Should I Leave My Lights On All The Time? DMX Relays and Sequencers 101

This one is for the folks who have their lights permanently installed:

Do you leave your LED’s and moving lights powered on 24/7?

What about your consoles?

Did you know that often the first failure for these types of lights, consoles, and other rack gear is when the power supply dies?

If your lights aren’t permanently installed, then they’re not plugged in 24/7 and it’s probably not a concern to you how much abuse the power supply gets.

But if you are permanently installed you probably don’t want to leave your devices on 24/7…

So what’s the solution?

Informal studies and experience have shown that turning off your equipment when you’re not using it can make it last longer.  I know this may sound obvious, but regardless, many people leave lights and other AV gear on 100% of the time, even if it isn’t being used 24/7.

If you’ve spent a lot of money on new lights and you want to keep them functional for as long as possible, it just makes sense to power it off when you’re not using it – most of these devices are not designed to be turned on 24/7!

You might be thinking “Great I’ll go ahead and make sure that I turn off the breakers everytime I leave for the day.”

That’s step one.

But while you may remember to turn them off after each use (especially if you paid for the lights), the folks who work or volunteer with you aren’t going to always remember.

That’s where relays and sequencers come in. If you’re familiar with audio, you’ve probably seen a sequencer before.

A power sequencer is a device that simply turns on and off a number of outlets in a certain order.

It can be as simple as a single rack unit that turns on three or four stages of outlets, or as complex as a distributed system that controlled via the network cable or located inside of a power panel.

Relays, on the other hand, are similar to a lighting dimmer, except, a relay turns on/off circuits of power and it cannot dim them.

The reason you want to use a relay instead of a dimmer for turning on and off equipment is that a dimmer on at full does not give a clean power source and can actually damage the equipment that you’re trying to protect by turning it off!

That’s right – even if you set the dimmer not to dim (in your console or the dimmer itself), the power it sends out at full is NOT clean or safe for your gear!

A relay, on the other hand, gives clean power on and off to the device that it passes on to!

So what’s this going to cost?

The biggest concern that people generally have with implementing relays is that it’s going to be expensive.

In the truth is, while it’s not free to get started, it’s also not as expensive as you may think.

Take for example the ETC Colorsource DMX Relay. This is one of the easiest ways to get started with a relay and it runs over DMX.

At the time of this writing, it retails for around $250 USD, and can power up to 16 amps of equipment at 120 volts.

It’s also rated for up to 230v and can turn on and off the connected equipment up to 1 million times.

I like to think about the cost this way:

A $250 purchase now is going to protect thousands of dollars in lighting equipment. and not only is it going to protect the equipment you have today, but it also is going to be around to protect your next batch of equipment in 5 to 10 years.

Plus, it works via DMX and can turn your equipment on automatically when it sees a signal from the console, or can be set to be controlled via a specific DMX address.

Do I Need Relays?

When I think about recommending relays to someone, a few questions come to mind.

1) Is your gear permanently installed, or plugged in more often than not?

2) Did you spend more than a few thousand dollars on this gear?

If the answer to these questions is “Yes”, then you should definitely get some relays.  A friend of mine recently shared a story of a client who declined the relays with the purchase of some new $5000+ moving lights.

A year or so down the road, some of the power supplies stopped working.  They were fixed under warranty, but my friend still highly recommended the use of relays, as this will keep the lights from failing into the future.

If you’re only using the lights “X” hours per week (10, 20, even 40), why do you keep them powered on 24/7?

Need to get more complex?

If you’re turning on and off lots of audio or video loads as well as lighting, it’s worth looking into a sequencing system installed by a professional integrator at the power panel.

But even if you have a lot of circuits to control, a relay like the Colorsource may be just what you need.  The beauty of this system is that it’s totally reconfigurable if you need to move your lights around later!

And at the end of the day, if you’ve just spent thousands of dollars on new moving lights and LED’s, wouldn’t it be a good idea to get some extra life out of them for $250?

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