Update January 25, 2013 The DecaBox now includes a built-in DMX dimming engine. See here for more details.
If you’re new to DMX and/or MIDI, this quickstart document may serve as a useful introduction to how the DecaBox can bridge these two worlds.
Use this nifty interface to generate DMX lighting data from your keyboard, sequencer or MIDI controller.
Operation is super simple and straightforward. Here’s a 1-minute YouTube clip, which was uploaded in HD resolution. Expand it for more clarity.
This DecaBox firmware personality responds to MIDI note on / note off messages and MIDI continuous controller messages to generate DMX output.
A single (user selectable) MIDI Channel is monitored. The system watches for ‘Note On’ messages related to that channel. Since there a total of 128 notes in a MIDI chanel, the system outputs 128 channels of DMX. The 7-bit [0 127] note velocity value is doubled to make an 8 bit [0 255] DMX channel value.
‘Note Off’ messages at any velocity clear the corresponding DMX channel. Also, a ‘Note On’ message with zero velocity clears the channel.
Simultaneously, the firmware monitors MIDI continuous controller data on that same user-selected MIDI channel. The first 119 general-purpose CCs are monitored. The 7 bit [0 127] value of the control channel is doubled and sent out the door as DMX channel data.
What’s neat about this is that DMX channels can be ‘played’ with piano keys or kickdrum hits, or driven with knobs on a sequencer or MIDI control surface.
This works well for driving incandescent lights and other equipment which doesn’t require 256 steps of granularity. It may not be the best choice for slowly panning intelligent lights. As always, your mileage may vary.
Q&A from tech support’s mailbin:
Hi – I’m interested in purchasing your converter box to produce light shows for dance performances.
Typically there are lots of slow, gradual fades between different colors in the lighting design. I’m interested to know how well your product looks when attempting to slowly fade a given channel up and down, through all 127 MIDI value, but so far, all the demos I’ve seen so far demonstrate relatively quick blinking and flashing effects.
I understand that DMX resolution is twice that of MIDI, but can I still get acceptable results?
Yes! The best way to do fades and ramps with the DecaBox is to use a MIDI CC (continuous controller) rather than just simple notes. There are 119 general purpose CCs in each MIDI channel, and they can usually be accessed by name and/or number in your sequencer software or other hardware.
Since the DecaBox will respond equally to note and CC messages, you can play notes for fast ‘step’ effects, then move faders / gradually adjust MIDI CC messages for slow fades. Fade times can be nearly infinite in this case.
For purposes of authoring your effects, MIDI Note #0 (which is C-1) equals MIDI CC #1 equals DMX channel #1.
Note #1 (C# -1) equals MIDI CC #2 equals DMX channel 2.
And so forth.
The most recently received message (note or CC) always takes precedence.
Note also that if you buy a DecaBox and aren’t completely thrilled with its performance, it can be returned within 30 days for a full refund of the purchase price.
Note that DMX data is transferred at 250,000 bits per second, while MIDI only runs at 31,250… At 1/8 the baud rate, it’s not possible to update an entire DMX universe with new data 44 times per second using only MIDI information. To realize that sort of throughput, consider using a dedicated USB – DMX dongle, a proper lighting console, or something similar.
That being said, our customers have found that this system works really, really well in smaller installations. If you’re a musician wanting to drive some LEDs and par cans, or are designing a neat new art exhibit, or something similar, this will work perfectly.
The DMX output stream is refreshed at around 44 Hz.
Further, the system responds to the MIDI control channel messages $BX $78 $YY and $BX $70 $YY (‘all notes off’, ‘all sound off’) where X is the MIDI channel being used and $YY is any value.
Midi note velocities are usually calculated on a 7 bit scale and range from [0 127].
System Power: 9-15v DC, 200 mA, center positive, 2.1mm barrel connector. One power supply is included with your order. The connector size is fairly standard, so it’s easy to replace when lost.
Note: the USB port on the DecaBox is used for firmware updates. It doesn’t transmit MIDI or DMX, so you’ll need to use the regular XLR-5 and DIN connectors for those protocols.
[This video clip shows the older system chassis, plus some LED and incandescent fixtures. However, operation is electrically the same to what we’re shipping today.]
And just for fun, this page has a second video clip which demonstrates the DecaBox converting MIDI notes to DMX lighting data, then combining that information with an incoming DMX stream. In real time. Pretty fun demonstration, actually.
