DMX Console that Works in Banks?

BillConnerFASTC

Well-Known Member
The discussion of the DMX protocol caused me to consider the previous 0-10 protocols, all requiring a wire per dinner. The image of dozens of LED and movers on 0-10 is amusing, Brasilia like. All those wires.

Steven - on a more serious note - don't overlook multiple fixtures sharing the same address. One channel might control a dozen units.
 

Stevens R. Miller

Well-Known Member
Steven(s) - on a more serious note - don't overlook multiple fixtures sharing the same address. One channel might control a dozen units.

Ah, very good point! One of the benefits of DMX-512's simplicity is that it is a unidirectional protocol. In a sense, a DMX controller is kind of like a set of 512 broadcast transmitters. Any number of receiving stations can be tuned to the same channel. My son's school still has all incandescents, with some rather impressive dimmer hardware, and a lot of high-current electrical cable running everywhere in conduit. But, I see from the vendors' sites that LEDs are popular and take such small amounts of power that they can dim themselves. One could easily (I suppose) put several instruments on the same channel, and, voilà, they would behave as if they were ganged on the same dimmer (or dimmers on the same channel).

Modern tech really has changed all of this from my brief encounter with it in the late '70s. It's kind of breath-taking, what can be done with far less money than once it took. Instead of incandescents rated in hundreds of watts (and the current and cable that implies), I had quite a revelation when I started looking at LEDs. For example, I saw that 60 watts is a common power level. Of course, 60 watts is pitiful in an incandescent, so I was wondering how much light 60 watts is from an LED. Then I remembered we had bought an LED work light recently. That thing is blinding. It also never even gets warm to the touch, which is a testament to its efficiency. I went down to the shop to see what its wattage is. You can imagine my shock when I saw "35 watts" written on the back. A 60 watt LED must be amazing, yet you can plug it into an ordinary AC socket.

As a life-long computer nerd and electronics hobbyist, blinking lights are an undying passion of mine. But modern theater... it's a computer nerd's dream come true!
 
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Stevens R. Miller

Well-Known Member
How does the normal fader know the recorded level? A wheel, yes, but not a fader. With rare exception, faders don't move to the level of a preset in memory.

Ah, of course. The Innovator actually has a half-solution to that: when you play a cue, the faders do not, as you point out, move to the levels of their corresponding channels. However, if you move a fader and move it to a level at or above that cue's setting for that fader's channel, the fader "captures" (as Leviton puts it) the channel, and you can set it manually. When you get the level you like, you just record the cue over itself. The result, in our case, was that we recorded all our cues, then set the faders all to zero. Then, we walked through the play and played the cues back in order. Whenever the director wanted to change an instrument, we just ramped up the matching fader until the light got slightly brighter (meaning the fader had captured its channel), wiggled it up and down until the director was happy, and recorded the cue over itself. Took our director a while to get used to it, because, as often as not, her changes called for us to lower a light, rather than raise it, and (because every change briefly starts with the light getting brighter as its channel is captured) she thought we were changing it the wrong way about half the time. She got used to it, eventually (or, simply accepted that her tech director was a dunderhead, something I've been used to for a long time in another context; either way, we got by).
 

soundlight

Well-Known Member
On the Innovator, it looks that (according to the manual), the trackball can operate as a level wheel. So to complete your operation, you would enter [52] [AT] [50] and then [52] [ENTER] when told to make brighter or darker. Then you can scroll up or down with the trackball to change intensity.

In professional theater, the only reason anyone uses faders is to have house lights/haze/work lights on handles. All of the programming is done via the keypad, level wheel, encoders, and touchscreens.

Re: LEDs: Common power levels for LEDs in theatrical lighting are generally 100-300 watts. For instance, the Martin Rush Par 2 RGBW Zoom, a unit that I used for a few school productions this spring, is 120 watts of Red/Green/Blue/White LED array. So depending on the power balance (I don't know if it's evenly distributed between the colors), you're looking at about 30 watts of a single color being useful in a theatrical situation. Now, that is for smaller school stages, which yours is I believe.

