Should I start my video synthesis journey with Vidiot or with Visual Cortex? What would you recommend for a beginner just getting started? We’d love to hear everyone’s opinions, this is a question we are often asked.
There is a third option: Cadet series!
Yes! This post came from a migrated question. I’ve edited the OP.
I’m totally new to video synthesis but have been lurking for some time and am interested in getting started. I am already invested in eurorack for audio so I’m steering toward modules. That being said, I’m into DIY and am interested in the Cadet series but am also ignorant as its capabilities and what I would want/need as a starting point there.
Any help is much appreciated! Apologies if there is a more appropriate post for my specific inquiry. Thanks!
When I was a beginner (with modular video that is) , I started out with the Cadet 21 set (21 pcb’s)
The Cadet modules only have a BOM and the schematic,
and you have to source your own parts.
I did this before, so that was no obstacle for me.
It was a lot of work (everything custom, so a lot of wiring) but it became a very nice system.
I grew quite confident of my DIY video module building skills.
I’m now adding new modules to my system that are build from schematic (LZX has quite a few cool documents on their site: a summing mixer,a VCA, Sandin designs and all Cadet and Castle modules are available as schematic too.)
This route has enabled me (as a not so wealthy video artist) to create a large video system with extensive possibilities.
I’d recommend this route to all die-hard DIYers :)
brand new to video synthesis and I started with Vidiot. For me it was immediately fun, I was up and patching right away but still referred to the manual when needed.
I own a eurorack modular synthesizer and I’ve been using lumen, processing and praxis_live for video for quite a while for processing video, creating ad modulating shapes and webcam feedback, with mixing, layering etc.
I’m thinking about adding an old video camera, a 2nd macbook (both of which I already have) and possibly a video mixer and to start integrating hardware video synths…
so should I dump the mixer and get a system made up of visual cortex, prismatic ray, color chords, staircase and a couple of bridges and maybe add a memory palace and a diver (and obviously other modules) in the future
or should I get the mixer and a vidiot and just be done with it? and spend the money on audio modules!!!
@Agawell It’s hard to say, it really just depends on how much the LZX style modular workflow suits your creative personality and the kind of content you want to create. There are always surprises and new perceptions that happen after you start actually patching. What you can do with the modules you described vs. a video mixer + Vidiot is vastly different and the modules certainly take you into some territory that’s hard replicate otherwise. But Vidiot is essentially a module inside its own case, too, so you could expand from that instead of starting with Cortex (any of the modules that don’t require sync are great for this… Pendulum, Staircase, Doorway, etc.) I would just find a spot to dip your toe in, and then grow in the direction you find most interesting.
To answer the OP’s question, Visual Cortex, Vidiot, and the DIY Cadet modules all have their strengths and weaknesses as starting points, IMO. Here’s my attempt at listing the ones I can think of…
Visual Cortex strengths:
- a lot of utility packed in
- excellent base to expand from – if you’re planning on getting more LZX modules, you’ll soon realize that this is practically a necessity
- really well designed module
Visual Cortex weaknesses:
- price – the most expensive of these options, it might be too pricey as a first video module for some, especially if they don’t already have a eurorack case to put it in
- can’t do a whole lot on its own – not to say it can’t do anything, but it really shines as the input/output/glue for other modules
- needs eurorack case and power
- can do a ton of things out of the box! – you could potentially be happy with this alone
- can interact with LZX modules (and other people’s modules too) – expansion is totally possible
- don’t need a eurorack case or power supply
- easily portable
- the most immediately fun of all these choices
- kind of pricey – for what it does, it’s an amazing price! but like the VC, it might be too pricey for a beginner dipping their toes in
- I don’t think I can see any other weaknesses???
DIY Cadet modules strengths:
- easy DIY builds – through-hole and low part counts puts these way on the easier side of DIY builds (easier than most audio modules I’ve seen!)
- the least expensive option, for basic synthesis – with just Cadet 1, Cadet 2, and then something else (Cadet 4 or 9, probably) you can start synthesizing some video, though it probably won’t be terribly exciting
- many of the Cadet (and Castle!) modules are great additions to the retail LZX modules (and Vidiot)
- the Cadet modules are basic building blocks of video synthesis – you can learn about the basics before moving on to the other more complicated (but excellently designed) LZX products
- the schematics are freely available – great for learning purposes, but it also means it makes modifying them easier
DIY Cadet modules weaknesses:
- you have to build them – not a problem for everyone, but a roadblock for some
- you have to source the parts yourself – again, not a problem for everyone, but a roadblock for some
- not as immediately fun as the other options – they’re basic blocks, so you need a whole bunch of them to even approach what the other options are capable of
- needs eurorack case and power
One notable strength for ALL of these options:
- Lars is amazingly generous with answering questions and helping people out – there are a lot of helpful creators in the modular world, but Lars is seriously at or near the very top of the pile!
(I just realized this’ll need to get expanded to add Memory Palace, too, but I’m not going to add it yet since it’s not even released and I don’t have the best grasp of what it does yet.)
