Controlling digital RGB

RGB LED lighting is wonderful. All those different colours are so visually attractive, artistic – but controlling them is an utterly daunting task unless you’ve had some guidance or worked with them before.

In a previous article we wrote about the difference between digital and analogue RGB. Here we’ll focus on how to control digital RGB lights – flexible strips, neon flex, RGB modules or pixel lights. It’s possible to get all of these types of LED lights in what we call digital RGB. With digital RGB you can control an LED matrix, possibly creating your own screen, such as those seen on the side of the field at a sporting event – or perhaps artistic effects on the sides of a building with simple linear lights, maybe artistically lighting up a Ferris wheel – or what about a dance troupe illuminated with digital RGB ?

Some companies talk about pixel chasing RGB, but really, it’s all digital and so we’ll stick with the name digital RGB. Digital RGB lights contain many integrated circuit (IC) chips – one per pixel. The LEDs connected to one IC are what we call a pixel. Sometimes you get one LED per IC – in which case it’s a single LED pixel. In other configurations, you can have multiple LEDs per IC – such as a 3 LED pixel. It’s usually preferred to have as few LEDs per pixel as possible as this allows you to control your LEDs at the most granular level, but it’s not always possible.

Digital RGB flexible strips come in different configurations, such as the two common ones below :
* 5V WS2812B – each LED contains a small embedded IC, and one LED is one pixel
* 12V WS2811 – three LEDs to one IC, meaning three LEDs to one pixel

As an aside, as the voltage of the strip increases the number of LEDs per pixel usually increases too.

Controlling digital RGB is about controlling the ICs which in turn control the LEDs connected to the ICs. A controller will send digital signals to the ICs and the ICs in turn, will control the colour and brightness of one or more LED chips.

The are a number of different ICs used in digital RGB lights and many more digital protocols used by these ICs – it’s important to identify which protocol your lights are using so that you can ensure your controller not only supports the protocol used, but equally is configured correctly for protocol your lights use. Some of the more common protocols include:

WS SeriesTM seriesUCSLPDOther

Each protocol is a definition of how the data signals are to be sent so that the controller knows how to send the signals, and the ICs in your light know how to receive and interpret the digital data signals. The protocols differ from each other, even if slightly, which means that mismatching the protocol on the controller and the ICs

The general principle of the different protocols is that the controller would send a sequence of colour+brightness instructions for the different ICs followed by a signal to “activate” ; what this means is that the controller first sends the instructions to your lights’ ICs – which collect the data but do nothing with it, until they get the “activate” instruction. This is what allows thousands of LED pixels to appear to instantaneously change colour.

All the magic happens on the controller. You can get very basic digital RGB controllers or much more capable controllers. You won’t control a Ferris wheel with a basic controller but you could control a simple RGB lighting installation, say recessed bulkhead lights in a ceiling where all you want are some “basic but nice colour effects”. With a basic controller you really have very little control, save for running some pre-built light sequences, changing brightness and maybe the colour of all the lights (like analogue RGB). More complex controllers allow you to define your own lighting scenes using software on a computer, then storing these on the controller (EPROM or SD card) for offline controlling. Other controller allow ou to control the RGB lights in real-time using specialised software. Then there are controllers in the middle of these two: controllers which can accept DMX input or be controlled by remote controls or WiFi Smartphone apps.

LUMUL offers all three types of controllers from basic to highly capable.

Digital RGB controllers only with factory-defined scenes
There are a myriad of digital RGB controllers available which provide a range of factory-defined scenes – single colour scenes, flashing, gradual single colour changing, or a variety of pixel chasing scenes.

LUMUL offers a simple and affordable digital RGB mini-controller. This digital RGB controller which LUMUL supports the WS2811 and WS2812 protocols and offers a range of relatively simple factory-defined scenes which immediately provide some visually appealing effects, particularly suitable for LED flexible strips or LED neon flex. The controller has three buttons, allowing you to scroll through a range of scenes such as chasing scenes, colours changing in a beautiful morphing manner, etc. These controllers have proven to be very reliable with customers.

LUMUL also offers a high-end Sunricher digital RGB controller, which also has factory-defined scenes, but is also controlled through DMX or RF remote control.
… Via DMX you can control individual pixels – each pixel is mapped to one DMX address – meaning the controller can only control 255 pixels – all within one DMX universe.
… Via a matching paired remote control such as SR-2818T8 you can run one of the factory-defined scenes or uniformly change the colours and brightness of the light (like an analogue RGB light).

Digital RGB controllers with offline capabilities
Controllers with an offline capability allow you to craft your own lighting scenes, and store these on the controller – usually on an SD card inserted into the controller. You can then “trigger” your custom scenes, which could be by a DMX signal, or by a remote control or WiFi application. We offer the T1000, T4000 and T8000 digital RGB controllers for which you can create scenes using the LED Edit software program, save the scenes onto an SD card and have those scenes play one after the other, in a loop. The scenes could be as simple as chasing lights, a bit more intricate such as exploding stars, or complex such as a video. Our high-end LED Strip Studio controller range offers the ability to create extremely precise custom scenes, such as lights mapped onto complex shapes such as buildings, and trigger these offline scenes via a DMX input or via live software control (connected via ethernet).

Digital RGB controllers with real-time (live) software control
Our market-leading LED Strip Studio digital RGB controllers from Showtacle in Europe, are proven in controlling large and complex RGB lighting implementations, such as animating the lighting on buildings, lighting TV studios and stage shows and even lighting up dancing troupes! Using the LSS scene design software, the LED lights are mapped – in whatever shape and form they may take, curved, straight, it doesn’t matter. Scenes are then created and triggered via DMX (as per the earlier note) or in real-time from the LSS software program.