Impressive lighting console offers professional features for a fraction of the price

diy_dmx_lighting_control_panel

Hackaday reader [Michael] wrote in to share the build details of an impressive lighting console he has been working on for some time. He says that the 36+ channel console is on par with lighting rigs costing upwards of $5,000, but his was constructed for just around $1,000 – quite the substantial savings.

The console was constructed around an old IBM desktop computer, which handles all of the DMX output as well as preset management. An array of 20 ATMega 328Ps running the Arduino bootloader are scattered throughout the device, 18 of which are used to manage the six fader panels, while the remaining two handle management tasks. Aside from the fader banks, the console features a main control board featuring several LCD screens along with 17 capacitive touch buttons used for menu navigation and console control.

While [Michael] is finished building the board, he has just begun the documentation of the construction process. His blog should be updated regularly with more details, so be sure to check back often. Code, as well as hopefully tons of pictures and videos are all forthcoming.

[Edit: Cost comparison update]

Comments

  1. loans says:

    The writeup is painfully sparse on details. It sounds suspiciously like he’s devised a preset board. While this might be an impressive feat for the home builder, having control over 36 channels is not a significant feat (especially if there’s no provisions for a cue stack), considering that many modern intelligent fixtures will eat up that many DMX channels in a heartbeat (and without an abstraction layer, will be impossible to control).

  2. adnbr says:

    For a finished project it’s a shame there aren’t any photos showing the end result.

  3. Michael says:

    Actually, it does record scenes and chases. Chases can be advanced by tapping the flash button, by speed or by audio trigger.

    There may be a delay in the online documentation as I first have to document it for assessment first (final high school Design & Technology project)

    • loans says:

      So, no cue stack? I don’t mean to denigrate the work, it’s impressive and I hope you can finish up some useful documentation as I’ve got a DMX-based project in mind, but claiming a preset board that can record ‘scenes and chases’ (and has no abstraction layer for intelligent fixtures) rivals a modern lighting console is a little over the top.

      What exactly does ’36+ channels’ mean? That your fader bank is paged? Does it output a full 512 channels of DMX?

      • Abbott says:

        Technically the word “scene” is synonymous with “cue”. This seems fairly advanced, well done to you, Michael.

      • Abbott says:

        Also, there are a few overpriced, semi-useless consoles (Read: Leprechaun) that cost around 8K that only record scenes and small chases. This computer console easily would beat them out in terms of performance and capability. I would love to have had one back in high school sometimes.

      • loans says:

        Scene -could- be synonymous with cue, or it could be used in the same context as a two-scene preset board. If a console doesn’t have a full-featured cue playback capability, then it’s hearkening back to decades past.

      • gmichael225 says:

        I mean “scene” as in the Maxim sense of “scene” – a 1:many recording of a static state. “Cue lists” can be created by setting a chase to manual step and then using the flash button to advance and the menu system to skip/reverse.

  4. Panikos says:

    Michael,

    for a high school project that is shockingly impressive. I don’t understand where the criticism in the previous comments is coming from.

    I don’t think its sunk in for all what you’ve put together. As you document the project better and its more clear it will sink in.

    Congrats. I look forward to reading your writeup.

    • loans says:

      It is impressive, yes. Like I said, I do not to denigrate the project, and am very interested in the continued writeup.

      I work in stage lighting professionally, and take issue primarily with the claim that this console rivals units costing $8000. That is, probably, an outlandish claim, as even ‘budget’ consoles of the modern age (In the $4000-6000 range) have provisions for extensive cue stacks, software abstraction for multi-channel fixtures and so on.

      I can’t wait for more details, but if this console isn’t even a memory board in the sense of the ability to record cues, it’s unfortunately a great exercise, and an impressive build, but not terribly significant as a practical lighting console beyond the high school cafetorium level of theatre.

  5. fartface says:

    Um how is this a savings?

    Beringer DMX 24 channel board with FULL control not just presets $250.00 Oh and I can control that board via USB so I have full PC control and VirtualDJ can feed it beat information. so I have MORE integration than he does.

    Honestly where has he been pricing DMX lighting control equipment? because his prices are for the jewel encrusted, gold plated models.

