The Digital Revolution in Lighting

controllerWith the advancements in LED lighting fixtures and HMI ballasts, controlling light fixtures with DMX signals has become both easier and much more precise. These advancements have ushered in new possibilities for control which is both quicker, easier and more economic than ever before.

lightWhile DMX control has been common in Theatrical settings for quite some time, only recently has advances in fixture design made this practical for TV/Film sets. DMX 512 is the standard communication protocol used in Entertainment industry products. For years this has been used mainly in Theatrical locations for dimming, maybe on large film sets. Arri began incorporating DMX control in their HMI ballasts and it is now standard on all their ballasts. Arri’s new line of color changing LED lighting fixtures such as the L-series Fresnels and C series Skypanels has made controlling these fixtures via a control board more desirable than ever before. When we speak of control boards this isn’t the large Dimmer Boards or yore. This can be done with your Laptop computer. For example, Coach Sarge Cine uses Martin’s M-PC. M-PC gives you the same power and functionality as the software running on all the M-Series consoles.  It can be installed on any PC running Windows 7 or higher. It is the same software you will find on the Martin M2PC console surface and can also be used in conjunction with the M-Series Modules or as a tracking backup for M-Series consoles.

M-DMXCoach Sarge Cine uses it with Martin M-DMX which has two DMX inputs gives the user 2 Universes. A Universe is defined as 512 slots of DMX information, think or it like a channel for dimming. So that’s 1024 channels of control, all on your PC Laptop. Martin has built in 10 Fixture profiles for the Arri Skypanel S60-C. This fixture profile allows for control of all the Skypanel’s functions- intensity, white balance, green/ magenta tint, cross fading to RGBW. RGBW refers to the full range of colors possible with the C series LED from Arri by mixing together red, green, blue and white. The software also features a prebuilt color pallet, providing access to over 300 Rosco, Lee or GAM gel presets. OR you can chose the color mixer to blend from the rainbow of visible light spectrum.

connectivityAnother big change is the way the data is sent to the Heads. Traditionally that came from the cable that carried the power to the Light. All that happened is the head turned on or off and maybe dimmed along the way. Now with the LED fixtures there is a stream of data to accompany the power. Again we take the lead from live event lighting technicians who for several years now have found the advantage of using a wireless DMX system to communicate that data. These wireless systems use transceivers to both transmit and receive the data stream. A wireless system allows you to forgo stringing DMX cable from the Head to the Dimmer board. Wireless is both quicker and ultimately less expensive than stringing cable. (If you factor in that DMX cable costs 1.00 or more per foot) The range of these systems varies from 300’ to 1000’ depending on the system and the conditions they are used in. Line of sight affords the most range. When the signal has to pass through objects the range is diminished.

Essentially these are high functioning radios, which is more reliable than Wi-Fi. Using FHSS frequency hopping technology to transmit a clear signal. To reduce the chance of interference manufacturers stick to certain relatively bandwidths. Or instance City Theatrical, which is used by Coach Sarge Cine, broadcasts at 2.4 GigahertzISM. Generally a single system can broadcast 2 Universes at a time. Which is a total of 1024 DMX slots. A HMI ballast might takes 2 slots, for dimming and on/off. A LED, color changing fixture can use 5 to 8. So one wireless transmitter system has the capacity to control as many as 128 fixtures.

An early adopter of this new technology is Bruce Fleskes of Coach Sarge Cine. Who says “This package together is the game changer we have been waiting for.” Skypanels, Control and Wireless DMX systems are available through Coach Sarge Cine, & Picture This Production Services. Cine Rent West offers a simpler control board and Skypanels. PDXpendables carries L-series LED Fresnels for rental and are dealers for Arri, Altman and related LED lighting.

Along with the technological advances will come new crew positions. Just as the DIT tech has become common for the Camera department. The Control Board operator will become an essential member of the Electric department. The companies listed above can recommend or even supply a qualified board operator to make this new world of Lighting available to you.

Don Rohrbacker, MFA
PDXpendables Stage and Studios Supplies

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