What is DMX Lighting? Rethinking How We Do Illumination

Whether you are running a multimillion-dollar stage production or just starting out on your DJ career, you have probably come across DMX lighting. DMX lighting is a technology that has been in use for decades, but not many people really know what it does.

The DMX protocol can be used to control and synchronize the color of lights, the intensity of light at different points on a stage, or animations that bring your performance to life.

However, DMX lighting comes with a high price tag and complicated setup process - which can be challenging for an inexperienced user to navigate. This blog post will go into detail about how DMX lighting works and why we might need something better!

What is DMX 512?

Before we look at the alternatives to DMX lighting, it is helpful to refamiliarize yourself with DMX itself. DMX is an acronym for "digital multiplex," and DMX lighting uses a system of cables to connect light fixtures.

Each cable has two conductors (sometimes, but not always), which can be used as input or output signals. Inputs are sent from the controller - like a computer or other device - to the lights in order to control the lights. Outputs are sent from the light to the connector on a lighting console.

If you were using DMX-512, each signal would contain 512 possible values mapped to specific colors or intensities of light. The signals could be transmitted at rates between 125 and 250 kilobits per second - giving off an update rate of 20 to 30 frames per second.

The DMX Protocol

DMX lighting can be used for several purposes, such as controlling the color or intensity of lights at different points on stage, but it is not limited in this way. You can use DMX lighting anywhere you want and with whatever kind of light fixture you prefer - including moving lights, LED screens, lasers, and more.

DMX is a protocol that functions as both an input and output - meaning it can be used to control the color of light on a stage or from afar. DMX ultimately relies on the "master-slave" relationship for any system to function correctly. The controller will act as the master, and the lights will be slaves.

What is an Address?

An address is another name for a DMX channel

A "controller" assigns a number to an individual light fixture, corresponding with the first position in its sequence or "scene." This means that each time you add another light on stage and assign it to DMX lighting, it would take up one more of those channels - making them much harder to come by.

DMX lighting is not limited to one controller, either. You can have many controllers in a single system that all communicate together through the DMX data cable - but this adds complexity and cost when setting up your light show!

What is a Channel Group?

A channel group, or "channel strip" as it's sometimes called, includes channels that share similar attributes.

For example: if you're running three 600W red lights in separate fixtures on stage but want to control them all the same way and with the same commands from your DMX lighting console, they would be in the same channel group.

What is a DMX Universe?

DMX lighting systems usually have multiple universes, each with 512 channels - that's 1024 channels total! If you wanted to add more lights onstage and use DMX for those as well, your console would need to be upgraded from one universe (512 channels) to two or four universes, depending on the size of your venue.

DMX lighting can be a powerful tool in any lighting designer's arsenal - but it is not always easy to set up or use. It also has some limitations that may have you rethinking how we do illumination!

Setting Up DMX Lighting

With so many powerful tools and capabilities, it's no wonder that DMX lighting is a favorite for many lighting designers. However, the process can be difficult to set up!

Step 1: Learn The Ropes

The first step is understanding DMX lighting. If you're new to the world of DMX, we recommend reading some tutorials and getting familiar with the protocol before attempting a setup project yourself.

There are tons of online guides, resources, and videos that you can use to help show you the proper method for setting up DMX lighting protocols for nearly any purpose.

Step 2: Gather Your Tools

Once you feel confident in your knowledge of DMX lights, it's time to gather your materials: cables, connectors, lights, and a DMX lighting controller.

DMX cables are typically sold by the foot, but most installations will need 50 feet or more. If you're installing lights in a large venue like an arena or stadium and want to use DMX lighting for their control, then it is probably best to get 100 feet of cable at least!

The connectors that attach the DMX circuit wire to the lights are often sold with DMX cables, but they may be separate to purchase as well.

dmx lighting

Step 3: Connect Your Lights to Your DMX Controller

The next step is to find the light fixtures you want to use with your lights. You'll need at least one light fixture for every channel on your DMX system - so if you're using up most of those channels in your first scene, then it's going to be hard to set up another.

