Whether you like it or not, networking is quickly becoming a necessary part of stage lighting.
While you still can operate a 100% DMX system, the fact is, a lot of modern fixtures, consoles, and PC software utilize networking, and it’s a great way to send a lot of data through a simple cable.
You may find the need to network in lighting to:
- Connect a backup console into your system
- Output Art-Net, sACN or Kling-Net to your fixtures or DMX nodes
- Configure Networked Fixtures
However, networking can also be confusing. Unlike DMX, which is truly plug-and-play, networking can be a little more confusing, and simply reading articles from IT websites can quickly leave you confused!
The good news is: It’s not as hard as it looks, and when you follow some simple guidelines, you’ll have a great rate of success!
In this article, I’m going to first introduce the types of networking equipment that you’ll encounter, and what they all do. Then, we’ll dive in and cover the basics of networking in our lighting world. Last, I’ll show you where to get more help if you need it.
Equipment For Networking Lighting
When we’re working with show networks for our lighting. the biggest keys are to keep things simple and to keep things offline!
Keep it Simple
If you don’t need to use more than 2 pieces of networking equipment, just connect them together via a network cable – no router or switch is generally required!
As you get more complex and need to connect more pieces, do so with a basic, unmanaged network switch.
You can even get switches with built-in POE ports, which can power some smaller nodes and devices!
These are very inexpensive, and don’t do any processing or have any features to get in the way of your data – which is key! You can add in a router or wireless access point only if you need to get wireless control of your console – and please, keep your network password protected, and change the administrator login on your router!
With a basic network switch, you will be setting the IP addresses of all your computer manually – but that’s generally a great idea which makes troubleshooting later simple – as long as you stay organized, and keep a good spreadsheet of the devices you’re using!
Our networking protocols for lighting are generally pretty light-weight and work well with a basic setup like this. When you do hit the point that you’re sending hundreds of universes through a network cable, it’s time to consult with a networking pro or become one yourself!
Keep it Offline
The second part of keeping it simple is to keep your show network off the internet. They are very few circumstances where your lighting computers need to be online, and that’s a good thing! The internet is the land of automatic updates, viruses, hackers and more – so just say no!
Art-Net, sACN or Console-Net?
Once you’ve decided to network, and gotten your gear taken care of, it’s time to talk protocols.
First, take a look at all the gear you plan to use and see what it’s compatible with. If you’re using gear that is all from the manufacturer of your console, you may be able to run a proprietary “console-net” such as Maxnet in M-Series, Hog-Net from Hog consoles or MA-Net from the GrandMA.
Console-nets are usually the easiest to setup, but of course, they’re of no help to devices that only talk Art-Net or sACN (which are totally great protocols as well!).
Choosing between Art-Net and sACN? I generally recommend sACN, but you can learn more about both of them here!
Kling-Net is another common protocol, but it’s not as common in fixtures as Art-Net and sACN. Learn more about Kling-Net here.
Ready to get your feet wet with networking? If you’ve worked with networking before, chances are you’ll be able to figure it out.
But, if you’re looking for a deeper dive into these concepts and step-by-step how-to’s, check my full guide, which is available to Learn Stage Lighting Labs members: Networking for the Lighting Person.
Not a Labs member yet? Click here to learn more and sign up today!
Either way, I hope you’ve found this article to be useful as you learn to network your lighting. Be sure to check out the links mentioned in this article, and all the other resources available here on Learn Stage Lighting!