DMX and nLight: What You Need to Know from the TLA Controls Team

TLA Spotlight Blog

DMX and nLight: What You Need to Know from the TLA Controls Team

Feb 18, 2022 | Controls, Tech Corner

Pictured above, DMX with DMX show lights providing dynamic color, movement, and visual interest

Hi, it’s Carl from the TLA Controls Team and I’m back on the Spotlight Blog to share some very cool lighting trivia that you can use to impress your colleagues and industry friends!

From beatboxing to hip hop star, rapper DMX lit up the stage with raw talent, an irresistible beat, and spectacular lighting effects. Read on to find out how DMX used DMX to create unforgettable concert experiences.


DMX and DMX512

Here’s the back story…

DMX, birth name Earl Simmons, was born on December 18, 1970, in either Baltimore, Maryland or Mount Vernon, New York—accounts of his precise birthplace disagree. He had a turbulent childhood both at home and school, and at the age of 14, after returning home from his second stay in a boy’s group home, he started beatboxing for a local rapper.

He first coined his stage name based on an iconic musical instrument he encountered while at the boy’s group home: the Oberheim DMX drum machine.

Historical accounts disagree at this point, but this author would like to believe that after his meteoric rise to hip hop and acting stardom, and before his untimely passing at the age of 50 due to heart failure, Earl ‘DMX’ Simmons developed a fascination with the technology and control protocol behind the beautiful and dynamic lighting shows at his concerts: Digital MultipleX, better known as DMX512, or just DMX.

Now that we’ve established this cool connection, these three questions come to mind:

1. Why did DMX the rapper reportedly fall in love with this exciting technology?
2. What information should be included in the drawings and specifications for a biddable architectural DMX control system?
3. How can I integrate DMX lighting with nLight to give the end-user a seamless and intuitive lighting control experience?

Keep scrolling for the answers, and more insight into what makes a mega-concert so dazzling!


Samuel DeChamplain Bridge in Montréal Quebec Canada lighting design by HLB using Lumenpulse and DMX
Pictured above: Samuel De-Champlain Bridge (Montréal, Quebec, Canada), lighting design by HLB Lighting Design using Lumenpulse.


High-level overview of DMX512

Digital MultipleX (DMX), or ANSI Standard E1.11 – 2008 ESTA-USITT DMX512-A, is the digital control protocol behind the dazzling, dancing, flashing lights at professional mega-concerts; the moving effects and zoomable spotlights in school theaters; color-shifting building facades and landmark accents; year-round holiday lighting on city buildings, and many applications in between.

The DMX512 protocol was developed in 1986 by the Engineering Commission of the USITT with the intention of standardizing the control of the numerous, and largely incompatible, stage lighting dimmers and effect machines used for theatrical productions.

It has since been expanded for use far beyond the theater and is now applied nearly everywhere that dynamic and color-changing lighting is used. The DMX512A standard itself is maintained by the Entertainment Services and Technology Association (ESTA).

A basic DMX system consists of a controller on one end and fixtures/drivers on the other, all connected in a daisy-chain by DMX cable, with a 120 ohm resistor at the end of the daisy chain to ensure signal integrity.


Basic Digital MultipleX, aka DMX system chart
Pictured above, a typical DMX system universe


Scaling this concept up to make a functional DMX control system is not difficult as long as you understand the final intent of the DMX lighting and keep a handful of design fundamentals in mind.

Click here to learn more about DMX512 from one of the biggest manufacturers in the game – Pathway!

Now, if you’re like me, you want to know exactly what it takes to design your own DMX control system… read on for the 5-step punch list.

How to specify architectural DMX

Designing the DMX control systems for theatrical and entertainment projects like professional venues and many K-12 theaters is typically done by dedicated specialists, not Division 26 electrical designers, and is outside the scope of this article.

But many modern architectural and “archi-tainment” applications (like ballrooms and cafetoriums) now include colorful, dynamic lighting and require the flexibility and responsiveness of DMX control systems.

It becomes the responsibility of the project lighting or electrical designer to specify the right DMX system to:

  1. Meet the design intent
  2. Fall within budget
  3. Comply with energy code
  4. Accommodate the end user’s level of expertise
  5. Ensure reliable technical support is available


Proper architectural DMX design isn’t hard once you understand a few basic design principles.

