DMX Console that Works in Banks?

Stevens R. Miller

Well-Known Member
I've spent a few days trying to find this, and am thinking maybe there's a reason why I'm looking for the wrong thing.

Our Innnovator 24/48 has 48 faders, each of which (as far as I can tell) is permanently assigned to a channel matching its position. That is, fader #1 sends DMX commands on channel #1 (or it may be channel #0). Fader #2 sends commands on DMX channel #2, and so on. The Innovator itself can send a command on any DMX channel, but you have to use the keypad to do it, like this:

107 [AT] [FULL]

That will send value 255 on DMX channel 107.

I can live with only a few faders, but not with having to use the keypad. For our set up, 48 channels happens to be all we need (we only have 48 DMX dimmers). But, for another theater (or if we get more dimmers), I'd like a way to have my faders work in "banks." For example, it would be great if the Innovator had a button labeled, say, "Start At." I'd want to be able to enter this:

[START AT] 49 [ENTER]

After which, I'd want fader #1 to send DMX commands on channel #49, fader #2 to send DMX commands on channel #50, and so on. I've spent some hours looking for a lighting console that works this way, or along similar lines, and can't find one. When that happens to me, I usually end up finding out that what I wanted would not have been as useful as I thought, ergo no one makes what I was looking for.

Is that what's going on here? Or, are there consoles out there that can assign their faders to selectable channels, either in banks (as I've described above) or individually?
 

BillConnerFASTC

Well-Known Member
I think you can patch any controller to any dmx address or addresses you want. The default is 1:1, hence what you have. Find the patch command. I've seen the console - when it was introduced decades ago iirc.
 

josh88

Remarkably Tired.
Fight Leukemia
^What Bill said. Not all the lower end boards allow for patches, and I've never used yours, but most allow you to patch whatever you want to whatever you want. 1 could control 1, 9, 19 or all of the above if you wanted it that way. You'd still have to patch it manually for each one unless there's a trick I don't know.
 

BillConnerFASTC

Well-Known Member
I looked up in online manual and it's pretty flexible on that console but you may be looking for something else. Consider you could patch you blue backlights alk to one channel - each at its own relative level even - do you need more than 48? Everyone is different but I'm pretty sure you don't really want 512 faders. :)
 

derekleffew

Resident Curmudgeon
Senior Team
Premium Member
After which, I'd want fader #1 to send DMX commands on channel #49, fader #2 to send DMX commands on channel #50, and so on. I've spent some hours looking for a lighting console that works this way, or along similar lines, and can't find one. When that happens to me, I usually end up finding out that what I wanted would not have been as useful as I thought, ergo no one makes what I was looking for.

Is that what's going on here? Or, are there consoles out there that can assign their faders to selectable channels, either in banks (as I've described above) or individually?
You want the term page s, not banks. Many/most consoles multiply their use of the limited number of handles by using pages of handles. Some has as few as two pages, others have ten, the top ones have an unlimited number of pages.
While when used as channel faders the handles are normally one to one, most can also be used as submaster s, in which case any channel or combination can be assigned. Some also allow the handle to to used as a cuelist master, with a separate cue list on each handle.

Note that the concept of one handle per channel is rather archaic and is disappearing. The concept of control channel #1 always controlling DMX output#1 was obsolete immediately after multiplex protocol was introduced (except in TV studios). See also https://www.controlbooth.com/threads/1-1-patch-do-you-use-it.10703/ and https://www.controlbooth.com/wiki/?title=Patch-Types-of-Lighting .
 

RickR

Well-Known Member
I had my hands on one of those a year or two ago. (Very much like an ETC Express 24/48) Patching is completely flexible, capable of 384 channels. For this type of board you need to get very familiar with patching if you plan on a lot of single channel programming.

I find setting up submasters far easier. Using the keypad to get to all the channels you can break the rig into parts. From there, and with some more keying, you can record all the cues. If you need a few more controls for manual use in a show, then repatching them to be on the faders makes sense. But I've always seemed to find a way to do it with submasters. Groups are another great feature for manual control. With the right group your track ball becomes whatever set of channels you need.

