There is no question that Uplighting is one of the most lucrative investments for mobile DJ’s. I personally sell uplighting to about 75% of my clientele and I only hope to improve that number and perhaps offer a various quality of uplighting to scale the price and make it work for more. When it comes to the fixtures, there is a lot of variety on the market with features that benefit their specific use. For example, there are outdoor rated uplights that a resistance to moisture, battery-uplighting for mobile use and ease of setup, higher powered plug-in fixtures with fixtures ranging from a narrow to wide throw angle for different applications.
Pricing on these features can get expensive, quickly, especially when you consider that to do it right, you generally want 4 uplights per wall in a ballroom, which is 16 fixtures. If you are paying around $400 per fixture, that’s an initial investment of $6,400 (plus tax!) before you are off and running. I, like many other DJ’s, decided to get a feature rich fixture for a great price from a Chinese Lighting Manufacturer directly. This ultimately has ended for me fairly tragically, although I do have a few things to say about it.
Who doesn’t like a little positivity? I’ll start with what I think are great about the lights. Mainly, I like that they have a wide throw angle. If you look at these lights compared to a brand new with only 4 or 5 bulbs, you’ll notice that the angle goes up a wall more like a pillar or column like, instead of spreading it widely in a corner or up a wall. Even on RGB fixtures with smaller LED’s, the beam angle on brand name lights still seem to lack. This requires you to use more fixtures to make things look nice in a lot of cases, which results in more investment to get going.
The wireless DMX capability is a great thing to have and the fact that it is battery powered allows for quick setup and changing the color of your lights. I like that they are a generic DMX signal too which means you can use them with any transmitter out there and mix and match, whereas with a brand name DMX uplight you would have to get a proprietary transmitter. This is actually kind of a big deal, because if you are trying to use some great brand name fixtures and some Chinese uplights, you can’t. The brand name wants its own transmitter, and it causes a real pain when trying to make things plug and play.
5 in 1 bulbs and a 20-hour battery life for less than I would have paid for a Chauvet or American DJ light that doesn’t even have this great of specs (again, particularly the beam angle of brand name lights is inferior to these!).
Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of issues with my lights. First off, however, the charging system is configured, you can’t daisy chain the lights. So, you have to ensure that you are plugging them into a power strip and not going from one light, with an IEC cable to the next light.
First off, however, the charging system is configured, you can’t daisy chain the lights. So, you have to ensure that you are plugging them into a power strip and not going from one light, with an IEC cable to the next light. What’s worse is that if you do, you’ll either blow a fuse, or you’ll only partially charge the light and then while you are at your event trying to use the light, it dies and you have to route power to get it going again. Yes, I know this from experience.
Second, the build quality is really pretty bad. There are loose screws that probably should have had lock tight used when assembling them. Some screws strip altogether leaving you with a sense of looseness and even loose screws and debris inside of the fixture (this turned into a tragic end to a light, and almost a venue on UCSD… keep reading).
Third, the lights are fairly stupid. Meaning, they don’t tell you what the battery level is which can create some issues if they don’t charge properly.
Fourth, the wireless DMX range and overall reliability are not great. They often turn off, and then on again at events. What’s more, they seem fine when the room is empty and after you get some guests inside the room and it’s too late to troubleshoot a different DMX frequency, they start to drop in and out until the guests get up and start dancing.
Fifth, they flicker. Some videographers brought to my attention that they have to change the frame rate (fps) on their camera in order to get rid of the flicker. That means that the lights are set to a refresh rate that is slower than that of a brand name, considering that brand name lights generally do not do this. In fact, you’ll often see “no flicker” as a value statement for brand name uplighting fixtures.
Unfortunately, after approximately two years and two months of very regular use, I had an uplight catch on fire while inside of a bag with 6 other uplights while setting up for a holiday party at the UCSD Faculty Club. It wasn’t just a subtle electrical fire either, it was a loud sound (almost like a fire hydrant) of what I assume was the electricity stored in the batteries, arcing and causing a pretty gnarly fire. I was standing only a few feet away about to start setting them up so I was able to quickly pull the hand truck with the bag of lights outside and use a fire hydrant and save the other 5 lights inside the bag, but unfortunately, not the bag itself.
I keep thinking of all of the worst case scenarios with this. What if this happened while I was in my van commuting to an event? I do know that I now carry a fire hydrant in my DJ van! And what would have happened if this took place in my garage in the middle of the night while I was sleeping and my wife and kids were too? It absolutely terrifies me. One SMALL consolation to this epic fail, is that there was a screw missing on the light that caught itself on fire from the housing of where the IEC female jack is. I do believe this was causing the entire IEC female jack to move around and eventually arc some loosely soldered connection in the back which caused one violent short circuit.
One safety precaution I’ve taken is to ensure all of the lights are drained after every use, but with up to a 20-hour battery life, that means that after a short wedding the lights are still on in my van or garage all night which is not a safe feeling. Of course, I am going to do my best to navigate brand name fixtures and get something that will replace these lights because I don’t see myself getting some of this poor build quality again.
There is no way my insurance would have covered that venue being burned to the ground, and the thought of something even more tragic is haunting. So, I’ll keep the drained and around for any backup use, but for the most part, I wouldn’t want to spread this potential tragedy to anyone else either!