It used to be that we just used simple DMX cable out of our console to our lights to control everything. Today, it’s becoming more and more common to use Art-Net and sACN – common forms of networked DMX – to control our lights.
If you’re not familiar with these protocols yet, watch the video below to get the basics.
Then, join me below the video for a gear guide to Art-Net and sACN nodes:
Art-Net and sACN Gear Guide:
Now that we’ve got the very basics of Art-Net and sACN down, it’s time to talk gear. There are a TON of nodes on the market, but how do you know which node is right for you?
Like anything in our world of lighting, there are cheap nodes, middle of the road nodes, and expensive, professional-grade nodes.
But just like an LED par can or moving light, there are drastic differences between the cheap units and the quality units that you should consider before buying:
You may not need the “like-a-tank” build quality of the most expensive nodes, but cheaping out can give you poor results as well.
For example, there are a number of cheap, imported nodes that feature thin plastic casings and cheap RJ-45 or XLR connectors for DMX output – so, if you’re not going to baby your gear, you probably want to pass them up.
Higher quality nodes are also going to feature great quality power supplies and components – and carry the warranty to assure you they won’t give up during your show or service! (and if they do, they’ll be replaced)
Ease of Use
Many (but not all!) Art-Net and sACN nodes allow you to configure them remotely via a web browser or application, making it easy to change settings on the gig.
You’ll find that cheap units require you to dial up their IP address directly, while nicer units will have a computer application that can search out and find the nodes on your network automatically, then configure them via an easy-to-use interface.
Feature-wise, most Art-Net/sACN nodes are able to output either protocol and are able to assign each universe you desire to any of the ports. You generally can also assign a single universe to multiple output ports – reducing the need for DMX splitters in some situations.
Most nodes also support the ability to take DMX-in, though some require you to use a turn-around adapter.
Where the professional-grade units take a step above the cheap guys is in the ability to setup merging and different DMX refresh rates. These features can save your show!
You’ll also notice that higher quality units are going to use high-quality connectors (very important for reliability!), and often feature the Neutrik EtherCON connector for the Ethernet, which is much more durable than the standard RJ-45 plug.
Power over Ethernet (POE) is a handy feature available on some nodes, and this allows you to literally power your node via ethernet – no external power needed. To make this work, you’ll either need a router or switch that provides POE or a POE injector.
Have you ever had a problem with a piece of gear and needed to call or contact customer service? I’ve called and emailed a LOT of different companies over time, and I can tell you that there is a HUGE difference between different brands.
Companies like ENTTEC, Chauvet, and Elation have been around for a long time, and have amazing customer support. When you have a problem, whether it’s the gear’s fault of your fault, they’ll walk you through the steps to get your gear working correctly…and that alone is worth the slight increase in price over the “no-name” brands!
What Node Should I Buy?
Now that we’ve covered both how Art-Net and sACN work, and some of the differences between different levels of gear, it’s time to talk specific pieces of gear!
Now, as always, the gear I feature here is a sample of great pieces of gear from companies I trust. There are other brands out there, and surely are other other options which are good which I don’t cover here. (There are a lot of cheap, poor quality units too – so be careful!)
How Many Universes of Node Output Do I Need?
You’ll need (1) universe of node output for each DMX universe that you need to convert out of Art-Net or sACN.
Many consoles can output a certain number of DMX universes via the “back panel” of the console, and then additional universes via Art-Net/sACN, so you may not need a node for each DMX universe in your show.
Any node can be configured to output any universe – so you may have multiple nodes outputting the same universe to different sections of your lighting rig – it’s all understanding and planning out what you need before you buy!
Entry-Level: 1-2 Universe Nodes
The ENTTEC ODE is one of the most popular single-universe nodes out there for good reason – it’s well-built, easy to configure and supports merging as well as DMX-input. The current MK2 version also offers DHCP, or easy network setup.
All ENTTEC nodes, including the ODE, are configurable via ENTTEC’s NMU software.
There is also a POE version of the ODE here, which allows you to power it via Ethernet.
Chauvet’s DMX-AN2 is a low-cost node that offers basic functionality. It can speak Art-Net and sACN, but only offers 3 pin DMX – to get 5-pin, you’ll need an adapter.
I really like the DMX-AN – not only does it look good on paper, but it performs well in the real world too. It’s one of the least expensive nodes you can buy, and while it doesn’t have all of the advanced features other nodes have, it’s a solid buy.
Configuration via web browser is available, however there is not a network management program like ENTTEC offers and it does not offer DHCP.
Check out my full review of the DMX-AN here! (There aren’t any noticeable differences between the AN that I reviewed and the current AN2).
It’s simple and gets the job done with some advanced features – Merging, DMX input, and scene recording!
8 Port and Larger Nodes:
ENTTEC Storm 8 and Storm 24
Enttec’s Storm series nodes are some of the most cost-effective nodes available on the market, while still keeping the high quality we love from Enttec. They feature everything you’d expect from ENTTEC – DMX output, merging and easy configuration thanks to the NMU software.
Both units are very compact and output DMX via RJ-45 connectors – adapting that to 3 or 5 pin DMX can be done via a very inexpensive adapter. I especially love the Storm 8 because you can get 8 universes of DMX data out for only a little more than the cost of the Elation eNode 4 above, and the Storms offer DHCP.
Obsidian EN12 – Following the same features as the EN4 above, the EN12 is the only node I know of that fits (12) DMX universe outputs in a single rack space.