What is a DMX Console?

H. Bliss

A Digital Multiplex (DMX) console is a device used to control other devices that communicate using DMX technology. Also referred to as DMX-512 technology, the DMX console is the most common device used to control lighting in professional theater venues. In audio, DMX is often used to refer to the Oberheim DMX, a drum machine used frequently in the early days of rap and hip hop. Generally, professional DMX consoles are about the size of a computer workstation, but newer technology has made lighting design systems more portable. A DMX console can also be called a DMX controller.

A USB drive, which can be used with a DMX console.
A USB drive, which can be used with a DMX console.

Function for DMX controllers ranges from fully equipped professional consoles to basic controllers that only handle a few lights. Basic controllers are most suitable for home lighting hobbyists who want to jazz up simple lighting displays like those seen during the holidays. Some businesses also use DMX console systems for their business lighting, especially if the building is large or contains several suites that need individual remote control of lights for each room. This is usually seen in corporate complexes or in skyscrapers with central lighting control systems.

Rock concerts often have DMX lighting.
Rock concerts often have DMX lighting.

DMX consoles vary as widely in capacity and features as they do in price. Entry-level DMX console systems offer simple controls over lights like programming, dimming, and fading, while advanced consoles offer the option to program lights in a virtual three dimensional interface. Manufacturers of DMX consoles include American DJ®, Behringer® and Baxter Controls.

When a lighting designer programs lights, she usually programs sets of lights called looks and records them into a saved file on a hard drive or disk in the DMX console. Once the looks are recorded into the lighting console, the designer programs a sequence of looks called cues that lead the lighting through a series of programmed sequences. While older DMX console systems frequently used floppy disks to save lighting files, usually called shows, modern lighting consoles have internal memory or use portable universal serial bus (USB) drives to save and transport the show from console to console. Lighting console show files are not usually compatible and will not often transfer from one console to another unless the consoles are of the same basic model construction.

A full-sized lighting design console is becoming increasingly less common as technology progresses. For a small lighting designer controlling lights in venues with limited lighting hardware, a dedicated lighting console is often an unnecessarily bulky and expensive means of controlling light within the venue. Computer-based lighting systems connect to a lighting design system using adapters like USB to DMX adapters which make it possible for the computer to communicate with a professional lighting system.

DMX console systems frequently used floppy disks to save lighting files.
DMX console systems frequently used floppy disks to save lighting files.

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