Hive Founder Jonathan Miller on the Future of Lighting

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Hive Lighting, based out of Los Angeles, finds itself at the forefront of the “next big thing” in lighting for film and television, with their focus on a new plasma lighting technology. We spoke with Hive’s founder and CPO Jonathan Miller about all things plasma and Hive’s latest products, including their award-winning new 1,000 Watt plasma product line.

While plasma lighting is the newest lighting tech to become available for film and TV, it’s actually based on one of the oldest lighting technologies used in the industry. This new plasma lighting is essentially the latest and most energy-efficient version of it.

Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller

As plasma is a relatively new concept for film and television lighting, people often ask Miller to clarify the term. Miller explains: “Really, what we’re dealing with when we say ‘plasma lighting’ are electrodeless plasma arc lamps. These lamps create a light source that’s very similar to what we find with real plasma arcs in nature. This is what’s going on inside the sun. The sun is a plasma light source – a super-heated gas that has photonic release, or illumination. Plasmas are also seen within our own atmosphere as lightning bolts. People often think of plasma TVs when we mention plasma lighting, but it’s more like a plasma arc welder, just with a much, much smaller plasma arc and much less heat. The result is very efficient light output.”

The history of plasma lighting technology began over a hundred years ago when Nikola Tesla conducted experiments in which he excited gasses with radio frequency. The technology has evolved and changed quite a bit since its early days, and this new, very efficient plasma light source outputs very high-quality light with a lot of unique benefits.

“Plasma lighting is basically highly energy-efficient arc lighting,” Miller continues. “Plasma provides a really strong, high-quality single-point source that can be used in parabolic spotlights to create very long-throw and very energy-efficient bright, beautiful daylight. That’s what plasma lighting is all about. It’s the next generation of arc lighting. It’s a great replacement for HMIs, xenons, for what we used to use carbon arcs for, and for a lot of larger tungsten units.”

Hive’s fixtures utilize bulbs that are very small, about the size of a corn kernel, despite the rather large punch they deliver, and the small bulb size contributes to the special properties of the company’s lights. “The core of plasma technology, which is the small arc that forms inside the bulb, is where you get that single-point source that gives the hard, crisp shadow light,” Miller tells us. “It is a hard light source, and what’s nice about that is, of course, that you can soften it. You can’t really make a soft light hard again. With a single-point hard source, you have the ability to modify that light and soften it as much as you want, but you can always return to the hard source. This provides a lot of flexibility.”

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Miller says that another way to look at plasma lighting is that, in many ways, it’s like HMI 2.0. “HMI lights are used for their energy efficiency and high light output, and they’re a good daylight light source. Frankly, our plasma lights do all of that better. We have a very high-output light source that uses 50% of the power compared to HMIs. It’s a daylight light source with a higher CRI and a fuller spectrum than HMI. And of course, due to the ballast systems of HMIs, there will be flicker past 500 frames per second, and that’s something plasma just does not have an issue with.”

Hive debuted new 1,000 Watt variants of their Bee and Wasp lights at NAB this year. Miller says they see this as the next generation in plasma lighting. “Our 1,000 Watt bulbs offer the ability to replace anything from a 1,200-Watt to a 2,500-Watt HMI PAR, and it will cost about 30% less than and use half the power of its HMI equivalent,” Miller explains. “Our Wasp 1,000 Watt PAR retails for about US$8,000, which is about $2-4,000 less than the equivalent HMIs that it can replace, and we feel plasma will be a superior solution for both rental and purchase for our customers because it’s able to be used with so much less power and less equipment, on top of plasma’s lower price point.”

Hive started out with their 250 Watt lights, but they wanted to take a big leap forward with their 1,000 Watt line, says Miller. They wanted to develop something that could be plugged directly into wall sockets all around the world and have the highest output possible from that setup. They’ve achieved this with their new 1,000 Watt lights, which have an output equivalent to 2,500-Watt HMIs, but with only 9.5 Amps of power draw.

“We think the Wasp 1,000, with its high-output, very tight 12-degree beam PAR, is going to be a really popular light and an excellent tool for any of our customers,” says Miller. “It’ll be able to do long-throw lighting and large-area lighting when diffused, and it’s perfect for bounce and for shafts of light coming in through the window. This is the kind of professional high-output lighting that was previously only possible by bringing a generator. And we’re now able to do that plugged into the wall or, more importantly, with two plugged into the wall. This really brings some flexibility and adaptability to film sets that hasn’t existed before.”

