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Author Topic: DMX control - USB vs Ethernet  (Read 1911 times)

frank kayser

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DMX control - USB vs Ethernet
« on: January 19, 2019, 01:24:15 pm »


Hi folks,I've had it with things like the Obey (and the like) DMX controller systems.  I want to go with a software solution.  I know those hardware controllers will do the job, but their programming and operation is far from intuitive, especially with different types of fixtures and modes.  Also, there will be assorted folks using the lights.  With scenes and chases programmed, maybe a button away.


So the basic question is USB or Ethernet?


Both will need some type of computer for control - QLC+ has custom version designed to run on a Raspberry Pi.  It can run multiple universes.  I do not believe there is USB-3 on the board; only USB-2.


I have WiFi and hardwired POE AF capable ethernet installed at the cafe with some unused drops on/near the stage.  10-12 lights max. for primarily music-performance stage.


I need a way to translate what comes out of the computer to DMX.  I know of USB and Ethernet/ARTNET devices.


Is one inherently "better" than the other?


Let's assume I would like to put room lights and artwork accent lights/dimmers on another universe or two in the future.


Would that make a difference in which type of interface to use?
Is one more reliable than the other?
Is one more flexible than the other?
Does one have a better data/refresh rate than the other?


How much traffic would be generated by the Artnet/Ethernet?  Running at gig speed hardwired on separate VLAN should help keep the public network, sound control network, and office network operating at speed.  Of course, USB does not have that issue.


I'm assuming capability is controlled exclusively by the software.


As far as software, I can run QLC+ on the MAC or Raspberry Pi - networked so control can be via iPad.  That would support both USB and Artner/Ethernet.
I could also use a product like Luminaire which runs natively on iPad which I believe would be Artnet/Ethernet alone.


Am I asking the right questions?


Thanks
frank
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Dave Garoutte

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Re: DMX control - USB vs Ethernet
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2019, 03:07:44 pm »

I've had good luck with the ENTTEC ODE (with Luminair), but it's only one universe.
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Lyle Williams

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Re: DMX control - USB vs Ethernet
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2019, 03:14:48 pm »

Artnet has better compatibility.  Every bit of hardware just seems to work with every bit of artnet software.

USB is less fiddly.  There are just less bits to plug together.

Refresh rates are determined by the number of channels output and the bitrate of DMX.  It should be the same for all products, save the dodgey-est USB.

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Debbie Dunkley

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Re: DMX control - USB vs Ethernet
« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2019, 04:22:05 pm »

I've had good luck with the ENTTEC ODE (with Luminair), but it's only one universe.

Me too - been using this method for a while now and I get very few problems - most caused by wi-fi interference in high traffic areas - happens rarely though... I do NOT want to have to take my laptop to every show - just more to get damaged or lose.

I also have a DMX KING ODE which works just as well as the Enttec and is cheaper.
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Jeff Lelko

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Re: DMX control - USB vs Ethernet
« Reply #4 on: January 19, 2019, 05:16:39 pm »

Hi Frank, just to take a step back, is there a reason why you've chosen QLC+ or Luminair?  As far as USB vs Ethernet, to me, a lot of it comes down to use.  For multi-universe applications or situations where units accept ArtNET directly I'd vote for the networked solution, whereas for something simple I prefer USB.  You plug in the box and it works - very little to go wrong with those, and for bench-testing in the shop it's my preferable solution versus pulling out a full-sized console or setting up a computer usb -> ethernet adapter -> gateway -> DMX system.  The only catch is that you have to get the right USB interface for the software you plan to use, hence my question.  Hope this helps!
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frank kayser

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Re: DMX control - USB vs Ethernet
« Reply #5 on: January 19, 2019, 10:50:25 pm »

Hi Frank, just to take a step back, is there a reason why you've chosen QLC+ or Luminair?  As far as USB vs Ethernet, to me, a lot of it comes down to use.  For multi-universe applications or situations where units accept ArtNET directly I'd vote for the networked solution, whereas for something simple I prefer USB.  You plug in the box and it works - very little to go wrong with those, and for bench-testing in the shop it's my preferable solution versus pulling out a full-sized console or setting up a computer usb -> ethernet adapter -> gateway -> DMX system.  The only catch is that you have to get the right USB interface for the software you plan to use, hence my question.  Hope this helps!


