VSA Info and FAQ

Visual Show Automation (VSA) Information & FAQ – Updated 02/24/2018

Visual Show Automation (VSA) is a program used to sequence lighting, servos, motors, etc in time with an audio soundtrack. It supports various controller boards connected via serial, USB and DMX. You will find more information here:

https://www.brookshiresoftware.com/vsa_overview.htm

Below is a list of VSA related information that you may find useful. Let me know if you have any tips, comments or information that could be added.


Why do I have to subtract one from the actual DMX address to enter it in the VSA address column?

The first version of VSA did not support DMX and was designed to work with the Mini-SSC servo controller. This serial connected controller supported eight servos and used zero for the first channel. Hence the first track in VSA started at zero which matched the first servo channel. However DMX uses one for the first channel rather than zero. When they added DMX support to VSA, I imagine they had to decide whether to add a dedicated DMX address column ( which would have most likely broken all existing users sequences) or use the original address column but require DMX users to subtract one from the DMX channel.

I have quite a few devices that use DMX. To manage the addressing I have spreadsheet that lists every channel. I have two columns for DMX addressing. One column is the actual DMX address. The other column simply subtracts one from the DMX channel to provide the VSA channel. Makes it a bit easier when configuring VSA so you don’t have to do any math in your head. I tend to get confused easily.


Why should I use a WAV file instead of a MP3 file?

Both will work with VSA but an MP3 file stores editing and other information in it’s header and this extra data can cause delays in the start of the audio. WAV files do not have this issue so it is recommend you use them.


Can I export or import VSA sequence information?

You can export the sequence data from a sequence into a spreadsheet (CSV file). It will have a line for each frame and a column for each track.

You can import data into a VSA file from a text file. The first line need to just be the number of events. Each line after that needs to be the data for a single event in a specific order (check out the user manual for more information)

The only app I am aware of that creates VSA data for importing is Monkey Basic’s Track Skull. I’d love to have something that could generate lighting sequences for basic effects for both single lights and RGB fixtures.


Where do I get a user manual for VSA?

The only manual I know of is the Windows Help file that installs with VSA. This is a CHM (Compiled HTML Help) file called “vsahelp.chm” that you will find in your VSA folder.. I printed mine out for reference.


My version of VSA only supports 128 or 256 tracks. But I have DMX devices that are addressed above 256?

While your version of VSA can only support 128 or 256 tracks (depends on the version you have), each of the track can control any of the 512 DMX channels


Do I need to use DMX with VSA?

Not at all as VSA supports a number of control boards that connect via a serial or USB port (or even a parallel port of you have one still). However if you show starts to grow, you will find that DMX give you much more versatility and make connecting multiple props much easier especially if they are located any distance from the controlling PC.


Why did I lose the sound file from my VSA sequence?

Your VSA sequence file (the .vsa file) does not include the sound file, it only includes the path to the sound file. So if you move the sound file, make sure you update file path information in the VSA Audio settings or it will not know where to find it.


Can I use some sort of library to store sequences of events I use often?

VSA supports something called Analysis that lets you save and import event sequences. The easiest way to do this is to first create a VSA file called “Library”. Create the sequence of events in this file. In each of the events make sure you use the same text for the Annotation. Make sure you only use this text for these events and no others. You can store multiple sequences in this Library file. Just make sure you use the same Annotation text for each event and make sure it is different from other sequences Annotations.

When you are in a new file you can import the sequence from your library file. Create an event in the new file. Right click on this new event and select “Analysis”. This will give you a dialog box where you can first select a library file (this would be the Library file you created above). Once you select the file you can use the “Import Function” drop down to select any of the event sequences you previously saved in the file. It helps if you use some sort of descriptive naming convention.

VSA will now paste the selected events into your new file. It will scale the imported events to match the time duration of the new event you had created. If your library sequence has multiple tracks it will paste the first track in the event you created and then add to tracks below that.


Is there a MAC version of VSA?

VSA only runs on a PC though I have seen people using it on a MAC by using a PC emulator. I have not tried this myself as I have a few old PC laptops that I use. You can run VSA on a pretty low end PC, pretty much something you’ll find people giving away these days.


Is there any other software like VSA?

Servo control is a pretty niche market and as far as I know VSA is the only inexpensive product that supports a wide range of controllers. There is a product called VenueMagic that has a great many more features but it is much more expensive.

Some of the high-end show control companies (GilderFluke) have software but it only works with their controllers

There is a freeware Christmas Lighting sequencing application called Vixen. It works with DMX and provides similar audio timeline based editing as you get with VSA but is geared to lighting. However you can use it for DMX based servo controllers and someone has made a 3 axis skull add-on for Vixen 2.x. You can find here: http://ctm.maloneylights.com/downloads/.


What DMX adapters will work with VSA?

