DMX512, DMX512-A, DMX512/RDM, Shownet, ETCNet2, ACN? Sometimes it seems that the labyrinth of lighting control protocols is so complicated that you will need more than a map and a compass to find your way. In fact, all this activity and development is leading us to a new world where interoperability and communication between controllers from all manufacturers will be easier and more transparent than ever before.

Before DMX512, most manufacturers had their own dimmer control protocols that were proprietary and incompatible with other manufacturers' equipment. As the industry grew and shows became more complex, particularly with the advent of moving lights, the need for cross–manufacturer compatibility became critical. In 1986, the USITT Engineering Commission sponsored a session at its Annual Conference in Oakland, California. From that session, a project started that resulted in USITT DMX512 – Digital Data Transmission Standard for Dimmers and Controllers. Minor revisions were made in 1990. The expectation was that proprietary protocols would still be used, but when there was a need to mix manufacturers in a system, users would switch over to DMX512. DMX512 was intended to be a lowest common denominator protocol.

The Evolution of DMX Lighting

DMX lighting was developed as a streaming protocol, as opposed to a command one, for a world where an intelligent controller (the lighting console) sent information to simple devices (Dimmers). Increasingly, we find that there is a need for the devices receiving the DMX signal (Moving Lights, Media Servers, LED Fixtures) to have onboard intelligence, and hence the demand to provide an interactive network will continue to grow. One where commands can be sent to all devices and information about status can be received back. The logical backbone to these future control networks will be Ethernet based systems, where networking infrastructure developed for the mass computer market can be employed, and network and development costs kept to a minimum.

The first draft implementations of ACN (The ESTA Architecture for Control Networks) are already in use in the field. This new protocol is intended to provide the next–generation standard for manufacturer interoperable lighting control over high bandwidth networks that support UDP/IP (like Ethernet) and related protocols. This is not to say that DMX lighting is finished however, as many devices in the system will still be DMX controlled and will receive their DMX from Network Nodes that will decode the ACN Data and deliver DMX where required. By working with other leading manufacturers such as ETC and Pathway connectivity, Jands offers DMX lighting distribution and ACN/RDM ready networking tools to ensure your control networks are future proof.

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