Steps for installing a DMX controller:

  1. Plug in your DMX cable into your console or computer and then plug it into an outlet - this will power on the system.
  2. Label each light fixture using its address (DMX channel number), then plug it into the DMX controller.
  3. Connect one end of a DMX cable to your console or computer, and connect the other end to all light fixtures in that "scene."
  4. Power on each fixture by flipping its switch! Then turn on your console and get started.

If you have more than one scene, then you'll need to set up a new DMX controller for that scene and repeat these steps.

The Pros and Cons of DMX Lighting

As you can imagine, there are many advantages to DMX Lighting that make it a desirable option for most lighting designers. However, there are also cons to DMX lighting's complexity and cost that may keep it out of reach for some.

Pros of DMX Lighting:

  • DMX cables are easy to unplug and move around, which can be a great help if you need to reconfigure your show mid-show
  • DMX lights can be programmed to change color, dim/brighten, and more depending on the fixture
  • DMX is a versatile tool for lighting designers in any venue size or application - whether it's an arena show with 100+ fixtures onstage

Cons of DMX Lighting:

  • Requires expensive, high end controllers to get the most out of lighting
  • Lots and lots of wires - unless you spring for expensive and unreliable wireless DMX connectors
  • The process of setting up DMX lighting can be complicated without some background knowledge, including how to daisy chain lights and utilizing terminators at the proper location
  • DMX lights are not as energy efficient as some other technologies, so they can be more costly and challenging to maintain over time.

Rethinking DMX Lighting Solutions

Fortunately, for those who are looking for an alternative to DMX lighting, there have been advances in lighting systems using advanced software that cut down on the complexity, cost, and time it takes to put together a professional lighting show.

A new generation of software uses an intuitive, drag-and-drop interface to create professional lighting scenes with ease - without the DMX cables and controllers!

This type of technology can be found in both LED lights and traditional fixtures controlled by pre-programmed sequences built into the fixture itself. This type of lighting system is a great alternative to DMX for anyone who wants control and versatility but doesn't want to deal with complex setups.

Experience the Next Generation of Lighting with ViVi

What if there was a solution that gave you the power of DMX lighting, with none of the drawbacks?

At Visual Vibes, our team of lighting experts has designed the next generation of lighting fixtures with an intuitive, plug-and-play interface so that you can create professional lighting scenes without DMX cables and controllers.

The handheld ViVi controller fits in the palm of your hand yet gives you total control and access to over 20,000 lighting combinations.

Built-in presets allow you to execute the most popular designs easily, and intelligent sequencing technology lets you programmed with its own show so that it can be automatically synced up with any audio or video in perfect harmony.

ViVi's new technology offers the power of DMX lighting without the complexity or cost of large DMX lighting solutions:

Cost: DMX lighting can cost tens of thousands of dollars for a professional system. ViVi fixtures are priced at a much lower price - with much more potential!

Setup: DMX lights require their own separate controllers - which can be expensive and time-consuming to install. With ViVi, there is no need for DMX cables or controllers.

Ease of Use: DMX lighting is a complex process, requiring careful attention to all the details. With ViVi fixtures and controllers, there's no need for complicated programming or setups - just plug in your device!

Control: You have total control over the color temperature with Vivi fixtures and controllers--perfect for creating immersive sets and LED walls.

Compatibility: At Visual Vibes, we are passionate about innovation. That's why we invite creativity by making our solution open-source compatible with technology such as Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and more. We love seeing what our fans create with ViVi!

Discover ViVi

ViVi is the only music reactive controller that controls Mids, Bass, and Treble independently. The ViVi code is being constantly updated and refined, bringing users the latest in light show reactivity capabilities.

Whether you are brand new to lighting solutions or have been using them for years, ViVi is using the latest in open-source and compatible technology to make creating light shows even more effortless.

ViVi II featuring VibeSync technology is now available to pre-order on IndieGogo Direct. 

Want to learn more about DMX lighting and how ViVi is helping light producers create with even greater efficiency? Head to www.visualvibes.io learn more about LED lighting, see the latest tips and updates from the industry, and find out more about the ViVi lighting solution.

From the ViVi controller to LED light hardware, Visual Vibes is your one-stop shop for all things professional LED lighting. Head online to see more and discover how ViVi is working hard to bring the concert experience home!