There’s been an influx in the past couple years of a class of LED poi that use a programmable strip of RGB LEDS to create a picture when the poi are spun. The same technology is in use for hoops, levi wands, you name it. In theory, you’re meant to be able to upload clip art or photographs into the poi to create custom programs either for fun or to sync to music for professional purposes. Today, I'm reviewing a set made by Ignis, their 80 HD Pixel Poi.
These are the first set of this style of poi I’ve gotten to play extensively with--I’ve used sets briefly at festivals, but these are the first pair I’ve really gotten a lot of time to play with and learn how to program.
For the most part, this hasn’t been a style of LED poi that’s really been interesting to me because it limits the types of tricks you can do. You’re more or less limited to wall plane pattern moves and the weight distribution makes things like stalls and pendulums kind of awkward. Because the tubes that house these LED strips tend to be so long, they also limit your ability to shorten the poi up in order to play with different dynamic ranges with the prop. That said, they are absolutely beautiful and rapidly becoming an important tool in the professional performer’s toolbox.
The set I was sent to review is kind of unique in that it’s made in a size that’s meant to be a bit of a compromise between two priorities. The first priority is to generate a big enough picture to be retain the wow factor of this style of poi. The second priority is to make them short enough to be able to be useful for a more techy style of spinning. Before I go over whether they accomplish this goal, let’s talk a little about the hardware as well as software involved in these.
They come as a pair and they’re housed in a set of extremely durable polycarbonate tubes. One complaint about the earlier generation of LED poi in this style was that they were quite delicate and easy to break with hard impacts. I’m pleased to report that these don’t have that problem. They will make a loud and incredibly unpleasant noise when you hit them, but they will not break.
Near the base of these tubes are the controls--three buttons that allow you to turn the poi on and off, select the program you want to run. One really cool and useful feature is that there’s a way to engage a program that turns off input from the buttons. I’ve found on a few occasions that performing spiral wraps I’d accidentally hit a button to switch programs or pause the one that I was on, so being able to engage this “lock” mode was hugely helpful.
By default, they come with nylon tethers and double-loop handles. I’m overall not a fan of nylon as a tether material because it tends to be extremely abrasive--when holding a tether I find the skin on my fingers winds up getting stripped off by this material. I switched out the tethers early on for flow cords and I’m happy to report that this conversion is really straightforward and easy. You’ll need a screwdriver to do it, but it took me all of five minutes to accomplish.
They both charge and are programmed off of mini-USB ports with the battery housed inside the tube assembly. It cannot be changed out. This is both a blessing and a curse because it doesn’t require you to bring a separate battery charger to a gig, you can just plug in a USB cable, but at the same time it means you can’t trade out the battery if you run out of juice during a performance. Battery life on these is quite short. The longest run I’ve been able to get out of these spinning continuously on a single charge is just shy of two hours.
So how do they spin? Do they do tech? The short answer is yes...with a few caveats. Stalls and pendulums are still awkward--that’s just a problem built into the weight distribution, but the good news is that they don’t appear to be so to the audience. You’ll feel a definite wobble with both of these types of tricks, but they won’t look out of the ordinary to your audience. These are also the only set of LED strip poi I’ve ever tried with which I can do some of my favorite antibrids, though tricks like isolations are extremely awkward with them.
If you’re looking for a way to achieve some techier moves with LED strip poi, I think these make for a good compromise between being long enough to display a good picture as well as being short enough to achieve a wider vocabulary of moves. I’ve used these now on several gigs and they always get a tremendous response both from clients as well as from the audience.
But what about programming them? This is probably the biggest limitation with these poi. The software has some major hurdles and without a doubt was the most difficult aspect I encountered when dealing with these poi.
For starters, the software is only available for PC-compatible computers. I own a Mac. I wound up having to borrow my roommate’s laptop in order to try out the software and program my poi. Once installed, the program to edit settings on the poi is not terribly intuitive. There’s a manual available for the software online, which is good because without it I would never have been able to program these poi. One of the weirder hiccups in it is that by default the program doesn’t connect to poi when you plug them in. You have to manually set it to talk to the poi before it’ll upload your programs to them.
In order to write a program, you have to import photos or images to permanent slots in the poi’s memory, then assign them to points in a timeline on a different memory slot. You can adjust how many seconds an image displays for, but if you’re trying to synchronize a program to a song this winds up being a really blunt instrument. Plus which, it’s really easy to overwrite preexisting memory slots and not realize you’ve done it--the software doesn’t automatically show you what’s already been uploaded to your poi.
So overall--I like these. They’re a great fit for more professional gigs and the length is a great compromise between a big, beautiful display and still short enough to allow for a diversity of tricks. These take some work to adjust to--if you’ve trained on contact or even sock poi the weight distribution is completely different. The biggest handicap on these is the software. It’s difficult to use, not very intuitive, and it’s way too easy to make a quick mistake that could wipe out your old work. That said, it’s also totally possible to use these without programming them.