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DMX512 lighting 101


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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)

    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,
    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.
    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.

    Good Luck with your light show,
    We leave our greatest mark on this earth with the quality of our craftsmanship.

  • #2
    My idea of installing these systems was:

    Get a DMX controller with pre-installed light show, or

    Do not spend the time programming each channel, each, fixture, and each function - take them out of dmx control (unplug the cables) and let them run onboard lighting programs, or

    Set them to use onboard sound sensing functions and dance to the music - just set the volume controls.

    On some of the systems I installed, the preference was to just set a relay pack to turn on/off different 115 volt circuits (different types of fixtures) and let them run their own programs. It kept anyone from having to set any program, especially if they were busy cueing music and interfacing with the bowlers for requests.
    But with todays LED fixtures, cycling them on/off to rest (save) the bulbs isn't necessary. But you can still just let them run their own on-board programs. To me, assigning every color, fade, position and function on every fixture was a hassle that the customer probably didn't like anyway.
    If you do, there's nothing wrong with assigning similar fixtures with the same address so they do the same things you program for one, in each type of fixture. This programming, at least, made it less cumbersome.
    This post is not an unpaid promotion of my business.


    • #3
      That will work, running in stand-alone/sound activate mode. You do run into problems when there is no speaker nearby. A fixture will either no move, move to the sound of pins falling, or run it's program at a random speed that doesn't match the music playing.

      I agree that programming the old analog controllers was a pain. But, if you wanted a light show that was better than any other, it's what had to be done.

      The biggest benefit of using DMX and addressing each fixture as an individual, is the ability to use your light for more than just cosmic bowling night.

      Here's my example.
      We were the host center for the High School State Championships.

      With folks from all over the state, you want to impress everyone and make it very difficult for next year's host to top your show. We planned for a year and prepared for 6 months for this event. Here's how my light show made us better than years previous or post.

      As guests entered, my 'Welcome' scene - two lights pointed at the American flag, the others on the curtain wall in red/white/blue. My drum fixtures slowly rolling a strike gobo up the back corners. A special fixture at the desk brightly shining on the championship trophies.

      When we were ready to start the event, my 'Start' scene had all intelligent fixtures pointing center in white to accent the speaker addressing the crowd, lane light turned off. Sponsor logos flashed on the overhead monitors as they were mentioned and thanked for their support of High School Bowling.

      Then we were ready to introduce the athletes. As the competitors were led from the wings, exciting music is playing and the cosmic lights are in 'Searchlight' chase, big sweeping motion hitting all corners of the building in all colors.

      As the teams were introduced, Metallica's 'Enter Sandman' Karaokee version plays building excitment.
      The announcer starts, 'Scene 1-2' foucused all lights in white on the approach at lanes 1 and 2.
      "Bowling on lane 1, from Springfield, coaches Tom and Lisa White, Please welcome the Blue Deviles!!"
      (applause) 'searchlight chase'
      "Bowling on lane 32, (lights foucused on 31-32) from Webster coached by Diane Green, Please welcome the lady Bulldogs!"
      (applause) 'searchlight chase'

      All 32 teams were introduced in this way. The parents were blown away at what a big deal we made over their children. The kids were pumped up and ready to bowl there best. The directors and sponsors could not believe how we whipped to the entire building into a frenzy to kick off this event.

      Achieving this level required complete control of every fixture in my arsenal. I could never have pulled it off without the DMX control and FreestylerDMX software (which is free to all by the way).

      It must also be mentioned that BT member Mimosa planned this entire event, and it was through his vision that I programmed the light show that blew everyone away. His attention to every detail made this little High School Tournament one that nobody who attended will soon forget. One that I challenge anyone to match in it's precise execution and superior results. Mimosa is one of the most brilliant minds in bowling.

      From the Ebonite web-site
      Oklahoma High School - On Saturday February 26, 2011 Red Apple Bowling Center in Bartlesville, Oklahoma hosted the State Championships for Oklahoma High School Bowling. Over 700 fans, athletes, coaches and staff made it to the center to experience the most electric and exciting event in the sport of bowling in Oklahoma.

      Don't count on your installer to take your light show to the next level. As Ted said, he's there to hang them and get them looking good for Rock-N-Bowl. It's up to YOU to kick them up 10 notches for use outside the cosmic show. DMX and PinCup are ready to help.

      We leave our greatest mark on this earth with the quality of our craftsmanship.


      • #4
        Thanks PinCup for the info. I am just getting into intelegent lighting and I am not too sure I understand what I am doing. I absolutely love the new LED lights that I bought, NO MORE DUTY CYCLES!!!
        My 13 year old son and I are doing the cable instal, and he is teaching himself the DMX board that I bought. I will get him to show me how to operate it all when we get comm to all of the new lights. He will get it, he is a wizz at most things electronic!!
        Gene Simmons for president!!!


        • #5
          Here's a great way to picture DMX addressing in your minds eye.

          Picture a wall built of chinney bricks. Each light fixture is a brick and the number of channels is the number of holes in the brick.

          Now number the holes with the first fixture in the chain being 1. Below example shows 14 channel fixtures

          Addresses= 1 - 15 - 29 - 43 - 57 ect ect
          If you adjust the value of channel #45, fixture #4's first color wheel will react.

          If your channels/brick holes overlap, you'll get malfunctions. When you set a new fixture's address number, it becomes the first available hole in the wall.

          If you address two fixtures to the same address, they will eventually wander away from each other. One fixtures might go a half step passed it's sister fixture. With some fixtures, that's no big deal really. Yoke fixtures look awful when this happens. The other downside is you can see an echo between fixtures with like address and one of the two (the first in the chain in my experience) will go wacko as the signal bounces back. If you are a control freak like me, that is unacceptable.