    • loans says:

      If by ‘jewel encrusted’ you mean ‘professional equipement’ then I guess you’re right. An ETC element starts at $4k and offers control options suitable to people who have more demands than a DJ or small school stage.. 24 channels is a joke once you pass the ‘PARs on a stick’ stage.

      He hasn’t built a DJ controller.

      • fartface says:

        http://www.venuemagic.com/index.php/wheretobuy/vmstore

        Under $1000 and does more than the pro one. It’s used in many theaters and big name road shows.

        Still not near the $8000.00 price tag that DMX lighting gear had 10 years ago.

      • loans says:

        Hah. PC software without a physical control surface. What ‘big name road shows’ do you refer to? It might be a perfectly functional product, but if it’s not Hog, ETC or grandMA I really have to question how big those names are. Especially with only one universe of output, those shows aren’t carrying any movers, I’d wager.

        Yes, you -can- buy lighting gear for less than professional consoles (though, ten years ago I think you would want to add another decimal place, things are getting cheaper all the time), but being a niche product, manufacturing costs remain high.

        Earlier this year I was the ME for the 2nd national tour of The 39 Steps, and you couldn’t have paid me to go out with less console than my Road Hog, which is a full-featured touring console. MSRP beats that $8000 sticker by a factor of two.

  6. Mac says:

    Hmm…nice project, great learning experience.

    But, I have to ask, why? There is free software and very low cost (or DIY) USB-DMX interfaces available that would allow you to get on with the business of programming lights WAaaaaY quicker.

  7. gmichael225 says:

    Okay, due to the hour at which the writeup thus far was written, I read the line for maxim L patpad rather than L – patpad. The figure should be closer to $5000. I’ll correct my pages and probably HaD should too – apologies for that inaccuracy. With regard to cue stacks, a manually-stepped chase is my answer to this use case for now. With regard to ML abstraction, this is something I intend to implement post-assessment by replacing one of the fader modules with an ML programming panel. However there are some features which allow for easier ML control, e.g. Using a manually stepped chase to step through colours or pan/tilt positions (combine with blind to jump) and the ability to set the 0-point of a “scene” such that it becomes a “gradient” so that it may fade not just from 0 to high but (for example) to record fade between two pan/tilt positions (e.g. At either end of a catwalk) to provide recall of parameters while retaining some flexibility.

  8. aaron says:

    Stop complaining! This is an awesome project. Yes, some of the claims may be exaggerated a bit, but it is nonetheless impressive. You can find something wrong with any project. That doesn’t mean it’s not still valid and interesting. Sure this consone might not be useful in a professional setting, but it a gymecafetorium at a high school or even in a small college, this would be perfect. I would have given anything for a board as nice as this will be at my high school.

  9. mess_maker says:

    @loans – While I am an audio engineer, part of my job used to include running a whole hog 3 with an expansion wing connected to a pretty nice rig – all moving head ( mirror ) and yokes ( well, and stobes of course ). THAT was a nice system, I do agree.

    Michael should be proud of what he has created, I would venture to say that he has probably learned more about how a lighting board is created than most operators. I applaud his efforts and look forward to the progress that he makes. I would love to see video of this working.

  10. Art says:

    I think the complaints are stemming from the write-up, not from the project. This isn’t a board that rivals the professionally manufactured equipment. But that’s not really what this website is about is it? He built it from scratch and it meets his needs and those are the only two requirements for a great hack in my book. I wish the hackaday write-up would be revised to reflect the spirit of the hack a little better and not sensationalize it…

    As a project -it’s expandable. I’m looking forward to more pictures – but it looks like a really nice control surface that he’s got interfacing with a pc, and he’s got the pc talking to the dmx output module successfully. Soft-patch, grouping, timed cue stacks – even moving light profiles and shape generators can all be added in software at a later date if he needs or wants them. Running multiple cue stacks and merging HTP and LTP channels isn’t an insignificant programming task… let’s appreciate what he’s got done and give suggestions for next time.

  11. Matt says:

    Very cool project.
    I’m another “pro” and agree this doesn’t compare with $8k consoles (I missed where that was said on the project blog).
    However, very impressive for a high school student.
    I’ve thought about building my own console from scratch… This seems to be a good starting point to build something very sophisticated.
    Kudos.

