Mar 122019
 

As is often the case, customers and designers who find our corner of the Web are working against nearly impossible deadlines. This most recent request, late on a Thursday afternoon, was a fun one to fulfill. Their project included DMX lighting in four discrete zones, and they required two separate operating modes:

“We need an untrained operator to trigger a specific sequence of cues using a large pushbutton” & “We need a specific complicated DMX sequence (specifically, a rolling color scroll across about a dozen fixtures) to loop indefinitely.” Naturally, the drop-dead delivery date was in two business days.

Prior to our phone call, they were prepared to spend about $8k on several ‘standalone’ DMX consoles. We were thrilled to offer a more economical and flexible solution.

In the past, we’ve shipped several different versions of a circuit board containing DMX in, through & out jacks, along with an assortment of dry-contact-closure inputs. This card, when loaded with the correct firmware, could record DMX snapshots (a single frame of data) or capture in real time (44 frames per second). Then various snapshots and dynamic scenes can be replayed based on external triggering. Unfortunately, the shop shelves were empty of these cards, and there wasn’t enough time to make new ones.

As an aside, there’s a full service circuit board manufacturer right here in town. We use them for quick-turn work and sensitive designs. Over the years, we’ve occasionally requested four hour (!) turnaround, from email CAD file receipt to courier pickup at their shop. This service isn’t cheap, but it’s remarkable that such things are even possible these days.

So moving to Plan B: Our shelves are packed with a new batch of DecaBox chassis sets, assembled and ready to be loaded with firmware. How to quickly add rugged, reliable, remote pushbutton input without changing any existing hardware, drilling holes in chassis sets, or making a huge mess?

The answer, after some pondering, was a riff on how industrial automation systems communicate with external sensors: a current loop. The most popular version is called 4-20mA, representing logic low and high values respectively. If 4 mA is flowing in the wires, the logic level is zero. If 20 mA, logic is one. And in the industrial world, if ZERO mA are flowing, or if 20+ mA are flowing, a fault with the cable or sensor is assumed, the system squawks and repairs can be made.

In alarm systems, window and door sensors work in a similar way. ‘Open’ is one current value, ‘closed’ is a second. No current flowing at all means a cut wire, so phone the (now overseas) mothership and complain.

Now, the DecaBox doesn’t normally communicate with industrial sensors, but it does contain a rugged, buffered, industry-standard, short-tolerant, high voltage RS-232 interface. Our quick & dirty solution was to transmit a repeating, pre-defined data stream on DB-9 pin 3, the usual TX pin and then listen for its presence on the receive pin.

A handful of standard shielded M-F DB-9 cables, 6′, were sacrificed for the cause. On the chopped-off female end, wires corresponding to pins 2 & 3 were connected to the normally closed terminals of rugged arcade pushbutton switches. These switches are nearly indestructible and would mount perfectly on the wall of the booth / installation.

During regular operation, the DecaBox transmits serial data and listens for loopback. If they match, the wiring is correct, the button is undisturbed, and nothing happens. But once loopback breaks and no data is received, the DecaBox knows it’s time to read the pre-stored DMX cue sequence from the internal memory card, send it to the outside world, then resume waiting for a new contact event.

Simple & elegant & shippable within about six business hours, including testing and verifying new snippets of source code.

Oh, and scenario #2? Perpetually looping DMX scene playback? Trivial to accomplish using our stock recording and playback firmware. A complicated scene can replay until power is lost or the cows come back, whichever comes first.

We ended up shipping 4 separate DecaBoxes, one for each lighting zone. Two were pushbutton triggered and two set up to loop their internal scenes. Of course, the firmware is user-selectable to run in either mode, based on settings made using the panel LCD and pushbuttons.

Need something similar? We’d love to hear from you.

 Posted by at 10:16 pm
Feb 272019
 
RS232 DMX Engine - RJ45 Output

We’re happy to have released a version of the DMX Engine with RJ-45 outputs. Many of our customers use regular CAT5 cable and terminations as a backbone, and this version of the engine was designed to make their lives simpler. Also, many low-cost DMX decoders use RJ45 connections for data in and through.

