April 3, 2011

The Ultimate Portable Rock Band 3 Setup

I can’t believe it’s been almost six months since Rock Band 3 was released! You may remember just before it came out, I built what I called the Ultimate Rock Band 3 Setup.

But what if you want to take your Rock Band 3 show on the road? That’s right, it’s time to build the ultimate (almost) no compromises portable Rock Band 3 setup — so you can deploy a full Rock Band 3 band setup whenever and wherever you want to jam.

Projector

First things first: you’ll need a way to display Rock Band 3 suitable for 7 person band, plus an audience. I’m talking BIG SCREEN here. Fortunately, portable LED projectors have come a long, long way.

This little Acer K11 portable LED projector is under $400 and will project an image at 90 inches diagonal.

All the user reviews on Amazon and Newegg for it are stellar, and it has the two key inputs we need: VGA and HDMI. It’ll happily scale whatever input you send to it down to a solid native DVD-ish resolution of 858 x 600.

Now, you are assuming that there will be a flat, white wall in a semi-dark room for this to work — or even better, a projector screen. And remember it’s only 200 lumens, a far cry from full size projectors which dump out 1700+ lumens. But this is as portable as we can realistically get without hauling an actual full size projector around!

Sound

Now that we have video, what about sound? You can’t have a rock concert without concert-worthy sound. We need some tough, self-powered portable speakers built for the road. I found two great options, both are about $70.

Altec Lansing Stage-Gig Amplified Speaker

Polk Audio Hitmaster Stage Monitor Loudspeaker

There’s an excellent YouTube comparison of the two speakers, but the short version is that the Polk has superior and louder sound, but the Altec Lansing is better for stereo use. And since I can’t imagine a rock concert without at least stereo sound, I opted for a pair of the Stage-Gigs. I just can’t compromise on stereo. However, if you want to go for a simpler, single speaker travel setup, the Hitmaster is definitely the way to go.

Instruments

There’s no getting around it; we need band equipment to rock. I don’t think you can cut corners here in the name of portability, other than opting for fully wireless instruments.

Now, you might prefer the Guitar Hero III Les Paul guitars as they are the smallest modern wireless guitars. But honestly I don’t think the size difference is that big compared to a standard Rock Band Stratocaster. So whatever you have on hand should suffice for guitar and bass (unless it’s the crazy full-size wooden replicas in cherry red or sunburst; leave those things at home, man!) There are “gig bags” that can carry two game-sized guitars, too. I have at least two left over from my Guitar Hero days.

As for drums, I’d stick to the standard full size 4-pad arrangement and drop the add-on cymbals for better portability. This, you’ll need a carry bag for. So either scrounge something up, or splurge for the official Rock Band drums gig bag. A bit spendy at $40, though.

Taking a drum throne would be … excessive … so be prepared to make do with whatever chairs you can scrounge up at the venue.

The wireless microphones (be sure to bring three for harmonies!) and wireless keyboard are more compact and easier to stash.

Console

Oh yeah, we need a console to run Rock Band 3, don’t we? And at least one controller! I favor the Xbox 360 slim because it historically has the best options for rhythm games like the Stage Kit and native wireless microphones.

But you should pick the console where you have purchased DLC, so you can take it on tour with you. Even on the Xbox, where I can swap the hard drive, it’s almost better to take the actual machine I bought the DLC on, otherwise I will have to log in via the internet to my Xbox Live account to enable the content. So do be aware of any DRM issues for your downloaded songs, like if you need internet access at the venue for your swapped DLC hard drive to work!

In order to output to our projector through VGA out (and our speakers through RCA out), you’ll need the Xbox 360 HD VGA Audio/Video cable. The generic version is a mere $5.50, and works fine for me.

It’s a 6 foot VGA cable so the Xbox will need to be fairly close to the projector. Bear in mind you will almost certainly need some RCA splitters and extension cables to get your speaker(s) positioned correctly — but these are easily obtained at your local Radio Shack.

Finally

Don’t forget to bring the Rock Band 3 game disc, of course! Wow, that’d be embarrassing to forget that little detail, eh?

Batteries! Either meticulously check all the instruments to ensure they have fresh AA batteries, or have extra AA batteries on hand. Otherwise those wireless instruments will be transformed into useless hunks of plastic.

Also, you might want to carry a power strip to plug everything in and give you a bit of an extension cord to power outlets. At a minimum you’ll have the projector, the console, and the speaker(s). I favor the “smart” autoswitching power strips that turn everything on or off based on the power of the primary outlet, like the Smart Strip SCG3.

So let’s list everything we’re taking on tour with us:

  1. Console + power brick, a/v connector, and wireless controller
  2. Travel projector + power brick
  3. Stage speaker (1 or 2), plus RCA extension cables
  4. Wireless guitars (2)
  5. Wireless drums (no cymbals)
  6. Wireless keyboard
  7. Wireless microphones (3)
  8. Power strip
  9. AA batteries (lots)
  10. Rock Band 3 game disc

Yeah, it’s a sizable amount of stuff. But it’s completely self contained. All you need at the target venue is a dark-ish room of sufficient size with a wall to project on, and some power outlets. You can now deploy the full, concentrated power of Rock Band 3 whenever and wherever you like!

Great review, Jeff! So when does the tour kick off? :)

Josh Lambka
April 3, 2011 at 10:35 pm

From experience, a standard VGA projector wont cut the mustard, unless you plan to use the Wii version. Lyrics for the songs are unreadable on the Ps3 if you use a lower res.

Papavader
April 11, 2011 at 4:03 am

Papavader, it’s 858 x 600 which is a bit beyond DVD resolution of 720 x480 … and it downscales to fit the source, which is like a form of supersampling (I used a source of 1024×768 since anything higher seemed really overkill). Lyrics were plenty readable on the Asus projector when we played, and I’m very sensitive to image quality isues.

Jeff Atwood
May 16, 2011 at 12:34 am

So how are the Stage-Gigs working out for you? I’m still a little on the fence about them, and I’m just curious how you’ve been liking them so far.

Ryan D.
May 16, 2011 at 10:19 am

@Ryan they are just .. OK. Aside from the stereo being easier to set up, I would recommend people go go with the HitMaster for best sound quality.

Jeff Atwood
May 20, 2011 at 12:57 am

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