Enttec is like saying Kleenex for a tissue, or making a Xerox copy.  So when talking ArtNET over Ethernet, Enttec ODE becomes the go-to, or the generic clone of that interface.  Thanks for relaying the positives Dave, Lyle, and Debbie.


To Jeff's question as to how I got here, and the choices I've made (actually still under consideration), probably need to fill in some of my experiences.


[Editorial] As for DMX512 protocol in general, it looks like complete anarchy - the wild west - as far as any standardization. None comes to mind.  As a manufacturer, do what you want, and don't worry about anything that goes before.   Even within the same brand, there is no consistency in what channels/values do what.  The DMX pile of spaghetti can be cleaned up quickly and easily with software.  [/Editorial]


As for QLC+ and Luminaire, QLC+ had my fixtures already defined, and had reasonable tutorials on line. A year or two I started looking at QLC+ and Lightkey on the Mac, Vibro and Osram on the iPad.  I did not wish to put money into Luminaire.  My patience grew short futzing with Lightkey, and Osram using an Enttec ODE.  Fixture definitions were a problem, as was setting both to run over my "test" network at home.  Without decent fixture definitions, that made it hard to sort out the rest. Literally, chasing my tail.  The need for this type of lighting control vanished, and so did my curiosity, and desire to work on the project.


So we got some new lights for the cafe - some hex-par from ADJ and ADJ Megabar RGBA units. I really was hoping by staying within the ADJ brand, thinking most of the basic RGBA and dimmer would be on the same channels.  Nope.  Add that strobe was on solid at 255, and dark at zero  added a useless channel (for me) to get basically nothing done. Gee, if the strobe was ON at zero, and dark at 255... Well, it wasn't.  Dimmer and strobe were on different channels, dashing my hopes of simply using the six visible sliders to do something like dimmer, R,G,B,A,W.  HA!


I priced out DMXKing interface and realized I was within $50 of what the current HW controller was.


So I started looking at software. QLC+ was already on the Mac, and had my fixtures, and those decent video tutorials.  And could be made "user friendly" for others that may wish to light the stage during the day.  So I dragged out the Enttec ODE, blow off the dust, and began to assemble a proof of concept.


As for Luminaire, that seems to be the "go to" software here on PSW for iPad control.  I haven't actually looked at anything iPad yet... Still on the MAC Proof of concept.


Still chewing on the other points you've made.  Put in the above-the-shoulders mixer and see what comes out.


thanks
frank
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Jeff Lelko

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Re: DMX control - USB vs Ethernet
« Reply #6 on: January 19, 2019, 11:53:03 pm »

[Editorial] As for DMX512 protocol in general, it looks like complete anarchy - the wild west - as far as any standardization. None comes to mind.  As a manufacturer, do what you want, and don't worry about anything that goes before.   Even within the same brand, there is no consistency in what channels/values do what.  The DMX pile of spaghetti can be cleaned up quickly and easily with software.  [/Editorial]

I can see where you're coming from, but looks can be deceiving.  DMX is actually very standardized.  You can read the basic Wikipedia page here if you're curious about the details of the protocol, and Doug Fleenor's website has some good white paper articles as well.  As far as attribute assignment goes, yes, there's no standard to that.  When you think about it, DMX devices vary so greatly that any standardization would end up being a waste of data.  The attributes of a moving light will differ from an LED Par, which will differ still from various effect lights.  A good example would be my Elation Sniper Pros - while they have some industry-standard attributes such as pan/tilt/shutter/CMY, they also have several attributes that are specific to just that fixture.  Heck, I've even built a DMX doorbell!  As you point out, the software end of a lighting controller can help to clean this up drastically and make things easier to use, especially as attributes get more complex.

The reason I mention this is because DMX is DMX.  It doesn't matter if it's coming out your computer's USB port or if it's first traveling through an Ethernet protocol.  So long as the device outputs protocol-compliant DMX, how you get there is largely irrelevant.  That said, secondary factors such as reliability, complexity, and software/controller compatibility are what usually drive the decision for me barring applications with large numbers of complex fixtures.   

Having your fixtures already defined in the software is a good start, so I can see how that led you to where you are right now.  Most software will allow you to make your own fixtures, so not having them included shouldn't be a dealbreaker.  For the platforms I'm proficient on I can usually make a fixture profile in about 10 minutes so long as the unit's manual correctly defines the DMX attributes, so doing this isn't a big deal. 