The system works exactly the same as before – each output has its own drive stage which can feed a minimum of 32 connected DMX devices. We chose genuine Neutrik EtherCON jacks for durability and rugged design. The output pinout matches the current ESTA standard: data on the orange / orange white pair and ground on brown.

Grab yours today in our online store. Outside the US? We’re thrilled to ship directly using DHL, UPS, FedEx or the postal service. Alternately, check with a nearby distributor.

 Posted by at 5:52 pm
Jan 082019
 

We were contacted by an integrator whose DMX fixture installation was large and complicated. They were using a Control4 system and chose our RS-232 DMX Engine as the master output controller in their system. However, in their case the standard practice of daisy-chaining large groups of fixtures* together was impossible, due to the required physical layout, access to connected conduit, etc.

During a telephone consultation, we discussed installing multiple DMX Engines throughout their venue. Because of the required layout, this would have been quite expensive. When we learned that their timeline was fairly relaxed, it made sense to commission a rack-mount system with 12 outputs, 12 isolated output drivers, and genuine Neutrik EtherCON jacks for easy termination of their installed wiring. Our friendly metal shop across town returned two pair of blue-anodized chassis sets a few weeks later:

Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge

The system follows the now-standard pinout for DMX over CAT5 cable. We use the DATA 1 pair (orange) with both brown conductors grounded:

CAT5 cables wired to the 568-B standard can carry DMX data

This rack-mount DMX Engine functions exactly the same as its smaller red brethren. The command set is identical; only the form factor and output count have changed. Need one? Let us know.

*This was the subject of a tech support call earlier in the week. When playing in the DMX world, there are two numbers to keep track of: channel count and fixture count.

Channel count is fairly obvious: a full universe of DMX contains 512 separate channels. This means that 512 single AC dimmers could drive 512 discretely connected incandescent light bulbs. When the author got started in technical theatre, the entire venue was controlled by large, dusty, hum-emitting 6 KW dimmers. About 30 worked properly. The command ‘set all to full time zero’ provoked a physical, visceral reaction from offstage left.

If using RGB LED fixtures, a universe can discretely control 512 / 3 = 170 fixtures without any overlap. Some modern moving lights à la rock concert gobble up 100+ channels each, which means only five can be individually driven on a single universe.

Recently, we completed a Christmas art installation where a single tree required nearly 23,000 channels of data running at 50 frames per second. We used e1.31 / sACN (DMX over ethernet, more or less) as the control backbone.

Fixture count is a different beast altogether. It relates to the total electrical load on the differential bus (D+ and D-, the DMX data signals). Each fixture connected in a daisy chain increases the load, and if it’s too high, signaling can turn erratic and be difficult to troubleshoot. Here’s a great article which dives deeper into the math. In any case, the ‘standard’ load for an RS-485 receiver (and by extension, a connected DMX device) is 1/32, which means that 32 devices can be safely daisy-chained together and driven successfully by a single master controller. If fixture load isn’t explicitly called out in a device’s datasheet or instruction manual, assume 1/32 load.

For slightly more money, some manufacturers (including us, as has been required by clients from time to time) design DMX input stages with 1/256 load receivers, which allows up to 256 devices in a single daisy chain without introducing signal issues.

Bottom line: make sure both your channel count and fixture count are within acceptable ranges. If fixture count is too high, consider using what’s called an optosplitter, which receives a signal and then regenerates it multiple times across multiple outputs. Or call us and we can help with something custom.

A Handful of Weekend Wonders

 Case Study, DMX  Comments Off on A Handful of Weekend Wonders
May 242018
 

In addition to the standard products listed in our web store, we do quite a bit of custom / one-off work.  Here’s a collection of recent quick-turn projects we’ve recently shipped.  All images here can be enlarged with a click.

The DMX Triggered DMX Selector Switch

A theatre up north had several lighting control sources (a large lighting console, several wall panels, etc) plus safety rules which require certain channels be kept at a specific intensities 24/7.  Based on their sketch and pseudocode, we designed a five input DMX router.

For any input, setting a specific channel to a specific value lets that DMX source take control, and its full universe of data is passed to the ‘DMX Out’ jack.  In addition to switching between the five inputs, the system forces the safety channels to their proper values and sends the final signal downstream.

