What is DMX?
DMX is a system of controlling “intelligent” fixtures – from lighting to special effects devices such as fog machines. DMX was developed by the United States Institute of Theatre Technology (USITT) in 1986 to standardize the professional lighting industry. Previously theatrical companies used a variety of different communication protocols that resulted in traveling shows being unable to use different lighting elements at different theaters. DMX created consistency throughout the industry, eliminating these issues.
Originally DMX systems were used mainly in the entertainment industry to control concert / stage lighting and accessories. More recently DMX has expanded to non-theatrical uses ranging from Christmas lights to architectural lighting systems.
Technical Details of DMX
DMX is a standards based RS485 protocol that uses differential signaling along with “packet based” communication protocols. DMX controllers are able to manage up to 512 channels of control over a single cable. Being able to multiplex means that a single DMX device can give multiple fixtures their own address allowing for the controller to communicate with many different fixtures on an individual or group basis. If multiple fixtures share the same address this is called a group and they would all respond to the same instruction simultaneously. Creating groups allows for large shows to be controlled by a practically sized control board. More recently computer software has also been used to control DMX devices.
Examples in Architectural Lighting
Architectural lighting involves every aspect of lighting a structure both internally and externally using both natural light and electric. Not too long ago there were only a few lighting options available including fluorescence and incandescence, neither of which were kelvin or color modifiable or had the ability to be manufactured into custom shapes. The lighting industry has seen huge advancements over the past decade resulting in many new types of lighting systems, most of which use LEDs. Today much more detail goes into architectural lighting due to the variety in lighting products and because we now know much more about how lighting affects people in different ways.
LED’s are becoming the norm in architectural lighting because they are energy efficient, easily installed into nearly any type of light fixture, and have a lifespan of typically 50,000 hours or more. They can also be programmed in many different ways to fit the needs of the lighting designer.
As we begin to learn more about how lighting affects people’s mood, energy, sleep cycles, etc. it has made lighting design a much more in depth and complicated process. No longer do we simply try to illuminate a space focusing only on if there is enough light but focus on creating the appropriate mood or feeling. For example, certain spaces such as hospitals typically have consistently lower levels of light that increases fatigue, decreases mood, and affects the circadian rhythm. DMX controllers allow for hospital lighting to either change throughout the day so it’s brighter during the day and darker at night or allows for certain areas of the hospital to be brighter or darker than others or a different color temperature, these systems are designed to promote energy and healing during the day and restfulness at night.
Any type of architectural lighting can be controlled through DMX whether it’s a feature wall that changes colors, cove lighting that shifts in color temperature, or an entire RGB LED wall that displays a moving design. With DMX the possibilities are endless.