The Best Beginner TouchDesigner Gear

My favourite TouchDesigner gear

I decided to put together a list of my favourite TouchDesigner gear with the release of the macOS version of TouchDesigner. There are so many gear options out there, so for new users, knowing that a piece of kit works well with TouchDesigner is critical. They are in no particular order and will hopefully help guide new users in purchasing tried and true gear that we’ve used regularly. Not everything will be Mac compatible, but if you’re learning on Mac, it’ll be easy to move your knowledge over to a Windows machine where you’d have access to all the gear.

Most flexible sensor

Microsoft Kinect 2 takes this one. There are all kinds of sensors you can use, but if you want to get up and running quickly and easily, Kinect 2 is the way to go. Using Kinect CHOP and TOP you can get all the data natively in TouchDesigner from the Windows Kinect SDK. Unfortunately not available for Mac. You could use Leap Motion, but I find the Kinect can function in more ways than the Leap in general.

Bang-for-buck video splitter

Matrox DualHead2Go and Matrox TripleHead2Go are great for turning one display output into 2 or 3. This is invaluable when you’re working off a laptop. We’ve all started on these devices before upgrading to something like a Datapath Fx4. Opt for the digital versions with Thunderbolt or DisplayPort because the older models that used DVI/VGA were a bit limited. Make sure you read their website carefully and don’t assume your setup will work. There are a few setups that only run at 50hz and they mention you can only use a maximum of 2 units on a single computer. All in all, they’re good for starting out and sending a bunch of signals to a bunch of outputs, but the driver may drive you insane over time.

Best video splitter

Datapath Fx4 is our go-to video splitter. Reliable, good support from Datapath, great functionality, and heavily road tested. We don’t have any bad things to say about them. The driver offers a lot of flexibility for your installation. They’re quite a bit more expensive then the Matrox, but they’re worth it. Unlike the Matrox, they can handle up to 4x 1080p outputs easily and you can attach one to every single output of your video card. If you use a 4 output video cards, you could have 16x 1080p outputs off a single GPU.

Best video card

nVidia Quadro P5000 or P6000. These are the go-to cards for high-end TouchDesigner installations. Fast, reliable, stable drivers, solid support from nVidia, and tested heavily by Derivative. You can’t go wrong with one of these cards. They’re quite a bit more expensive than the budget cards below, but what they offer is peace of mind (which is invaluable to me!) when it comes to stutter-free and tear-free playback. If you follow nVidia’s guides, they will guarantee your outputs won’t tear and you’ll have no random stutters (which can happen even if your program itself isn’t stuttering). Alternatively if you need stutter-free and tear-free playback on a budget, the M4000 is quite capable now.

Best budget card

nVidia Geforce 1080. These gaming cards always have the latest and great technology from nVidia. They’re affordable for low-budget projects and even work well as internal production machines and workstations. They’re generally the on the top end of the fastest cards you can get. I generally avoid cards like the Titan, as once you’re at that price point you’ll probably want to move over to the Quadro line for the stability. You can get AMD cards, but as TouchDesigner was originally developed on nVidia cards and more thoroughly tested on them, I tend to stick with nVidia.

Best audio interface

MOTU Ultralite Mk4 or MOTU 828x. These interfaces are great. They have ASIO support, work well with TouchDesigner, and have reliable drivers for both Mac and PC. The Ultralite is nice and portable, with USB connectivity. The 828x has both Thunderbolt and USB connectivity with a plethora of IO. The sound quality is great and they can take a beating.

Best mouse

You can’t program in TouchDesigner for long sessions without a good quality mouse. My favourite is the Logitech M570. I live and die by that mouse for all TouchDesigner work. It’s comfortable in the hand and the track ball is a nice size. If you’re not a fan of the trackball, the Logitech Performance Mouse MX (dongle) or the Logitech MX Master (bluetooth) are great options. Don’t underestimate the power of a good mouse!

Best DMX controller

Enttec USB Pro Mk2. The Enttec USB Pro was used heavily for many of our jobs. The Mk2 is an all around upgrade on that and highly recommended. With an additional DMX universe to support more lights on a single unit and new sleek design, it’s a great buy and can handle most DMX lighting needs.

Best laptop

Origin PC Evo15-S for slim workstation or Origin PC Evo15-X for a desktop replacement. I use the Evo15-S on the road all the time. It’s slim, light, has a 6gb nVidia 970M in it, tons of ram, fast quad-core processor, and large SSDs. We also have an Evo15-X which is quite large and hard to carry around, but it has desktop graphics card (not a mobile one!), and can keep up with desktop performance in most applications. Origin’s support is also really great. If you have a software issue they can remote login and take a look, and if it’s hardware related you can ship your kit back and get it serviced quickly. The shipping is only really quick if you’re in the USA or Canada though.

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Best SDI I/O

Blackmagic Decklink Quad 2, or whichever Decklink card suits your specific needs. They can be a bit finicky with the drivers, but you can’t beat them on price. Even for the price, the quality is on par with many of the higher end SDI i/o cards. If price isn’t an option, you can take a look at AJA cards, but I’ve found the price of the Blackmagic cards keeps me going back, even if it takes a tiny bit of time to make sure the driver versions are correct when I install them.

Favourite bang-for-buck projector

I find the Benq MX819ST to be a good mix of price, brightness, and lens for most of the things I need to test when I’m sitting in our office. It has a 3000 lumens, high contrast ratio, 0.61 short-throw lens, and costs around $800 CAD. You could get brighter, but then you’d have a bigger projector to mangle. You could get cheaper, but I find the contrast, color, and brightness on MX819ST to be decent. You could get something with higher resolution, but for most in-office tests, 720p really isn’t a deal breaker. It may not be the best for all situations, but I have a few of them lying around and they’ve served me well.

What’s your favs?

Hopefully, my go-to TouchDesigner gear will be useful for new TouchDesigner users. If you have TouchDesigner gear you think is better than my picks, leave a comment. I (not so) secretly love spending money on new gear and look forward to testing out your picks.