Networks

The purpose of a network is to send transfer messages from the light controlling software on the computer to the various controllers and ultimately the lights.  Different types of controllers use different types of networks.  I'm going to do my best on this page to describe the types of networks that are used to control lights.  Note: My explanation will be specific to the netowrk types that we use in our show.


Some Terms

The following are some terms that you will need to fully understand the rest of this page:

  • Ethernet - A standard communications protocol used to connect devices including computers, routers, and switches in a wired or wireless network.

  • DMX (Digital Multiplex) protocol -  A protocol used to control devices such as lights or fog machines. The signal is unidirectional, meaning it only travels in one direction; from the controller or first light, all the way to the last. 

  • E1.31 (Streaming ACN) protocol  - A lighting control protocol used by many lighting controllers. It implements a form of DMX protocol (DMX512) over an ethernet connection.  This protocol is capable of efficiently sending large amounts of data in units called universes.

  • Serial Interface - A serial interface is a communication interface between two digital systems that transmits data as a series of voltage pulses down a wire. A "1" is represented by a high logical voltage and a "0" is represented by a low logical voltage.

  • USB - Universal Serial Bus (USB) is an industry standard that establishes specifications for cables and connectors and protocols for connection, communication and power supply (interfacing) between computers, peripherals and other computers.

  • Dongle - A small device that plugs into the USB drive of a computer. Dongles offer different functionalities, such as providing mobile internet access, speeding data transfer, running secured software, or connecting multiple devices to the computer. 

  • Network Switch - A small device that centralizes communications among several connected devices on one ethernet network.


Network Types

I'm going to define a network as a mechanism that is used to communicate between two entities.  Based on this definition, I will describe four types of networks.  Review the Network Type diagram to see how each type fits into the picture.


Ethernet DMX/E1.31

This is the most common network for controlling RGB lighting via one or more DMX based controllers. 


     Source: The ethernet (RJ45) port on the computer.

     Target: A DMX controller. 

     Protocol: DMX/E1.31 over Ethernet

     Connectivity: CAT5/6 Cables


Note: A network switch can be used to connect many DMX controllers to the network.  Recently, DMX controller developers have added switches to their controllers to provide for extending the network without a switch.


Holiday Coro Long Range

This is proprietary to Holiday Coro and used exclusively by their DMX controllers with Long Range capabilities.  Note: These controllers receive their initial signal via an Ethernet DMX/E1.31 network and then use this proprietary protocol to communicate with the long range receiver baords.


     Source: Output from Long Range Distribution Board

     Target: Input to Long Range Receiver Board

     Protocol: Proprietary

     Connectivity: CAT5/6 Cables


Light-O-Rama (LOR) Serial

This is proprietary to Light-O-Rama and used exclusively by their controllers.


     Source: A proprietary USB dongle

     Target: LOR Controller

     Protocol: Serial Interface (Proprietary)

     Connectivity: CAT5/6 Cables


Note: LOR sends power over their network in addition to data.  It's very important that an LOR network cable NEVER be connected to a Non-LOR controller as the power can destroy the controllers.


Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI)

This is not actually a network, but I've included it because it completes the picture by being the protocol used the controllers to physically control the lights.


     Source: Light Controller

     Target: PIxel String (lights)

     Protocol: SPI

     Connectivity: Pigtails


The Bottom Line

This may seem overwhelming but it can be simple of you choose one type of controller and use that exclusively resulting in just one type of networ for your show.  That said, it's really not that hard to keep it straight if you just keep in mind the source and target for each cable/network.  Try tracing the lines in the Network Types Diagram, in the images section below, and see if that doesn't help it all make sense.


Disclaimer:  The information on this page, though it may be based on information provided by the vendors mentioned, represents my personal understanding of the topics.  I welcome correction, or clarification, for any topic that I have misrepresented.

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