Getting Started with DMX Lighting5 min read

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While older lighting approaches are certainly simple, they don’t provide the level of versatility most productions need. Whether you’re new to stage or screen lighting or simply want to explore new avenues that offer additional control, you may be curious about DMX lighting and whether it could be right for your needs.

With DMX, you get options far beyond what you’ll experience with conventional fixtures, all while creating an opportunity for greater efficiency. If you’ve ever wondered, “What is DMX lighting, and what is a DMX lighting kit?” here’s what you need to know.

What Is DMX Lighting?

Crowd at concert and blurred stage lights with fireworks

DMX stands for “digital multiplexing.” It’s a system that allows you to control lights individually. Every light gets a unique address, allowing it to be targeted for adjustments when the need arises.

With DMX, every light connected is near-constantly getting a new stream of data that defines the state it needs to be in at that specific moment. Each data packet contains a set number of channels – typically 512 – and that information in those channels is refreshed every 23 milliseconds.

Each parameter for a light can be individually controlled with DMX, creating opportunities for subtle changes as the scenes progress. Additionally, multiple lights can be connected to a DMX system while maintaining the ability to adjust each one separately. You can have a centralized control station for the entire lighting setup without having to sacrifice control.

DMX also provides opportunities for automation. With DMX computer software, you can outline specific changes to take place, positioning the adjustments in an automated queue that will initiate a series of changes with a single action.

What Is a DMX Lighting Kit?

A DMX lighting kit is a lighting system. Typically, the kit will have, at a minimum, a DMX controller and a specific number of DMX-compatible light fixtures. However, many kits are more involved, providing purpose-specific components. For example, a concert kit may include a stand, allowing fixtures to be positioned on stage.

It is important to note that DMX lighting kits can be purchased or personally created. If you gather your own compatible components, you can piece together custom kits based on your specific needs.

Why Use DMX Lighting

DMX lighting kits give you the utmost control and agility. The programming options provide a degree of efficiency and adaptability that is hard to find in other lighting systems.

Uses on Stage

Luminous rays from concert lighting against a dark background, musical instrument concept

With stage productions, lighting changes are often crucial for the narrative. It allows the production to have active day and night cycles, highlight specific areas on the stage, set a mood, and more.

The ability to alter lighting quickly and efficiently is, therefore, a must. With DMX lighting, the process is straightforward. You don’t have to flip out gels or make adjustments across several controllers. Instead, every change can be managed through a single control panel, simplifying the process.

Additionally, DMX lighting usually has a wide range of adjustment vectors. You may get more lighting and color precision than you can find with some older fixtures, allowing the production to achieve the exact look they need with greater ease.

Uses in Film

grandma dmx lighting console being used by lighting tech

In film lighting, DMX lighting allows for a quickness and control that you may not be able to achieve otherwise. Since movies and television shows can be quite costly to produce, anything that boosts efficiency and accuracy can be a boon.

With DMX, the required changes can happen near instantaneously, all without having to directly access the lighting fixtures. You can adjust the brightness with a quick adjustment on the console or change the color without having to place a new gel.

Essentially, DMX gives filmmakers the ability to pre-plan and pre-hang lighting, using the DMX programming features to make necessary changes to shift the illumination and coloring on a scene. You never have to re-light onset.

Setting it all up

Since DMX lighting is so versatile, you have a near-endless supply of setup options. As long as you have the channels available on the console to support all of your needs, you can exhibit as much or as little control as necessary.

However, if you need high-degrees of refinement available, then you may need to separate your lighting into DMX universes. Most DMX systems support 512 channels. Each channel can control one specific aspect of a light. For example, if you use an RGB light, the colors alone require three channels, one dedicated to each shade.

With DMX universes, you may group together lights onto a single console based on their purpose. For example, you may keep your aperture lights on one console, keeping their operation centralized while also creating a degree of separation between those fixtures and other lighting options.

When it comes to DMX computer software and apps, you certainly have plenty of options available. Each one may vary when it comes to feature sets, capacity, and user-friendliness. As a result, it’s wise to demo a few to see if one meets your needs better than another.

Ultimately, as long as you ensure that each light has access to enough channels based on your needs for that fixture, you’ll have the desired level of control. Whether that requires one universe or several may vary. But even if you have to set up a few, the ease-of-use you’ll create makes it worthwhile.

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