But before you start designing and selecting the system, you need to understand the basic vision for the lighting that’s being controlled by asking the following questions:

  • What will the lights be used for? Tunable white? Full RGB color changing? Movement?
  • Are the lights for static color scenes only like basic ambiance, mood, or holiday lighting? Or are the lights intended to display dynamic, color-changing shows like rainbow waves or chases, or shimmers and sparkles?
  • Does the owner want to program their own lights or contract out for service?


Having answers to these questions upfront and translating them into the Lighting Control Sequence of Operations and specifications will allow you and the vendor to provide the proper DMX system type.


Acuity Fresco Touchscreen controller provides one universe of DMX for static color light scenes

Pictured above, the Acuity Fresco Touchscreen controller provides one universe of DMX for static color light scenes.



 CueServer 2 by Interactive Technologies is a multi-universe dynamic DMX show controller

Pictured above, The CueServer 2 by Interactive Technologies is a multi-universe dynamic DMX show controller.


DMX design principles

With the design intent in mind, you can start selecting the system by following these DMX design principles.

DMX Control Universes

  • One DMX universe consists of 512 addresses, or channels, where an individual channel corresponds to a controllable parameter such as intensity, rotation, or strobe. A channel can have a data value between 0-255.
  • For example, a basic RGBW fixture requires four channels, one to control the Red intensity, one for Green, one for Blue, and one for White. (128) such lights can be controlled with a single DMX universe (512 total channels divided by 4 channels per fixture is 128 fixtures)
  • The controller broadcasts the value of all 512 channels up to 44 times per second down the cable, at all times. This constant streaming broadcast allows the lights to respond instantaneously to inputs, for example sliding the channel 1 fader on a console instantly changes the Red intensity.


DMX System Topology

  • Up to (32) DMX fixtures can be connected to one DMX run. As always, the end of each run must be terminated with a 120 ohm resistor or plug on the output of the last fixture.
  • When multiple runs are required, use an optically isolated splitter/repeater, commonly called an “opto-splitter”, to split one incoming DMX run into multiple output runs of up to (32) fixtures each. Click here to see opto-splitter solutions from Pathway Connectivity Solutions.
  • Do not exceed 1,000 ft from the controller to the last fixture on any DMX run (typical indoor-rated DMX cable spec – Belden #9842). DMX-over-ethernet gateways can be used to extend this distance much farther.



A DMX system at-a-glance

Solutions by TLA

Keep scrolling for a range of solutions you can implement.


• Lumentone2 by Lumenpulse

Lumentone2 by Lumenpulse – As basic as it gets. Connect directly to the DMX fixtures and output a single static or rotating color to all fixtures.


Fresco DMX Touchscreen by Acuity

Fresco DMX Touchscreen
by Acuity – All-in-one solution for general lighting and up to one universe of static DMX lighting. Connect directly to DMX fixtures, gateway or opto-splitter, or a Lighting Management Panel and control the lights and program colors, scenes, and schedules directly on the touchscreen.



• nLight Snapshot DMX Controller

nLight Snapshot DMX Controller – Color control from your nLight switches and building control from your DMX system.



• Echoflex ElahoTouch and • CueServer2 by Interactive Technologies

Echoflex ElahoTouch – Complete static DMX and timeclock solution by ETC. Direct control for DMX/RDM and sACN fixtures and devices.

CueServer2 by Interactive Technologies – Lighting playback, architectural processor, and DMX engine for up to 16,384 channels over sACN, Art-Net, or KiNet.



Pathway by Acuity Brands

Pathway by Acuity – Leader in DMX infrastructure and backbone equipment.


Additional DMX resources


Design your next DMX system with the TLA Controls Team

In conclusion, let’s talk about how you can design your next DMX system with the TLA Controls Team…

Understanding the project needs and being informed of design fundamentals and available solutions enables the engineer and their industry partners to produce the best DMX designs for the application and enhance owner satisfaction with their systems.


And here’s the answer to the first question from this post!

The rapper DMX likely fell in love with Digital MultipleX for its unsurpassed ability to support the best-customized lighting designs according to the changing creative vision and specifications for each of his shows combined with the resulting dynamic and unforgettable visual displays that amplified the impact and immersive experience of his performances.

The Lighting Agency continues to be here for our local engineering and design community to help you produce high-quality designs and specifications and stay in touch with the world of manufacturers and products.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to Rob Pries, Nick Berry, and Carl Canfield or any of our expert controls sales staff to schedule a Lunch and Learn on code, product, or whatever controls topic you want to learn more about.

Stay bright!

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