MIDI to DMX Slowdowner Rescues an Installation

 Case Study, DMX, MIDI  Comments Off on MIDI to DMX Slowdowner Rescues an Installation
Mar 062015

Last month we had the chance to combine a pair of firmware versions – our MIDI to DMX Converter and the DMX-Massaging Slowdowner to help a client in Europe with a tricky installation.  Both firmwares are running simultaneously in the same chassis, which can be very useful in situations like this.

Unbranded DMX Decoder Doesn't Like Strict DMX Timing

Unbranded DMX decoder doesn’t like strict DMX timing.

In his words,

My company provides complete computer solutions to the broadcast industry specifically within the gameshow market.  As such I frequently visit countries all over the world and have to interface computers with many different types of dimmers and decoders.

The equipment I used to supply has become obsolete so I got in touch with Engineering Solutions.  Their Decabox interested me and with the Midi to DMX interface was exactly what I required.

It’s always a concern when changing over to new kit but I was reassured by quick responses to email and the phone support offered which was very fortunate because I have just finished a Job in Eastern Europe where the ‘slow’ firmware has just basically saved the show.

I had to connect my system to a ‘working’ lighting rig, already tested by the lighting engineer with his Martin lighting console.  I superficial inspection of the rig revealed unbranded decoders (photo attached), each controlling three desks of 12.  The RGB feeds all wired into one channel (I only need to switch desks lights on/off).  All I was told was that the decoders were manufactured in Turkey!

Firstly all appeared well during the usual channel configuration etc. but soon I began to experience some rather unusual effects.  ‘Desk’s’ 5 and 6 could not be controlled independently i.e. when switching on desk 6, 5 would flicker at random.  The same happened for desk 9 and 10.  I could re-create the exact same problem using my ENTTEC controller connected directly to my PC but strangely the lighting engineer had no problems whatsoever using his Martin lighting console.  Further, I was not able to fix the problem by dropping the DMX refresh rate, even as low as 20Hz.

Finally, after advice from John, I changed to the ‘DMX Slowdowner’ firmware which solved the problem immediately.  I was staggered by this apparently simple fix and extremely grateful for the expertise and experience of Engineering Solutions.

The moral of this tale – In future I will be much more wary of unbranded kit!

Thanks again for all you help,
Jeffrey Bowman
iUK Systems Ltd


Thanks, Jeff, for the chance to work with your company on this project.

Need something similar? Just let us know.

 Posted by at 6:33 pm

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.

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.


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

Engineering Solutions Goes to Burning Man

 Case Study, MIDI  Comments Off on Engineering Solutions Goes to Burning Man
Sep 202013

…well, sort of.  Our gear was there, though nobody from the shop staff had a chance to visit.

A few days back, we received this thoughtful (and unsolicited) email:

So, your responsebox was awesomely reliable in unreasonable conditions for a week at burning man.  The box I installed in our organ controlling a light show worked beautifully!

-Tom Pine

Earlier in the spring, we’d spent some pre-sale time on the phone with artist Tom Pine.  He needed a straightforward and simple way to drive a handful of DMX channels from a MIDI keyboard.  Our DecaBox with MIDI->DMX firmware was a perfect fit, so we sent one out for further testing.

Once the gear arrived, we talked on the phone once more, just to confirm that everything was up and running.

It turns out that the entire project was called ‘The Church Trap’ and its project website is here.  Our box was part of the organ, and it helped drive the sashes of LED mounted in the ceiling.

Here’s an amazing after-dark picture of the interior.  It was featured in Rolling Stone as well.  And finally, a clip from YouTube.  And, the entire installation was burned at the end of the event.

Thanks, Tom, for the chance to help out with your project.  It’s always fun to see how this gear gets used around the world.

 Posted by at 1:36 am

DecaBox MIDI Triggered DMX Scene Playback

 DMX, MIDI  Comments Off on DecaBox MIDI Triggered DMX Scene Playback
Jun 262013

Here’s a fun new firmware build that’s been kicking around the shop for a while.

For several years, our standard DecaBox MIDI to DMX converter has been a huge hit.  It’s been used all over the world by artists, musicians and lighting designers with great success.

The gist of that system is that discrete MIDI notes are mapped on a 1:1 basis to DMX channels.  The note velocity (or the intensity with which the note is presssed) is equal to the DMX channel value.  Elsewhere on this site are quite a few videos of that system in action.

