What is a Lighting Console?

You walk into a room- lights are fading up and down, moving, and colors and shapes are dancing on the walls.  It looks really cool.

You may already know that stage lighting does not usually run in “auto” mode or control itself.

That is, if you want it to look good…it CAN do it, but the results are far from pleasing!

Controlling every lighting rig, large or small, is some sort of lighting console and controlling that lighting console is a human. Lighting consoles allow many lights to be controlled together, making for a unified look across the space!

Lighting consoles use low-voltage control signal to tell the dimmers, LED’s and moving lights what to do.  Most lighting consoles use a control protocol called DMX512, or DMX for short.

As I mentioned before, lighting consoles, or boards, come in all different shapes and sizes.  

The smallest fits in the palm of your hand, and the very largest takes many people to move!  Some are on computers with no control surface.  Different sizes and complexities of lighting rigs require different controllers- what your church or venue may need is different from the needs of others.

In general, lighting consoles can be split into 2 types- conventional lighting consoles and moving light consoles.  Because of the DMX512 standard, all of these consoles are putting out the same type of signal.  How the human operator interacts and programs each console is different.

Conventional Lighting Consoles

DMX lighting console
A formerly-popular conventional lighting console.

Conventional lighting consoles typically have a lot of faders and not much else on the control surface.

 These faders are used to bring up individual lights and groups of lights.  Some may be programmable, called submasters.  

Conventional lighting consoles may also have cue stacks, allowing lighting looks to be programmed into a cue, which then can be played back in a list of cues on a special playback fader.  If you’re working with all conventional lighting, this is the type of console for you.

At the time of this writing, conventional-style consoles are quickly becoming obsolete, but

Moving Light Consoles

Lighting Console Hog 4
A pro-grade moving light console

Moving light consoles, on the other hand, put the focus on touchscreens, buttons, wheels and a fewer faders.  

Lights are brought up via the touch screen in palettes/presets, cues, and cuelists, and programmed to playbacks.  The software, which is much more advanced, is able to playback many cues at once and program effects movements easily.  This doesn’t make them best for all uses.  

A conventional lighting rig is actually a little slower to control compared to a conventional console.  But if you’re programming extensively with LED’s and moving lights, this is what you need.

In addition, many consoles are now available in a PC version- running off of a computer with a small, or even no control surface.  

One example of a PC-based lighting console.

This is a great option for a venue, church or attraction that simply needs to play back pre-programmed looks, and doesn’t need to do a lot of programming.

There are many, many different programs out there to do this, and also many different options for outputting to DMX.

Software-based consoles are available in both moving light and conventional style consoles, though the majority are ML consoles.  A PC system is not best, however, when you have limited programming time, or if you seek to “busk” or run a show live, with few or no complete looks programmed.

There are many considerations when buying or renting a console.  

Remember that lighting consoles come in many different shapes and sizes, and that what’s right for someone else’s venue might not be right for you.

Are you looking for your first (or next lighting console?) Read my guide here to learn how to choose the right one for YOUR needs!

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