The 4 Channel Camera Friendly High Power DMX DC Dimmer

 DMX  Comments Off on The 4 Channel Camera Friendly High Power DMX DC Dimmer
Oct 072014
 
Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

 

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The 4-Channel High Speed High Power DMX Decoder

This product’s grandfather was custom-engineered several years ago for a major Cable News Network in Atlanta.  Their redesigned set contained many tens of meters of RGB LED tape.  The basic DMX DC dimmers they originally procured were

  • hard to configure
  • limited to a only a few amps of current draw
  • looked dreadful on camera because their refresh rate was too slow.  A massive moiré interference pattern was generated, a mix of 30 (or 60) frames per second video capture and about 100 frames per second dimming refresh.

So we designed for them a custom system which could be set up in just a few minutes, had a very efficient final drive stage (resulting in lower waste heat) and refreshed the PWM dimming cycle far, far faster than any current or future broadcast camera standard.

The lighting designers were ecstatic that things worked so well.   Dimming and static colors as seen on-camera were as smooth as glass, and many, many decoders of the original design were installed.

The system has been redesigned and packaged for summer 2014, and now boasts the following features:

  • 12v DC power supply
  • 4 channel output
  • 15A at 12V (180 watts) per channel output drive capability, or 40A system total
  • Neutrik XLR5 input and through connectors
  • Bult-in termination switch
  • Power LED
  • DMX present LED
  • ‘Drive’ LED.  Lights if any of the assigned and sequential 4 channels are set above 0%.
  • Heavy-duty screw terminals for DC supply and dimming outputs.
  • Easy-to-use rotary switches for setting the system’s DMX address. (No confusing DIP switch charts needed!)
  • Built-in test modes: 4 channel fade up / fade down, color wheel on channels 1, 2 & 3, all channels at a single level in 10% increments
  • Durable aluminum anodized chassis
  • Mounting ears for wall or panel installation
  • Dimensions: 5.9″ left to right, not counting mounting ears, 3.6″ front to back, 1.7″ tall
  • Designed, fabricated and stocked in the USA

Instruction sheet / wiring diagram is in this PDF file: 4 Channel Decoder

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IMG_5763

System driving 19A at 12V, or 228 watts of LED power. The enclosure was barely warm to the touch.

 

 Posted by at 2:47 am

Engineering Solutions Goes Back to Burning Man

 Case Study, DMX, MIDI  Comments Off on Engineering Solutions Goes Back to Burning Man
Sep 052014
 

 

Suspended inside a 30' dome.

Suspended inside a 30′ dome.

From one observer:

Holy s^&*, this is crazy. I’m glad I’m not doing any drugs right now.

From another observer:

I was in the other night on mushrooms and it wasn’t even on (it was locked up) and I had a great time. But now that it’s on, I’m not sure which one I like better!

And from the client:

Our group was working on a project for Burning Man. We had been introduced to a ‘light show’ (they call it a ‘light labyrinth’) called the Holotope some months earlier. We thought it would be a great gift to bring this light show to the participants at Burning Man. I became friends with one of the Holotope creators and he said that his team had developed, over many years, specific color sequences that greatly enhanced the visual (and neurological) effects of the Holotope. It was developed on a system that used a MIDI sequencer and was simply gorgeous. They had developed their own LED light projectors using six different LED colors in order to get the wide color gamut they needed to make the Holotope really stand out. Their system cost was several thousand dollars, which was way over the budget our group could afford.

But, not being deterred by that, we purchased the Holotope canvas print and we thought we’d try to put a standard R-G-B light projector on it. We purchased an inexpensive light projector that had a few built in sequences on it. The results were lackluster, but we realized that this idea had some potential if we could control the color sequencing. That was last year.

I managed to find John Chapman at response-box.com. I spoke with him about our needs. One of the more challenging aspects of this project was that the Holotope sequencer ran on a six channel MIDI and our R-G-B light projector ran on DMX. What the heck is DMX? And is there a way to convert MIDI to DMX? “No problem” says John, “We do it all the time.” So, with hope in hand, we engaged John on this seemingly insurmountable problem. We needed to be able to not only do a color space conversion, we needed it to be adjustable so that we could mimic the MIDI colors as closely as possible using a three color (R-G-B) projector. John obliged.

He developed a color space convertor that we could adjust with a laptop. The next challenge we had was that the MIDI developer left the country for a month, and had no access to email! Arghhh.

