Rob is a Lighting Designer and Lighting Programmer and currently Senior Lecturer in Technical Theatre Production. He is also the Editor of On Stage Lighting and teaches stage lighting practice.
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.
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 .
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.
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