  12. 8472 says:

    Very cool Michael. Look forward to seeing more documentation, and maybe trying it out myself, and seeing what abilities this thing has.

  13. Paul says:

    Very ambitious. In high school I was still ripping apart guitar electronics. Can’t wait to see some video.

  14. ewanuno says:

    whilst this is very cool, you can buy a lot of console for 1000€ especialy if you’re counting pc based soltuions. in terms of features pc based solutions are normaly a lot better value for monney than “real” desks. (which are Much more reliable)

    i’m interested in knowing more about the motorised faders.

    what’s running on the pc? ola by any chance?

  15. Stuv says:

    Big props to the kid for designing and assumably building a working console form scratch. Electronicaly this is an impressive project especialy with age and experience considered. It is, however, somewhat redundant IMHO. Greatly improved control options are available within this price structure reasonably “Off-The-Shelf”. Personally I use Freestyler DMX (freeware), with an ENTTEC USB-DMX Pro (AU$220), and a Behrninger BCF2000 Motorised MIDI controller (AU$299). so for a total of AU$519 (+ a laptop or PC you probably already own) you get what IMHO rivals the ease and capabilities of most commercial lighting consoles (limited 1 universe until next version release).

  16. Oh – and also USB(serial) ability to upload/download configs and control the box from a PC applet.

  17. My first post was lost somewhere…
    No disrespect to the OP, but you can do more with less. Motorised faders are a nice touch but unnecessary.

    http://www.sl4p.net/images/DMX_16F887.JPG

    My recent distraction… I needed to repair some DMX fistures.
    Single 20MHz micro, not a cluster of PC, AVR and function specific chips – 80 channels of DMX control – live and in your hand.
    80 chan, 255 cues, 32 user-definable sequences with variable rates. up to 10 fast-access user definable buttons to any cue or sequence.

    USB(serialupload/download configs and control the box from a PC application.

    Hardware cost < $30

    I may turn it into a box if there's interest… sell for AU$199 – $250… ?

  18. Tim says:

    Very cool but as others have said it’s not worth $8k, even at $5k it’s a bit of a stretch.

    Could anybody recomend a good/cheap software + USB-DMX compination? Our school runs on a MaXim L but we only need intelligent lighting once or twice a year and even then it’s fairly simple.

    Cheers

    • Stuv says:

      As above, My personal preference is Freestyler DMX + ENTTEC Pro + Behringer MIDI controller (optional)

      • ewanuno says:

        there are loads of pc based lighting solutions for free.

        you need to spend a bit of monney to have adecent interface, the standard is the enttec usb dmx pro.
        but also worth considering is dmxking which is compatible with the enttec pro.

        don’t bother doing any serious work with opendmx interfaces, even if they cost next to nothing (15€ diy)because they don’t have a microprocessor they glitch badly.

        freestyler is great! i don’t use it anymore because i have lightfactory (which i can’t recomend highly enough, but it does cost monney, although the support is seccond to none)

        more free beer apart from freestyler:
        dmxcontrol is really comprehensive but not really all that stable in my experience(it was a while ago that i used it though)
        MagicQ which also runs on linux! is a beast! but it’s not controlable with ordinary midi controlers because the company sells its own hardware. if you need to run some serious lighting once in a while but don’t want to pay cash this is the way to go.

        there is also showmagic which has a free 24channel version but i never used it because the interface is weird.

        theres not much in the way of opensource,
        but check out qlc which is a reasonably complete lighting controler,

        and ola which is a dmx router, filter and dmx over ethernet protocol converter, which really rocks.

        if you want to actualy pay monney for a pc based lighting solution then lightfactory is hard to beat (disclamer, i am a shill) i use it for lots of different shows, with two enttec usb dmx pro interfaces, one for output and one for input from whatever dmx desk i find lying about in the theater. just as powerfull as a real console, lots cheaper, and the customer support is the best i’ve ever seen for any software, ever.

        i work for circus theater shows where i normaly program the cues a half hour before the show, i have found lightfactory to be reliable and comprehensive. withh supportt for loads of fixtures(it shares zero88’s fixture library)

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