DMX Lighting Basics Explained

It is often a difficult thing to try to understand professional lighting systems. The key to using the full extent of any lighting system is in understanding DMX Lighting Basics.

The first of the basics that must be understood is in the term "DMX". It is short for digital multiplex, and the full term is actually "DMX 512". The 512 stands for how many channels, or control options, are in a universe. A universe is the total number of channels in a DMX 512 configuration.

A lighting programmer would use a DMX 512 setup to control lights, dimmers, fog machines, or anything that is connected into this data stream. It is sometimes easier to think of it as a way to communicate with hardware, much like the way a computer communicates with peripherals such as monitors and mice.

The second of the DMX basics is channel assignment. As previously mentioned, there are 512 control channels in a universe. Each fixture, or lighting device, has a different amount of channels that can be controlled. For example, a Martin Mac 250 can have over fifteen control channels! These channels control the movement, rotations, color, gobo, and even speed of any device that is hooked up to a DMX 512 universe. The channels must be assigned correctly for the fixture to be controlled by the mixer, so it is critical that the correct manuals be consulted before setup.

The final point of the basics is cable assignment. Before you can run anything on a DMX 512 system, you have to make sure that you are running the right types of cable to the right fixtures. The most common way to run cabling is in a sequence of output to input. This way, if there is a problem in the data link, the programmer will be able to find it quickly.

The cable that is used is extremely important. For some systems, there is not enough output power coming from the mixer. DMX cable must be used in this case to insure that data transfer is complete. Often times, a programmer will use XLR cables instead to save money. While this usually alright, consult the manual on your fixture or system to be sure.

The use of these three basic concepts will help produce a favorable lighting result. There are many exciting aspects to the DMX 512 system, and it is sure to impress even the novice user.