How does a DMX Controller work?

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DMX ControllerDigital Multiplex Signal (DMX) is a universal protocol that lets users have absolute control over their lighting requirements. The DMX Protocol was designed to enable lighting equipment from different manufactures to easily work with each other and to reduce the need for having separate control station for every set of lighting equipment.

Our review of best DMX lighting controllers

This drastically reduced the number of control wires needed for a lighting operation and also in some way revolutionized the audio visual industry since everything could be controlled from one single source hence more flexibility and freedom when it came to creating lighting shows.

DMX protocol

The DMX Protocol, sometimes referred to as DMX-512 has the capacity to control up to 512 individual channels. A channel in DMX Universe can be understood as a single color, for instance, the RGB colors represent 3 channels in DMX. Each channel can be set to a level between 0 to 255 with 0 (zero) being the lowest level a channel can operate and 255 being the highest level it can operate at.

One can control up to 512 individual color lights or 170 RGB lights in a DMX universe and a DMX decoder/driver specifically addresses each fixture making it easier for one to program their light scenes according to the DMX address that they assign to each fixture.

Connecting a DMX

Not being familiar with the DMX protocol can make controlling fixtures with it appear complicated or
even intimidating. The most vital step in operating a DMX fixture is to ensure that all the wires are properly connected.

The group of fixtures or the number of separate fixtures that you will need individual control over is important since each section will require a specialized DMX address through a DMX driver/decoder unit. You should also know how many colors or channels each section will require for it to be controlled.

For instance, controlling a single color LED will require a one channel DMX driver or decoder whereas an RGB fixture will require all the 3 channels in order to control all the 3 colors and therefore it will be necessary to have a 3 Channel DMX decoder/driver.

DMX fixtures are created to receive data via some kind of a “daisy chain” whereby, data that comes out of one fixture connects with data that goes into the next fixture. This happens irrespective of the order in which the fixtures are connected and does not interfere with the communication between the fixtures and the controller.

One needs to be keen when setting the addresses. DMX addresses should correspond to the first of the channel’s lights and therefore it is advisable to manually address the individual ranges of every fixture in relation to how they control the DMX channel.

Initially, DMX used to be generated using a DMX console whereby one has to manually configure everything and performance may fluctuate depending on the capability of the console. DMX consoles are quite limited but with software, all you need is a computer interface that converts USB into DMX using a DMX Software and with that you can control virtually all aspects of your audio visual system all with the click of a button.

Many lighting fixtures operate with DMX and you only need a DMX signal origin and the fixtures interlinked with each other to get going. Once your fixtures have been interlinked or daisy chained, you will then address the fixtures giving them a start DMX channel to locate where the signal will be sent for that single fixture.

Individual fixtures require certain amount of channels to operate and so depending on the channels a fixture has got, you then address the channels in the next fixture after making sure that the previous fixture is operating effectively.

For example, a Red, Green, Blue and White (RGBW) fixture will require 4 DMX channels. If let’s say it is addressed to channel 001, it will therefore have channels 001, 002, 003 and 004.

Any free channels after that would be 005 and one can put 2 similar fixtures on the same address and they will operate as one hence making a DMX line or universe.

A standard DMX Universe consists of up to 512 channels. If in case more than one universe is required for a set up, then with the appropriate universe merging techniques, software and interface, it can all be done giving you ultimate control over your lighting preferences.

DMX control offers infinite possibilities. With good fixtures, you can change color, adjust saturation, strobe speed, gobo projection and much more.

You can also control the different types of DMX capable equipment such as scanners, fog and haze machines, lasers, moving heads and wash lights, all these from a central location. You can control the lighting and effects of a scene by even designing a light to sync with your favorite song with the intelligent lighting capabilities that DMX offers.