However, it was suggested that we come up with a way to trigger more intricate DMX scenes through a simple MIDI interface.  There’s a practical limit to how much MIDI information can be sent down a wire at one time, and it can be difficult, if not impossible, to generate complicated color fades over many fixtures at the same time using only MIDI note data.

For a long time we’ve been able to record incoming DMX to memory cards, then play it back on command.  So it didn’t take too much work to add MIDI triggering.

So, this new firmware requires an external source of DMX.  It can be a lighting console, a program on a PC, or anything else which generates a valid DMX-512 signal.

The DecaBox captures incoming DMX scenes, saves them to memory, and then assigns them to a single MIDI note for playback.

The signal path looks like this (click to enlarge):

Signal Path – DMX Programming & MIDI Playback


Signal Path - DMX Programming & MIDI Playback

Signal Path – DMX Programming & MIDI Playback

And here’s a video clip showing how everything works:



In stock and ready to ship.  Contact us if this is something you just can’t live without.

 Posted by at 8:13 pm
Jan 252013

For several years now, our DecaBox Protocol Converter with MIDI to DMX firmware has been received in a wonderful way.  We’ve shipped systems all over the world, and they’ve been used with excellent results by musicians and performance artists in a variety of venues.

Today we’re thrilled to release a firmware update for the MIDI to DMX converters.  We’ve borrowed code from our RS232 to DMX Engine (a smashing success in its own right, and the preferred tool of hundreds of A/V technicians and systems integration companies) and used it to create automatic, beautiful, silky smooth fades.

In the past, to create fades and lighting dissolves using MIDI commands, a series of either note or CC messages were required.  It worked well enough, but wasn’t as elegant as it could be.

This new firmware build automates the entire process, in a very straightforward way.  MIDI program change (also known as patch change) messages, which typically are used to switch between voices on a keyboard, such as grand piano, electric piano, vibraphone, etc, now control the DecaBox’s internal dimming engine.

Here’s a handy chart of the general MIDI voices.

These program changes all have a numeric value.  What we’ve done is taken the value and then subtracted one.  This number is the time, in seconds, that subsequent MIDI note messages will cause the DMX channels to fade in and out.

For example, Acoustic Grand is PC #1.  1 – 1 = 0.  Zero second (instant) on / off times.

PC #10, the venerable Glockenspiel, generates a nine second fade time.  10 – 1 = 9.

And so forth.

Any combination of notes and PC messages may be transmitted.  They’ll be processed in the order they are received.  Fade times can overlap each other in any combination.  The dimming engine calculates all fade times in parallel, so it can be fed a dizzying array of data without skipping a beat.

Note that as before, the MIDI note velocity corresponds to the final DMX channel intensity.  The dimming engine only affects the time it takes DMX channels to move from one level to another.

Here’s a video clip which demonstrates the new firmware.  In the clip, we used a handful of the LED panels which were left over from the Christmas project shown here.

You can click on the ‘Youtube’ link in the player to see the clip full screen, etc.

If you choose to purchase a DecaBox, this new firmware (v3.0d) will be included at no charge.  You can grab yours in the online store – it’s a ‘Standard DecaBox with MIDI to DMX firmware’.

If you’ve ordered one of these after October 1, 2012, we can email you a copy of the new firmware at no charge.  It only takes a few seconds to complete the update using your DecaBox’s USB port.

Update 2/6/2013 Firmware 3.2d has been released, with the following additions:

  • ‘Note Off’ at any velocity clears the DMX channel. Speed is based on the currently selected engine speed.
  • Dimming engine speed can be controlled by (a) MIDI PC messages or (b) MIDI CC#0 messages.  This setting can be accessed in the DecaBox’s menu system, and the setting survives a power cycle.  Note that if MIDI CC#0 is selected to drive the dimming engine speed, DMX channel #1 can not be also driven with CC messages.  This was added because some sequencer programs don’t save program / patch changes messages very well.  It was easier to work with a dynamic CC fader / knob tool (which can be automated as part of playback) rather than the PC messages.  So now, either method can be used with equal results.  In most systems’ MIDI implementation, CC#0 is also named ‘Bank Select’.
  • Dimming engine speed is adjustable now in .25 second increments, up to a maximum fade time of ~ 30 seconds.

Finally, if your gear is older than October, we can provide an update for $26.  Contact ‘sales AT response-box.com’ for more details.


 Posted by at 5:55 pm