          DMX is the best way to control all the lighting in your building really. Imaging if you will for a moment, no light switches. Your DMX controller has 'Scenes' named "DAY" , "EVENING" , "CLOSED" , "COSMIC", ect.. You could control every single light in the building with the click of a mouse. The Technology is here, and named DMX.

          This would not be possible without DMX.
          WHAT A SHOW!!!

          Attached Files
          We leave our greatest mark on this earth with the quality of our craftsmanship.


          • #6
            Too cool!! We should all have something like that controlling the lights outside our centers!!!

            I have got to get some power packs for the rope lighting on my gutter capping!!
            Gene Simmons for president!!!


            • #7
              Originally posted by toon30s View Post
              I have got to get some power packs for the rope lighting on my gutter capping!!
              This is one of the situations where you can address more than one device per address. (I'd advise, at the end of a chain only, use a terminator.) It's rare that ON-OFF channels suffer from signal echo.

              The key to making your ropelights look the coolest, is keep the each color one a single channel. 1=Red 2=Blue 3=Green 4=Yellow
              Take the extra time... it's well worth it!
              That way you can turn the lane bed blue if you ever need. twinkle the reg/green for the holidays. (Imagination here)

              Rope light supplies;

              three power packs

              Rope light, four color (you can get three 50'ers for Lane dividers from one roll)
              It has gone up, I got it for $100 a roll not long ago. Now $142/roll

              FreestylerDMX has 10 built in chases (as seen in the video) that you can sound activate. At Red Apple, one PC runs the DJ program AND controls the DMX lighting too. In the video above, that's one PC lights and sound, running all by itself. Staff had to fire it up and give it a push, that's all.
              I believe the Enttec Pro has a lot to do with taking a load off the PC.

              Being the DJ for Moses at the parting, I been messing with DMX protocol since it was a pup. PowerPaks and PAR cans was all we had. But we could make you think a Saturn5 was launching with an old hand dryer fan, a little dry ice, a barrel of hot water, and a gallon or two of window washer fluid. (Why washer fluid? For it's anti-freeze properties. and it don't stink!)

              Holla if ya need Helpin,
              We leave our greatest mark on this earth with the quality of our craftsmanship.


              • #8
                Originally posted by PinCup View Post
                This would not be possible without DMX.
                WHAT A SHOW!!!

                This display was designed by Carson Wiliams from Mason Ohio. He used Light-O-Rama hardware and software to pull this off. While this was not DMX at this point, it's the same idea more or less. Light-O-Rama is getting into DMX control more and more these days though (some of you know why I know this stuff!).

                Billy T


                • #9
                  Yes, I must digress. THAT show was not a DMX controlled show. Could I duplicate those results with DMX? I'm most certain I could.

                  What I tried to point out is DMX512 has opened many doors in the visual effects industry. What is possible is beyond what most can even image.

                  __________________________________________________ __________

                  Does anyone have links to the video of BillyT's holiday display?
                  Hot-Chocolate for the eyes.

                  We leave our greatest mark on this earth with the quality of our craftsmanship.


                  • #10
                    What do you think of this lighting setup? This is our new custom built rig for one of our shows.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by BigClive View Post
                      What do you think of this lighting setup? This is our new custom built rig for one of our shows.

                      Bloody cool!!

                      I'd love to see it in action, but quite sure video could never do it justice as to it's complexity and precision.
                      Brilliant looking design.

                      We leave our greatest mark on this earth with the quality of our craftsmanship.


                      • #12
                        Tons of video of it on YouTube. This is the Edinburgh Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle. Last year (2011) was the first year we used these new custom built stands, and we had a major say in the design of the technical facilities in them.

                        Here's some of the BBC footage. The lighting designer tends to put more of a general wash on the show while they're filming.



                        • #13
                          Excelent show. I see your meaning washed for video, very well done.

                          I was thinking more of bootleg video. Can you get us backstage, to see the lighting producer 'in action' during the show, calling follow spots, in command of every detail. THAT'S the video I want to see. The same walk in the first video, while the show is going on, maybe a clip of him showing off when the place is empty.... please? What does he use to control such an arsenal of fixtures? A malfunction with that kind of power, and someone could get a sunburn!
                          I've held a passion for the 'Visual Arts' from my teens. A peek behind the curtain is always a treat.

                          We leave our greatest mark on this earth with the quality of our craftsmanship.


                          • #14
                            DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!!

                            He is an Expert!

                            I want one!


                            I'm not even sure what to say about this one....

                            We leave our greatest mark on this earth with the quality of our craftsmanship.


                            • #15
                              Y'know? I really should just wander about with a camera when the shows running, or better still, while we're running about in the castle doing the pre-show checks. I'll keep that in mind for the next run.

                              The lighting desk tends to be a Hog 3:-

                              It runs several universes of DMX, heavily buffered and run into zones in the rig. It also controls the gas flames and smoke on the castle. We have had a few instances where it's crashed, either locking the whole show on in the last state, or doing a complete blackout until it rebooted. We keep a spare desk running at all times to cover that eventuality. One year we had a particularly rogue operating system in the desk that caused the smoke machines to go out of control on more than one occasion and just about fog out the entire castle. We've also had issues with water ingress into the smoke machines control circuitry that resulted in the same thing.

                              Sudden frenzied running of crew to unplug the wayward machines.
                              Last edited by BigClive; 05-24-2012, 03:01 AM.


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