Lighting Control: What to Know About 3 Protocols

In the world of lighting control, there are quite a few different control protocols and systems. Many of them however, take a huge influence from the DMX protocol.

Lighting Control: What to Know About 3 Protocols
DMX is a standard for digital communication, specifically designed to create interconnectivity within lighting equipment. Within the DMX 512 standard, there are 512 channels of control that can be managed with 256 distinct values.

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Since light cannot travel out of the receiver, it makes it impossible for interference, or bad data to pass backwards past this point. This fail safe can be a huge asset in any lighting network plan.

Since Opto-Splitters create a copy of the DMX universe, you can split up data distribution to parts of the rig. This helps to ensure that any issues that may occur can only effect a certain area. In the case that a singular fixture fails, it may insert bad data into your DMX stream. When this happens on a system setup with multiple Opto-Splitter outputs feeding the rig, you will only have the fixtures on that line affected. I typically try to limit my total fixture count per Opto-Splitter output to 10 fixtures. This provides a good solid backbone for my network, and limits issues.

In addition to the DMX protocol, there are Ethernet-based protocols that take the DMX architecture to a new level. One of the largest is ArtNet, a protocol that packages and transmits multiple universes of DMX over typical Ethernet network components. With a universe limit of 32,768 universes, that can be used within the ArtNet protocol, there are few applications where this would not be a suitable solution.

Each device within an ArtNet network is assigned and operates with a unique IP address. Most devices are configurable by simply opening a web browser to their specific IP address. These devices often operate in the or IP ranges.

In a typical setup, a lighting console sends ArtNet data over the network to multiple nodes. These nodes are units that translate ArtNet into standard DMX, and output it over 5-pin connectors. Many of these nodes can also be set up in a backwards fashion, allowing them to act as DMX inputs, as well as outputs. The use of DMX nodes can create the ability to spread universes across large areas, without the need for extensive runs of cable. They also make it practical to change universes easily.

Beyond just ArtNet and DMX, another complimentary control protocol called RDM gives further functionality to systems. This protocol can be used to update IP addresses, update DMX addresses, give real-time feedback on errors, and show the type of fixture being controlled. This protocol is designed to complement, and not replace DMX or ArtNet.

Control protocols are the central nervous system of any lighting setup.

Knowing the ins and outs of control networks will help you to create a solid control network. Creating a system that is robust and serves the needs of the design well, will serve you well for years to come.

More About Steven Hall
Steven Hall has served on staff at Journey Church in Norman, Okla., for more than three years. He has been involved in lighting design for 10 years. As the church's Technical Director, he oversees all aspects of production but is most involved with lighting and scenic design. Steven also recently started a church scenic company, Steven is a graduate of Full Sail University. He lives in Norman, Okla. with his wife, Sara, and son, Dorian. You can reach Steven on Facebook at or by email at
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Latest Resource

Worship Facilities Magazine, January-February 2018
The January-February 2018 issue of Worship Facilities Magazine offers articles about the many steps a church had to take in the aftermath of a fire, and another involving a church making the jump to 4K.

Article Topics

Products · Technology · Lighting · Visual Arts · Lighting Design · Communication · Control · DMX · Interconnectivity · Lighting · Lighting Protocols · All Topics

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By wphelps on February 12, 2018

When the designers of Art-Net choose the addresses, they must not have anticipated that one might want to control devices over the Internet, or even have the device on a network that is connected to the Internet; as, that is a Public IP Block.  Manufacturers should not be using since that is not even part of the standard.  Ideally, the Private range would be the only one ever hard-coded into lighting devices; though, even with that range, I would never specify a device that did not allow the address to be changed.

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