VSA supports the ENTTEC USB Pro, ENTTEC USB Open, and Velleman VM116/K8062 DMX dongles. For best performance and the least problems use the ENTTEC USB Pro. ENTTEC Open and Velleman dongle require processing from the PC to create the DMX stream and this can get affected if you PC gets bogged down. The ENTTEC Pro creates the stream on its own.

One caveat to the ENTTEC USB Pro is that it is quite pricey. The Christmas Lighting enthusiasts started making the move to DMX a few years back and have created quite a few ENTTEC USB Pro compatible USB based DMX dongles that you can get kits for. The are other compatible dongles on the market. Some of these will work with VSA and some may not. It will also depend on what version of VSA that you have.

Originally I purchased VSA 4.0 and was using it with a SSC-32 serial based servo board. Eventually I got a DLA DMX dongle only to find it would not work with VSA. I did send a note to Brookshire asking about the issue but to be honest didn’t really expect to hear anything back. For one thing I had heard a few comments about Brookshire not being the most helpful. I also have a good understanding of what is required to support a software application and realize you can’t do everything for everyone and stay in business.

Anyways I did actually get a note back from Brookshire along with an updated version of the app. The new version (4.023) works fine with the DLA dongle. So I certainly can’t complain about Brookshire’s customer support.

I just want to add that I had a similar issue with MonkeyBasic’s Track Skull and the DLA dongle. I spent some time with Nelson troubleshooting the issue but we did not get anywhere. I had a spare DLA dongle so offered to ship it to him to test with. He graciously accepted and within a short while a new version of TrackSkull came out that works with the DLA dongle.You need to make sure you are using version 1.3.6.0 of TrackSkull to work with the DLA DMX dongle.

I would like to make up a matrix of what version of VSA works with what DMX dongle so please send me any information you may have.


Any way to make capturing events from a joystick easier?

Being able to capture the movement from a joystick is a great feature compared to using the software knob in the event properties however I find it difficult using a normal joystick. You have to press button1 down in order to capture events and this can be kinda clunky, not to mention the typical game style joysticks don’t give a very linear motion..

What I really want is an old school pong style controller that simply has a single knob you can control with one hand and a button you can control with the other. The problem is that I could not find such a thing. Then I thought about using an Arduino.

This turned out to be pretty easy, I used an Arduino Micro (or any Arduino variant based on the ATmega32u4) as it has the USB controller built-in. This let me build a simple controller that works for my needs. You can find more details in this Instructable. Basically it is a joystick that just has the X axis and Button 1. If your version of VSA supports multiple capture channels you could add more channels. You can customise this to make it relevant for any sort of animatronic you may be working with.


What 3rd party apps exist(ed) for VSA?

Currently I am aware of the following third-party applications that are available from here:

http://www.hauntmonkey.com/

Trackskull – This app is meant for 3 axis skull users. It allows you to create an importable VSA event file that you create listening to the audio track and using a 3 axis joystick or a IR head movement tracker to control the movements. It also has a puppet mode. Caveat to the IR head tracker is that it only works with TrackIR V4 which is out of production (and some versions of TrackIR V5).

Helmsman – This app provides scheduling and control of VSA sequences. You can add a USB based controller board that has 8 trigger inputs for starting sequences when a physical event happens. It also allows control over a network from a IOS or Android app.

 

There are some older applications, whose current status I am unsure of, that are available from here:

https://www.freewebstore.org/Phoenix-Animatronix

Exorcist – This is a scheduling and control app that has a USB control board for triggering VSA sequences

DMXorcist – This was a program that worked with the Exorcist control board but had the advantage of being able to play DMX based VSA files directly. You could also have multiple VSA files playing at the same time using the same DMX dongle.

 

These are some apps that are no longer available:

VSAMasher – This app would let you copy tracks from existing VSA sequences and add them to a new VSA sequence.

ComposeIt – This was an earlier version of what became Helmsman.


Do I need the VSA Console add on?

While you can do some basic control of VSA by using DOS based batch commands it is pretty limited. The VSA Console provide some ActiveX controls that let third-party applications control VSA. This is needed for Helmsman. If you don’t plan on using the third-party applications or writing your own Director/Visual Basic/PowerPoint application then you probably don’t need it.


How can you do multichannel sound?

If you have multiple props controlled by VSA you may want the sound to come from various physical locations depending on what prop is being activated. You have a few options.

Stereo – A typical WAV or MP3 files supports two separate sound channels (left and right). If your show has two main props you could put the left speaker on one prop and then the right speaker on the other.  Then when you edit your audio file you can pan you source to the left or right side as required to make the sound appear to be coming from the prop of interest.

7.1 Surround Sound – The 7.1 surround system support 7 independent channels (though I have heard only 6 are usable as the 7th channel is the subwoofer and isn’t really usable). There are utilities that will allow you to encode a given sound file to make it play back on any one of the 6 channels. You then need a 7.1 sound card or USB sound adapter that will provide the independent outputs for each channel.