To actually answer your original question: ETC Element has a bank switch and many others have something like you're describing. They use the term 'pages' so that the physical faders can be set to a higher range of channels. 512 faders not needed!
 

RickR

Well-Known Member
You have 24 submasters that can page 8 times = 192 individual subs. That's quite enough for most school shows.
 

Stevens R. Miller

Well-Known Member
I think you can patch any controller to any dmx address or addresses you want. The default is 1:1, hence what you have. Find the patch command. I've seen the console - when it was introduced decades ago iirc.

You are correct, Bill. But what you can't do (as far as I know) is change which channel a controller is assigned to. That is, you can patch channel 1 to dimmer 5, but you can't change the fact that fader 1 controls channel 1. This means that, no matter how you've patched things, you can only control 48 channels with the faders. If your theater has more than 48 devices (or devices that, collectively, consume more than 48 channels) you can't control all of them with the faders. You have to use the keypad. Even if you could quickly swap between multiple stored patches (not sure if you can or not), the cues you record would still be storing channels 1-48. At playback time, whichever patch was loaded would be in effect. You still wouldn't be able to record cues from the faders that affected channels above #48.
 

Stevens R. Miller

Well-Known Member
I looked up in online manual and it's pretty flexible on that console but you may be looking for something else. Consider you could patch you blue backlights alk to one channel - each at its own relative level even - do you need more than 48? Everyone is different but I'm pretty sure you don't really want 512 faders. :)
Correct again! I don't want 512 physical devices on my board, but I do want my board to give me physical control over 512 channels. Doing it in pages (thanks for the correct term, you guys!) is what I'm after. The Innovator can't do that with its faders. Oddly, it can do it with its submasters. Seems like it would be a trivial add-on from a software point of view for it to be able to do that with its faders.

Just to be clear, though: I'm not looking for a way to do this with the Innovator. It's obsolete and, when you can find one, still costs about $3,000. What I'm interested in is less expensive consoles that, maybe having as few as sixteen, twelve, or even eight, physical faders, will let me page them across the entire range of 512 channels, storing their settings into cues that I can play back at show time.
 

Stevens R. Miller

Well-Known Member
To actually answer your original question: ETC Element has a bank switch and many others have something like you're describing. They use the term 'pages' so that the physical faders can be set to a higher range of channels. 512 faders not needed!

That's what I'm after. Any others I should look at in addition to the Element and the Cognito? I'm willing to sacrifice quite a bit of other features if I can page across the whole set of 512, and store cues for playback at show time. After that, lower cost is always better.
 

Stevens R. Miller

Well-Known Member
You have 24 submasters that can page 8 times = 192 individual subs. That's quite enough for most school shows.
Oh, agreed. The Innovator is actually proving itself to be quite the capable instrument. Judicious use of submasters, groups, effects, and cues has made it more than adequate. My question here really isn't about the Innovator. It's about cheaper alternatives to the Innovator and how best to find the ones that do paging.

It's all so complicated: it seems many consoles are aimed at DJs, with the design paradigm being that a "page" is dedicated to a single device (with channels devoted to articulation, color filter, slew rate, and so on, as well as intensity), and with chases for animated effects. Are chases used much in theatrical productions? I think I could use a lot of these "DJ" boards, and just ignore the fact that some people use the faders for anything other than intensity. Instead of one device per page, I would just have sixteen, one per fader. It's just that, whenever I find myself getting into something new and quickly departing from what appears to be expected behavior, I have to ask myself (and others) if maybe I'm headed in the wrong direction.
 

Stevens R. Miller

Well-Known Member
At the risk of running off at the mouth (or the keyboard), the Chauvet Obey 70 Universal DMX-512 Controller is an example of why I am confused. The description says, "Control Up to 12 DMX Light Fixtures." Well, I have lot more than 12. But it also says, "16 DMX Channels per Fixture." Well, 12 times 16 is 192. That's enough for me, if I can just use each of those channels to control a different dimmer. What's got me feeling unsure of myself is that the marketing material doesn't say anywhere that you can do that. The entire description seems aimed at "light show" style productions, not stage plays. Yet, as I read it, the device would be fine for my needs, could control at least 192 dimmers in 12 pages of 16 each, and is very low cost. Thus, I feel I must be missing something.