From the field…
Sidewalk Prophets (here’s a link) use this hardware to drive the blinders and LEDs mounted immediately behind the band:
I have a band called The Dreaming. we have spent the last year on tour across the US. we are running protools 8 live. Our drummer is synced to a click track and our keyboard backing tracks.
I’m using the Decabox to sync the lights to the songs. I spent weeks programming 16 fixtures ranging LED panels to moonflower fx using midi notes and velocity. It’s a pretty small light show but in the small clubs and theaters we play it gives us a HUGE look. having all the lights change and run in perfect sync is such a powerful tool and makes our band look and feel more like an arena band in any environment.
Every show I have other bands come and ask me what lights we using and I laugh and show them the boring American DJ lights in our small light boxes that sit on our amps. I laugh because they didn’t ask the right question. How do you make these lights run in perfect time with your show? The Decabox. that’s how. but I like to keep that my little secret weapon. haha
=uw7qa-95uio (rough sound but good shots of the lighting)
At first when me and my band mates wanted to sync lights to our set-list using an audio interface, we had no idea where to start.
After looking at sites and Google searching multiple queries, we kept bumping into the Engineering Solutions Inc. site. That’s when we decided using midi to DMX would be the easiest best solution. This sounded like a dream come true, using a midi track to control all the channels of any light you wanted? It made me very skeptical to be honest how this could be done.
After receiving the product, and being slightly confused, I e-mailed John who INSTANTLY replied, then he volunteer’d to actually call us to help us get it set-up. Not to mention setting it up was a simple task that took a few seconds to do.
The hard part came of actually working with the 4 typical RGB DMX lights, and 1 strobe. Once again being stumped and frustrated John walked us through, and even checked out the lights we were using and looked at the manual for them online to tell us EXACTLY what to do.
Instantly we were in business and our midi-keyboard was sending the signals to the decabox, then causing lights and a strobe go off.
Our set-list now has ONE simple midi-track lined up with the audio track thus making our sync’d light show, that we created in one day! Easy as that! Not to mention it never ‘tweeks’ out and the lights always fire on que.
This product is SOOO simple to use, the customer service was the best, and not to mention a pretty cheap price speaking on what it does!
Thank you John and Engineering Solutions, you’ve made one of the best and useful products we’ve ever used.
(Editor’s note: We’re still trying to collect the backstory on this project, but it appears that the DecaBox MIDI to DMX Fimrware was used as part of this animated fountain project in Columbia.)
First, I have a GrandMA NSP hooked up to a PC, switch, and a rack-mounted folding touchscreen, keyboard and mouse. Then I have an Elation Midi controller: http://www.elationlighting.com/ProductDetails.aspx?ItemNumber=1708&Category= hooked up via USB to the pc. The controller uses midi notes for buttons and encoders but uses midi continuous controller messages for the playback faders. The GrandMA Onpc only uses midi notes but has a DMX in on the NSP which can be mapped to control the faders on the GrandMA onPC.
It was then that I searched for a way to convert the midi continuous controller messages to DMX and found the DECA Midi to DMX bridge which will go between the controller and pc. Then, I found out that the DMX-IN on the NSP will only work by itself if it is running on Art-Net. (This is because the NSP has to talk MA-Net to the PC to unlock the DMX signals. )
I then searched for a cheap solution to convert DMX to artnet and found Enttec’s OPEN DMX Ethernet.
Basically, the DECA box will go into Enttec’s box which then plugs into the switch at which point the GrandMA onpc will recognize and will set it up as a DMX in node.
Lastly, I will need a couple of software programs running to get all these components to talk such as Bome’s Midi Translator: http://www.bome.com/products/miditranslator and Midi yoke. Not sure yet if I will need a special software for the DECA box. So far, I have everything except the DECA box and Enttec box. We shall find out if everything works after all of this.
I will keep you updated!
-George Jackson, Northland, a Church Distributed
Just thought I’d drop you a quick “Thank You” as it appears that the DecaBox, SONAR, and the DMX lights are communicating properly. Once I finally got that DMX converter, it took a couple of hours experimenting with SONAR but I just successfully programmed my first song with synchronized lighting! Very cool. Just what I was hoping for and I’ve only scratched the surface. Really glad I stumbled upon your product.
-Paul Slater, King’s X
I have been trying for months all sorts of different ways to be able to automate our lighting show to run in sync with the music coming from ableton live, all hitting dead ends, spending hours searching forums & getting confusing answers telling me that i need to buy another program or another breakout box or something else. On one of my usual net searches hoping to find an easier answer I stumbled upon the reponse box, i watched the video & after the amount of failures I’ve had trying to solve this problem, i was skeptical, it looked too easy.
