Co-ordinating dimming or RGB control across multiple controllers

Controlling the brightness or RGB colour of a large meterage of Neon Flex or flexible strips, or where you have many disparate sections where you need the brightness to be uniformly controlled across all lengths, or the RGB colour controlled uniformly across all sections, you need to give your installation design a bit more thought. When you have multiple sections of neon flex or flexible strips to be controlled (brightness or colour control) you sometimes will need multiple controllers – possibly because your lighting sections are physically far apart or because the current draw of the lengths exceed what a single controller can support.

When you have multiple controllers which you need to synchronise you need *something* to act as the master controlling multiple receiver controllers; that something could be a single remote control which is sending instructions to multiple receiving controllers paired with that single remote control. You could also achieve the same effect by using a smartphone or tablet application (Android or iOS) to control multiple receiving controllers at the same time. The risk faced with this setup, is that one of your receiving controllers receives the wireless signal slightly later than the other controllers or not at all, and your lighting is no longer uniform. Remote controls or WIFI signals are hindered by walls, concrete floors and distance which may also result in unreliable wireless signals being sent to your receiving controllers.The example below shows multiple SR-1009EAWI controllers being controlled by one remote control or smartphone application.

In wireless (RF or WIFI) installations it is possible that one receiving controller can act as the master controller and the others as slaves, where the master controller sequences the other controllers for better synchronisation of brightness and colour.

A far more reliable method of synchronising multiple controllers is by wiring them together. As you can imaging, this implies you are able to wire them together – sometimes not as simple as it sounds because of installation limitations, distances and simple open spaces in-between. In a wired configuration, there must always be a master controller and the rest of the controllers, slaves. There are different protocols which can be used to sequence controllers, the two most common being DMX and DALI. DALI installations are expensive as they require a DALI bus / master control unit whereas DMX installations can be much simpler and cheaper, with options of DMX control panels, DMX control software and even controllers which convert remote control or WIFI signals to DMX signals – much more choice and a lower cost than DALI.

With both DMX and DALI installations, controllers are issued with a unique code (channel number) – with instructions then sent across the wired network of controllers to all of the controllers at the same time. Each controller then recognises the instructions meant for it and executes that instruction – being that to dim to level 3, or to set the RGB colour to a specific colour. With such an installation, it is possible to control each controller separately, sending a different instruction to each controller (controller 1 – dim to level 2 and change colour to pink, controller 2 – dim to level 5 and set your colour to blue, etc) ; equally the same instruction can be sent to all controllers at the same time, achieved either by setting all controllers to channel 1 and only sending instructions to channel 1, or by sending the same instruction to different channels. The former is a much simpler installation whilst the latter requires DMX control units or software. In the diagram below you can see a simple DMX setup where the DMX master is a DMX-enabled control panel (in this case it is wired). In the example below, all the DMX controllers are set to channel 1 – meaning they will be controlled uniformly as instructions are sent to channel 1.

Equally, where there is a DMX-enabled dimmer control panel in this example, you could have a DMX control board or DMX software on a PC.

As with the example above, you could have a remote control or smartphone application controlling the first DMX receiving controller and that one orchestrates the rest. The example below shows SR-2815 being controlled by a remote control and controlling multiple SR-2108EA DMX decoders.

I have shown some of the simpler installation options using RF controllers or wired DMX setups. These are relatively simple to install and get working, and to operate, but as you can imagine, if you want to orchestrate the lighting in a nightclub or on a TV game show set, the installation will become much more complicated and require more planning.