So, you’re ready to take the plunge and ‘go DMX’? Firstly, congratulations for overcoming the fear, you won’t regret it (well…you might but I don’t want to put you off already). DMX really is the only way to create a truly intelligent lightshow and get the most from your lights. If you goto Space in Ibiza, watch Take That at Wembley or tune-in for the X-factor final it is guaranteed that the lights will be DMX controlled.
But let’s start with the basics. All DMX lights will controlled by a number of channels, let’s take a basic 4 channel DMX scanner as an example ; On a basic scanner you may have four DMX channels with the following layout (channel 1 : Pan, channel 2 : Tilt, channel 3 : Colour, channel 4 : Gobo). On your DMX controller you will have a number of faders (similar to those you find on a turntable to adjust the pitch), assuming everything is correctly setup then the first fader will be channel 1, the second channel 2….etc. This means that the first fader on your controller with control the Pan (left/right movement) of your scanner, slide the fader to the top and the scanner will move as far as it can one way, slide it to the bottom and it will move as far as it can the other, put the fader half-way up and the mirror will sit in the middle.
Each DMX channel has 255 different positions from 0 (fader at the bottom) to 255 (fader at the top). For controls such as Pan & Tilt this is fairly straight forward as there is a smooth transition between one extreme and the other but what about the colours and gobos? In the example above, channel 3 of our scanner controls the colour wheel. In this example you won’t have 255 different colours so it the channel will be divided into sections ; For example positions 1-20 on the channel 3 fader will be white, 21-40 will be red, 41-60 will be blue and so on until 255. The same rule will apply for Gobos where each gobo will be active within a certain range.
Each standard DMX connection can control upto 512 channels, in our example above we would have 508 free channels (and could, theoretically, connect another 127 scanners). Each light will have its’ own DMX address so it can be controlled independently so, if the first scanner uses channels 1-4, if we then connected a 5-channel DMX light, this would occupy channels 5-9 and so on. I won’t talk too much about DMX addressing as you would normally find instructions on this in the manuals for the lights you buy.
Once you’ve addressed all your lights you will want to set about creating a show. To do this you will need to set all your lights to their starting position then save this as your first ‘step’. Then you need to adjust all your lights the next step in the programme and save this. You will repeat this process over and over until all your lights have completed their sequence your programme is then ready to run. The simplest example of this would be if you wanted a set of scanners to move to the left then to the right ; step one would be all the scanners at the extreme left, step 2 would be all scanners on the right. This is a VERY simple 2 step programme and many DMX sequences include dozens, if not hundreds, of steps and include colour changes, fades, gobo changes etc. etc.
As you can probably already tell, DMX programming can be a lengthy task but, in my humble (and slightly geeky) opinion, it is worth taking the time to get the best from your lights and create some lightshows that are completely unique to you and can be tailored to any music or occasion.
DMX-512 controllers come in a host of shapes and sizes. Most mobile DJs will use a standalone desktop controller such as the compact JC-1 or DMX Operator 2 by trancension which offer a host of features but remain fairly simple to use and programme. Many of these controllers will allow you to change the speed of your programmes so suddenly one programme can be suitable for different genres of music or be precisely controlled to move to the beat. Some DMX controllers even have a sound-activation mode (either by mic or midi input) that will take the music and control the ‘steps’ of your DMX programme in time with the tempo.
Many big productions will use huge, complicated lighting desks such as the 'Frog' series from Zero88. These are the sorts of things you will see controlling hundreds of moving-head lights on the X-factor and, thankfully, will never be required for even the largest mobile disco. It is the sight of desks like these which often puts DMX beginners off even attempting their own programmes, the truth is far-far simpler.
If you have got a particularly large mobile lightshow and think you need something a bit ‘bigger’ then maybe DMX software will be the solution for you and we will be looking at that in more detail in the next of this series. Thanks for reading and, as always, if you want any advice of the best controller for you then please don’t hesitate to speak to our helpful sales team on 01206 855010.