Luminaire has the unique advantage of being able to run off a tablet exclusively.  I know Debbie and others use this and have more experience than I do, and thus can better answer questions but since you're a fixed installation I don't know if you'd really be able to take advantage of it in that regard.  Most other software controllers can be remote controlled via a tablet - they just can't be run exclusively from one.  I'd almost think the opposite would be desirable - set up a Mac Mini somewhere to "host" your controller and then just wifi in with a tablet when you want to make adjustments or run a show.  Several controllers also allow for additional control options such as a small panel installed on a wall somewhere convenient for your staff or visiting performers to use the system.  Definitely lots to consider.

QLC+ is okay, though it doesn't have the same support and pedigree that other options like MagicQ, Onyx, Nomad, etc. have.  That probably doesn't matter so much for your application, but just more food for thought.   

I can definitely understand your frustration with the ADJ fixture channels not lining up with each other.  You can imagine the additional frustration when units of the same make/model have different firmware installed and thus behave differently even amongst themselves!  In your case, that's unfortunately where the smaller hardware controllers start to show their limitations.  Any software solution (and "medium" level hardware board) should be able to be set up so that your 6 faders do dimmer, R, G, B, A, W even if the fixtures don't have those attributes mapped in the same order. 

I don't know if any of this really answers any questions, but hopefully it gives you more to think about!
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frank kayser

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Re: DMX control - USB vs Ethernet
« Reply #7 on: January 20, 2019, 06:53:11 am »



I can see where you're coming from, but looks can be deceiving.  DMX is actually very standardized.  You can read the basic Wikipedia page here if you're curious about the details of the protocol, and Doug Fleenor's website has some good white paper articles as well.  As far as attribute assignment goes, yes, there's no standard to that.  When you think about it, DMX devices vary so greatly that any standardization would end up being a waste of data.  The attributes of a moving light will differ from an LED Par, which will differ still from various effect lights.  A good example would be my Elation Sniper Pros - while they have some industry-standard attributes such as pan/tilt/shutter/CMY, they also have several attributes that are specific to just that fixture.  Heck, I've even built a DMX doorbell!  As you point out, the software end of a lighting controller can help to clean this up drastically and make things easier to use, especially as attributes get more complex.


The reason I mention this is because DMX is DMX.  It doesn't matter if it's coming out your computer's USB port or if it's first traveling through an Ethernet protocol.  So long as the device outputs protocol-compliant DMX, how you get there is largely irrelevant.  That said, secondary factors such as reliability, complexity, and software/controller compatibility are what usually drive the decision for me barring applications with large numbers of complex fixtures.   


Having your fixtures already defined in the software is a good start, so I can see how that led you to where you are right now.  Most software will allow you to make your own fixtures, so not having them included shouldn't be a dealbreaker.  For the platforms I'm proficient on I can usually make a fixture profile in about 10 minutes so long as the unit's manual correctly defines the DMX attributes, so doing this isn't a big deal.
Thanks, Jeff.  You're right. DMX is DMX.  It is a industry-standard and the protocol itself is well defined.  Absolutely amazing things are done using the protocol.