John to the rescue again. We sent him the MIDI files, at which point he was able to play the MIDI file, capture it and convert it to DMX. He then put those files into a memory card, and programmed their box to loop continuously on whichever file we selected.

One of the inconveniences of this system is that we suspended it from a large dome so that curious hands wouldn’t be able to get access to it; nor could we. I wasn’t fond of the idea of getting a ladder out to change programs every time we wanted to change it. John installed an IR detector so that we could stand under it and change programs with a simple TV remote control. What a blessing!

We had some great reviews of the Holotope at Burning Man last week. It’s not quite as stunning a light show as the original Holotope, but it’s about $4,000 cheaper and it’s hard for me to see the difference between the two anyway.

Thank you John for your dedication to this project. For all the hours you poured into making this a reality. For your flexibility in the changes I asked for along the way. For your creativity in finding ways to work-around limitations.

Gratefully,
Edge Dancer from Deep Heaven.

We added a custom IR receiver (with matching and visible feedback LED) on a 6′ pigtail, so that the equipment could be mounted safely out of the way.  A simple IR remote from Amazon.com let up to 10 stored files be replayed and looped, and it could easily be read from more than 12 feet away.

The DecaBox stores the original lighting data ‘raw’, all six channels of it.  The conversion from R O G Cyan B Indigo to RGB happens in real time and can be easily adjusted by the user, should a particular color balance seem off.

IMAG0227

DMX Light Source and DecaBox Replay System

IR Receiver and green status / feedback LED, safely sandwiched between three sheets of 1/4″ acrylic.

 

One day we’ll make it to the Playa in person. Until then, it’s been neat to work with different artists who travel there each year.
As an aside, a YouTube search for Holotope returns this example, one of several:

 Posted by at 11:55 pm

DecaBox DMX Patchbay

 Case Study, DMX  Comments Off on DecaBox DMX Patchbay
Sep 052014
 
DecaBox - Laser Etched

DecaBox Protocol Converter with DMX Patching Firmware

From the field:

The box works flawlessly and was easy to get everything patched and set up. We are now able to execute our plan exactly thanks to you and your team!

We heard about Engineering Solutions a few years ago while researching how to stop our Chauvet ColorStrip lights from flickering while connected to certain consoles. While reading up on the site, we noticed a lot of custom solutions.

As our lighting rig grew, we knew we needed to expand our control capabilities. We knew that we could spend a ton of money on some sweet software and/or new gear, but the challenge was the fact that we tour with our equipment and visit different locations with different set-ups and wanted something we knew would allow our lights to work with any DMX controller big or small, without spending a ton of time addressing dip switches.

Our current set-up consists of two 48 channel dimming consoles that have been merged with some newer computer software. We pre-program most of our shows on the computer and had been wanting to use the dimming consoles to busk in some effects, chases, and submasters, but had no way to control anything from those consoles above the first 96 channels of DMX.

We asked Engineering Solutions for their help finding a solution that would allow us to Patch those channels to the control channels. After a short phone conversation, we were very excited to hear that the Deca-Box, the very same box we already purchased a few years ago (for the DMX slow downer) was capable of running software that could do exactly what we needed.

A short while later and some emails back and forth to ensure the software would fulfill all of our needs and button down some details, we had a complete solution. We opted to buy a second Deca-Box pre-loaded with the new software. While it was shipping, I was able to complete the DMX patching on my computer in a simple “.txt” file.

When the box arrived, I copied and pasted the DMX patching into the box, started it up, and it worked flawlessly! It took less than 2 minutes to unbox, load the file, and get up and running! I really appreciate the time and energy Engineering Solutions put into helping us achieve our goal.

Cameron Helwege

Statesboro First United Methodist Church

Florida

This is fairly simple work for the DecaBox.  DMX-512 goes in (and through, if needed) and new DMX-512 goes back out.  Any DMX input channel can by copied to one or many DMX output channels.

Granted, this is a fairly narrow niche project.  It’s something that would be a stock feature on any of the large-format lighting controllers.  But if your budget doesn’t include $7k for an ETC Ion desk (who doesn’t love that newly unboxed lighting console smell?), we’re here to help.

This file is called ‘patch.txt’ and is stored on the DecaBox’s internal SD card.

