There are a few different ways to begin your DMX experience. I’m going to suggest the most logical. As I mentioned in the last article; you need to learn how to “walk before you run”. When I first sat down, years ago, I was totally stumped, and didn’t understand most of what the manuals tried to explain. This series is designed to solve that for you.
So, our journey starts at the beginning, rather than running a light show (or trying to) with free software and a dongle (the interface between your lights and the controller), and not knowing what you’re doing. This series will focus on HARDWARE controllers (software will come in another series).
The most popular controller is the 12 fixture controller. By knowing how to control fixtures with this device, you’ll fully understand how DMX works, and know what you can do with it.
The most popular hardware controller on the planet is the Chauvet 12 fixture controller. On this controller, you can control 12 DMX fixtures, each with up to 16 channels of control. However, if you understand programming, there is a way to “cheat” and use many more than 12 fixtures (yeah, we’ll get to that). Notice the 12 blue buttons on the left side of the controller (highlighted in blue). These are the fixture buttons (while the notation lists them as “Scanners”, it should actually say “Fixtures” – all scanners are fixtures, but not all fixtures are scanners… (you’ll understand this soon enough).
A fixture is any DMX device that is capable of receiving a DMX digital signal, then producing a desired effect. There are “moving heads”, “scanners”, “dimmers”, “strobes”, “motors”; etc., all of which can react to a DMX signal.
So, I’ll first explain what you’re looking at with this controller. The blue buttons on the left (blue highlight box), are the “fixture/scanner” buttons. When you push one/two/several/all of these buttons, you are signaling a fixture (that corresponds to that button or buttons, with an address), to watch for a digital signal from the controller. The way this works is the “default” address setting of each button. What’s an address? That’s the setting, you the operator, selects for each fixture, that is specific to each of the 12 buttons (more on that later). But, know that there are 512 available addresses in our DMX universe (only 192 with this controller). There are other controllers that will handle all 512 channels (at a cost).
Each of these 12 buttons will control 16 channels of operation, within a fixture. Therefore, if you have a 16 channel fixture (let’s say a moving head), each button will be happy, and you can control 12 moving heads with this controller, by moving the 8 sliders (yellow highlight box) on the center of this board. I hear your next question… “16 channels, but there’s only 8 sliders”. I’ll get to that…
Most fixtures that are used by the DJ industry have fewer than 16 channels, so oftentimes, channels are wasted. Now, you may be doing the math, and asking: “wait, there’s 12 buttons, each controlling 16 channels. That’s not 512 channels”. You’d be correct! There’s only 192 channels of control on the hardware controller… yuup, stay tuned!