LED Light Control – DMX Controllers for LED Stage Lighting

Thursday, February 14th, 2008 - LED Stage Lighting - by:

As LED technology becomes cheap, using LED stage lights is a hot topic in the world of stage lighting. The possibilities of using a low power, high brightness LED light with colour mixing capabilities seems hard to resist but how do you control your LED lights? Stage lighting controllers vary widely in both cost and features so On Stage Lighting considers cheap led light control using your existing lighting desk.

LED lighting control
Image by Tim Morgan

Are LED stage lights “intelligent”?

The term “intelligent” in stage lighting usually refers to the remote control of the lights using sophisticated systems to adjust different parameters in the fixture such as colour, gobo and effects. The intensities of the LED’s themselves are under the remote control of the lighting controller, as are any onboard effects such as strobing or colour chases that come from within the “brain” of the LED fixture itself. LED stage lights do not require the use of a normal lighting dimmer- they just need power and control signals.
So, LED stage lights fit into the “intelligent” lighting category.

Do I need a special LED lighting control?

Led stage lights are usually controlled using the DMX 512 protocol that is widespread in the entertainment industry. Any lighting controller that can output DMX will be able to control LED fixtures. The fixtures themselves have a “fixture personality” or DMX map, and this tell us which DMX channel is used for. Control channels could include: Red, Green, Blue, Amber, (some LED colour mixing fixtures have another colour, in addition to the RGB model), Effects etc.
So, you don’t need a “special” LED light control. You could use a conventional DMX lighting desk, even a manual one (a lighting control with no “scene” memory).

Like the desk I’ve already got at [insert venue here]?

Yes. Unlike more complex “intelligent” lighting kit, LED fixture personalities are fairly simple. They often use 6 DMX control channels and can be controlled on a little as 3 (1=red, 2=green, 3=blue). Using a simple lighting desk to control moving lights effectively is difficult, but controlling LED stage lights is easier and a conventional lighting desk can do it. A tiny lighting control with 6 faders could be used as an led lighting desk for 20 fixtures – provided they were all set to the same DMX start address and you don’t mind them working in sync.

Conventional stage lighting controllers mix their faders levels using Highest Takes Precendence (HTP) which is great when using colour mixing LED lights. Fade up “Blue” and add the “Red” channel and you get a genuine mix of those to colours (they give you a sort of magenta colour) that fades up and down with the control faders. Intelligent lighting controllers can use both HTP or Latest Takes Precedence (LTP) so check how the LED fixture channels are being mixed – I would choose HTP for most uses.

What is the best way to control LED stage lights?

The best way to control LED stage lighting depends on:

  • The amount of flexibility you need. Does each unit need to be individually adjustable?
  • The rest of your lighting rig. Have you got other fixtures to control such as moving lights?

If you have 96 dimmers, 20 LED battens, 10 LED PARs and 10 moving lights, you will want to use a dedicated moving light control. But, if you only need to change the colour of a few LED PARs , you don’t need a complex LED lighting controller. Make sure that you also look at what available in PC based DMX lighting control software.

Don’t forget – many LED stage lighting fixtures also have a number of programs built into them to allow colour control, static or chases, that can be used with no lighting controller at all. These are usually called “Stand Alone” mode and are great if you need to just set up your LED lights and go.

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Rob is a Lighting Designer and Moving Light Programmer and currently Senior Lecturer in Technical Theatre Production at Bath Spa University in the UK. He is also the Editor of On Stage Lighting and runs workshops in stage lighting practice.

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