Energy efficiency stands out as one of plasma’s most beneficial features. “That’s really what people are excited about with our new 1,000 Watt bulbs,” Miller tells us. “They only use 9.5 Amps, but you’re getting the equivalent output of almost 2,500 Watts of an HMI or almost 10,000 Watts of an incandescent. So you’re able to plug two plasma lights into a 20-Amp circuit and still do the work of much more power-hungry traditional lights.”

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“Even with your HMIs – take for example an 1,800-Watt HMI – you’re only able to plug one into a 20-Amp circuit,” Miller continues. “And it has to be a true 20-Amp circuit. If you have a 15-Amp circuit you can’t even plug it in. We’re able to produce the exact same amount of light, if not more, using half the Amperage. While that HMI is using about 20 Amps, we’re using 9.5 Amps. So we can plug two of our lights into a 20 Amp circuit. We can plug one of them into any wall socket virtually anywhere in the world without concern. Even if it’s a 15 Amp circuit, you’ll be able to run our light and have room to spare, so there won’t be blown circuits and breakers. If you’re on a location, you’re not going to have to worry about bringing extra power, or if you have the power, you will need to run much less distro to get the same amount of light.”

Hive has a power supply that allows users to run the new 1,000 Watt plasma lights off of both 240 Volts and 120 Volts, and their 250 Watt lights already come with a universal power supply. Both light sources will run off of wall power at locations anywhere in the world. “Even in production capitals like in India, for example, where you have 240-Volt power, but the Amps on the breakers are much smaller – usually 5 Amps,” says Miller. “Still, our plasma lights will work there on 240-Volt power. We’re really excited about this adaptability, and we think this is going to be a great solution for filmmaking internationally.”

One of plasma’s other notable attributes is that it’s totally flicker free. “There are a lot of levels of ‘flicker-free,’” explains miller. “Traditionally, with many HMI lights, their ‘flicker-free’ ballasts would only get you to about 500 frames per second. Now with an increase in prevalence of high-speed cameras that can shoot at up to 100,000 frames per second, how flicker-free a light source is has become even more important. When we say Hive’s lights are ‘flicker-free,’ we mean flicker-free well beyond 1,000,000 frames per second. There is no camera currently on the market that’s been able to, or can, detect any flicker in our light sources. With our low heat, low power draw, and completely flicker-free source, our lights are the perfect solution for all high-speed imaging.”

Hive’s plasma bulbs also boast very high color accuracy. The 250 Watt Hive bulbs have a CRI of between 94 and 95, and their new 1,000 Watt fixtures are rated at 98 CRI. “We’re very proud that we’ve gotten our 1,000 Watt up to such a high CRI. It’s the highest quality artificial daylight currently available for film and television.” Miller also explains that, because Hive lights are a full spectrum source, they will mix well with other lights sources. “Our lights work well with natural daylight as well as with larger HMIs. They also work very well with tungsten incandescents if you’re using gels. Our lights gel very well, due to their having a continuous full spectrum. What can often happen with HMIs and other discontinuous sources is that part of the tungsten spectrum can be missing, which can result in a somewhat unnatural, unusual light when gels are applied. Plasma simply doesn’t have this issue. Our lights gel very effectively and mix extremely well with other lights, either with gels or with our color adjustment dial.”

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This excellent color accuracy isn’t here today and gone tomorrow, either. “A plasma source, because it’s electrodeless, degrades much slower than what you would expect from a metal halide or HMI bulb,” says Miller. HMI bulbs typically have around 1,000 to 5,000 hours of useable life. Hive expects its new 1,000 Watt products to have close to 50,000 hours of usable high-quality life. “Even at peak performance for both HMI and plasma bulbs, the CRI and spectrum of plasma is far superior to current HMIs,” Miller explains. “Average HMIs have about a 90 CRI and a discontinuous spectrum, although it is a relatively good imitation of daylight. Hive’s plasma sources have a full, continuous spectrum with no spikes and a 98 CRI.”

Due to plasma lighting’s energy-efficient traits, it’s also safe to use for applications where health or preservation concerns might have previously been prohibitive. “Plasma does, as a core technology, have the ability to be adjusted in its range,” he tells us. “We keep all of Hive’s light sources in the visible spectrum, so we actually give off very little UV – significantly less than you would get from an HMI and less than you get from daylight. So Hive’s lights are very safe for applications where there might be concern about UV. With our lights, all of the output that the energy is going into ends up in the visible spectrum. This gives our lights negligible infrared and negligible UV.”

