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  • DMX512 lighting 101

    I'm once again sorting out and Cosmic Bowling light show that never worked or looked quite right. I am always amazed at what was a 'professional' install, where basic DMX rules are ignored. So, to help inform my BT brothers and sisters, I'll start a thread to help inform. Here's what I've learned over the years.



    What is DMX512 protocol?
    DXM lighting protocol is a system of controlling your light show. Used in night clubs, theater and stage productions, landscape accent, and by those crazy folks that put a million lights on their house for the holidays. DMX allows you to remote control intelligent and non-intelligent lighting fixtures. Now days, you can even control DMX from your smart phone. Control of a non-intelligent light fixtures requires a power pack.
    (4 channel power packs)
    Click image for larger version

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    How does it work?
    Every function of a light fixture (pan-tilt-color-gobo-lamp-focus) requires 1 channel. DMX gives you the ability to control 512 separate channels. If you have three fixtures with 6 channels each, fixture 1 gets an address of 1, fixture 2 gets an address of 7, fixture 3 gets the address 13. When your DMX controller adjusts channel 7, the pan on fixture two moves. Channel 14 changes tilt on fixture three, and so on.
    With the new computer software, we are no longer limited to only 512 total channels. Software allows us to form a second 'DMX Universe' where you get an additional 512 channels. With the use of multiple universes, we are never limited to the number of light fixtures we can control with one software.

    Is DMX512 hard to program?
    Yes... and No.
    This will depend a lot on what type of controller you have.
    -YES... The older, analog controllers are very tedious to program. It can take days to program a cool show. You must first adjust each and every fixture to the position, color, gobo, ect to make a 'scene' and save as scene 1. Now adjust each fixture to a new position,color,gobo,ect and save as scene 2. Repeat, repeat, repeat,repeat,repeat,repeat......
    Now, you can form chases by connecting your scenes together. As I said, this can take DAYS to do, and your light must be on so you can see what your show looks like.
    -NO... The new software DMX controller (I use freestyler) programming is remarkably simple. And, with the 3D simulator, you can build a virtual bowling center and see your show without losing a single hour of bulb life or the need to disrupt bowling to program lights. With some softwares, scene and chase programming is still required, others (like freestyler) use a 'Sound2Light' add-on that will generate random DMX values from the beat of the music. YOU won't know what the show will look like from song to song, and you didn't need to spend countless hours programming either. (How cool is THAT?!) You can group like fixtures together so they act as one, if you choose.

    What about the wiring?
    DMX runs through a daisy chain with a terminating resistor at the end, much like our scoring systems.
    Here's where so many go wrong. Microphone cable is NOT a good DMX cable. If you have a smaller center (20 lanes and under), microphone cable may work OK. For larger centers, you MUST use the light gauge shielded DMX cable.
    Symptoms of the wrong cable are, the fixtures at the end of your chain will not obey controller commands or have 'lazy' movements. From my experience, 300 foot seems to be the limit for a controllers power. A signal booster/spliter is available for runs longer than 300'.
    If you see your installer with one of these in their hand,
    Click image for larger version

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    you need a new installer! This is NOT a DMX spliter and will only cause you pain.
    Sometimes, you just need to pull it all out and start over.
    Click image for larger version

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    All this in a 22 lane center!
    Use the shortest cables and most direct run possible to connect your fixtures.


    Here are some links to more info about DMX512 protocol.
    http://www.freestylersupport.com/wiki/dmx_basics
    http://www.freestylersupport.com/wiki/welcome
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DMX512
    http://www.dmx512-online.com/
    http://www.dmx512.com/web/light/index.htm

    Good Luck with your light show,
    PinCup
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      I'm once again sorting out and Cosmic Bowling light show that never worked or looked quite right. I am always amazed at what was a 'professional' install, where basic DMX rules are ignored. So, to help inform my BT brothers and sisters, I'll start a thread to help inform. Here's what I've learned over the years. What is DMX512 protocol? DXM lighting protocol is a system of controlling your light show. Used in night clubs, theater and stage productions, landscape accent, and by those crazy folks that put a million lights on their house for the holidays. DMX allows you to remote control intelligent and non-intelligent lighting fixtures. Now days, you can even control DMX from your smart phone. Control of a non-intelligent light fi...
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