DMX Control: In Planning System, Look to IP, Wireless As Options

DMX Control: In Planning System, Look to IP, Wireless As Options

With the DMX protocol, there are so many possibilities, ranging from controlling video servers to your effect devices, and much more.

When it comes to the ability to use gear as an art to create atmospheres for people to worship God, I find that it’s an amazing feeling. Particularly with lighting gear.

While wired is more reliable for DMX, for some applications, like hard to reach places or quick stage strikes, wireless is a worthwhile option.

To create this kind of atmosphere, it's important to understand how each piece of lighting gear works behind the scenes. This art literally transforms the atmosphere and paints the room to fit whatever song, teaching moment or mood that needs to be represented.

But it’s not all faders and knobs, as it also takes some tech knowledge. Most notably, a communication protocol called Digital Multiplex, or DMX, is necessary to get all the lights working together. DMX is the standard for digital communication networks that was originally created in 1986, to control stage lighting. Now it can be used to control all sorts of intelligent lights, effect machines, servers and many other pieces of gear.

If your team wants to build an engaging lighting system, they will need to understand DMX.

What are the essentials of DMX Control?

First, understand your limits. DMX typically consists of 512 channels, but you can have multiple universes. A universe generally consists of one block of 512 channels. Your device has a starting channel and an ending channel. Each device varies in how many channels it uses. As you can see, planning out your system is essential.

One of the expert companies in this field is Summit Integrated Systems. They suggest that in addition to carefully planning out your system, it would be to your advantage to take your DMX to IP. Instead of relying on the standard 5-pin or 3-pin DMX cable, run your system over IP via a DMX to Ethernet conversion. Popular networks that use IP are ArtNet and sACN. By running DMX over an IP-based network, we eliminate expensive and unreliable DMX splitters and hubs. We just send the network where we need it, and convert signals off that.

Second, you need a good way of testing and controlling your system. I recommend a good lighting console in the booth, another control device in between the booth and the light, and lastly, a control at the light that works at the light or at a standard 5-pin or 3-pin DMX.

As much as we want to stay IP, we will always have some form of conversion back and forth. That’s where failures can pop up and having a good tester for that is essential.

Let’s address control in the booth. According to Summit Integrated Systems, the console they endorse most for simple applications is the Jands Vista, and for more robust applications, a console from MA Lighting. Both consoles are solid, but you would need to demo them and see how they would work with and for your teams. The goal here is not to create a workflow that is difficult or turn to a console that is not well known. It’s difficult to get training from industry professionals, if you pick a control unit that isn’t commonly used or known.

The next item you need in your tool kit is an intermediary control system. One really cool device is DMXcat by City Theatrical. This product allows you to plug into your network anywhere in the chain and serve as a remote control for devices via Bluetooth using your cellphone. With such a tool, it allows you to walk around on stage and see the issues. It really puts you in between the console and the light, and allows for better testing.

Another item to add to your toolkit are DMX testers. I talked to E2i Design to discuss this last line of testing and defense. They recommended Goddard Designs, Lil’DMXter or NuDelta Digital DXT. Each of these have decent features and having one of them in your toolkit is essential for troubleshooting DMX issues.

The last item on the testing side of DMX is Remote Device Management (RDM). DMX is a one-way protocol. RDM sits on top of the DMX and, in simple terms, it allows for the device to talk back. It cuts down on troubleshooting. Systems with RDM allow you to quickly determine an issue, because the device is reporting back the problem. Not everything has RDM, and you can’t totally rely on that for testing.

How are you able to use DMX Control?

There are so many possibilities. It can control video servers, allowing you to match your lighting colors to your video walls. It can control your effect devices and much more. One interesting development I have seen is the ability to use DMX in a wireless fashion. Of course, wired is more reliable, but some applications, like hard to reach places or quick stage strikes, would benefit from wireless.

As noted by E2i Designs, there are many options as it relates to wireless DMX. Which option is best depends on the application. For smaller, simpler applications the "go to" product is the City Theatrical Show Baby 6 Wireless DMX. The Show Baby 6 is probably the easiest product to use on the market. The transmitter and the receiver are one and the same. It knows which it is, by simply detecting whether a DMX cable is connected to the input or output side.

This product has a color-coded data ID system that allows you to choose which units are operating together, by simply selecting a color. You can have DMX universe 1 on Cyan and universe 2 on Red. Setting up the system takes less than 10 minutes, and is very reliable. Summit Integrated also mentioned the Show Baby 6 as a very solid option, but if you need to select your bandwidth or want to put together a larger system, the ShowDMX Neo is also available and builds on the same reliability and quality as the Show Baby 6.

Another product for advanced lighting systems is LumenRadio. LumenRadio offers advanced settings and customizable features for each application. Additionally, LumenRadio is already built-in to many fixtures and accessories on the market. This allows users to quickly and easily incorporate those items into a new LumenRadio wireless DMX system. A nice feature of LumenRadio is the ability to send RDM wirelessly letting users easily broadcast their DMX addresses to fixtures.

Planning out your system and creating a strong DMX foundation is how you stay ahead of the need and flow with the artistic requirements of your weekend services or events.

It’s important, though, that we don’t get lost in the technical. Many lighting techs worry so much about the back-end that they forget about the worship experience. There is a balance to being a lighting tech and a lighting artist.

Our ultimate goal is to use our God-given talents to create atmospheres to worship God. Knowing the setup, systems and needs is important, but don’t let it demand so much of your resources, time and energy that you don’t invest in the real purpose of lighting, creating a place where in all we do, we Glorify Him.

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