If you think about it, in this situation, a standard DMX merger running either ‘highest takes precedence’ or ‘most recent takes precedence’ wouldn’t work properly.  The system contains a USB interface for painless field firmware updates if they’re required.  Each DMX input is optically and galvanically isolated from its neighbor, which should keep lightning propagation to a minimum.

Side note #1: Our stock DMX receive circuitry has been installed in thousands of locations worldwide.  And in over a decade, we’ve never, ever received a report of it being damaged in any way.

A Countdown Timer / High Power UV Trigger System



Though not one of our usual DMX / MIDI / serial projects, we’d worked with staff at this childrens’ museum several times in the past.  It’s rewarding to deliver something which didn’t exist, anywhere in the world, until we made it so.

In a dark corner of the museum’s ‘color and light’ lab, an entire wall was painted with photoluminescent paint.  When excited by a xenon strobe light, flashlight or blacklight, the paint activates and glows green for several seconds, slowly fading away as the energy dissipates.

The designers envisioned a ‘photo booth’ where patrons could press a trigger button and then pose against the wall.  The paint is then activated by the light source, leaving a glowing silhouette.

We sourced a pair of 10W UV lights (395 nm and super intense, causing mild eyeball sunburns after twenty seconds of near-field exposure) and a 4″ illuminated pushbutton.

I felt that standard 7-segment displays looked mechanical and dated, but a quick search online returned a slightly stylized 7 segment font – ‘Modern Mini’ in bold italic.  The ~5 degree slant looked fun, and I liked how the segments jauntily meshed together.

 

It took a few steps in the CAD program, but the digits were converted to vector data.  On the shop’s laser cutter, we created a 7-segment display measuring 300 x 200 mm.   The display was loaded with LEDs whose brightness and color can be arbitrary controlled, segment by segment.   The finished assembly is a sandwich of several acrylic layers, using black, clear and white stock.  The segments are inlaid in the black layer, then covered with a clear protective layer.  The layers allow the light for each segment to be channeled, diffused and displayed in a pleasing way.

Also, the giant pushbutton contains a white LED which can be set to any intensity.

Our custom circuit board include a small display for changing and storing settings (UV / flash exposure time, countdown time and ‘timeout’ time).  It was somewhat overbuilt, supporting 4 contact closure inputs, 4 buffered logic level outputs, a pair of high power output stages and 4 SSR (solid state relay) outputs, in addition to connections for the countdown display and a smattering of indicator lights.

During normal operation, the display reads ‘5’ in green, and the pushbutton pulses slowly, à la sleeping iMac, drawing attention to itself in a tasteful way.  When the button is pressed, the white LED turns off and the countdown begins.  At time zero, the UV sources pulse for their specified time, the display switches to blue and begins begins counting down from the ‘lockout’ value, giving patrons a chance to enjoy their artwork as the phosphorescence slowly fades away.

Once the lockout time has passed, the pushbutton resumes its quiet pulsing, the display switches back to green and waits patiently for input.

Side note #2: The blue / green color scheme was chosen in a nod to the industrial designers at Disney. Green means go, blue means wait.  Red signifies danger and problems, so don’t bother the public unnecessarily.

 

 

 Posted by at 4:53 pm

The Ethernet DMX Engine

 Uncategorized  Comments Off on The Ethernet DMX Engine
Feb 262018
 

It’s finally (almost) here.  We’re planning a release date in early Q2 2018.  The Ethernet DMX Engine will feature a nearly identical command set as our current RS-232 version.

As we make final decisions regarding the panel layout and connections, we’d love your feedback.  Please take a few seconds and visit this very short survey:

Features – The Ethernet DMX Engine

 Posted by at 7:33 pm

DMX Multi-Zone Universe – A White Paper

 Case Study, DMX, RS232  Comments Off on DMX Multi-Zone Universe – A White Paper
Mar 092017
 



Mike Slattery, CTO over at TEKVOX in Dallas, wrote a short white paper about how our DMX Engine can easily control fixtures in multiple physical zones, and shows how the Engine’s ‘mask’ command makes it simple to adjust the look in each zone without affecting surrounding areas.

He writes from a Crestron background, but the principles apply to every major control platform.

