A Guide to DMX Lighting for Outdoor Applications

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A Guide to DMX Lighting for Outdoor Applications

Learn about DMX lighting for outdoor spaces and the different components required to properly execute complex lighting packages

Have you ever wondered exactly how large scale outdoor lighting applications work? Well, you’re in luck! We’re learning about DMX controllers and how they can create impressive lighting packages for large buildings and other outdoor spaces. Since these lighting applications require so many inputs—and in some cases additional effects like audio or fountain commands—it can seem overwhelming to learn how DMX lighting works. That’s why we are breaking down the basics on how large scale outdoor lighting is achieved using a DMX. If you’re interested in commercial lighting applications, keep reading to find out how DMX technology makes these lighting effects possible. 

What is a DMX?

Before we can get into how lighting effects are created and the different parts of a DMX, we need to learn what DMX lighting means

Previously, DMX systems were chiefly used in theaters and traveling tours.

DMX is an abbreviation for Digital Multiplex. A Digital Multiplex lighting system is a control system for LED lights, audio and other effects. DMX systems are most commonly used in theatrical productions or touring concerts, though they have many applications outside of putting on shows. The DMX controls the LED lights and can handle many inputs at once, creating complex lighting effects that can operate in nearly any combination of patterns or colors. For concerts, these inputs are often set to the audio, so the lighting always matches up with the music being performed.

DMX lighting relies on different components to execute these complex lighting commands. The DMX controller is what is used to manually input different commands. These controllers look like a switchboard and are usually used by a lighting technician. These commands are then sent to the lights via cables connected to the controller. DMX systems only work with LED lights as they are the most versatile and can easily receive information and execute commands from the DMX. Let’s take a closer look at how these different pieces work together to create stunning outdoor lighting packages.

What does DMX 512 Mean?

Now that we know the parts of the DMX, let’s take a look under the hood to find out how this device commands outdoor lighting

DMX 512 is the software associated with DMX control systems.

DMX 512 is the software associated with DMX control systems.

The DMX has a protocol that allows for complex inputs called DMX 512. This is a set of codes that allows the console to operate a whole network of lights. The number 512 refers to the 512 channels that a single DMX controller can command at once. The DMX is only a communication device, which means that the cables transmit information, not energy. The energy source for these outdoor lighting applications will have to come from an external source and be connected to each output in order to create a functional DMX lighting setup. In general, most lighting applications will use the DMX 512 software, no matter their intended purpose or location. To put it simply, the vast majority of outdoor lighting applications rely on DMX 512 software for lighting control.

More Key Terms You Should Know

Let’s define a few more terms to better understand how outdoor lighting applications work

Commands for large buildings are less complicated than commands for theaters or concerts.

Commands for large buildings are less complicated than commands for theaters or concerts.

DMX lighting is a complicated subject—there’s no doubt about that. That’s why we’re taking the time to define a few more keywords that are important when it comes to describing how DMX lighting systems work. Let’s take a look!

Channel

To put it simply, a channel controls the output for each individual light. The output can have up to 512 different channels, meaning there are 512 possible output options for each fixture. Each channel represents a different color or command. For example, the first 3 commands are red, green, and blue. The remaining 512 can be any combination of colors and commands including effects like dimming and strobing.

Universe

A universe—when speaking about an outdoor DMX system—refers to all of the different channels and the rules you set via the controller. Once again, the universe is limited to 512 different channels. If you exceed 512 channels, you will need to implement a second universe. Each universe requires a separate console and will need to be connected to the fixtures using different cables. 

Address

An address refers to a single fixture in your outdoor lighting system. Each fixture that is a part of the lighting package will have a different address so the channels know which fixture they are commanding. All of the different fixtures need to have their own address in order for the light to function properly. 

Scene

Your channels and their different commands create scenes. A scene is a coordinated set of commands designated by the person using the controller. These scenes are able to control more than one fixture and operate more than one channel. Scenes create stunning and easy to set-up outputs and can be saved by the user to be commanded at different times. These scenes are then placed into sequences, which create the complex lighting commands.

