3 Easy steps to DMX control

December 13, 2011 by CHAUVET DJ

by Allan Reiss, CHAUVET® DJ product manager

If you are unfamiliar with the DMX protocol, controlling fixtures with it can seem intimidating and complicated.  Before you can start programming DMX-capable fixtures, you need to understand what DMX is, how it works and what you can do with it. Once you understand the basics, you will have the freedom to easily design custom light shows your clients will love.

What is DMX?
DMX, or digital multiplex, is a universal protocol that allows lighting, controllers and control desks to communicate with other lighting equipment. This protocol was designed so equipment from different companies can be used together and to significantly reduce the number of control wires needed for operation. The DMX protocol can control up to 512 individual channels, sometimes referred to as DMX-512, which can be set to a level between 0 and 255. For example, if the dimmer function on a fixture was set to channel 1 and the level of channel 1 was brought up to 255 (100%), then the it would be operating at full power. Make sense?

How does DMX work?
The most important step in operating your DMX fixtures is to make sure all the wires are connected correctly. DMX fixtures are designed to receive data through a serial “daisy chain” where the “data out” of one fixture connects to the “data in” of the next fixture. It does not matter what order the fixtures are connected in as it will have no effect on how the controller communicates with each. What does matter is how you set the address. Manually address each fixture’s range of controlling DMX channels so the DMX address corresponds to the first of the light’s channels.

For example, you have three fixtures that use five channels each. The DMX address of the first fixture is set to 1, the second is set to 6 and the third is set to 11. Your first fixture uses channels 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, (fixtures cannot overlap channels otherwise they will not work correctly) so your second must start on channel 6 and use channels 7, 8, 9 and 10. This means the third fixture starts on, you guessed it, 11. You may also have to set up your DMX console (refer to the controller’s user manual) for the type of fixtures you have and their DMX address before you control them.

What can DMX do?
With DMX control, the design possibilities are nearly endless. Depending on the capability of your fixtures, you can change the color, saturation, gobo projection, strobe speed and so much more. DMX can also control different types of DMX-capable equipment including haze and fog machines, scanners, moving heads, wash lights and lasers, all from a central location. In other words, you can go beyond sound-activated programs and take your show to another level. You can add a dramatic touch to the newlywed couple’s entrance, coordinated color to the first dance of prom king and queen, or simply design a light show to run in synch with your favorite song.

If you get confused or feel lost, the fixture’s user manual is a very handy tool. The manuals for intelligent lighting fixtures give instructions on how to address your fixtures and also detail the DMX channels in an easy-to-follow chart. If you still have questions, each manufacturer has a customer service department that is available to help you.

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