Until we get wireless power, running wireless data to our lights is one of the biggest time-savers and problem solvers that we can use in our lighting.
And as the writer of a lighting website, I often get the question “should I buy wireless DMX?”, with the predictable followup “Which brand should I buy?”
In this article, I want to share with you the pros and cons of wireless DMX and help you decide if it’s right for you. Then I’m going to go ahead and link to some products I’ve used and trusted below so that you can make the best choice for your lighting.
I’ve seen wireless DMX save time, money and make life great. But I’ve also seen it crash and burn, and I want to minimize the chances of that happening to you!
How Does Wireless DMX Work?
If you’re at this post, you probably already understand the basic point that wireless DMX allows you to send DMX lighting signal to fixtures near or far without a physical cable.
Most wireless DMX systems operate in the 2.4ghz frequency range, which is the same space as wireless WIFI networks. Some offer 5ghz or 900mhz functionality as well.
A wireless DMX transmitter turns regular, wired DMX into a wireless signal that is then turned back into regular DMX by a receiver. It’s a lot like a digital wireless microphone, actually.
Many wireless DMX units are actually transceivers and are able to transmit or receive DMX (but not at the same time).
Each manufacturer that makes wireless DMX has their own way of doing it, and so one brand of wireless DMX equipment will NOT work wirelessly with another brand’s equipment. However, many of the wireless DMX manufacturers use one or 2 main protocols.
The 2 big “standard” protocols of wireless DMX are Lumenradio and W-DMX.
Some consoles and fixtures actually come with wireless DMX built-in, and do not require a separate transmitter or receiver. Other fixtures contain the antenna, but require a simple USB receiver to be plugged in to get the wireless signal functional – making wireless DMX even easier!
What are the problems and limitations with Wireless DMX?
The biggest reason I have waited so long to write a post on wireless DMX is that it hasn’t always and isn’t always trustworthy.
Because most wireless DMX is generally in the 2.4ghz spectrum, we can have issues with signal dropouts when the wifi spectrum gets crowded. I personally make it a rule to NOT use wireless DMX on any lights I can’t afford to lose control over.
I was recently on a show in a new facility where their wifi, ticket scanner system and other networks crowded out the airwaves and we could not find ANY open channels for our wireless intercoms or show routers. Because they were broadcasting everything at full power, you couldn’t get ANYTHING in the 2.4ghz range to work!
This is becoming more and more common as we move forward in time.
At this point, it doesn’t matter if you have the fanciest, most expensive wireless DMX. If there isn’t a frequency open, it’s not going to work, no matter how much it tries to find open air!
This is the biggest concern that I have with wireless DMX.
I am all good with using wireless, but when it comes to crunch time, please do have the DMX cable on site to wire if needed, or a plan to change your lights to a static, stand-alone look – or you won’t be able to control your lights!
What About Art-Net and sACN over Wireless?
Art-Net and sACN are 2 different ways to run your DMX signal over a network.
And yes! – Like any network protocol, this can totally be run wirelessly using standard computer networking equipment over 2.4ghz or 5ghz.
Like anything wireless, be sure to test your setup and always have a backup plan! When working with networks, be sure either you are knowledgeable OR you grab the advice of someone who knows what they’re doing.
Lately, as I’ve been learning more and more about networking, I’ve gotten into entry-level enterprise gear from Ubiquiti– and so far it’s outperformed the consumer-grade stuff I had before, for only about twice the cost.
Wireless DMX Buyers Guide:
Like many things in the lighting world, there are a LOT of different options when you’re looking to invest in wireless DMX. Some are good, some are bad, but you generally get what you pay for.
As always, do your own due diligence and use this guide to help steer yourself into a purchase decision that you’ll be thankful you made for years into the future!
My wireless DMX pick for those on the entry to mid-level Chauvet’s D-Fi.
You can quickly get started with a Chauvet D-Fi Hub or 2, and any lighting fixtures.
While there are a LOT of good options out there, Chauvet’s D-Fi system stands out to me for a few good reasons.
The first is that is just plain works. As long as the 2.4ghz spectrum isn’t completely jammed, you’re good to go. I follow the instructions in the manual, and it always works fine. (I’ve had issues with much more expensive lights flickering or just plain giving out on me – meanwhile the Chauvet’s worked fine in their place)
Second, Chauvet has done an excellent job working D-Fi into their product line. If you’re buying wireless, battery-powered uplights, D-Fi is built right in.
Most of Chauvet’s other new fixtures contain a D-Fi USB plugin port. The beauty of this system is that you only need to add an inexpensive USB dongle to recieve D-Fi signal to the fixture – a great cost-savings!
Lastly, and this is a big one – Chauvet is there for you! I’ve been a long-time fan of Chauvet, because when I call their support number, they find the answers I need to whatever problem I am having.
This is the difference you are going to see between companies like Chauvet and “no-name” brands who may not be around next year to answer the phone or honor their warranty!
Need to run signal further, or operate in very congested airspace? Check out the professional offerings from RC4 Wireless here! While they are more expensive than the Chauvet units, their unique pairing system allows many wireless units to work together in a close area, and they have offerings that are not in the 2.4ghz space as well.
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G’day and thank you for this information !
So, moving forward in time with 5 Ghz networks becoming more and more popular in use we could expect there to be free space to shoot our light signals around the place before long ?
The 5GHz band is globally harmonized, just as the 2.4GHz band is. Thus, it will eventually fill up just like 2.4GHz has.
On the other hand, lower frequencies propagate more efficiently than higher frequencies, so the 900MHz band performs better when all else is the same (rf power, antenna gain, and so on). If you are in Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, or Hong Kong, you can use 900MHz. In most other places it is allocated for cellular use and not available for wireless DMX.
In all other places, 2.4GHz is still preferred because of better propagation than at 5GHz, but the specifics of the installation can over-ride that preference in some cases. If there is simply too much congestion at 2.4, and much less traffic at 5, then 5 is the better choice… for now.