Am I?
 

RickR

Well-Known Member
Lots going on here, and part of this is why some folks prefer certain boards and others can't stand them...

DJ boards are inherently limited and lousy for theatrical style programming. Partly the cost limitations and partly the programming goals. Think a wedding DJ with a few effect lights on towers for a dance floor. 12x16 is the max but it's really just 12 intensity controls no matter how many addresses they use for other stuff. (Some use far more, there's one that reaches ~150.) So 12 dimmers is still the limit! :( And chases are used for lots of small effects in plays, but they are at the heart of DJ lighting.

You are much better off with your Innovator! It's also the cheapest one you'll find because you already have it. I imagine you'll want to upgrade when (not if) you get more than a couple LED or moving lights. They require so many more addresses that the whole fader per address concept get in the way. The Innovator tries to do some of this, but it's really just labeling the faders for you. The track ball is the universal fader to stand in for whatever you need. That and subs should do most of what you want, but some re-patching is always an option.

FYI: the Element only pages to 120 channels. But there each channel is a whole fixture. Would you ever have that many individual lights? Ion and Cognito page more freely and should be on any list to replace your board. The new ColorSource console is too new for much of an opinion, but it's designed for newbies and is the least expensive of all these. It's also limited to 80 channels, but that's still quite a few. Then there are 'PC with DMX' options. They can be less expensive but have a whole host of other issues, depending on which of the dozens out there we're talking about. There are many discussions here on choosing a console and a few WIKI entries to help you sort the terminology.
 

BillConnerFASTC

Well-Known Member
You're confusing a dmx attribute of a moving light or led fixture that uses a lot of dmx addresses as being unique dmx addresses, all handled the same - but they are not. An a moving light or LED fixture is one "channel" on modern consoles, but many attributes. Some might even use two DMX channels to get greater resolution. Maybe you could get one channel to control 16 dimmers if you worked real hard, but it would be unlikle you could ever assign each dimmer to a handle.

I don't like that what you quoted says "DMX Channels" - attributes of addresses would be better.
 

BillConnerFASTC

Well-Known Member
I'll let other board ops - I'm not one - weigh in but I think your quest to be able to control each dimmer with a handle is not popular or common. Most main stream consoles seem to rely on addressing dimmers with keypad - as in "1 through 4 to full" or "blue cycs on submaster 10". When we moved from limited number of dimmers and patch panels to dimmer per circuit, the idea of each dimmer being on a handle (slider) faded away. Or, you may not find what you want and if you did, you might discover you didn't really want that after all.

You might have liked Strands Mantrix though - early 80's at beginning of the dpc change - maybe with up to 96 handles - and iirc it paged - maybe 4 pages? Groundbreaking console for the time.
 

Stevens R. Miller

Well-Known Member
Think a wedding DJ with a few effect lights on towers for a dance floor. 12x16 is the max but it's really just 12 intensity controls no matter how many addresses they use for other stuff. (Some use far more, there's one that reaches ~150.) So 12 dimmers is still the limit!

Can we pursue that a bit? I downloaded an open-source driver for Enttec's Open USB USB-to-DMX adapter. It allows client software (that is, a program one might write one's self) to simply drop a value from 0 to 255 into one of 512 consecutive locations in memory. The driver repeatedly ships the contents of these locations out of the adapter, to whatever DMX devices are down the line. As I (think I) understand the protocol, any DMX device can read, and respond to, any of those 512 values. Thus, the first value is the value being sent on DMX channel 1, the second value is the value being sent on DMX channel 2, and so on. A simple dimmer can be assigned to react to one of those values. So, if my dimmer is assigned to DMX channel 10, whatever value I put in the tenth location will be read by that dimmer and it will react accordingly.

