DMX PC Lighting Software – Cheap Stage Light Controllers

Thursday, October 4th, 2007 - Stage Lighting Control - by:

Stage lighting control has got complicated. The availability of cheap intelligent lighting fixtures, LED colour mixers and other sophisicated lighting effect has made good DMX lighting control even more necessary. Luckily cheap stage light controllers, in the form of DMX lighting software for PC, are everywhere these days and are available to buy (or download for free!!).
Not so many years ago, good moving light technology was only available to those with deep pockets. You also needed a pretty good DMX lighting control to do anything with your lights. Now, not only are intelligent stage lights cheap but DMX lighting software is too.

What Do I Need To Control My DMX Lighting?

The reason that DMX lighting software is cheap is the fact that you already own most of the hardware – i.e a PC or Laptop. The PC and software does all of the processing, gives you the control interface and stores all your cues and effects information. The only thing that it doesn’t do is actually generate a DMX signal.

For PC lighting software to actually control intelligent lighting, you need something that will generate DMX and distribute it to your stage lights. The hardware to do this is often a USB to DMX dongle and you can buy these pretty cheap. The cheapest of these DMX dongles get the PC to constantly generate the DMX signal but some of the best DMX dongles actually buffer and create the DMX themselves.

At the top end of DMX PC lighting software some the lighting control manufacturers such as Flying Pig (High End), ETC, Cham Sys etc. They all produce PC versions of their own lighting desk and have different bits of kit for outputting the DMX from your laptop while the PC software gives you the lighting control interface.

 

Why Bother To Buy A Real DMX Lighting Console?

PC stage lighting control software is cheap to buy, controls your DMX lighting and doesn’t take up space on the desk. That doesn’t mean it is for everyone. Using a mouse, trackpad to control moving lights is not the sames as using the faders and wheels on a fully grown lighting control. Using a touchscreen can make the interface better however.

Lighting control desk and computer
Image by Pritch

The trouble with using PC software to control your DMX lighting is a question of faith. Sometimes, my faith in computers is strong, sometimes it isn’t. When the operating system locks up or your firewall has a funny 5 minutes, all hell can break loose on your show. Or, at least, it stops working.

Keeping a clean PC for your DMX lighting control software or Dual Booting a second operating system can keep your confidence up. The best lighting control manufacturers expect you to buy some good quality hardware that provides stable DMX so they make expansion wings, DMX output devices and cut down versions of their production lighting controls.

Is PC DMX Lighting Control Software The Future?

DMX lighting software for a PC platform is definitely part of the future of lighting control. You can now buy some kind of PC version for every major lighting control on the market, whether it be for training and promotion of a lighting desk or to provide the system for a budget market. Many things in the world seem to converge on the the concept of a Personal Computer system that will be even more central to our lives so why buy another computer to control your stage lighting?

Modern stage lighting controls, PC or not, are now software driven. This is easier for the lighting control makers to create new functions and expand on existing console architecture. Does this mean that they are now software writers rather than hardware manufacturers? This puts them in the same pond as Microsoft and Adobe and, while they might be a niche market at the moment, get ready for Adobe LightControl .

You can compare some of the commercial lighting control software available here.

Update: You can now buy DMX lighting software for the iPhone.

Just as long as I can still push a fader or turn a wheel occasionally.

This article is currently sponsored by Trace Lighting’s LimeLIGHT lighting control software, a feature packed PC based control solution.

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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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38 Comments

  1. Karl:

    Hey… I found this to be extremely interesting. I’m wondering, what sort of USB to DMX dongles are out there? I am trying to solve this problem right now, and google is not very useful. Can you shoot me an email, please?

    Thanks.

    Karl

    »crosslinked«

  2. gnamusic:

    great finally i found some blog talking about lighting on stage, btw did you have software for dmx lighting controller ?

  3. Rob:

    There are many DMX lighting control software systems at the moment but my favourite is the ChamSys MagicQ because it s free, versatile and is based on a professional lighting control, using a similar interface to a number of the lighting desks that we all learned in recent years.

