A guide to LED controllers: DMX
Time to read 6 min
Time to read 6 min
We have come a long way since reading by candlelight thanks to the numerous innovations in lighting, from halogen lamps all the way to LED technology. LEDs offer exceptional efficiency, a huge palette of colour selections and crisp, vibrant displays. Moreover, LED lights can be controlled to create stunning visual experiences for live events, concerts and shows.
In this article, we are going to look a particular device you can use to harness the power of LED technology for intelligent lighting projects: DMX controllers. We are going to outline what a DMX controller is, discuss some of the benefits to using this type of lighting control system and highlight the best DMX controllers on the market today. Click on one of the links below to jump to that section:
DMX controllers, also known as digital multiplexing controllers, control LED displays for event and stage lighting using electronics systems set up through a desktop. They feature rectangular-shaped switchboards that are connected to a series of stage lights. The switchboards can select individual or clusters of lights to be switched on or off, which allows for a range of custom effects such as strobe.
DMX controllers were initially created with stage shows in mind, but since then they have become synonymous with all kinds of live events and projects that use LED lighting. DMX controllers have four control modes that offer various functionality:
To use the DMX controller, you need to set up the light displays that you will be controlling. Once you have established the lighting units you will be using, you can customise the display by selecting a colour output for the LED lights. From here, you can include any dimming or fading outputs for the LEDs. Finally, you will be able to add any programmed effects. This can be totally bespoke if you have a more advanced DMX controller, but in more basic models, you'll be able to use pre-programmed effects.
There are a lot of benefits that DMX controllers bring to LED lighting, especially when you are looking to create a display. These include:
There are a few different factors that go into choosing the right DMX controller for your needs, including the number of channels you require or the wattage of the fixtures you use.
If you intend to use more than one fixture, such as lights and effects, then you will need to find a DMX controller that is capable of handling the entire project. Take the time to think about all of the fixtures that you're going to use before choosing a DMX controller.
Every fixture that you use will be assigned at least one unique DMX channel. Some fixtures might need more than one channel depending on complexity. A single colour on an LED display will only need one channel, but RGB will need three channels. Make sure that you choose a DMX controller that can handle all of the channels in your desired project.
Every fixture will have its own wattage that goes through a DMX decoder. Every DMX decoder will have a limit to how much wattage it can handle before causing overdrive. If your project goes over this wattage then you will need to include a signal amplifier to counteract any overdrive.
Most modern DMX controllers will come pre-loaded with useful features such as LED screens, USB ports and onboard memory. Think about what features might be useful to you and choose your DMX controller accordingly. Try to avoid features that you know you won’t get value from as this will keep the overall cost of the controller down.
Think about what your needs might be in terms of future projects before deciding on a DMX controller. If you're investing in a piece of kit that you intend to use for a long time, make sure it is scalable and futureproof. Look out for DMX controllers with multiple output ports, as this can give you more channels to use.
Product Link - DMX DVC Fun Controller
This is a constant voltage controller that is programmable via your computer and downloaded straight to the unit. It features an intelligent DMX interface that lets you create any pattern or colour with your LED’s, and includes a USB cable, 12v/24v-5v step-down converter and instructions.
Product Link - DMX Sunny Controller
This ergonomic controller is highly functional and can be used with any DMX512 compatible lighting fixtures. Explore a library of over 15,000 SSL2 file fixture personalities or create your own with the Scan Library editor. Featuring one DMX OUT universe (128 channels and up to 512 with upgrade) and 128k standalone memory. Plays up to four scenes simultaneously.
Product Link - DMX Decoder 4ch x 6A
A constant voltage DMX driver that allows for 24A of LED light control over four channels. It can accept XLR-3 and RJ45 connections for input and output, with a total of four three-channel common anode outputs. Input voltages of 5v, 12v and 24v.
Product Link - DMX Decoder 12ch x 5A
This DMX driver enables 48 amps of LED lights to be controlled over 12 channels. It accepts both a DC power supply and the DMX controller signal to distribute the signal to the LEDs.
Product Link - DMX Wireless Transceiver
This wireless DMX transceiver sends DMX protocol data through point-to-point or point-to-multipoint transmission. It can be used as a transmitter and is compatible with the LT-874-5A receiver decoder. Remove the need for cable transmission with this powerful wireless transceiver.
Product Link - DMX Wireless Decoder with OLED Display
Designed to work with the LT-870 wireless transceiver, this decoder receives DMX512 protocol data wirelessly. Featuring a four-way power level selection and transmission distances of up to 350 metres. Operates at 5v, 12v and 24v with a 2.4GHz frequency over 64 channels.
How do you wire a DMX LED control system?
There are two main components to a DMX system: the Decoder, and the Controller.
The controller tells the LEDs what to do and can either be a standalone unit or a control panel to control the LEDs live (such as what you see at music shows and similar events). This is often programmed via a computer or wired into a computer.
The decoder is the go-between for the LEDs and the controller. The LEDs connect into terminals called channels and the controller is wired into the decoder via an XLR cable. Decoders can vary in the number of terminals you can connect to ranging from three all the way up to 24. You can also daisy chain multiple decoders together with XLR cables should you need more channels.
How does DMX compare to other LED control systems?
DMX is superior to many LED control systems as it offers almost unlimited control over your LEDs, from dimming to flashing or MIDI inputs and RGB programming. The possibilities are endless. With easy-to-use software and timing down to fractions of second, DMX is the ideal choice for when off the shelf LED controllers just won’t do.