Arch Resource - Beginner's Guide to DMX

Greetings friends !

Today I'm going to write about DMX as a lighting and sound protocol which I had an immense joy experimenting with while designing the Club Hollywood.

So lets start with a small introduction to DMX

Intelligent lighting systems used to be an expensive domain for professionals only; but with the proliferation of cheaper electronics and computer control systems, incredible lighting effects are now firmly within the reach of the hobbyist. Whether you’re planning the most awesome house party ever, or want to take your Christmas or Halloween lighting to a whole new level.

What Is Intelligent Lighting?

Put simply, intelligent lighting contains elements which can be controlled remotely. At the most complex level, this may involve a moving head (pan and tilt), patterns, and colours. On the simplest level, you might just control the colour (a strip of RGB LEDs, perhaps) or a dimmer. Put even more simply – intelligent lighting is awesome.
Combined with a controller, you can simultaneously send a signal to hundreds of devices, sequencing them programatically with a pre-determined show, or live operating the effects on-the-fly. This is basically how I spent my nights at university – sitting in front of a lighting board – moving, flashing, and changing the color of club or concert lighting in time to the music. 

DMX isn’t limited to just lighting though; you can get smoke machines that are controlled over DMX, and you can even emulate a DMX device with an Arduino, incorporating your own electronic hackery into your show. Basically, DMX is the glue that holds everything together and lets it all talk to each other.
To learn more on the technical side, I suggest reading the Elation technical DMX manual [PDF link].

So What Do You Need To Get Started?

First off, you’ll need intelligent lights and devices. These cost a little more than your standard Christmas lights, but they also tend to be built for more demanding usage. To give you an idea of cost, I bought myself an off-the-shelf green laser with DMX control for around Rs10000. You need not necessarily buy new equipment though. If you can control your existing lights or devices by Arduino (like using a relay for a smoke machine), you can also adjust the Arduino to act as a DMX slave device (that is, one that receives DMX signals).
free dmx lighting software
Second, you’ll need a controller: your PC or laptop is fine, but you’ll need a USB to DMX converter. The cheapest I could find is this one for Rs3500.
free dmx lighting software
There is a surprisingly large range of software available on which to program your shows. DMXControl is widely considered the best free option.
free dmx lighting software
If you don’t mind paying a bit more, DasLight offers a superb software and controller with advanced 3D visualization to plan your show. I'm going to leave the software programming part of DMX'ing for a future post.
dmx lighting
Lastly, you’ll need some cabling.

It’s a dangerous and expensive art, thats for sure – but it’s also one of the coolest forms of expression in the world. Lasers, smoke machine and strobes await you, sir!

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