  4. Rob:

    Hey Karl,

    Sorry for late reply but have been on the road a lot and the On Stage Lighting spam filter has been a bit too keen lately.

    I am surprised to hear that you are unable to find much info on USB to DMX dongles are the moment as they are everywhere these days and doing a Google search produces some useful results for me. Daslight, Enttec make popular products (I have an old Enttec Open DMX USB) and some good info can be found at usbdmx.com and it is a common thread topic at the good ol’ Blue Room

  5. Glenn Meader:

    Check out my open-source free DMX stage lighting software at my website: http://www.chromakinetics.com/DMX/
    It works with the very inexpensive http://www.enttec.com USB DMX interfaces.

  6. Rob:

    Hi Glenn,

    It’s always good to see open-source PC lighting control software and the Enttec USB’s are a favourite of mine.

    Keep up the good work.

  7. RC:

    Hi does anyone know of any mac software. strand had something, but they dont seem to be doing it anymore.

    Thanks.

  8. Carrie Dicken:

    Digital 4u2 announces the upcoming developement of detailed stage lighting software. The software will be affordable and practicle in areas of lighting where this has not been available. The software is designed by lighting professionals for lighting professionals.
    You can read more at… http://www.digital4u2.com/software.htm

  9. ham:

    I currently use some software my friend has been developing for Mac. It’s far from finished, but it’s a free download, so I use it for now.

    http://www.usbdmx.com/chameleon/

  10. dean:

    Open DMX USB
    hi is that the product i need to use with the free software mentioned also in this discusion … the magic 1 , i am using windows if tht matters …

  11. DJTom:

    YES, there are many DMX lighting control software systems out there. BUT in my oppinion only one for LED Lighting. I am using MADRIX since years and it runs so stable, is very easy to use and understand, supports a lot of dmx interfaces, artnet and dvi AND it supports dmx-in, artnet-in and midi for remote control. This is awesome for club installations. Check out http://www.madrix.com and test the awesome sound 2 light and music 2 light realtime effects. DJTom

  12. Pete Tabberer:

    Anyone got experiance with Showmagic software (showmagic.com). Thinking of using it for dou singing to backing tracks and need to control the lighting automaticaly.

    Only use simple LED panels on goalposts plus a couple of twisters and white spots at moment

  13. James Lawson-Smith:

    I have used ShowMagic when I was a manager in a Lloyds bar. It is not bad but pricey for what it does. I am sure there is Open Source that will do what you want. Just getting into the open source stuff so can not make any suggestions.

  14. Rob:

    Hi James

    Thanks for your experience. I had a look at the spec of ShowMagic, and the price. It also seems to boast a lot of features (and compexity) for an act which just needs lighting to sync with backing tracks.

    @ Pete

    There are plenty of cheap lighting controllers, PC or hardware based, that will sync to SMTP timecode or Midi signal. This can be set up fairly simply – and more cheaply.

  15. DJ-Extr3m3:

    I currently use for my LED Par Cans a great LED lighting control software: MADRIX start … You can download and test the demo version for free:

    http://www.madrix.com

  16. Darcy Cook:

    I have used a software program called elation compu 06 form elation lighting. it costs around $1500ish (give or take) and comes with a USB to DMX512 dongle, controller software and a visualisation to go with it. it is very simple to use and i reccommend it.

    cheers,

    Darcy Cook
    Darcy Cook Lighting

  17. Joshua Babb:

    I’m brand new to lighting but have been running a very small scale audio board for a while. I’d like to dive into lighting and didn’t know much of anything at all about where to begin until I found this site (it’s a godsend) but am still fuzzy on a few things. I understand that I need a PC, a PC to DMX USB dongle, software to run it all, a DMX cable, DMX lighting fixtures and their assorted power cables. I still don’t quite understand, though, exactly what cables are between the DMX controller and the fixtures themselves. I know that there’s something called a dimmer somewhere in between and that at some point the master DMX cable is split into many smaller cables and can be cascaded through additional splitters if needed. What I don’t know, however, is this:

    1) What is a dimmer, what does it do and why is it needed?
    2) At what point does the master DMX cable (the one from runs out from the controller) split and what cable/splitter box is needed?