; Configuration file file for DecaBox DMX Patching sytem
;
; This file is called 'patch.txt' and can not be renamed.
; 
;
; Each line should start with a semicolon (;) or an actual command.
; It's best to edit this file in NotePad (Windows) or TextEdit (Mac)
; So that unexpected formatting characters aren't included in this file.
;
; The premise here is simple: 
;
; 1. All DMX input channels are connected in a 1:1 ratio to all DMX 
; output channels. If nothing else is added to this file, the DecaBox
; will act as an active XLR cable. What goes in comes right back out, delayed
; by approximately 1/44 second.
;
; Audio guys will recognize this behavior is 'normalling' through a patch bay.
;
; 2. However, if data is included in the two columns below, output channels
; can be patched to input channels. The ratio need not be 1:1. Any number of
; output channels can be controlled by a single input channel.
;
; 3. There are two columns here. The first is input and the second, output.
; If you'd like DMX channel #5 from the lighting console to drive 
; output channels 5, 8, 11, 14, 17 and 20, the syntax would be
;
;5 | 5 8 11 14 17
;
; This character | is comes from shift+\ on the regular keyboard. It denotes
; the column break between input and output. Note also that there is a space after
; the column break and between each DMX output channel.
;
; Again, all channels not specifically mentioned in the table below are copied 
; 1:1 automatically.
;
; So in this sample, input #13 drives output #13 AND output #74
; input #14 drives output #14 AND output 82. 
;
; Etc.
;
13 | 74
14 | 82
15 | 241 203 76
1 | 2
2 | 9 10 11 12 14 15 16 17 18
 Posted by at 11:27 pm

A Three-Output RS-232 DMX Engine With DMX Input Processing

 Case Study, DMX, RS232  Comments Off on A Three-Output RS-232 DMX Engine With DMX Input Processing
Jul 072014
 
3 Output RS-232 DMX Engine

3 Output RS-232 DMX Engine With DMX Input Monitoring

Here’s another in our series of ‘There’s Only One of These in the Whole World’ designs.

A client needed a modification to our very popular RS-232 DMX Engine.  They were using a PLC to drive a series of very remote DMX light fixtures.  This is a very common use case, and many of our customers who work in industrial control have done similar things.

However, this group needed three separate data outputs instead of one.  And further, their PLC needed to monitor several channels of a DMX stream which was generated by other equipment.  They asked if we could help.

Of course!

It took an afternoon to edit our regular circuit board design to include the new features.  Our across-town vendor can fabricate short runs of circuit boards in five business days*, so the files were emailed to them.  Once the boards came back, they were loaded with components, programmed and tested.  Per the customer’s request, we added a command to the firmware which allows the state of any or all of the incoming DMX channels to be queried at any time.

It took most of an afternoon to generate and fabricate the chassis design, including a few test cuts in thin card stock.

Test Cuts - Front Panel

Test Cuts on Cardboard – Front Panel

If you need something similar, or if you’ve searched the entire Internet and can’t find the precise thing you’re looking for, let us know.  There’s a good chance we can help.


 

* They can move quickly, too.  It’s stop-your-heart expensive, but we’ve done four hour turn times with these guys before.  Pretty neat.

 Posted by at 9:11 pm

Control4 DMX Control using RS-232 DMX Engine

 DMX, RS232  Comments Off on Control4 DMX Control using RS-232 DMX Engine
May 242014
 

redboxsmall

The friendly folks at Domaudeo in Quebec have written a very powerful plugin which bridges between a Control4 automation system and our RS-232 DMX Engine.

This demo video gives a great overview of the available options.  Real-time color control, scene recall with silky smooth crossfades and more are demonstrated.  Also, the ability of our engine to simultaneously and in parallel set any DMX channel to any level at any speed is also featured, starting at about 1:35 in the video.

There’s a more detailed discussion of the driver in this thread on the Control4 forums.

For pricing & availability, contact:

Jerome Fortin
Domaudeo Inc.
Levis, Quebec Canada
418-800-4644 | info@domaudeo.com | www.domaudeo.com

Here’s the video clip:

 Posted by at 4:57 pm

RS-232 DMX Engine – New Firmware

 DMX, RS232  Comments Off on RS-232 DMX Engine – New Firmware
May 052014
 

redboxsmallbuy-now-blue

We’re pleased to release firmware 4.85 for the RS-232 DMX engine.

Among other new features, this firmware introduces simultaneous, massively parallel command processing.  This means  that each DMX channel now has its own fading engine.  Any channel can be set to any level, at any fade speed, at any time.  The system no longer waits for a command to finish executing before processing a second command.

This allows a great deal of flexibility and creative control.  More detail, including PDF documentation, can be found here.  This firmware build can be purchased from our online store (scroll down) for only $15 as well.  It will run on all previously-shipped equipment.