Regarding accessories, Hive has all of the standard accessories one would expect for lights of this nature. “We have lenses, scrims, and barn doors, as well as a variety of soft boxes that will be available for diffusing,” Miller says. “All of this will be available for the Wasp and Bee 1,000 lights.”

Prior to plasma lighting’s introduction, LED had been the next big game changer in film and TV lighting. So how does Hive perceive this other innovative lighting technology? Miller tells us that it’s a friendlier relationship than one might imagine. “LEDs are really exciting light sources that a lot of fixtures are getting designed around,” he tells us. “LEDs are better at some applications and not so good for other applications. What really sets plasma and LED apart is that LEDs are light sources that are best used as arrays and in panel lights. They’re not bulbs, so it’s very hard to make single-point source light fixtures out of them. This is why we focus on our floods and our spots, because this takes advantage of the nature of plasma. If you want parabolic, very efficient high-output long-throw arc-lamp style lighting, it would be quite difficult to make that out of LED. On the flip side, plasma lights wouldn’t make a very good panel light. Both plasma and LED are very exciting energy-efficient technologies, but they’re for different uses. It’s not so much a matter that plasma will replace LED. Rather, we see that plasma and LED can be used side by side to achieve different goals. We see both LED and plasma being heavily in use as we move forward.”

On the topic of plasma lighting’s adoption within the industry, Miller says that Hive has already seen widespread adoption, with current international distribution to over 30 countries. “Our lights have been on thousands of productions at this point,” Miller says. “They’re owned by a number of owner-operators, production companies, television companies. Having said that, we’re still a very new technology compared to other fixtures. Fluorescents have been in use on film sets for over 30 years, HMIs for over 50 years, tungsten incandescents now for over a hundred years. Even LEDs, which people think of as brand new, have been around in film and television for almost 20 years since their initial use case. Plasma has been around only four to five years, so we’re very much still the new kids on the block.” But Miller is excited by this challenge and the potential inherent in being the “new guys.” “We think one of the things that will really help in increasing plasma’s exposure and adoption is our new 1,000-Watt fixtures. Now that we have a full product range, there are even more opportunities for different customers to get their hands on our products and use them in new scenarios.”

Fire Breather on Vimeo

This past April, Hive opened the doors on their Hive Speed Stage, a studio workspace that’s dedicated solely to high frame rate shoots. “One of the places we’ve seen the quickest and heaviest adoption of plasma lighting has been in high-speed slow-motion filming for commercials, television, and special effects,” says Miller. “We’ve already had a number of clients in and done some really fun shoots so far. We’ve also done quite a bit in research and technology on the industrial side of things, aiding in testing at extremely high frame rates for various technology companies. Some of our clients include Apple, Boeing, Google, Lockheed Martin, and NASA. We’ve had a lot of interesting work outside of more traditional entertainment lighting.”

Hive doesn’t want to limit themselves, however, to only working with tech giants. “We wanted to create a space here in Los Angeles where people could come in and do really original projects at very high speeds with the security of knowing that the lighting will be absolutely flicker free and have high color quality – basically just a perfect scenario for these kinds of applications,” says Miller. “And with the low heat of plasma lighting, it’s a much more comfortable working environment. We wanted to create a world where this is easily accessible to our customers, and also a place where people who don’t necessarily have high-speed experience yet can come in and take a shot at this with the assurance that there are experts here who can make sure that their images come out properly.”

Hive also debuted another new product at NAB this year – the Hive Antenna color meter. The Antenna is a continuous-light color meter that’s designed as a handy pocket tool for DPs, gaffers, and photographers. It allows users to measure color temperature and color correction in terms of the green-magenta shift, and it gives foot-candles and lux readings. “With the Hive Antenna, you can measure any light source – not just plasma,” explains Miller. “It’s great for location scouts, for on-set tweaking of different features. Perhaps most exciting is that, at about US$300 retail, it’s coming in at $5-700 less than most color meters on the market. So it’s a very cost-effective tool that we’re sure will be helpful for our customer base.”

Miller also tells us about Hive winning an award from ProductionHUB at NAB for the new 1,000 Watt plasma lights. “ProductionHUB, through their readers and staff, go through NAB and look for new products and innovation that they think are ‘Best of Show,’ and we won the Award of Excellence for our new 1,000 Watt plasma product line. We’re thrilled. It’s a very nice honor to receive their award. ProductionHUB’s a very respected source, so we’re proud to be recognized by them.”

Learn more: http://hivelighting.com

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