Some piece tech equipment with many wires coming out of it/plugged into it

The Next DMX for Architecture


I like control.  A lot.  And it all started in theater many, many years ago when I moved to my first computer-controlled light board.  It was love at first “GO.”

I have not lit a traditional show in years, but I still read and follow theatrical lighting.  My latest copy of Lighting & Sound America had a small note on its industry pages that caused me to sit up and take notice.

ESTA announced ANSI approval of its latest lighting protocol, RDMnet.

Sorry, that’s three acronyms in one sentence.  Here’s what it means:

A couple of important standards agencies have launched a new agnostic computer/communication language for lighting.

And I think it might be big news if lighting manufacturers will take it up and use it.

The future of lighting is smarter and more connected than its past.  Light fixtures already talk to each other and traditional dimmers are disappearing.  In a few years we might be able to wire a house simply and inexpensively while also having the most advanced lighting ever.

The problem is that the lighting industry is building the proverbial tower of Babylon and we’re at the point in the narrative where everyone starts speaking a different language and they cannot understand each other.  Work stops.  Lighting slows down.

The question on the table is: will there be a universal language for light, and what will it be?

I don’t know.  But I hope that there will be a universal language.  And the new RDMnet seems like a good candidate.

Okay, now for some more acronyms (I warned you).  Nearly 30 years ago ESTA launched a communication protocol called DMX, short for Digital Multiplex.  It allowed theatrical lighting professionals to control 512 individual lights (or dimmers) over just a single pair of wires.  It was a breakthrough and eventually became the universal language of light.

Now we’re looking for such a language in architectural lighting.  Designers like me want to mix and match fixtures from different manufacturers for the best effect.  We want to dim lights, change their colors, and do so smoothly and well.  DMX can handle all of that, and many manufacturers already support it.

I have been a little reluctant to encourage DMX just because it is a 30-year-old digital protocol, and in the technology world anything that old is called “legacy.”

RDMnet can change that.  It is a protocol that allows devices to, in essence, speak DMX over networks.  But it does much more- it extends the physical limits of DMX and allows for partitioning of venues- or rooms- on the same network.  The RDM part of the name stands for Remote Device Management, meaning you can simply connect all the lights in a home to the network and they will automatically “phone in” and let you know they are working (or not working, or needing maintenance, or overheating).

So imagine this: One Ethernet network for lighting running RDMnet completely eliminates dimmers and dimmer panels, uses inexpensive wiring to reliably control every light in the home, handles color-changing, color-tuning, high-resolution dimming, and cutting edge lights, all while providing the central controller with live diagnostics on the system.

This makes the truly smart home, well, smarter.

Of course we could stick with the alphabet-soup mix of open and proprietary standards out there now.  We could build our systems with 0-10V, ELV, DMX, ECOSENSE, DALI, and others all in one house.

But why would we want to?

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