One of the very best ways to begin controlling DMX lighting is with an ENTTEC USB interface and any number of “free” pieces of software that support it.
It makes a great first lighting console for someone who wants to learn to light because you can experiment with a number of different pieces of software before you decide which to use.
Though now in 2019 as I am updating this, an Art-Net or sACN node is probably a better buy for the future, ENTTEC USB to DMX devices are still very popular, so I am keeping the article below:
It can be a handy tool to keep in your backpack as a backup 1 universe console in case something goes crazy on a gig!
Though there are many satisfied owners of ENTTEC interfaces, many people also throw in the towel after using sub-par and under-developed pieces of software that really doesn’t work well!
There are so many options to choose from out there, and while some are great, others are just plain bad!
Below, I’ve created a guide that shows you what interfaces work with these programs. I then describe the 2 different types of software that work with an ENTTEC.
Then I share my take – which ones I like, and which ones I don’t like so I can save you some frustration in the end!
What is an ENTTEC Interface?
The ENTTEC interface is a USB to DMX converter that allows you to control DMX lights from your standard computer instead of buying a lighting console.
This gives us 2 main advantages.
The first is that you can use it with a PC as a test console – and be able to test and try DMX lights without spending the money or getting out a big, expensive DMX console.
The 2nd advantage is that many of the cheap stand-alone DMX consoles are the market are quite sad, and don’t work very well or offer flexibility.
With this sub-$200 interface, you can have considerably more power and flexibility coming out of your PC than those cheap consoles.
These DMX interfaces also do support DMX-in compatibility. This allows for use with visualizers and as a DMX-in port for some software – most just require you to use a turn-around adapter to get that data in!
ENTTEC compatible converters are primarily made by ENTTEC themselves, though there are also many clones available on the market.
Here are the most popular units and some of the advantages/disadvantages each has:
ENTTEC Open DMX USB: This is ENTTEC’s cheapest model – it is a basic USB to DMX converter but lacks microprocessor control. For this reason, I don’t recommend this because the DMX will hiccup if your computer gets stuck! (However, this is a great model for hobbyists or for testing purposes)
Enttec DMX USB Pro: The next interface in the ENTTEC line offers microprocessor control and RDM compatibility and is a great unit! For folks who need 1 universe of DMX output, this is a great buy!
What is RDM?
RDM stands for Remote Device Management and allows modern DMX lights to “talk back” to the console with status.
With RDM, we can re-address and change modes of fixtures from the ground, and get updates on sensors, fan speeds, lamp hours and anything else that the fixture has enabled!
ENTTEC DMX USB Pro Mk2: This is ENTTEC’s top unit, and gives you 2 universes of DMX output. It’s also heavier duty and has a DMX input jack which can run with 1 output universe. With this unit, you get 2 universes total, as long as your software allows it. So, if you use the DMX-in, you only get 1 universe out in addition!
No matter what unit you buy, always make sure to download the latest drivers from the manufacturer before you begin testing software.
What Software Can I Use To Control My Lights?
Now that we’ve covered the hardware, it’s time to figure out what software to use!
There are professional-level console software packages, which have the advantage of flexibility but can be restricted and/or difficult to program without hardware.
When it comes to console software, there is a fairly clear dividing line between most of the software packages out there.
To keep things simple, I’m calling any console software that is available to buy in a stand-alone desk a “professional software”.
Then there are pieces of software designed just for PC users, which can be easier to learn, but not as flexible and ultimately may have more bugs. But don’t unnecessarily rule them out, because they may be the right fit for you and your lighting needs!
Professional Console Software
On the professional console side, your main contender is Chamsys MagicQ.
It allows 1 universe of DMX output via ENTTEC USB widgets.
It’s a great piece of software as far as stability goes. I’m not the biggest fan of the PC interface (it needs some work – Chamsys on a console is much better), it’s well used and tested.
Chamsys runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux, it’s my recommendation to anyone who wants to learn a professional level console on the cheap with an ENTTEC interface.
On the PC-only side, there are a few main contenders that stand out of the crowd of many:
All 3 of these pieces of software are free, offer MIDI control and can work with conventional, LED and moving lights.
