It may seem like DMX is the universal language of lighting control. And for just about any fixture or dimmer made in the last 10 years or so, it is. But there is still a pretty large installed base of older dimmers and probably a few fixtures that speak another language. A few months ago, I ran into such a system. The church was built in the 70s and had an old dimming system that still worked, and that they couldn’t afford to replace just yet. But they needed a new console, so we installed a Jands Vista S1. That worked just great with the new LED lights we installed on stage, but when it came time to tie into the existing dimming system, I discovered it wasn’t DMX, but AMX.
Enter the Rosetta Stone
It was just a few months earlier that we met with the Pathway Connectivity rep. We were looking mostly at their DMX over Cat 5 systems, which are excellent. Almost in passing, he mentioned that the also had a translator box that would convert DMX to just about anything else. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but that conversation came back when I saw that 4-pin XLR starring back at me.
Van and I have long been asking for a Rosetta stone for the audio world; one that would take in any digital format and spit out any other digital format. Aside from licensing, it doesn’t seem that hard. But what do I know. While that doesn’t really exist in the audio world—save perhaps for the KlarkTeknik DN9652—it does in the lighting control world.
Protocols For Days
The DMX Ultimate Converter will convert DMX into the following formats:
- DMX512/1990 and DMX512-A
- AMX192 - all versions
- Kliegl( K96 & K100)
- Colortran (CMX & D192)
- Electro Controls (ECMux)
- Micro-Plex 1 & 2 (NSI and Lightronics/Leprecon)
- Strand D54
- AVAB - 240 & 252 channels
The back of the unit provides several 5- and 4-pin output connectors for the various protocols, as well as a DMX through. The front of the device has an easy to read LCD menu and a set of controls for selecting the various modes. After a brief skim through the manual, it’s quick and easy to get what you want out of it.
Helpful Tools, To Boot
It is pretty much a plug and play operation, but they have thoughtfully included several tools that will make your life a lot easier. There is an Analyze Input mode that will show you the values of your incoming DMX signal so you can be sure you are sending what you think you are sending. This is especially helpful when setting up the patch for a legacy system.
The tool I found the most helpful is the output test. This enables you to send level information individually to the channels of the output. So if you are working in an old dimming system, it’s much easier to figure out which lights are patched to which dimmers. By scrolling through the outputs, and lighting them up one at a time, you can easily construct a light plot that can be written into your new console.
Sometimes the older dimmers and protocols don’t work at the same speed of modern gear, and to that end, you can adjust the timings to keep the buffers from overflowing. The instructions provided give you a clear procedure for making adjustments if needed. In my case, I simply plugged DMX in and out (this lived inline on the way to the DMX distro at the stage) and AMX out. I selected a DMX to AMX conversion and started turning lights on. It was surprisingly simple. A lockout function is also provided so no one accidentally adjusts the settings once everything is locked in and working.
I spent a fair amount of time testing the system for lag or dimming curve anomalies and found none. When I moved a fader on the console, the lights responded immediately. If I programmed a long fade, the lights dimmed properly without any stutter. I couldn’t test this on all protocols, but for AMX, it worked great.
Saving the Day
When I first saw that 4-pin AMX connector, my heart sank. Initially I thought our installation was doomed. But when this little box showed up, it truly saved the day. After several months of continuous operation, I’ve not received a single call from the church that they’ve had any issues with it. While it’s not cheap—it lists for $1595—it’s well worth it as we didn’t have to spend tens of thousands on new dimming or all new LED fixtures. At least not yet. This isn’t a box everyone needs, but when you do need it, it saves your bacon.