Controllable Lighting

I’ve been looking into controllable coloured lighting for a while. I’d like to be able to have coloured lighting and be able to control the colour programmatically. (No disco lighting effects! Just a gentle colour wash for mood lighting.)

I discovered the DMX standard which is used for stage and disco lighting and also increasingly for architectural lighting. Trouble is, much of it is quite pricy. Pulsar do a nice range of LED lighting - the Chroma Range. This includes some very nice looking medium-sized lights and some small MR16 lights. You need to buy an external controller for DMX which makes it pretty expensive. The main thing that puts me off is that there’s no low cost way of trying this out, just to run a single MR16 fixture I need a controller costing several hundred pounds. The MR16 bulbs are controlled by 0-10v for each colour so there might be a way of controlling them directly, but that sounds like a lot of trouble.

There are some cheapish remote control LED MR16 lights, but we’re mostly avoiding IR for control and it’s pretty hard to do central control in a reliable way.

There’s also the Mirage LED light from NJD which has built-in DMX. This has a built-in fan which might make a bit of noise (though NJD say it’s pretty quiet). This is reasonably priced, but it’s quite a big fixture. We might look at this in the future.

Recently, I saw some reasonably priced LED PAR 36 lights (these are small DJ/stage lights) on eBay. This lead me to investigate a bit more and I found similar Showtec LED PAR 36 lights for 50 GBP + vat. They look slightly industrial, but come in chrome and shouldn’t look out of place in our house (we don’t exactly go it for country cottage style). These have DMX built-in, so no need for an expensive controller.

I’d already looked in to how to control DMX lighting from a computer. Milford Instruments do controller boards, that allow you to send DMX commands through a serial port.

DMX lights are connected in a daisy chain. DMX has 512 channels and each fixture responds only to the commands on its channels. Each fixture may have a number of channels for controlling different colours and other features such as pan and tilt. This approach means that you can control a large number of lights from a single control board. (DMX does support multiple ‘universes’ if you need more that 512 channels, but I don’t think we’re likely to get there ;-)

We’ve ordered one of the lights plus a DMX cable and the DMX control board. The board turned up yesterday and we’re waiting (impatiently) for the light.