 

 Posted by at 6:30 pm

The DMX Offset Machine

 Case Study, DMX  Comments Off on The DMX Offset Machine
Mar 042014
 
Racks of LED Dimmers, with a DMX Offset Machine Front End

Racks of LED Dimmers, with a DMX Offset Machine Front End.  Click to enlarge.

We were recently able to work with UK-based company Pixelite Ltd. They needed a custom DMX reformatting solution, which we shipped just a day after our initial discussion with them.

Picture a large rack cabinet loaded with a large group of high powered 3-channel RGB LED drivers.  Each driver has a set of DIP switches  for setting its start address.  Obviously it takes some time to address each driver.  But once the job is done, it doesn’t need to change.

Now suppose that this rack of LED drivers is cross-rented to someone else’s show.  If the original set of DMX address range (perhaps 1-120) don’t work nicely with the new LD’s patch, it takes a ton of time, probably in the dark and usually under pressure, to reconfigure everything.

The DMX offset machine, in effect, becomes a ‘master’ controller for the entire rack of LED drivers, combining many discrete drivers into a single system.  Once the address on the offset machine is set to anything which is convenient, the hidden sets of DIP switches never need to be touched again.

In their own words:

We use rack mounted LED DMX dimmers to control our equipment and were spending hours a week opening the racks to readdress them. We needed to find a way of offsetting the start addresses to avoid having to do this.

Engineering Solutions were the most helpful company we approached. They created a bespoke solution and shipped it to The U.K. in just ten days* for an impressive price.

Fantastic service! I would recommend them to anyone.

Mags

 

(*) This is delivery halfway around the world, 10 days from when they first contacted us. We picked USPS Priority Mail for a good balance of delivery speed and price.  UPS, FedEx and DHL are also available.  They’re faster but proportionally more expensive.

Click to Enlarge

Sample Setup – Click to Enlarge

This graphic shows how the system works.  Since the DecaBox has separate DMX input, through and output jacks, it was very straightforward to create custom firmware to do what they needed.  The pushbuttons and LCD make it easy to set the system’s start address.  Total latency is approximately 1/44 second from input to output, which is virtually unnoticeable.

As it turns out, the package spent more time waiting in line to clear customs than it did traveling across the ocean. We love being able to offer innovative gear and quick turnaround times to our customers.  Need something similar?  Let us know.

 Posted by at 2:52 pm

Easy DMX Control of Lutron Graphic Eye 3500s

 Case Study, DMX, RS232  Comments Off on Easy DMX Control of Lutron Graphic Eye 3500s
Feb 282014
 

newgraphicA theatre in the Pacific Northwest contacted us a few weeks ago.  Their space was set up with a pair of control systems running in parallel:  a DMX console and dimmers handle the theatrical lighting while a pair of wall-mounted 6-channel Lutron Graphic Eye 3500 architectural dimmers drive the house lights and some backstage fixtures.

Users on or near the stage can easily recall presets and adjust the lighting levels of the 12 connected circuits.

prg

In the lighting booth, an ornery Windows XP platform runs Grafik Eye Liason software.  Liason provides a GUI for remotely recalling stored presets and adjusting individual dimmer levels.  This machine is in turn connected to a Lutron GRX-PRG interface, which talks with the wall controllers mounted near the stage.

The somewhat awkward end result is that the lighting designer has to use two separate systems to drive all the lights in the space. To this end, they asked:

“Would it be possible to remove the computer and drive the Lutron system directly from our lighting console?  Running both systems all the time is a drag.”

We’re pleased to report that the answer is an emphatic yes.

What We Did

Research revealed that the GPX-PRG receives RS-232 data from the XP machine, massages it a bit, then sends it to the Graphic Eye dimmers via a balanced RS-485 system. More germane to our situation, this RS-232 protocol is well documented.

DecaBox - Laser Etched

We proposed replacing the large, slow and inconvenient Windows XP computer with a DecaBox.  The new system would receive DMX, impersonate Liason and drive the GRX-PRG (and by extension, the downstream Graphic Eye boxes) as if the stock installation had never been touched.

The theatre approved our design, so we shipped up a DecaBox containing this custom firmware.

It took two or perhaps three minutes to connect the new hardware and set the start channel.  The custom firmware we provided worked instantly and flawlessly.  12 consecutive channels of DMX are monitored.  Any time one of them changes, the appropriate control string is sent to the -PRG interface.

Et voilà!  The lighting designer has complete and convenient control of every fixture in the space.

