What Is A DMX Controller?

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If you are new to lighting it won’t be long until you are introduced to DMX. DMX, also known as Digital Multiplex, is a protocol that is used to control devices such as lights or fog machines in performance settings.

DMX controllers are the brain of the lighting rig and transmit messages that trigger the lights to create the best light show in your venue.

This article will explain what a DMX controller is and how you can use it, so you can create the best lighting possible for your next show. 

What Is A DMX Controller

What Is DMX?

Originally developed in 1986, the DMX is a digital network communication, which has become the go to choice for stage lighting, upscale venues and complex lighting effects.

Even business owners and entrepreneurs who run bars and restaurants, recognise DMX as the most convenient and practical option for lighting. You have full control over the lighting from one location.

They can be seen a lot at clubs and festivals too. At nightclubs you will notice the lights changing in time to the music. While with festivals you will notice more detailed light shows and other special effects that enhance the performance you are watching. 

DMX was originally used as a way of controlling light dimmers, but now it has advanced and is used for a wide variety of lighting uses.

This can include all kinds of lighting, but also include special effects like fog machines, light rig motion control and complex architectural and interior lighting. 

Sometimes DMX is referred to as DMX 512, this refers to the 512 channels a single DMX installation can control.

Each channel is chosen to control different lights, such as color, rotation and strobe. A channel is made of 255 steps that are assigned to control elements in each light. 

What Is A DMX Controller?

The controller is the brain of the DMX machine. A DMX controller allows you to send information down to the lights. The signal only goes one way, meaning it goes in one direction, from the DMX controller or first light, all the way to the very last light. 

 A DMX controller can be a desk, console or playback machine. DMX control desks have been used for theater shows, because the lighting can be recorded and edited before the show and on the night all the important information has been stored ready to go.

The DMX controller transmits messages to the lights that make them do what they are told, whether that is to dim the lights, tilt the lights to a different area of the space or stage or for the strobe effect to take place.

DMX controllers started off in theater for stage shows and now includes LED lights, which has let the same lighting techniques be used in a wide range of projects and locations. 

How Do You Use A DMX Controller?

Depending on the controller chosen, some functions may vary from controller to controller. A DMX controller is normally split into four control modes which are:

  • Zone or Circuit Selection,
  • Color Selection,
  • Dimming/Fade Control,
  • Programme Selection (for example, strobe).

The first step is to decide what you want to control i.e which lights are you focusing on. Then you select the color you want your chosen lights to have. More basic controllers use a rotary dial to select the color you want.

While more advanced controllers allow you to enter the specific value of the color you are trying to achieve. After that you can set the dimming and fade aspect, which can also help you produce the color shade you are looking for.

Finally you have the choice to set any already programmed effects here, such as fog or strobe, if it is needed. 

It is a rule of thumb that each fixture/light uses one DMX channel per parameter, such as pan, tile, color etc. A signal is sent from the DMX controller through the cable and into the lighting.

The DMX controller sends a value between 0 to 255. This value corresponds to the lighting intensity from 0 to 100%.This value is also known as the address and every receiver (fixture) must be given an address.

Each light has an address, so it knows what color it is supposed to be, its dimness and what angle it should be at. Some lights may have more than one address programmed in and that is completely normal.

How Do DMX  Lights Work Without A Controller?

It is possible to connect a group of DMX fixtures without using a DMX controller. This can be achieved if you set the fixtures to sound-active or automatic mode.

This is because all the fixtures are connected to each other, this means they will sync up together and create an automatic light show. 

DMX lights can work without a controller but you do have less control over your light show.

Using a controller means you can have more control over what your lights are doing and can be more assured that your lights are going to sync up and do what you want them to do.

Also with a controller you can time when certain lights do something different in the show. 

Final Thoughts

A DMX controller is an important piece of equipment that helps make lighting easier to control. Especially when advanced lighting effects are being used. What started off for the stage, is now used in bars, restaurants and other venues.

However it is still commonly used in theater because you can plan, record and edit your lighting shows in advance, so you can see what the show will look like and how it will work during the performances.  

The DMX controller helps create a professional light show, which is easy to use. This is probably why DMX lighting has gained popularity over the years.

You can now create simple and more complex lighting displays with the help of your DMX controller. Although not all DMX controllers are the same, some have less channels than others, so that is something to look out, when purchasing your DMX controller.

You can create a lighting show without a DMX controller however, you won’t have as much control over what is happening. The DMX controller gives you ultimate control over your lighting.