One of the very best ways to begin controlling DMX lighting is with an ENTTEC USB interface and any number of “free” pieces of software that support it.
It makes a great first lighting console for someone who wants to learn to light because you can experiment with a number of different pieces of software before you decide which to use.
Though now in 2019 as I am updating this, an Art-Net or sACN node is probably a better buy for the future, ENTTEC USB to DMX devices are still very popular, so I am keeping the article below:
It can be a handy tool to keep in your backpack as a backup 1 universe console in case something goes crazy on a gig!
Though there are many satisfied owners of ENTTEC interfaces, many people also throw in the towel after using sub-par and under-developed pieces of software that really doesn’t work well!
There are so many options to choose from out there, and while some are great, others are just plain bad!
Below, I’ve created a guide that shows you what interfaces work with these programs. I then describe the 2 different types of software that work with an ENTTEC.
Then I share my take – which ones I like, and which ones I don’t like so I can save you some frustration in the end!
What is an ENTTEC Interface?
The ENTTEC interface is a USB to DMX converter that allows you to control DMX lights from your standard computer instead of buying a lighting console.
This gives us 2 main advantages.
The first is that you can use it with a PC as a test console – and be able to test and try DMX lights without spending the money or getting out a big, expensive DMX console.
The 2nd advantage is that many of the cheap stand-alone DMX consoles are the market are quite sad, and don’t work very well or offer flexibility.
With this sub-$200 interface, you can have considerably more power and flexibility coming out of your PC than those cheap consoles.
These DMX interfaces also do support DMX-in compatibility. This allows for use with visualizers and as a DMX-in port for some software – most just require you to use a turn-around adapter to get that data in!
ENTTEC compatible converters are primarily made by ENTTEC themselves, though there are also many clones available on the market.
Here are the most popular units and some of the advantages/disadvantages each has:
ENTTEC Open DMX USB: This is ENTTEC’s cheapest model – it is a basic USB to DMX converter but lacks microprocessor control. For this reason, I don’t recommend this because the DMX will hiccup if your computer gets stuck! (However, this is a great model for hobbyists or for testing purposes)
Enttec DMX USB Pro: The next interface in the ENTTEC line offers microprocessor control and RDM compatibility and is a great unit! For folks who need 1 universe of DMX output, this is a great buy!
What is RDM?
RDM stands for Remote Device Management and allows modern DMX lights to “talk back” to the console with status.
With RDM, we can re-address and change modes of fixtures from the ground, and get updates on sensors, fan speeds, lamp hours and anything else that the fixture has enabled!
ENTTEC DMX USB Pro Mk2: This is ENTTEC’s top unit, and gives you 2 universes of DMX output. It’s also heavier duty and has a DMX input jack which can run with 1 output universe. With this unit, you get 2 universes total, as long as your software allows it. So, if you use the DMX-in, you only get 1 universe out in addition!
No matter what unit you buy, always make sure to download the latest drivers from the manufacturer before you begin testing software.
What Software Can I Use To Control My Lights?
Now that we’ve covered the hardware, it’s time to figure out what software to use!
There are professional-level console software packages, which have the advantage of flexibility but can be restricted and/or difficult to program without hardware.
When it comes to console software, there is a fairly clear dividing line between most of the software packages out there.
To keep things simple, I’m calling any console software that is available to buy in a stand-alone desk a “professional software”.
Then there are pieces of software designed just for PC users, which can be easier to learn, but not as flexible and ultimately may have more bugs. But don’t unnecessarily rule them out, because they may be the right fit for you and your lighting needs!
Professional Console Software
On the professional console side, your main contender is Chamsys MagicQ.
It allows 1 universe of DMX output via ENTTEC USB widgets.
It’s a great piece of software as far as stability goes. I’m not the biggest fan of the PC interface (it needs some work – Chamsys on a console is much better), it’s well used and tested.
Chamsys runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux, it’s my recommendation to anyone who wants to learn a professional level console on the cheap with an ENTTEC interface.
On the PC-only side, there are a few main contenders that stand out of the crowd of many:
All 3 of these pieces of software are free, offer MIDI control and can work with conventional, LED and moving lights.
I generally DON’T recommend these free pieces of non-professional software to people because there is generally a pretty big learning curve and some bugs.
However, many people use these pieces of software successfully and make great shows – so I’m not telling you it’s wrong, just that it’s not my recommendation!
So here’s my advice: Look at the options out there, try a few out, and see what you like best. This is the beauty of having an ENTTEC interface – it opens up the options you can have to run a DMX console from your computer on the cheap!