I started with some Cadet modules, since I didn’t really know much about video synthesis at all and wanted to dip my toes in slowly and on the cheap, and I’m pretty proficient with DIY modules. I still haven’t moved beyond LZX’s DIY offerings (so grain of salt with my pros/cons above!), but I now have more Cadets and some Castle modules, and I’ve learned so much about it all. I didn’t really understand what a lot of the Expedition series did, but now that I’ve played around with a lot of Cadet stuff and learned more about video synthesis, I get it, and I really appreciate their designs. (Seriously, Lars, awesome stuff!) Next time I’ve got money to make big modular purchases, I plan on getting some.
If I were getting into video synthesis with the level of understanding I have now, I’d probably get a Visual Cortex and some other modules (if I could afford that) or a Vidiot (if I couldn’t afford the VC,etc). But I regret nothing about my Cadet and Castle modules! Almost all of them will be great companions for when I do start getting Expedition series stuff, and I’ve had so much fun with them so far and probably wouldn’t have figured things out as much as I have without them.
Really thoughtful and useful post!
Am I correct in understanding that the cadet series modules come with a blank pcb/schematic (and panel) that I need to layout and route myself? Or is the PCB routed and the schematic provided just as a reference/learning tool. I’m pretty sold already, I just want to be sure about what I’m getting into
The Cadet modules come with blank PCBs and frontpanels. You need to buy all the parts yourself. The schematic is provided for learning/reference, but you can also just install the parts according to the BOM without ever looking at the schematic. If you haven’t done electronics DIY kits before, I’d recommend you get a kit that comes along with step-by-step instructions on how to solder, source parts, etc before diving into these, which are intended more as intermediate/advanced level projects for the electronics hobbyist.
It takes 11 Cadet modules to begin to approach what Visual Cortex can do (probably around the same for Vidiot), so Visual Cortex and Vidiot are definitely the better “bang for your buck and time” purchases, unless DIY is just something you’re excited and passionate about. With video synthesis there’s an up front kind of buy-in cost of all the host I/O circuitry, and you have to pay that no matter which approach you’re going. Think of it like buying the DAW/Mixer combo for an audio rig – those items are necessary in order to start recording and mixing tracks.
In my personal opinion, the best approaches for people on a limited budget who aren’t too scared of Synth DIY, would be Visual Cortex plus a few of the Cadets that expand it well (C9, C6, C7, C8 especially) or if you want more of an encapsulated instrument, Vidiot plus a couple LZX Expedition modules in a small Euro case (Passage, Staircase, Pendulum are all good for this.)
Vidiot goes a long way, but if using it without other modules, prepare to invest in a nice camera/feedback setup, as that’s where it really shines and you get the most out of it. If you’ve already got some video mixers and cameras, then it’s a great way to step in and incorporate this stuff in your rig without feeling like you have to keep buying modules if it’s not something you want to pursue further.
If you’re on a very extreme budget or just love DIY stuff, Cadet only can work… it’s just going to be a lot of modules before you feel like you’ve got a complex system. I just want to make clear that it’s tempting to consider Cadet to be the cheapest route – but if overall budget is the concern, and a complex system (rather than just a starting point) is the goal, most of these options tend to even themselves out at the end of the day.
@alargeformat “blank pcb’s” / The pcb’s are not blank as in perfboard They are routed and printed.
The schematic is for reference.
The Cadet route is very ‘open’, in a way that everything is patchable, and must be patched to get things going.
This means that you will need to understand every module very good and use several modules for basic synthesis.
The Cortex & Expedition modules have a lot of handy routings and features build in.
These functions can also be patched with the Cadet modules, but this will take more effort.
(input and output attenuverters, waveform options etc)
I have a panel that combines the sync generator, the video input and the output encoder.
Most of my other panels are dual or triple (like dual VCO’s, dual Processors, triple function generators)
You can combine several Cadet modules in one custom panel to save some patch cables ,
for example: a VCO and a Processor & Multiplier in one package. That’s one option I’m considering now
Maybe that route is for the more experienced builders. Start with a few Cadets and work from there!
Hi, as a complete beginner I really appreciate all the info thus far.
Ultimately my main interest is effects processing. Sending external video (and maybe audio) in, manipulating it, and then recording the output (not for live performance).
How much of a stand alone unit will Memory Palace be?
If it is, can anyone recommend a basic 2-4 module set-up for that? Would you need Visual Cortex at all?
Of course, I’d love to start big with the modules above, but I’m still unsure if the Vidiot can do a fair amount of effects processing as well? Most of the examples I see are more colored shape and pattern generation stuff. (I guess you could just add a video source and it might be more of what I’m looking for???)
Can anyone help me better wrap my head around the possibilities?
