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What is DMX Lighting?

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  • Written By: Maggie J. Hall
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2016
    Conjecture Corporation
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Digital Multiplex lighting, or DMX lighting, is a standardized method of controlling live show lighting and theater lighting around the world. A DMX lighting system involves multiple lights and other effects units linked together by a common system board. The board, or DMX lighting controller, regulates all of the lighting effects. DMX lighting evolved into intelligent lighting as various types of DMX lights perform a variety of functions.

The universal components of DMX lighting make each DMX fixture compatible with other DMX lights. This interchangeability allows DMX components used in the US to function with systems based in Europe and other places. All units have similar designs for performing specific functions and all require three- or five-pin cables for linkage.

On the back of each DMX light there is an IN port and an OUT port. A cable plugged into the IN port receives a signal from the controller, while a cable plugged into the OUT port connects the first light to the next. Lights connect in a chain formation, passing the signal onward down the line. Using this type of connection, additional fixtures and cables can easily expand the system. The back of each light also generally has a set of dip switches used for programming individual DMX addresses.

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Each switch corresponds to a specific binary code, and turning switches on or off provides each DMX light with an individual address. Newer lights may contain a digital display in lieu of switches, which allows programmers to punch in the desired binary code. In this way, each address receives a signal for a specific task. An entire DMX lighting system may include lights, dimmer packs, power packs and the controller. Programmed on various channels of the controller, dimmer packs control light intensity while power packs turn lights on and off.

DMX-512 is another name associated with DMX lighting because controllers typically contain up to 512 channels. Programmers assign one or more lights to particular channels to perform certain functions. These channels might designate color change, dimming, light movement or on/off sequences. The systems typically require little voltage, and even large light shows may be controlled by computer using DMX software.

The ease of connectability and versatility of control, along with the various types and sizes of DMX lights, allow the system to be used in different environments. Individuals often witness DMX lighting when attending live performance plays or rock concerts. Intelligent lights capable of changing colors or patterns and those having laser or strobe effects often appear in musical concert lighting, while architectural lighting frequently uses image projectors and robotic spotlights.

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