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What I want is a single on/off or dimmer hardware controller that can query a color and intensity lookup table (with a few more inputs, taking into account geolocation and time of year,) to determine the appropriate shade of white at that given moment, then tell an arbitrary group of lights what to do. Oh, and I don't want it to be PC-based, 'cloud'-based, or connected outside my LAN.
I wrote a bit more on this, current workarounds, and blue light here, but I'd love to hear what the Slashdot crowd thinks about how to approach this problem."
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As you describe, the interface is VPL - connecting boxes / nodes to access the GPU is one of the (many) things the program is capable of. Depending on what you're trying to, you may also find Gen useful for generating GLSL shaders within the Max environment (although you can use other shaders as well).
I'm currently neck-deep in a few Jitter projects using custom shaders, etc., and while it's great for rapid prototyping, getting good frame-rates and production stable code out is a whole black art unto itself. Fortunately, the support and forum community are very strong.