAC into an IDN stream with an A to D converter (Analog To Digital) and then this device sends the IDN stream to another computer, which then can act as a laser projector or can write it to a file, since the data is already encoded and then on the other side you need a laser projector, which is able to receive an IDN stream or same there, for backwards compatibility you can just use a laser projector that has an ISP input and use a converter, a little converting device to DA convert the digital stream for the laser projector.


Tim Bennett: Okay and that is a very good introduction I think, to the IDN network and in this video with you, know the three of us are not intending to get all of the information out there.


It’s impossible to do that.


This is literally just a a teaser or a taste of what IDN can achieve and can do.


So if people want more information or they want to get involved in this or they want to help with this, what’s the best way for them to be able to do that?


Dirk Apitz: Well you can always join the ILDA and the ILDA Technical Committee and contribute to the standard.


That would be a great thing.


You can develop drivers, your software, enhance existing systems to understand IDN and produce IDN and that that would be great.


Tim Bennett: And I’m guessing you’d like more people to join you in this venture, because it sounds like it has great potential and the more the merrier, yes?


Dirk Apitz: Yes I do.


I definitely do.


I mean it’s an open standard.


I mean ILDA, ILDA as an organization, organizes for that standard and to keep it on track, but we always have an ear well, for suggestions and what we could put in and change and you know, what will be needed and yes.


Would be great!


Tim Bennett: Great and this was actually something that I came across recently. I was talking to ILDA and I found and i’ve been working with lasers for over 30 years using the ILDA config, the DB25 and you know, I just recently came across the IDN network and I found this a very interesting concept and I must admit, I’m a little intrigued as to why it isn’t bigger than it actually could be or should be, but I find the whole system very interesting.


I do… I certainly think it needs a lot more input from people and I, you know, I’d like to know more about it definitely.


Help out if I can.


Matthias Frank: Yeah… I just wanted to add to your question, how can people get involved… so at the ILDA conferences, Dirk and also myself, always have given presentations on our work and we also tell the people at ILDA, “well if you want to participate, we can help you, we can support you, we can give you our prototype software that we develop at the university of Bonn, which may help” and so on, but this now is a good opportunity to tell this also to other people, because our help is not limited to ILDA guys, but whoever might be interested.


So I changed back to this view, because I meanwhile the IDN toolbox software for Windows and the laser VR software also for Windows, is available in public download and in particular the IDN toolbox may be a good tool for someone who wants to implement an IDN producer, IDN software driver into his or her software, then you can easily check if the output is fine even if you don’t have any IDN hardware yet and this, we also have plans to give more documentation on how people can get involved.


Tim Bennett: Okay brilliant and thank you both for being here, so any final comments before we wrap up and as I said this is not intended to be, you know the end-all conversation about IDN.


In fact I think this might very well be the first of many videos where we talk about IDN, but just before we, you know, wrap up and close and finish for tonight, anything else you’d like to talk to about IDN?


Matthias Frank: So I had fun in this interview session, it was really great and I appreciate that you created ArgonTV and well as we meant this should be an introductory stuff, we…


I think we could talk and go on for hours on that, but I think for today, we talked about the most important things and it was really fun and I hope that people will like it.


Tim Bennett: Great!


Well we’ve been here on ArgonTV talking to Dirk Apitz and Matthias Frank about the IDN or ILDA Digital Network system and I hope that you’ve enjoyed the conversation we’ve been having so far.


For me, this is me just putting my toe into the ocean.


I really feel this is something that needs to be explored fully and I’d like to know a lot more about it and over the coming weeks, if you have any questions about IDN… over the coming weeks send us the questions and then I can send them to the guys and we can do follow-ups to this as well… and if you’d like more information I’ll put links beneath the video, so that you can connect to us all and ask any more questions there.


So thank you very much to you both..


Thank you Dirk…


Thank you Matthias for being here tonight.


I had a great conversation with you and we’ve been here talking about IDN, the ILDA Digital Network



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