Power

As we’ve just discussed, your lighting fixtures need to be powered separately from the DMX system. The DMX is only able to transmit commands to the individual addresses, so for large outdoor lighting applications, project managers will need to design a way to power the lights using either partially indoor or weatherproof cables

DMX for Large Scale Outdoor Lighting Applications

Now that we’ve covered the DMX basics, let’s find out what makes this system perfect for outdoor lighting packages

DMX systems easily control large-scale outdoor lighting packages.

DMX systems easily control large-scale outdoor lighting packages.

Because DMX systems allow for superior control and nearly unlimited lighting channel options, it makes DMX the perfect choice for outdoor lighting packages. In general, DMX systems are used commonly for commercial outdoor properties, as they are too powerful for simple residential lighting applications. Since commercial outdoor lighting usually requires many different fixtures and requires a lot of different commands, a DMX is the perfect choice for lighting control. Here are just a few of the many types of outdoor LED lights that can be integrated and controlled using a single universe:

  • Facade lighting
  • Flood lights
  • In-ground lighting
  • Landscape lights
  • Light strips
  • Fountain lights/fountain displays

We mentioned before how DMX systems can be used for commands outside of lighting, which makes them perfect for fountains. Using a DMX, you can dictate both fountain lights and fountain commands, which means that operators can create stunning displays using just a DMX and a power source.

Now that we know which types of fixtures are perfect for use with a DMX system, let’s explore some of the distinct advantages of using DMX for outdoor lighting packages.

Easy Programming

One of the key advantages of using DMX for outdoor lighting is that the command can be easily controlled via a single laptop. The DMX 15 program makes it easy for operators to input commands, create scenes, and schedule the scenes so that complex and eye-catching lighting packages can be quickly implemented.

Energy Efficiency

DMX systems are able to operate at a very low voltage, which makes them the preferred lighting control method for commercial properties.

Smart Lighting Capability

Along with easy programming and energy efficient operations, DMX systems can also be integrated with smart lighting automation. Using smart lighting, a DMX system can be integrated with light sensors and other smart devices to automate a building’s outdoor lights. For example, as an energy saving and smart lighting solution, many commercial buildings use sensors to control when their outdoor lighting turns on and off. More advanced lighting automations will actually control the dimming for the outdoor lighting as the sun sets and rises again in the morning. This not only ensures that the exterior of the building is properly lit at all times, it helps save money on monthly lighting costs. 

Limitations of DMX Systems for Outdoor Lighting Applications

A DMX is a powerful tool for outdoor lighting, but there are still a few limitations operators need to know about

Though subject to errors, these errors can be easily corrected by an operator.

Though subject to errors, these errors can be easily corrected by an operator.

DMX technology is currently the most powerful lighting command technology on the market for both indoor and outdoor lighting applications. With that said, the DMX does have its limitations in some cases.

Errors

Unfortunately, DMX cables are subject to interference from time to time. This could be due to electromagnetic fields, a poor connection to the lighting fixture, or overly long cables. Though these issues are uncommon, they are bound to happen for any DMX system from. In most cases, these bouts of interference show up as flickering lights that are unresponsive to the DMX channels.

Luckily, these issues can be easily identified and fixed by the operator. Troubleshooting these lighting errors is as easy as visually examining the cables and the surrounding devices. By inspecting the cables and surrounding areas, operators can check that all cables are properly connected and there are no other devices creating interference with the DMX.

 

In summary, DMX systems are currently the most powerful and technologically advanced lighting command option for outdoor lighting packages. Despite the fact that these devices are able to create complex lighting landscapes, the associated software is surprisingly easy to use and allows for a variety of automation options. Using the knowledge gained from this article, you can decide if a DMX system is the right choice for your commercial outdoor lighting needs.

 

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