And in the client’s own words:

“We run a small community performing arts center in an old historic fire station and needed a way to have our DMX light board communicate commands with our RS-232 based house lighting.
The DecaBox was the solution we needed. We called, outlined the situation, ordered  and received the unit in a few days and had it up and running perfectly in no time. I was surprised at how a seemingly insurmountable problem was dealt with at such a reasonable cost with so little effort. Thanks so much for the quality product and service Engineering Solutions!”All the Best,~Matt @ The Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Need something similar?  Let us know.

 Posted by at 4:54 pm

DMX Input for a Crestron System

 DMX, RS232  Comments Off on DMX Input for a Crestron System
Oct 242013
 

The easiest possible way to monitor a DMX-512 data stream.

For quite some time now, systems integrators all over the world have used our RS232 Driven DMX engine to allow their serial-based control systems to elegantly, easily, efficiently and inexpensively drive DMX equipment.

However, it happens every month or two that customers need their serial-based systems to receive DMX.  A common installation would be in a church or auditorium, where the house lighting or foyer lighting systems are controlled by a 0-10v system, or perhaps something by Lutron.  Often these systems are based on architectural control signals, rather than the entertainment standard of DMX.  In these cases, the installers want the DMX console to be able to control the house lighting during shows.

So it becomes useful for a building-wide Crestron or AMX system to receive and process a small subset of DMX channels.

Enter the DecaBox, with ‘DMX to ASCII’ firmware.  This is a build we’ve shipped (in various forms) to many different integrators over the years.  It’s been standardized, tested and proven to work in a stable and transparent way.

Using the front panel pushbuttons, DMX channels for the ‘start’ and ‘end’ of a DMX range are chosen. This range can be as small as a single channel, or as large as an entire universe.  These two numbers are of course stored in permanent memory for use at any time in the future.

Then, the DecaBox monitors an incoming DMX signal.  If a channel within the specified range changes its value, a simple RS232 string is transmitted:

CH X = Y[cr]

…where X and Y are decimal numbers, and [cr] is a carriage return, $0D or decimal 13.

Only one string is generated for each DMX transition.  The DecaBox then waits for another transition within the required range.  We’ve learned over the years that a continuously streaming RS232 signal can quickly overload the inputs of most control systems.

Here’s a screenshot which shows RS232 output when three different faders on a DMX console are varied:

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

This syntax, being space and [cr] delimited, is extremely easy to parse and process from within AMX, Crestron, and similar systems.

There’s also a query command which can be sent by the RS-232 device.  In this case, the state of all monitored channels is returned.  This is useful in cases where a constantly running RS-232 stream may not be desired.  For example, some control systems have small serial buffers which would be easily overwhelmed.

Both the streaming mode and query mode can be toggled via RS-232 commands.

Need one? This exact firmware is available in our online store.  Or if you need a modification of some sort, just let us know.

 Posted by at 2:29 am

PropWatcher Saves the Day

 Case Study, DMX  Comments Off on PropWatcher Saves the Day
Oct 222013
 

photo

Giant Pushbutton from Adafruit

An AV provider on the east coast contacted us with a fairly specific request.  They were designing a ‘live action’ video game.  As part of the setup, participants would be pressing a pair of giant (4″) arcade buttons.  When the buttons were pressed, they wanted some fairly complex lighting patterns to be displayed on nearby LED tape and a series of DMX controlled dance floor panels.

The LED fixtures were programmed with software called Venue Magic, which is a sophisticated show control package.

The customer’s bottom-line questions was

“How can we get these LED cues to happen exactly when the buttons are pressed?”

We suggested that our PropWatcher DMX trigger machine would work very nicely in this situation, as it accepts simple contact closure inputs and can output arbitrary DMX channel:value combinations.  This meshes nicely with Venue Magic’s ability to recall cues based on incoming DMX values.

Here in the shop, we programmed input #1 to set DMX Channel 1 to 255, and input #2 to set DMX channel 2 to 255.  The buttons, of course, can be triggered in any combination.  For these two cues, the DMX outputs were set to be ‘on’ for either .5 seconds or the duration of the button press, whichever is longer.  These capabilities are available in the stock PropWatcher firmware.

And thus, three weeks of searching the entire Internet, plus many phone calls to local A/V companies and equipment manufacturers, was distilled to a simple wiring exercise.  The entire system was working perfectly very shortly after our gear arrived.

We even provided a rough sketch for connecting the pushbuttons to the PropWatcher using a pair of regular 9V batteries:

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The final system, installed at a trade show

The final system, installed at a trade show

 Posted by at 6:16 pm