So i emailed John directly with exactly what i was hoping to do with it, have one midi channel in ableton live with the lighting show programmed on it so that whatever section of whatever song we chose to drop into on the fly, the lighting would follow it. John replied back straight away with an answer of ‘yes, lots of people in your exact situation have used the box to do this’, I immediately ordered & paid for the box with live show dates approaching. I received the box within a week of ordering (I am in Australia) which i was very happy about but now the test, I went home plugged everything in, hit a midi note and…. IT WORKED!!! No messing around, no manuals, no head scratching, no forum searching, it just worked.
Since then I have emailed John a few times with different questions & he has replied back everytime with helpful info even though he has nothing to gain financially from it, thanks John & engineering solutions, you have taken one less headache out of this live digital musicians setup.
I wanted to sync a light show to a live performance for my band while incorporating the gear we already had. We already use a MIDI drum machine and did not want to fiddle with a laptop on stage. All I needed to do was convert MIDI to DMX. The head of the lighting and keyboards department at my local Guitar Center thought this idea was ridiculous (HA, typical). So, I hunted for a few weeks on the internet and stumbled across the Decabox.
After reading the documentation, I realized that it was EXACTLY what I was looking for. The Decabox is the perfect solution for controlling DMX lighting with MIDI. It’s incredibly simple and works exactly as advertised. The customer service from these guys is quick and informative. Being new to DMX, I emailed some questions and John was very helpful. I was curious about MIDI’s ability to do slow fades because it has half as many values as DMX but it really looks great!
Anyway, it’s a great little piece of hardware, and I would recommend this company to anyone looking for unique, professional lighting products.
We use our Decabox as a lighting solution for our live show.
A DAW runs our click tracks, backing samples, cues and counts, etc., as well as programmed midi tracks that control our lights. We use the midi out of our audio interface into the midi in on our Engineering Solutions DecaBox.
The Midi to DMX firmware converts the midi channels to dmx channels and in turn executes the programming to run our intelligent lighting (96 channels of DMX lighting).
We’ve been thrilled with the performance of the unit, particularly in its stability and response time! We haven’t had a single issue using it live and have programmed it all the way down to 64th notes at around 140 bmp.
Additionally, our old converter (big light controller we brought to every show) had a delay that required nudging the midi tracks in order for the lights to sync with the click, the DecaBox does not have this issue.
Additionally, the size of the unit lets us mount it on a rack shelf in a 16 space rack we already use on stage. This allows us to keep many connections permanent and cuts down on setup time on stage.
We could not be happier and we thoroughly look forward to continuing our relationship with Engineering Solutions. The craftsmanship and functionality is second to none and the customer service is just as notable!
I have been scouring the internet for the last few years trying to find a MIDI to DMX converter. The units I have found were either vaporware or did not do what I (or probably what anyone else) needed them to do. When I came across this Engineering Solutions website, I inquired about their box via email and received a response (no pun intended) immediately. I was given a name and phone number to contact if I needed further info. I then called John who had answered all my questions and confirmed the converter would do exactly what I needed it to.
When I received the unit I wired it up and contacted John again for some further setup questions. He gave me a quick tutorial and I was up and running in no time. Now that’s customer service!!
The Midi to DMX unit is exactly what it should be the box is awesome! John thanks for your help, my three year dilemma is now solved.
All The Best,
4D Post Production
“I do live dance music performance that uses lots of MIDI and synthesizer tweaking.
I thought it would be interesting to spice up the set with some sync’ed LED DMX color effect displays. There are a few products that use a software application and a USB->DMX dongle. However, I did not want to clutter our laptop with those extra applications and driverss.
We already use Ableton Live, so I just wanted the lighting data to go out on a MIDI channel just like a synth melody. The Engineering Solutions MIDI->DMX Converter was the only product I could find suited for this application.
This device had two modes, where DMX data was translated from either MIDI note/velocity data, or Continuous Controller data. However, I talked to John about having both modes simultaneously. This would allow me to easily draw out long color sweeps in a Logic’s Hyper Editor, AND have quick rhythm-synced flashes from MIDI notes.
John was able to add this feature and deliver me the box in a matter of days. Now I am enjoying a new dimension to producing my music: doing a full custom designed and sync’ed light show to accompany it.”
– Troy Sheets
Here’s a video clip from Family Force 5, where the lights were driven by a DecaBox. Thanks, Lee!