For level control for a theatrical show, I usually work with the ETC EOS/ION platform (a few shows on various consoles in the line being GIO, ION, and Element so far this year), and I set up a magic sheet so that I can live on the touchscreen for level control except for fine adjustments: I have a virtual magic sheet with all of my channels and groups instantly accessible, or at the most one or two view changes away. I also have macros for @0, @25, @50, @75, @100, @-10, @+10, and if I'm getting particular I add @-5 and @+5 macros on the magic sheet as well. This way I can grab selections and set their levels right on the touchscreen.
 

BillConnerFASTC

Well-Known Member
. It's kind of breath-taking, what can be done with far less money than once it took.

Well, I'd say right now the equipment and installation - all related costs - in a new build are close between an all quartz and an all LED system, or perhaps LED is still a little higher. Many issues, many variables, lots of preferences too.

Retrofit, LED much more expensive.
 

AudJ

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.
Strand preset palate II still offers 96 faders plus 32 subs. I got stuck with one via bid process, and much as I like the other functionality of the board, I sometimes wish I could take a sledgehammer and smash those 96 channel faders right off the board. I've never used them. When someone else does, and doesn't pull every one of them all the way down, it makes programming a bear. The physical footprint of the board is immense.
 

sandsmarc

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?

I just read through this briefly and have to hit the hay, but check out the Blizzard ProKontrol MH. It sounds like it may do what you want. Once you patch a fixture in, it's control always starts at fader 1 and you don't have to worry about the physical DMX addresses. It has 2 banks of 16 buttons, hence 32 fixtures or fixture classes. And 16 faders per fixture. And it can assign all 512 channels of a universe. Cheap also at $198 where I bought it. You could buy 2 of them and have 2 universes and control as many fixtures as you'd ever need. Also has pan and tilt wheels for the movers. And a USB port to save all your fixture assignments.
 

RickR

Well-Known Member
@Stevens R. Miller You have the protocol information correct, but it' has little to do with the operation of a console. The fader label is irrelevant to the light. @sandsmarc makes much the same case for the DJ boards and for a page or two he's right. Of course using the pan and tilt faders for dimmers means all those chase effects are useless. And when you do get some movers it start to get silly. Not than many folks don't learn to live with what others call silly.

On the other hand one of the key complaints of the SmartFade 24/96 is that users get really confused with 4 pages of faders, and 20 pages of subs. And as @AudJ points out around 100 physical faders things just get worse. The Element users I know mostly have smaller rigs and avoid paging as much as possible. To test it out, I suggest you program your subs with single channels and try to set a few cues. I think you'll see why the wheel/ball universal fader has become the most popular technique.

You've obviously but some serious effort into understand all this stuff. I feel a bit as if we are discussing the evolution of the light board. Each method was suitable for the technology of it's time, but was dropped fast for a better idea. I look forward to holographic schematic displays and hand movement controls. Maybe voice control will come first. After all we have the command structure: "Siri, take the apron areas green down 5 and blue up 10"
 

Stevens R. Miller

Well-Known Member
@Stevens R. Miller You have the protocol information correct, but it' has little to do with the operation of a console.

Yeah, that's becoming fairly apparent. The protocol couldn't care less how the console is organized, but the comments here are doing a lot help me realize that the console's organization makes a big difference to how (or, even if) one can achieve a desired result.

I think you'll see why the wheel/ball universal fader has become the most popular technique.

Yeah, I'm convinced. The trackball on my Innovator refuses to select anything, so I kind of gave up on it. Using it as an up/down "wheel" might still work, though. Next time I get my hands on it, I'll try that.

In fact, it makes me wonder why there isn't something vaguely similar to this DMX controller from Leviton, but with a wheel instead of any faders. In fact, that Model 1000 looks very close to what I was after, except that, according to its spec sheet, it only stores forty scenes. A "scene" is a "cue," am I right? What good is a gizmo that can only store 40 of them? For "Aladdin Jr," we had almost a hundred of them.