What I've read on more complex instruments is that they use more than one channel. So, if I have a light that turns and tilts, its intensity might be set by the value sent on DMX channel 1, its azimuthal rotational angle might be set by the value sent on DMX channel 2, and its elevational angle might be set by the value sent on DMX channel 3. As Bill points out, these two angles might even use up two channels each, to get 65536 distinct possible settings, instead of only 256. Other settings can use even more DMX channels: color, slew rate, gobo rotational speed, and so on. The user's guides for a few lights tell me that, typically, you assign a starting channel to the instrument, and the rest of the settings use up subsequent channel numbers after that one, for however many the instrument needs to let you set all of its parameters (some let you choose to consume different amounts of channels, by letting you set the instrument to be more or less controllable: for example, if you only need angles, slew rates, and intensity, you might use up a total of seven channels, but if you want all of that, color, focus, and gobos, you might use ten channels).

For a simple theatrical set up, where (as I do) one has nothing but fixed lights, with only the intensity parameter to set, 512 channels are plenty. But, if an instrument uses, say, 16 channels (as I have already seen that many do), that 512 will only control 512 / 16 = 32 instruments.

However... from a DMX-compatible device's point of view, I am theorizing that it doesn't matter what the label on the control console says when a value is delivered from that console to that device on the channel the device is set to monitor. That is, I am thinking that if I have a 16-fader DJ console, intended to control 12 complex instruments that consume 16 DMX channels each, a dimmer set to monitor, say, DMX channel 37 will react as I want it to when I am on Page 3, such that those 16 faders are emitting values on DMX channels 33 through 48, and I manipulate the fifth fader from the left (assuming they are numbered from left to right).

At the communications level, the DMX protocol seems pretty simple (elegant, but simple). There is a "start" byte, then zero to 512 data bytes (you don't have to send them all, but you do have to send something on every channel up to and including the highest number you actually want to use, as the devices all get the entire transmission, and count the data bytes to know which one goes with what channel). Every data byte starts with a "high" bit, and is followed by two "low" bits. When the last byte is sent, the signal goes "low" continuously. The devices all detect when no start (that is, "high") bit has been received for the duration of a full data byte, thereby knowing that the next high bit they receive marks the start of an entirely new DMX "frame" of data.

If I'm understanding all that correctly (and, please, someone help me if I'm not), then it seems to me that even a DJ board, marketed to someone who naturally thinks of one page of faders being associated with one instrument that has a lot of parameters, could nonetheless be used to control a lot of dimmers, so long as those dimmers were all assigned to different DMX channels.

Whether this is a good idea or not, is, of course, a completely different question (and one you guys are doing a good job of helping me feel I can predict the answer to already :)).

Am I getting my DMX basics right, or do I need to go back to the books?
 

Stevens R. Miller

Well-Known Member
Most main stream consoles seem to rely on addressing dimmers with keypad - as in "1 through 4 to full" or "blue cycs on submaster 10". When we moved from limited number of dimmers and patch panels to dimmer per circuit, the idea of each dimmer being on a handle (slider) faded away.

So, these days, it really is mostly done on the keypad, eh? That's very helpful to know, as I survey these things.

When a director is calling for changes to a cue, do modern consoles tend to have a wheel or up/down buttons that can be used in place of a set of faders? I can see punching in something like:

52 [AT] 50

when she says, "Give me the apron lights at one-half," but when she follows that with, "Now up a bit, no, too much, down slightly," and so on, I would think this:

52 [AT] 65
52 [AT] 62
52 [AT] 63

would get to be kind of a workout. But, if a console simply remembered that the last channel I had selected was 52, and I could merely press and/or hold a [BRIGHTER] and/or [DARKER] button when she gave direction, that would be fine by me.
 

derekleffew

Resident Curmudgeon
Senior Team
Premium Member
... do modern consoles tend to have a wheel or up/down buttons that can be used in place of a set of faders?...
The wheel still reigns, but most consoles also have "+10%" and "-10%" (sometimes +5%, -5%, sometimes user-defined %) keys.

The problem with channel faders (or submasters for that matter): they may be great for building cues (and most would argue that keypad or magic sheet is faster for channel/group selection) but faders are no help when it comes to editing a cue.
 

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