Take a look! DMX Multi-Zone Universe [PDF]

 

 

 

 Posted by at 5:47 pm

DMX Control of a Daktronics Venus 7000 Video Controller

 Case Study, DMX, RS232  Comments Off on DMX Control of a Daktronics Venus 7000 Video Controller
Feb 142017
 

Canucks Arena & Video Ribbon. Photo from GLOBETREKIMAGES / 604 NOW FLICKR POOL

This was a fun one.  Turns out, the Daktronics Venus 7000 video controller can be trained to play content based on incoming RS-232 messages.  And, the trusty DecaBox can receive DMX and output all manner of RS-232 content.  When the dust settled, we ended up shipping a somewhat-modified version of our DMX to ASCII firmware.

Here’s the story, straight from the customer:

Recently, I was given this task of creating a lighting board to Daktronics Venus7000 lighting trigger and started out by looking at my relevant device ‘gozintas and gozoutas’ (ins and outs). 

I do not dabble too much in lighting control technology although I knew we are using a Grand MA on PC. I do provide in-house second tier support on our Daktronics LED systems and servers so I also knew that I needed to create some simple ASCII data strings on an RS-232 serial port. 

After asking the Google, I was able to find some articles about converting DMX to serial. This is the link that came up: http://response-box.com/gear/decabox-protocol-bridge-overview/ and this Decabox looked like the exact piece of ‘glue’ needed to convert lighting transitions to a Daktronics triggers. 

I took a bit of a chance and purchased the Decabox, (John Chapman at Engineering Solutions Inc. was also very helpful in that he returned my call and assisted me in determining a data scheme). I went back a to Daktronics Engineering and they were good with John’s proposed data string.  

Shortly after submitting my order, I received the Decabox which John had  pre-programmed and we were ready to test. We were very quickly able to see the appropriate serial data in our Dak server room and soon after got Dak to remotely configure the serial listen port. 

Success! 

This has solved an ongoing issue with playback synchronization of Daktronics content playback, and our house lighting.  We now have consistent and repeatable triggers during our game start opening sequences, whereas before we relied on an intercom countdown to mouse click (which was not very tight!). 

I would not only recommend this device, but also have kudos for John Chapman’s support and timely follow ups to our questions. 

GS | Broadcast Technician
Canucks Sports & Entertainment | February 2017

Need something similar? Contact us and let’s get started.

 

 Posted by at 11:07 pm

Announcing the RS-232 Driven Double DMX Engine

 DMX, RS232  Comments Off on Announcing the RS-232 Driven Double DMX Engine
Oct 102016
 

RS-232 Driven Double DMX Engine

RS-232 Driven Double DMX Engine

This has been shipping for a few months now, as free upgrade to any purchase of an XLR-5 or XLR-3 Engine. It features

  • XLR-3 and XLR-5 outputs in the same chassis.  Each output is controlled by its own drive chip, which means the system has a ‘built in’ 2-output optosplitter.  Currently the outputs are parallel copies of each other.  However, each drive chip is connected to a separate pin in the internal processor, which means that future firmware updates could allow two universes of DMX to be driven independently.  We use only genuine Neutrik connectors.
  • Mounting ears for easy panel mounting.

Today, we’re delighted to also announce a completely updated firmware build (v5.044), featuring the following improvements:

  • The internal dimming engine calculates fade levels 100x per second, rather than the previous 20.  This allows silky-smooth crossfades on LED fixtures.  “This LED strip now acts like a halogen bulb,” said one customer.
  • Built-in RGB color wheel engine performs rainbow color cycles without any controller overhead.
  • Startup scene and timeout delay can be set, so that lighting levels are instantly restored after a power cycle.
  • ‘Group Fade’ command lets multiple channels be set to the same level in a simple way.  ‘Group skip’ option makes it easy to control multiple fixtures at the same time.

The complete protocol description is available in this file: Double-dmx-engine-504.

Note that this protocol simply expands on the features available in our original DMX engine.  Code written for our earlier hardware will still work very nicely.  Check this page for older information.

Want free gear?  If you’re a Crestron, AMX, Lutron, Savant or Control4 guru, we need to talk.

