Digital Multiplex Signal (DMX) lightning systems are common and convenient tools for TV sets, stage plays, and many more professional productions. This lighting solution provides the crew optimal control over an extensive lighting setup to improve efficiency on set and the quality of the finished video product.
Unfortunately, DMX systems can run into various technical difficulties like many different pieces of equipment on set. Thankfully, because DMX lighting is so widespread, multiple solutions exist for technical issues. If you need to know how to troubleshoot DMX lighting problems in a pinch, use the walkthrough below to learn the best solutions.
Double-Check Your Console
One of the most straightforward solutions to DMX malfunctions is double-checking your console. After all, one improper setting can impede the entire look of your final footage. Whether it’s washing the set in a specific color or bringing more depth to the frame, your lighting arrangement is critical to any production.
Thus, you can write down the proper settings you need for the shoot and cross-reference them with current settings whenever trouble arises. When the settings look perfect but your DMX performance isn’t, it’s time to move to the cable quality.
Cable Care & Inspections
If you’re running into DMX lighting issues, you should almost always start by looking at the cables. Inspecting your cables can be a quick solution because if you’re using microphone cables, that’s the most likely source of the problem. If this reflects your scenario, simply swap out the microphone cable for a DMX cable.
Relying on XLR microphone cables for DMX lights is understandable because both connectors have a similar appearance. Unfortunately, doing this is frequently the source of various technical issues during shoots. That said, DMX-specific cables can run into problems, too.
Troubleshooting DMX Cables
Don’t worry; if you’re using DMX connectors but still running into light malfunctions, you can find straightforward methods for finding a solution.
In such situations, you should start by inspecting your DMX cables for signs of damage or improper plug-ins. Thankfully, you can plan ahead to avoid this by adequately handling all wires on and off set. Suffice it to say, yanking cables every time you unplug them isn’t optimal for longevity.
Transportation is a key factor in keeping cables in top quality because a lot can go wrong when carrying them between areas. Training and experience will help with this step. In other words, you should make proper cable handling a prominent part of your new hire training process. That way, a novice mistake won’t hinder your DMX setup.
Cable care is critical in storage, too; give your components a secure place to reside instead of lying in a tangled web in the corner of the studio. Good storage is a simple method that can solve frustrating issues in the future. Having backup DMX connectors on standby can also be an effective solution if you ever encounter cable damage during shoots.
Although cables are a common cause of DMX light problems, they’re not the only source. Once you determine that all your cables are good, but your original issue remains persistent, you should take a look at the fixtures. DMX systems can typically work with up to 32 fixtures on a single run, but the closer your setup gets to that 32-fixture count, the more signal issues can occur.
If you must accommodate more than 32 fixtures, you need to find a way to split your signal. Luckily, that’s why the industry relies on quality splitters when working with a large DMX setup. Splitters give you an excellent way to use more fixtures with DMX without increasing the chances of technical difficulties.
Like the XLR/DMX cable situation, you might feel the desire to rely on a Y-cable to split the signal, but that’s not quite the same as a designated splitter. Simply put, if you have ample fixtures in your chain, lean on a splitter for assistance.
To ensure optimal performance in a single DMX run, clarify whether the last fixture has a terminator. If not, attach one to the final fixture’s DMX output. A DMX terminator halts the signal in a run upon reaching the final fixture, resulting in a smoother experience.
In many cases, not having a terminator in your run can result in the signal bouncing back and hindering performance. If you find yourself in a situation where the terminator doesn’t solve your problem, the issue might be physical damage to the hardware.
Cables aren’t the only part of your setup that can suffer damage due to poor handling. Handling fixtures requires care because dropping, bumping, and other erratic actions can result in accidents, but these accidents are avoidable with the right team and training program on your set.
Additionally, it’s easy for crew members to become so familiar with the equipment on set that they don’t handle it with the professionalism they once did. Thus, you should consistently enforce proper equipment use on set and provide refresher training sessions when you feel such preparation is necessary.
As you can see, learning how to troubleshoot DMX lighting problems in a pinch can be straightforward. That said, some problems come down to the quality of the equipment on set. As a result, the basic troubleshooting techniques might not work because the gear itself is faulty.
An excellent way to sidestep this problem is by taking time to find high-quality, professional-grade gear from reliable brands. Of course, like nearly any product on the market, you’ll find good options and bad options. In some cases, a lesser quality selection might be easier on your wallet, but if you must buy them for budgetary reasons, you should still understand what to expect in terms of performance.
That said, you don’t have to search far to find professional LED studio lights that offer quality performance without costing a fortune. To prevent prices from sending the wrong message, check online reviews and brand names to determine the true value of the DMX gear.
From the bulbs to the cables to the controller, quality matters each step of the way. At the end of the day, DMX lights likely won’t be the biggest budget-chewer when it comes to your professional shoot.