Multiple Sound Cards or USB Audio Modules – You can use multiple sound cards or USB sound modules with VSA. This allows you to pick a different sound card for different sound file. You could feed the audio from each sound module to a different prop.

DMX Speaker Switch – While I have not found anything commercially available you can make a DMX controlled speaker selector that lets you pick between 4 sets of stereo speakers. If you use this with the left right panning you can have 8 separate sound sources that you can locate with your props. It will require you controlling the speaker selector in your VSA sequence.

Other than the stereo panning I have not tried any of these methods although I am working on a DMX controlled speaker switch and will let you know how it turns out.


What DMX servo boards are available?

The great thing about using DMX is that is gives you a wide range of controller boards to choose from. The unfortunate thing is that the real market for DMX controllers is the entertainment business and they tend to have pretty hefty budgets compared to hobbyists. But a good thing is that over the last 10 years or so the DIY Xmas lighting and Halloween Haunt enthusiasts have embraced DMX and this has led to quite a few cheaper alternatives. Here is a list of the DMX based servo controllers I am aware of:

DLA Bobcat  http://www.diylightanimation.com/wiki/index.php?title=Manual_Servo

This was released by two guys on the DLA site and is my favourite (but also the only one I have used) . Unfortunately while not readily available as a kit i,t is possible to get a PCB and build your own. They do come up for sale on the DLA for sale list now and again. I am working on getting more PCBs available for anyone that wants to make one. It’s features include:

8 servo ports each with 300 mA resettable fuse (8 bit)
8 constant current led ports (20 mA per led, adjustable by replacing resistor)
Each servo port can have it’s direction and endpoints adjusted
Each of the servo and led ports can be set for any DMX channel
Configuration by software

 

Medusa  http://www.ohmmygadgets.com/medusadmx.html

The was released by a Halloween enthusiasts and is available for sale on his site. Its features include:

8 servo ports (8 bit)
8 on/off dc ports (max 150 mA per channel)
8 dimmable led ports (max 150 mA per channel)
Board has DMX start channel set and all 24 ports are numbered from that address
Configuration by board jumpers

 

Northlight  http://northlightdmx.com/dmx512toRCservo.htm

This is a stage lighting product company but the price seems pretty decent. It’s features include:

8 servo ports (8 bit)
Adjustable pulse width (one setting for all channels)
Board has DMX start channel set and all 8 ports are numbered from base address
Configuration by board jumpers

 

Board Of Chuckie  http://www.skulltronix.com/servocontrollers.shtml

This board was designed for 3 axis skull but is usable for other applications however the maker only supports it’s use with VSA. It’s features include:

16 servo ports (8 or 16 bit)
2 led ports
Each servo port can have it’s direction and endpoints adjusted
Each of the servo and led ports can be set for any DMX channel (as offset from base address)
Allows control of servo power to shut off servos when not being used which extends the lifetime of the servos.
Configuration by software (that only works with the ENTTEC OPEN dongle)

 

Son Of Chuckie  http://www.skulltronix.com/servocontrollers.shtml

This board was also designed for 3 axis skull but is usable for other applications however the maker only supports it’s use with VSA. It’s features include:

14 servo ports (8 or 16 bit)
3 led ports
Each servo port can have it’s direction and endpoints adjusted
Each of the servo and led ports can be set for any DMX channel (as offset from base address)
Allows control of servo power to shut off servos when not being used which extends the lifetime of the servos.
Configuration by software (that only works with the ENTTEC OPEN dongle)


Other VSA Information

VSA Related Web Sites:

The Animatronics Workshop – This site covers basic animatronic construction and includes information on using an Arduino as a USB connected servo driver for VSA.

Rampant Robots – Blog site with a post on using VSA.

SindySkinless – You can thank (or blame) the creator of this site for the 3 axis skulls. The tutorial page has a great VSA Programming 101 primer. There are a few other good resources here  and a link to the 3 axis skull build thread on Halloween Forum that he started. It is up to over 200 postings now but is a worthy read.

PonyMaking – An Introduction to Animatronics site with some information on using VSA in the How To section.

VSA Related Forum Threads:

HalloweenForum – Integrated Haunt Control using DMX/VSA

VSA Related YouTube Videos:

Spider Prop – Step 1: The Rigging
Spider Prop – Step 2: Audacity Sound File
Spider Prop – Step 3: Convert Stereo Sound to 7.1
Spider Prop – Step 4: VSA Programming
Spider Prop – Step 5: DMXorcist & Haunt Walk-thru
VSA 101 (Visual Show Automation) novice setup
More VSA (Visual Show Automation) Helpful Tips
DMX setup in VSA Part 1
DMX setup in VSA Part 2
Boogedy Halloween prop how-to of DMX, pneumatics, VSA and sound
A Pirates Life VSA sequence
Singing Soda Cans
How to do Animatronics with Paul Dietz
DMX interface demo – Blue Monday