We’re what the IRS would classify as a ‘very small business’, and don’t have resources to tackle this alone.  We don’t have the time or staffing to buy / borrow / rent hardware, then learn the software, to test against each and every major system out there.

Here’s what you get:

  • One RS232 Driven Double DMX engine
  • One 9v DC adapter
  • As much email and telephone tech support as it takes to make you happy
  • Full credit for your work if desired, including links to your website and a quick company bio if you’d like some extra exposure.

And in return, we want

  • A complete ‘plugin’ or ‘module’ or whatever it’s called on your particular platform, which we can publish here on this site and share with other customers.  The module needs to support all of the commands described in the PDF instruction manual linked to above.
  • A sample file / installation / setup which a new user could use for initial testing, before they integrate our gear into a larger system.
  • Basically, your work should include everything a brand-new customer – someone reasonably skilled in their trade, but new to using our gear – would need to get up-and-running, as quickly and painlessly as possible.  Source code, screenshots with annotations, even short video clips would be much appreciated.

Interested? Send email to drivers AT response-box.com.   Please mention your platform of choice and describe your experience in this world.

This is a first-come, first served-per-system sort of project.  We can sneak five or maybe ten boxes out the door before accounting notices and begins to gnash their teeth.

Thanks for visiting our little corner of the Internet.

-John Chapman, President, Engineering Solutions Inc

* New feature requests are always welcome, and existing gear may be easily and quickly updated in the field.  We thrive on that sort of feedback.  If there’s a function we’ve not considered which would make your life even easier, please let us know.

 

 

 Posted by at 3:24 pm

DMX Control of a Wattstopper Lighting System

 Case Study, DMX, RS232  Comments Off on DMX Control of a Wattstopper Lighting System
Jul 292016
 

wattstopperbridge

 

The LMDI-100 Serial Interface allows third-party access to a Wattstopper lighting network.  Recently one of our customers needed to communicate with Wattstopper via DMX.  This was easily accomplished using the DecaBox and some custom DMX to RS-232 firmware:

From the mailbag:

I would like to thank you for all of your help with my latest installation project.  It seems that more and more often I am running into integration challenges with house lighting systems that need to interface with the DMX consoles.  Typically these systems utilize proprietary communication language, so it becomes necessary to convert them into something that can work with DMX.  

In this particular project, the only way we could make this conversion, was convert the proprietary system into RS232.  From there, we were able to convert the DMX system into a series of 232 commands, using the DecaBox Protolcal Converter to seamlessly interface both systems.  

At first, I was a little nervous about the prospect of making so many conversions, but the technicians at Engineering Solutions took care of inputting all of the necessary code and the system worked flawlessly right out of the box.  

When the contractor added additional dimmers to the system, all I had to do was ask for an update on the code and simply upload it onto the DecaBox the next day.  I wish all of my integration challenges were as easy to deal with as this was.  I will certainly be using the DecaBox in the future.  It saved me thousands compared to similar solutions.

Thomas Smith, Innovative Event Services Inc

Need something similar? We’d love to hear from you.

 Posted by at 6:27 pm

We’re in Love With Synchronized Fireballs

 DMX, MIDI  Comments Off on We’re in Love With Synchronized Fireballs
May 112016
 

eyeballs

Earlier this spring we spent a couple days helping the artists from UK-based Arcadia Spectacular* automate part of a production at the 2016 Ultra Music Festival in Miami.  In this case, they were using the ‘Spider’ stage, an enormous structure which travels in four full trucks and requires 15 people and two days each for setup and strike.  The distance between the spider’s feet is about 62 feet.

In this installation, they needed to convert DMX input into a very precise and real-time set of MIDI output commands.  The MIDI was monitored by a PC running custom software which in turn drove the pyro system.  Our DecaBox with custom firmware was a perfect fit.

small rack

Control Rack for part of an EDM festival. The medicine stored in the top left corner is telling.

liveshot

Our left red LED indicates DMX reception. Since the right LED is also on, a MIDI message is being transmitted.

And here’s a short video clip showing the entire system in action.  Note that the fireballs and the right LED for ‘MIDI OUT’ in perfect sync.

Thanks, Arcadia Spectacular, for the opportunity to work with you on this project.

Need something similar? Let us know.


 

 

 Posted by at 4:35 pm