I generally DON’T recommend these free pieces of non-professional software to people because there is generally a pretty big learning curve and some bugs.
However, many people use these pieces of software successfully and make great shows – so I’m not telling you it’s wrong, just that it’s not my recommendation!
So here’s my advice: Look at the options out there, try a few out, and see what you like best. This is the beauty of having an ENTTEC interface – it opens up the options you can have to run a DMX console from your computer on the cheap!
did You ever find any problems with USB port in Your computer when using Enttec Interface? USB Port is quite sensitive to voltage spikes. Such spikes appear when I add another ligting device or smoke machine etc. Sometimes to much voltage consumption also is the reason why my USB to DMX interface doesn’t work properly. In my opinion it is because of the sensitiveness of USB Port. How do You think?
If your Enttec is of the “open” variety, this can happen because it relies on the computer to do all of the DMX processing. However, try adding in a powered USB hub and see if that helps.
Maybe it will help.
Also, USB to DMX interfaces are supposed to have something that is called galvanic separation. It should help to avoid concequences od voltage spikes. But I guess my cheap model of interface is not good enough.
You are right that more advanced programming like this is beyond what the Obey 70 can do.
As you probably know, there area a LOT of different PC softwares, and some of them are good, but some are not! For your case, I’d either suggest Enttec’s DMXIS or Martin M-PC with an M-Touch.
In short, DMXIS is much simpler, but isn’t as easy to run “on the fly”, outside of the pre-recorded cues. M-PC is a full-scale, professional console software and can do anything you’d want – but it has a much bigger learning curve!
Learn more here: https://learnstagelighting.com/first-lighting-console/
Thanks for writing in,
QLC+ is for all operating systems, very user friendly, and has a strong user base/forum for support including tutorial videos and user submitted profiles. Highly recommend.
What are your thoughts on Lightkey (Mac only software) in comparison with Chamsys. Is there any advantages to PC vs Mac platform if I can choose between either?
Lightkey looks like a decent piece of software, but it hasn’t been around too long. So my biggest concern with it, is, how updated will they keep it in the future, or will it just die in a year or 2? Lightkey is designed more for simpler shows and lacks advanced functionality (but it is easy to use). Chamsys is more difficult to use, but has incredible functionality. PC is going to give you a TON more options in controllers ( https://learnstagelighting.com/first-lighting-console/ ), and a properly set up Windows 10 PC is just as stable as a Mac. ( https://learnstagelighting.com/set-lighting-console-show-computer/ ), and of course, PC’s are cheaper.
I have been running martin light jockey (LJ2) for several years and really loved the ability to programme lights exactly to the time code of an mp3 track but im migrating to MPC and totally confused with how i can do this? it appears i have to buy an external time code unit? ? This seems a very backward step not to have included a facility within the software to do this. What is your suggestion for a device that allows me to time code my lights (Mp3 or Cd) ? using MPC . I tried emailing martin UK-No reply 🙁
To be honest, I’m not sure. However, a forum post on http://forum.martin.com/ usually gets answered pretty quickly.
[…] More info on Enttec Interfaces: https://learnstagelighting.com/just-bought-enttec-usb-dmx-interface-now/ […]
[…] you don’t already have a console selected, I’d suggest buying an ENTTEC DMX-USB interface and using the M-PC software, which can be used for free with the ENTTEC […]
[…] images to mind of a large desk with many faders, many shows can be run with a basic PC and an ENTTEC widget or another similar […]
[…] will definitely need one. Lightkey does provide information on the supported interfaces, such as ENTTEC USB interfaces and networked DMX […]
For reason I can’t control. I am unable to move the lighting system. So I am looking to get a way to plug my DMX dimmer to pc and get a visual like effect (feedback only) so I can properly program the dimmer deck. Can this be done so the dmx output of the dimmer will register as a visualizer only on the pc? Thank you in advance.
Hi David G, Thank you for your question and for visiting the site. I went ahead and answered your question on the podcast. You can check it out here: How Do We Make This All Work Together?