Having lights set up on a network is more common now than ever before. Generally, it used to be where you could plug in your lights into DMX and then into your console. Now, things have changed and that’s not always the case. In this post, we’re going to get you started with the basics of setting up your first lighting network.
Getting started, we’ll first consider reasons to consider having a lighting network, then walk you through the basics of setting up a lighting network and the gear you might need to help get you started.
Advantages of Networking Your Lights
As using the network to set up lights is becoming more and more common there are pros and cons of setting up your system like this. Before making a decision let’s first consider both aspects of networking your lights.
To get started, what are some reasons you would consider networking your lights? The first reason is the ability to have control of your lights wirelessly.
Having wireless control of your system can definitely have it’s benefits. Such as being able to walk around the room and have access to control your lights from the booth, the stage, or anywhere in the room.
More Universes From Your Console
Another trend that we’re seeing with networking lights is being able to have more output and universes available. There are cases where some universes setup through DMX jacks on the back of the console and the rest of the universes are available on the network.
With Art-net and sACN as the DMX output of the console you can get those DMX outputs closer to the items you want to control such as your lights, media servers, and more. Normally, these items are able to accept output over the network.
There are some setups that may not use the network and instead rely on DMX jacks. The problem is that these DMX jacks can quickly build up and it just is a cluster of wires and connections. This could potentially be a hazard if not monitored appropriately. But if you’re able to network your lights you just have one network cable and be able to keep everything organized.
Disadvantages of Networking Your Lights
While there are some great advantages to networking your lights, there’s also a couple of reasons why you may not want to set up your lights on the network.
More of a Complex Setup
One of the disadvantages of networking your lights is the amount of time and the work that goes into setting up your lights. With DMX, you can plug everything in and you’re good to go. But when working with a network there’s definitely more of a setup process.
Ethernet Based Network
Another point to consider is that you’ll be working with an ethernet-based network. This means that you won’t be able to go over 330 feet of cable. In most cases, it’s even less than that. With DMX and the right equipment, you can definitely go much farther than the network cable can. That could definitely be a restriction on your setup.
What a Network Looks Like
When setting up your lighting on a network, most people may actually refer to using a router that they received from their cable or internet provider.
With these routers, they are actually meant to do 3 or four different things. The first piece is that it’ll act as a modem that connects the service provider’s service to your house. Then, it acts as a router and routes the traffic from your house to a larger network that connects with the world.
So, why do we mention all of this? The truth is that you don’t actually need all of those capabilities to be able to set up lighting on your network. Many times it’s perceived that you need the internet to be able to set up your lights on the network, but that is not the case at all.
It does require a network or multiple computers hooked up. The most basic network show set up would require an unmanaged network switch.
These are very inexpensive and simple to configure. A simple switch does not have routing and they don’t have a DHCP server which hands out IP addresses.
Using a basic switch can definitely get you started with setting up your lights on the network, it does lack an access point. Having an access point (router) is really great when connecting all of your devices together and having them all on the same network.
The gear you decide to go with depends very much on what you want your setup and the system to do.
What is an IP Address, Subnet Mask and Node? Lighting Network Terms 101
To continue with how to set up lighting on a network we’re going to cover the basic terms and what each one actually means.
The very first term to cover is IP Address which stands for internet protocol address. The IP address term comes up very often especially if you’re connecting to a network or working with WiFi.
An IP Address is like having a house number for your computer or node. It’s a way for other electronics to locate your computer.
When working with a computer or a node on the network is a device that is going to have an assigned IP address. Each device is going to have its own IP address that looks like the number above.
Generally, if you’re working with a smaller network you want your IP addresses to match for the first 3 set of numbers. Then, your last set of numbers will differentiate between your devices.
Remember that no devices can share the same IP address, they all have to be different in order to be able to communicate on the network.
What is a Node?
Often when working in lighting we would refer to a node as an electronic box that has DMX inputs on one side and DMX outputs on the other side.
But when you’re referring to a node in network terms, a node is any device or computer on a network.
Normally below the IP addresses are numbers listed as the subnet mask. A subnet mask works with the IP address as a filter. They generally work together.
When your IP address and subnet mask are broken down in these sets of numbers, the digits (192), (168) are actually called octets.
If you’re setting up a lighting network you can set the octets in the subnet mask as 255.255.255.0. The 255 is telling the network that the data must match in order for the communication to get through and allow the nodes to communicate.
If you’re setting up a network with less than about 200 computers or nodes then definitely stick with the IP Address using the same 3 set of numbers with the fourth set being different numbers. Then, using the subnet mask as 255.255.255.0 so that the network know to let the computers with the same first 3 octets be able to communicate with each other.
One last term that you may hear in networking is star-topology. What this means is how we hook up our devices. Normally, in lighting we have our units to input and output DMX. But with networks it’s a different approach.
As pictured below, you may have your router as the centerpiece of the setup. As you connect your different computers or nodes those become spokes or stars in your setup.
In certain setups, you may see nodes with a network switch in them. With those network switches, nodes can become a different segment of the star-topology. My only suggestion is to be very careful in stacking multiple units together. It may get difficult for the network signal to reach the different computers or nodes on the network.
A Few Key Points
Certain software is going to want to set your IP Addresses in a different format. That’s perfectly fine and you’ll see this with units that use Art-net or sACN- for example, ONYX defines Art-Net in the 2.x.y.z range and doesn’t allow you to use it outside of that range.
Another piece to remember is if you’re using a router and setting IP Addresses: remember that your router’s IP address needs to be within the same range as your devices. Or else, the data won’t necessarily be able to reach your devices.