Part of the learning curve of creating a fixture is the language.  Having to do this first thing out of the box is not ideal.  Seeing how a fixture is defined in the light fixture creator makes the light bulb go on, so to speak.  Making one after that is no big deal.  Have to get some type of toe hold, though.
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I can definitely understand your frustration with the ADJ fixture channels not lining up with each other.  You can imagine the additional frustration when units of the same make/model have different firmware installed and thus behave differently even amongst themselves!  In your case, that's unfortunately where the smaller hardware controllers start to show their limitations.  Any software solution (and "medium" level hardware board) should be able to be set up so that your 6 faders do dimmer, R, G, B, A, W even if the fixtures don't have those attributes mapped in the same order. 
I hear you.  This is what I was calling DMX the wild west for.  I fail to see why a manufacturer would create a chip with the channel/value definitions, and then later substitute a chip with different mappings.  I guess I just can't wrap my head around that logic (or lack thereof).  Someone has to make that chip, and one would think they would look to prior art and not reinvent the wheel every single time it comes around.  I suspect volume sellers like ADJ and Chauvet would spec the same mapping across same brand/model so they are not quite so frustrating to the end user.  Trying to map across models with differing functions... Well, I'll leave that one there.
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Luminaire has the unique advantage of being able to run off a tablet exclusively.  I know Debbie and others use this and have more experience than I do, and thus can better answer questions but since you're a fixed installation I don't know if you'd really be able to take advantage of it in that regard.
Which begs the question, now that the modern iPad can multitask, can the same iPad run Luminaire and the sound control software from Yamaha, A&H, Behringer, etc? Should I run both together?
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Most other software controllers can be remote controlled via a tablet - they just can't be run exclusively from one.  I'd almost think the opposite would be desirable - set up a Mac Mini somewhere to "host" your controller and then just wifi in with a tablet when you want to make adjustments or run a show.  Several controllers also allow for additional control options such as a small panel installed on a wall somewhere convenient for your staff or visiting performers to use the system.  Definitely lots to consider.
One thing I found is that QLC+ has a version optimized for a Raspberry Pi, controlled through a thin-client web interface. Getting all that to work (little experience with Linux) would be its own challenge. A Mac Mini surely would be more familiar ground.  Cost-wise between the two, I could presumably run it on a Windows Stick PC, too. https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2482277,00.asp.
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QLC+ is okay, though it doesn't have the same support and pedigree that other options like MagicQ, Onyx, Nomad, etc. have.  That probably doesn't matter so much for your application, but just more food for thought.   


I don't know if any of this really answers any questions, but hopefully it gives you more to think about!


I'll look into MagicQ, Onyx, and Nomad while I'm looking around.  I'll agree that QLC+ may not have the pedigree, but it seems that there are regular upgrades and new features, also with what appears a vibrant user forum base.  Call for help?  Uhhh... can't say!


Lots of good info, Jeff.  Thanks much.
frank

« Last Edit: January 20, 2019, 07:25:24 am by frank kayser »
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Dave Garoutte

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Re: DMX control - USB vs Ethernet
« Reply #8 on: January 20, 2019, 02:42:55 pm »

I do simple lighting for my shows.  No movers.
I'm currently using Luminair3.
I've used Obey type controllers (Too much desk space) as well as Martin MPC with an M-touch( way too steep learning curve).
This is perfect for my needs.

The thing I really like about it is that you can completely ignore dmx channels that you aren't going to use.
You can build custom fixture profiles as well as edit what you have.

On my Colorado Solo1 setup, I only use two virtual faders; one for the zoom and one to control color and intensity.
The fixture requires a dimmer channel, but I have assigned a permanently full on invisible address in the color fader.
This brings the 9 dmx channels of the fixture down to 2 faders in the software.
This simplifies my interface a LOT.

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Steve Garris

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Re: DMX control - USB vs Ethernet
« Reply #9 on: January 20, 2019, 03:22:36 pm »

I do simple lighting for my shows.  No movers.
I'm currently using Luminair3.
I've used Obey type controllers (Too much desk space) as well as Martin MPC with an M-touch( way too steep learning curve).
This is perfect for my needs.

The thing I really like about it is that you can completely ignore dmx channels that you aren't going to use.
You can build custom fixture profiles as well as edit what you have.

On my Colorado Solo1 setup, I only use two virtual faders; one for the zoom and one to control color and intensity.
The fixture requires a dimmer channel, but I have assigned a permanently full on invisible address in the color fader.
This brings the 9 dmx channels of the fixture down to 2 faders in the software.
This simplifies my interface a LOT.

Same here. I use a lot of cheap, Chinese fixtures, so I just create my own profiles, leaving out any unused channels within each fixture. We do have movers though, and so far I've been satisfied with the movement generators in Luminair3. I use the DMX 1 Pro from DMX King, a dedicated Airport Express, and the Donner wireless DMX units which also act as a DMX splitter.

The worst thing about Luminair is the documentation. There's a ton of stuff you just have to learn by messing around with the app.

Edit: Forgot to mention - I looked in to running both Luminair3 and my mixer software on the same iPad. In the end I decided it would be too risky having to wait for the programs to come up when switching between the two. So I use 2 iPads when I'm running lights. I use a mini for Luminair and strap it on my arm if I need to be completely mobile all night.
« Last Edit: January 20, 2019, 03:31:28 pm by Steve Garris »
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Re: DMX control - USB vs Ethernet
« Reply #9 on: January 20, 2019, 03:22:36 pm »


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