You've obviously but some serious effort into understand all this stuff. I feel a bit as if we are discussing the evolution of the light board.

There's probably a lot of truth to that. I only ever did theater tech once before, in the late '70s. Today, I'm eager to catch up on forty years of improvements, but my first chance to get any hands-on experience is on a board that's about fifteen years old, so even the "modern" hardware I'm using to learn is out-of-date.

But, taking into account what you folks are teaching me (and there's no substitute for the wisdom gained by experience, no matter how many protocol specs a person reads), maybe I should change my question from asking for a console with banks/pages, to being about a console that can let me do basic cues as cheaply as possible, with maybe one wheel on it and a keypad. As I survey the inventories of the various manufacturers, the products that can store a large number of cues with fade-in/fade-out times, and that can control any and all channels in a DMX universe, all seem to have outrageous price tags (especially when one considers that a computer and a USB-to-DMX adapter can, implicitly, do what I'm after). Are there any small, inexpensive controllers, that let me do what I want? Somehow, it keeps feeling like there ought to be one, but that I'm just looking for it in the wrong places, or the wrong way.

Maybe voice control will come first. After all we have the command structure: "Siri, take the apron areas green down 5 and blue up 10"

Yeah, but when that day comes, the person speaking will be the director, and we'll all be looking for something else to do :).
 

icewolf08

CBMod
CB Mods
To actually answer your question, there are still a few new generation desks that can do what you want.

The ETC Element has pageable channel faders. You page them by rotating a knob on the desk. You also get a page that makes the faders submasters. I believe you also get multiple submaster pages, but those are paged digitally.

You can also step up to the ETC Ion. While it doesn't sport built in faders, you can add almost as many faders as your little heart could desire by adding universal fader wings. These faders can function as channels, subs, and playbacks

The Strand Preset Palette was mentioned earlier,me high also has quite a few faders.

From a programming standpoint, faders have become the oddity, not the norm. Most programmers would agree that keying changes is much more efficient. You never have to hunt for channels, change pages, or try to figure out what level you are at. Just key the channel and the level and away you go. Most new consoles still have a level wheel and many even have proportional level adjustment syntax (i.e. Make a channel half of what it currently is).
 

RonHebbard

Well-Known Member
Premium Member
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.
Ahh . . . Strand's Mantrix then Mantrix II, then Mantrix IIS. I totally concur, truly groundbreaking leaps in performance features for the dollar / bang for the buck and all in consoles you could tote under your harm versus desk sized and larger. The Mantix IIS, more abilities than two 23" (prior to the 19" standard) racks of Strand's IDM Cue or Thorn's British Cue File.
AMX192 out on Switchcraft's ill conceived 4 contact "Tiny" series connectors rather than fat cables in the wire per dimmer low voltage control days.
Thanks for the memories Bill.
Toodleoo!
Ron Hebbard.
 

dbaxter

Well-Known Member
Premium Member
Can we pursue that a bit? I downloaded an open-source driver for Enttec's Open USB USB-to-DMX adapter.

Yes, you are understanding things. Where you might be getting confused is the understanding that fixture addresses are not exclusive and multiple addresses can be assigned to single control channels/dimmers through soft patching. That is, if I have an LED fixture that uses 10 addresses to control all its functions, I can have more than one fixture set to the same address and control both when I change the value of that address.
Soft patching can be tricky to get your head around at first, but a lot of that is the terminology. In your case, where you say you have all fixed lights with (I'm assuming) a dimmer per light, you can set your console or software to have channel/slider #1 send its value to any one of a number of dimmer addresses. This is how many of us have a slider for "Area 1" that is lit by lights in dimmers 1, 4,and 26, for example.