@vacuum Memory Palace is not meant to be used as a standalone unit – generally when we do EuroRack modules, the design decisions relate to the context of a larger system (we have a pretty expansive vision of how it all fits together.) That said, you could do an effects processing system with just the TBC2 + Memory Palace that would be awesome and do a wide range of effects, especially if you have lots of external modulation options. This may be the best approach if processing and a small initial system is your goal. You will need TBC2 to get external video into the system’s patchable workflow, and then Memory Palace provides all the effects and dedicated video outs.
If you’re into the more analog processing techniques like colorization, solarization, RGB and wipe offsets, etc Visual Cortex by itself goes a long way as a processor as well. Vidiot can process external stuff but you can’t get full color video through it from in-to-out, and it’s best in a feedback loop environment with external cameras and video mixers.
Great question, and people have given very thoughtful objective insights. When I think about this question of how to enter the world of video synthesis… I find myself thinking about what I would have done different if I knew what I know now, or in light of the latest gear that is available. My take on it is predictably very personal, but… If I were starting fresh now. I’d start with a Vidiot, hands down! … except that the waiting list is a major stall out if you want to get going ASAP.
My start was with a 3TrinsRGB+1c… on a whim… half purchased with a tax return. I was very aware of LZX equipment at that point, but I didn’t know what I was doing and couldn’t justify the entry point cost. I explored the 3Trins for a short while before I hit a creative wall. I then started tinkering with DIY circuits that I could power from the 3Trins and interface on the header pins… in order to expand on the 3Trins and also utilize it as an RGB encoder for video circuit experiments. It was exactly the slippery slope I feared it might be (hoped for?).
Eventually I purchased a Visual Cortex, originally to have a more flexible platform for encoding and experimenting… one that was much more advanced and robust than the 3Trins. After that I saved up for a Staircase, Bridge, and Video Logic. Those are my only LZX modules so far, but I love them. I am waiting on a Vidiot, and I look forward to the day I can play with it!
All that said… if I were starting over… I would dive in at the Vidiot point for the following main reasons:  it is a “ready to play” system (similar to how 3Trins was for me), and that is a great way to have fun right off the bat;  it effectively represents (to me) a best blend of benefits between something like a 3Trins and a visual Cortex starting point… it has oscillators, colorizing, keying, and can act as an encoder for further DIY experimentation… and it is more robust than 3Trins regarding external inputs (3Trins should only really be interfaces with signals that are powered from its own headers, which is kind of limiting);  it has an envelope follow for smooth out-of-the-box audio-visualization;  clean power… although I owned some audio Eurorack equipment prior to video modules, I find that my power supplies are quite noisy (which is fun sometimes, but not always), and not greatly suited for video… but everything I’ve seen from Vidiot so far looks wonderfully clean.
Probably another thing to point out in this thread. We know this stuff is very expensive for most of you. Just know that you are getting what you pay for with LZX stuff. Everything is priced on direct multiples of component cost and assembly complexity (that is, we don’t upcharge anything just because it took longer to think of or design.) Just compare the price tag of Memory Palace + TBC2 to the Roland V4EX or other broadcast equipment with similar specs – and realize they are producing it at a much larger scale, with much more vast resources – if you want a basis for comparison. We don’t intend for anyone to be able to drop several grand on modules on the first day. We encourage you start small, add modules 1-2 at a time as you can, and learn the new possibilities of each addition exhaustively before continuing to grow. It’s meant to be a long and satisfying journey.
I also have some lzx-cadet based designs that built for my self… maybe you want to trade pcbs with me?
Thank you for your insightful comments. I’m at the stage where I still feel like a beginner DIYer but have built a considerable amount of kits/opensource modules and so I’m up for the challenge. I also want to continue improving my soldering/troubleshooting skills, etc. I have fabbed my own boards recently which is what confused me about the ‘blank’ pcb term
While budget is always a concern, it’s not my main one. I am more looking at Cadet as a way of learning/understanding the fundamentals and hopefully not hurdling over them and getting ahead of myself.
Thank you all for the help before I dive in!
Thanks for the reply - been thinking about it some more - especially with regard to workflow and expandability
I think that the vidiot path is out - I’m coming out of the computer in colour so I’d like to retain that through the workflow and vidiot doesn’t do colour video in does it?
I have a 2000€ budget now and am likely to go to midiamsterdam to order next saturday
currently my thinking is this:
Visual Cortex, Prismatic Ray, Bridge, Color Chords and Staircase (I take it I will also need a synch cable between VC and PR, and a few of the rgb snakes look like a good idea)
Maybe swap Arch for Bridge, I already have 8 attenuators in the rack
I’ll also need a vga or HDMI -> component converter of some sort
This will fit in my eurorack cases for now
Then Arch, Pendulum, Passage - for which I will need another case!!
And sometime in the future Memory Palace, TBC2. The TBC2 adds an extra 2 video channels in doesn’t it? so for example if I get either the VC or the Memory Palace, then I would have 3 video channel inputs - ie 2 laptops and a camera (and if I had all 3 then there would be 4 input channels)
Quick question about Sensory Translator and Diver - they appear to have signifcant overlap - what are the pros/cons of each?