Lighting Protocols

There are numerous different lighting control protocols, used in the various industries that use controlled lighting. This page is a glossary of some of the common ones, with links for more information.

The Entertainment Services and Technology Association (ESTA) and ProSight maintain this site of ESTA lighting protocol documents. Other relevant standards bodies include the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO).

DMX-512 – DMX-512 is a digital communications protocol for communication between lighting control systems and lighting fixtures and accessories. It’s an asynchronous serial protocol, based on the RS-85 standard, intended to provide for interoperability between equipment made by different lighting manufacturers. DMX-512 is organized in universes of control channels. Each universe can have up to 512 control channels, and each channel has an 8-bit resolution, meaning you can have 256 possible values per channel. Designed originally when most fixtures had only one primary feature (brightness or intensity), the protocol has been adapted to use with multi-feature fixtures like moving lights, color-changing lights, and so forth. The USITT FAQ page on DMX is a good introduction. DMX-512 was originally designed and defined as a wired serial protocol, though there are now wireless DMX implementations. For example, see ACN and streaming ACN below.

RDM – Remote Device Management is an enhancement to DMX-512, used for configuration and management of DMX systems. While DMX-512 is a unidirectional protocol, RDM is a bi-directional protocol. The standard, also known as ANSI/ESTA 1.20, was developed by the ESTA Technical Standards Program. It’s designed for interoperability between manufacturers, and to be compatible with DMX-512.

ACN –  Architecture for Control Networks is a new standard for lighting control over high-bandwidth networks. This standard, known as ANSI/ESTA E1.17, works over networks that support IP (Internet Protocol) and UDP (Universal Datagram Protocol, such as Ethernet and 802.11

sACN – Streaming ACN, also known as ANSI/ESTA E1.31, is a streaming protocol for transport of DMX512 using ACN. It supports the sgtreaming of DMX-512A packets over TCP/IP networks using a subset of ACN. It also includes a method of synchronization method to help ensure that multiple devices can interoperate when controlled by the same controller on the same network.

ArtNet – Art-Net is also a communications protocol for transport of DMX-512 and RDM using UDP. It is not published by ANSI or ESTA, and is royalty-free. It is not compatible with sACN, however most devices which support sACN also support ArtNet these days, and vice versa.

0-10V – Many architectural fixtures, like dimming LED drivers and fluorescent ballasts,  are designed to be controlled with a 0-10D VC control signal. These are typically designed to have the controller sink the current. There is another 0-10V protocol from the entertainment industry known as ANSI E1.3,  in which the controller sources the signal current. These two are not compatible.

DALI – the Digital Addressable Lighting Interface, also known as IEC 62386 and IEC 60929, is a protocol for network-based control of architectural lighting systems.It was designed by a consortium of companies to replace 0-10V as a standard for building lighting systems. The trademark is managed by DIIA, the Digital Illumination Interface Alliance.