BTW, the Enttec Open, although a good device, will not control a lot of channels without stuttering in my experience. It uses the driving PC for the timing signals for DMX and therefore requires a more powerful computer to control more lights. The Pro has its own internal processor for timing and will give you better results in the long run.

As for adjusting the levels when asked for "up a bit", what I did in my software was use the keyboard arrows for +-1, PgUp, PgDn for +-10, and Home, End for +-100. The mouse wheel will also change the levels up or down. I would figure most consoles have the same ability.
 

Stevens R. Miller

Well-Known Member
Yes, you are understanding things. Where you might be getting confused is the understanding that fixture addresses are not exclusive and multiple addresses can be assigned to single control channels/dimmers through soft patching. That is, if I have an LED fixture that uses 10 addresses to control all its functions, I can have more than one fixture set to the same address and control both when I change the value of that address.
Soft patching can be tricky to get your head around at first, but a lot of that is the terminology. In your case, where you say you have all fixed lights with (I'm assuming) a dimmer per light, you can set your console or software to have channel/slider #1 send its value to any one of a number of dimmer addresses. This is how many of us have a slider for "Area 1" that is lit by lights in dimmers 1, 4,and 26, for example.

That's clear. It's very similar to how a number of common paradigms are implemented in software, which is my main professional undertaking. I was more interested in knowing if there are any boards that can page the faders when you do have a need for more channels than your board has faders. At this point, I'm convinced that faders are not the great asset I might have thought they were. Selection by keybad and setting by wheel/trackball seems more facile, particularly when one might want to set more than one channel:

3 [THRU] 8 [AND] 23 [ENTER]

followed by manipulating the trackball has some obvious advantages over trying to shove seven faders (not all of which are near each other) around, synchronously.

BTW, the Enttec Open, although a good device, will not control a lot of channels without stuttering in my experience. It uses the driving PC for the timing signals for DMX and therefore requires a more powerful computer to control more lights. The Pro has its own internal processor for timing and will give you better results in the long run.

I've read about this, here and there. That shouldn't happen. A lot of "real time" software suffers from Windows's default power-saving settings. When your program is "blocked" (that is, not doing anything because it is waiting on input, or for an output operation to finish), Windows will slow down the CPU, sometimes to a bare fraction of its full speed. Upon becoming "unblocked," (that is, reacting to input, or picking up again after an output operation has finished), it can take up to 40 milliseconds for Windows 10 to decide that full CPU speed is justified. During this interval, very inconsistent behavior can be observed, provided that the 40 ms time-frame is long compared to what you are doing. (On modern computers with multi-core CPUs, it is even more inconsistent, as not every core will return to full speed at the same moment.) Now, 40 ms is a very interesting interval in the context of DMX 512, because a full-length DMX 512 frame has 513 bytes in it, with each byte being eleven bits long (one start bit, eight data bits, two stop bits). 513 times 11 is 5,643. DMX 512 is sent at 125,000 bits per second, meaning that a full-length frame takes 5,643 / 125,000 seconds, which is .045144 seconds, or about 45 ms. An inconsistent return to full speed could sometimes be long enough to miss a full-length frame and require waiting for the next full frame.

However... the worst that should ever show as an effect is a delayed change, not a missed or incorrect setting. Not all device drivers work the same way, but I note that Enttec's literature on its Pro model emphasizes an "internal frame buffer," to "preserve data integrity when computer is busy." Well, in the driver I have, a shared block of memory is read continuously by the driver, and sent in a full-length frame, as often as possible. The timing is driven by the speed of the DMX protocol, meaning that a new frame is sent every 45.144 ms (plus a few microseconds, which are meaningless, compared to the 45.144 ms time required to send the frame). The console software shares that block of memory with the driver, writing settings to the 512 locations that--each one individually--control the values being sent on each of the 512 channels. Unless the console software writes an incorrect value there, this scheme can be a frame late, but it can never send a value the console software didn't supply.