    Any help is much appreciated. I love the site and will definitely try to find these answers by myself! Thanks for reading,
    Josh

  18. Rob Sayer:

    Johsua – I realised that On Stage Lighting has been a bit short on dimmer information. This is probably because we take this lighting workhorse for granted. The point of the dimmer is to be able to fade lights up and down and balance lighting intensities. The dimmer supplies electricity to conventional (not intelligent) lights. The DMX runs from the control to the dimmer. Wikipedia has a pretty decent page on dimmers.

    Intelligent lighting like moving spots or LED equipment don’t require dimmers. The just take power and a DMX signal controls them. DMX cables can be run in one long chain from fixture to fixture (in and out) or be split with a splitter box. The same signal from the control is distibuted in multiple verions from the splitter box.

    Good luck with your research and we’ll maybe do something on the basics of dimmers at OSL soon.

  19. Joshua Babb:

    That is an amazingly simple way to do things – I didn’t think that it would be nearly so easy. Thank you very much for the clarification, Rob, you’re a lifesaver.

    Is there any way to buy equipment from OST or atleast use it as a referral during a purchase from another supplier? This site has been so helpful that I’d like to help support it. A link to a donation page would do too, I suppose :p

  20. Rob Sayer:

    Josh – Thanks for your kind words. OSL gets revenue through advertising and some affiliate activity (I work in online marketing in other areas too). Affiliate/referral programs in this area are pretty thin on the ground at th moment, something that will change when businesses realise the potential of highly targetted customers.

    In the meantime, I will put up a donation button as you suggest. Keep looking. :-)

  21. Darcy Cook:

    Hi Josh,

    There is a lighting knowledge base on my website – dclighting.110mb.com where you can find out the basics about lighting to help you get started.

    Cheers

    Darcy

  22. Rob Sayer:

    Nice site Darcy. (haven’t yet had time to look at Elation Compu 06 as you suggested. Perhaps you’d like to write a review for us ;-) )

  23. chakir:

    i m really surprise that now i can search the stage lighte also in internet nd it’s so helpfull for……..

    Thank you…..

  24. Woody:

    I’m looking for a PC based control unit to run a simple one women show….. But I’m looking for some thing that also has a out board subs so I can bump channels….. does any one know of a unit beside the Hog…. Looking for something not as expensive as that….

  25. scott:

    This thing sucks it has no 3D ting to look at. Sad butt true.

  26. PAT Testing:

    Hi – is there a standard for which channel is which? For example I want to use an Elation LED Operator very simple DMX controller to control some LED strips. The Strips are channel 1- strobe, 2-Red, 3-Blue, 4-Green. Is this a standard? I realise I can change the starting value on both, but I’m worried that the controller may send out Red on Channel 1, and then the fader marked ‘Red’ will control the ‘Green’ lights etc!

  27. Paul Pelletier:

    The Maxxyz PC offers the best of both world, it can be used as a stand-alone PC software or it can be used with the MaxModule Programmer module.
    With the Programmer module it is like programming on a real console but at a fraction of the cost.

    Shameless plug, but it fit the topic very well! ;-)

  28. Esben:

    Hi!

    I have been reading threads and googling for months and months but I am yet to find a software that fits my needs, which are these:

    1: I’d like to be able to plot AND program my lighting from home, so I dont have to spend precious time on-venue to program from scratch. The lighting will primarily be conventional dimmers and occationally some LED PARs and moving heads. Therefore I need a piece of software that can plot lighting plans + visualize + program theatre stack cuelists + run the show.

    2: It should preferably run on a Mac, since I don’t want to have to buy a new computer just for that software.

    3: I’d like to be able to use a midi interface like fx BEHRINGER BCF 2000 to control faders, GO-button etc. in the software. An option of adding a USB joystick for moving lights would also be a plus.

    4: I’m on a [tight] budget…

    Any suggestions for software and/or dongle?