Now, if someone tried to get more complicated and send frames only when a channel's value changed, it's possible that the speed-management of the CPU could fool a driver into thinking all changes had been made when they hadn't, and therefore into sending a frame with some zeroes in channels that shouldn't have them. But that would simply be a bug in the driver, imho.

I write real-time video software (at 30fps, a frame is about 33ms for me, so I'm used to working in this regime). Until I discovered the CPU-speed issue, I was tearing my hair out over some inconsistent "stutters" of my own. Simply disabling all of that and running my CPU at full speed made absolutely all of that go away. (There is a vaguely related problem arising from the original IBM PC's inability to time anything to a finer granularity than 1/64th of a second, an interval 15.625 ms long. That can cause some stutter of its own, but modern PCs can (if you ask them to) set a granularity of 1/1000th of a second (1 ms), and almost everything (Google's Chrome browser is a notorious example) asks them to. In an extreme case, a program can just "spin" and never block, allowing timing to a granularity near the microsecond range.

I'll look into this further after I have the device. Writing my own code for it sounds interesting.

As for adjusting the levels when asked for "up a bit", what I did in my software was use the keyboard arrows for +-1, PgUp, PgDn for +-10, and Home, End for +-100. The mouse wheel will also change the levels up or down. I would figure most consoles have the same ability.

What software are you using? I downloaded DMXControl and, though it's not open source, I can see already why faders aren't the answer to my needs. It allows a variety of setting methods, but being able to click on an icon and just roll the mouse wheel is proof enough that I don't need faders at all.

(For my OCD programming colleagues: Yes, transmission of a full DMX 512 frame takes longer than 45.144 ms, as there must also be the "off" interval that signifies the end of a frame. I don't believe that makes any difference, but I acknowledge that it exists.)
 
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dbaxter

Well-Known Member
Premium Member
No worries. Per the forum rules, I can't jump up and down shouting it.
Your questions and responses have been great reading.
 

Stevens R. Miller

Well-Known Member
No worries. Per the forum rules, I can't jump up and down shouting it.
Your questions and responses have been great reading.

And thank you, for your input!

Thinking about it a bit more, I can see how multi-threading issues can cause stutter. A device that uses two DMX channels for a single parameter (tilt angle, for example) would need to make the updates for those channels atomic.

Likewise, if a device needed a context-specific command (for example, a [GOBO ON] command, followed by a [GOBO SPIN] command), time delays that resulted in only the second command being sent, could cause stutter.

All such issues can be handled in software, though.
 

kicknargel

Well-Known Member
Premium Member
Personally, I don't know that you're going to find a lot better console than the Innovator, without spending the money on something like an Ion. Innovator has its drawbacks (it's the least stable stand-alone console I've experienced), but is quite feature-rich in a conventional lighting environment. If you spend less than thousands, you'll be downgrading, IMO.

For transitioning to keypad entry, a lot has to do with good practices of soft patch and use of groups. And making good magic sheets. It's all about fast recall of the channels you need. I tend to define the 10s digit per system, and the ones digit per area. So my downstage-right front light is channel 11, and the side lights for the same area are 21 and 31, the backlight 41, etc. Then for the next area, the frontlight is 12, sides 22 and 32, etc. Then I make a group for each system, and a group for all lights in each area. So I can quickly set a level for all frontlight, then each other system, then kill a couple areas I don't need, then adjust a few lights individually. Before too long, I have all the numbers memorized.
 

Stevens R. Miller

Well-Known Member
Personally, I don't know that you're going to find a lot better console than the Innovator, without spending the money on something like an Ion.

Well, again, I'm not trying to replace it. I'm looking for options to have a console of my own. The Innovator belongs to my son's middle school and he will be graduating from there next month. Odds are that I'll never use it again. If there were a practical option for me to buy for myself, I'd be interested. At this point, it looks like a software solution is likely, maybe one I create myself.

Innovator has its drawbacks (it's the least stable stand-alone console I've experienced)

Could you say more about that? What do mean you say, "least stable?"
 

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