    Thanks everyone for some good insights!

  29. Adam:

    @karl we have a list of USB to DMX Dongles on http://www.thedmxwiki.com run by the same people who run the http://www.freestylersupport.com web site for the free lighting program FreeStyler DMX

  30. Don:

    Is there a lighting software programme that will plot lights and also project video images on stage?

    Thanks

    Don

  31. JEFF:

    ok i don’t normaly do coments on line BUT we have just bought VENUE MAGIC we have used it for our live stge show trust me it’s the best thing going there is nothing and i mean nothing it won’t do drag and drop the audio track onto the time line then drag the your lightin onto the time line q them up the lights will work in line with the music simple as that it’s not cheap but you get what you pay for just try it i’m sure you will love it we do.

  32. Steven:

    first of all I just found your site and it is wonderful. i think it should be required reading for all lighting designers out there, from professionals to those who just think that they are lighting designers.

    second i found a new product by enttec which is a software-hardware combo package for simple lighting setups which is targeted primarily at djs and performers. it seems to be a simpler way of syncing your lights to music then venuemagic. it is called dmxis “http://enttec.com/index.php?main_menu=Products&pn=70570&show=description” and is a 512 channel controller that includes a foot switch input as well. you can use a seperate program to control it or you can opperate it as a RTS or AU plugin from inside most popular audio programs.

    I found it online while price checking and will get it as soon as i can afford it.
    it looks great though for a dj or other computerised audio performer.

  33. JODE:

    How will i change the color of the LED using ALCORA Lighting COnsole?, And also using that console, how will i change the patterns and colors of a moving light..

    For example:

    In one channel i Have two LED’s Attached, How will i change the color or mix it with other channels as well?

    Thank you =)

  34. sheldon:

    Hi all. Thanks for all this feeds on lights I love the feeling of watching intelligent lights moving.. I am only 15 years old.. I know it sounds weird to some of you. I am willing to do this type of work for the rest of my life. I am in Durban south africa. I am looking for production work to do for holidays and / or weekends. I understand a lot about wiring lights and DMXing lights. As I have been helping a production crew a lot. I can not explain a lot on web but I can face things and do jobs as quick as possible any work for me would be great. Staging , sound , lights I can do it all.

    Thanks all : sheldon.

  35. Nathan:

    Esben,

    not for mac but Lightfactory can do everything you want. for 3d you will need an external visualizer though, Depending on what you consider cheap….it is very powerful for the cost.

    Don,

    Lightfactory does that too. surprised no one has mentioned it yet…

    http://www.lifact.com

    I am not affiliated with LF, i just use it and love it.

  36. Richard:

    Hi!
    We have a mixture of conventional lights and a few moving heads. Up till now we have been using small controllers, but would like to get everything working together.
    What would be the best option for controlling lights, software or a controller? prefferebly easiest to program.

    Thanks, Richard

  37. Taylor:

    I agree on LightFactory v2. This software is powerful all from a PC. It offers multiple cue stacks, huge fixture library, built in fx, groups, palettes, and many other features that you would find in a good console. You can find it for $500 USD for 1 universe license. Which compares pretty well against competing software. It can be used with many different dongles, including Enttec USB Pro ($150) and even DMXKing Ultra Micro ($60). It also supports Artnet in addition to external midi wings.

    Chamsys MagicQ is a great program for free. I have used it to run concert-type shows and have been happy with it. It still feels limited being only on PC. I would love to have the full console, but it is highly expensive. I use it myself for church programs, but would not consider it for just anybody. I found the LightFactory favorable cause I can customize it nicely for ease of use by various volunteers.

    Thanks for all of your support on this site, especially with the MagicQ tutorials. That’s what got me started.

  38. Antony Hauenstein:

    Hello, I have wondered about purchasing the program DubTurbo Beatmaker and was hoping anyone could give me an actual bona fide review of the computer software. The vast majority of web pages that feature reviews are in reality affiliates promoting the computer software and so i doubt that the product evaluations are truthful. Thanks in advance for virtually any information anyone can provide.

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