DMX vs. DALI Lighting Control: Which One to Choose?

If you have installed LED lights, you’ve probably thought about DMX and DALI controls. In this article, we will be analyzing these two types of dimming controls to help you understand more about them.

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Lighting controls are a type of smart lighting technology that allows you to adjust the amount, quality, and characteristics of light in a specific area. Dimers are a good example of lighting controls.

The two main types of dimming controls used in outdoor lighting fixtures are the DMX (Digital Multiplexing) and DALI (Digital Addressable Lighting Interface). To conserve energy, they use automated controls. However, both of these dimming controls are unique and have their differences.

Are you excited to learn more? Let’s begin by knowing the meaning of these controls.

What is DMX? 

Digital Multiplexing (DMX) is a digital control protocol used remotely to control up to 512 light fixtures. 

DMX is a centralized lighting control system meaning that all the light fixtures and luminaries are controlled using a single control panel. It is one of the high-quality systems preferred for many applications, especially in the sports industry. 

This control unit employs two drop connectors, RS485 or RS422. This, in turn, allows them to control multiple lights, which can be up to 512. Multidrop connections utilizing RS485 or RS422 connect a greater number of loads to a single control unit.

Using the RGB led lights, the DMX controller can also control the color temperature of the fixtures. This control is so fast that the color of the light fixtures changes almost instantaneously. 

DMX for Outdoor Lighting: The Definitive Guide

Here’s a diagrammatic representation of how the DMX system works;

dmx control
DMX control

What is DALI? 

Digital Accessible Lighting Interface (DALI) is a two-way open protocol that uses multiple control panels to connect to several luminaries. 

Unlike the DMX control panel that is centralized, DALI is a decentralized system. Each control panel is individually regulated to make the lights brighter or dim. It covers a maximum distance of 300m and employs a two-wire control line.

DALI control system can control a maximum of 64 lights and a large number of about 254 brightness settings. You can use pre-set modes to change illumination patterns at specific times of day, in addition to dimming and on/off operations.

Below is an illustration of the DALI system;

dali control
DALI control

Now that you better understand how DMX and DALI systems are, it is important to also know some of their similarities and differences. Let’s dig right in. 

Similarities between DMX and DALI

There are a few similarities between DMX and DALI that make them applicable in many settings. Here are three main ones;

1. Distance Coverage

One of the similarities between these two types of control systems is the maximum distance they cover. Both systems can cover a maximum of 300 meters from the central controller. 

2. Control Panels

Both of these systems use control panels to give commands to the light fixtures to either increase or decrease the brightness. The operating speed might differ due to the wiring, but they both rely heavily on the control panels. 

3. Applications

DMX and DALI lighting controls can be used in similar applications. For instance, both controls are used in high mast pole lights. What are high mast poles? They are tall poles that hold more than one light fixture. 

The high mast poles provide lighting in different areas such as stadiums, highways, airports, bridges, etc. Now that you know the similarities between DMX and DALI, let us look at some of their differences.

Differences between DMX and DALI

DMX and DALI have distinct differences intended to identify whether or not they are suitable for a given application. Some of these differences are outlined in the table below.

 DMXDALI
SpeedFast speed control system due to theSlow speed control system 
Number of connectionsCan have a maximum of 512 connectionsCan have a maximum of 64 connections
Type of controlCentralized control systemDecentralized control system
Color controlUsing the specialized RGB-LED, you can handle color control using DMX It does not support color change; only fading of the lights
Cable requirementWith the maximum of 300m coverage, it requires a Cat-5 cable requirement which is also attributed to its fast speedsStill with a maximum of 300m coverage, it uses a two-wire connection setup
Automatic requirementCannot perform automatic addressingCan perform automatic addressing
Dimming controlEasy to useA bit complex and might require some training before use
Differences between DMX and DALI

As mentioned, DMX and DALI are used in different areas depending on the intended lighting requirement of the location. Both are very reliable systems and energy-efficient too. 

Below is a list of the application areas and the type of system most preferred in each setting. 

Application Areas for DMX and DALI

Roads and Highways

While on the road, lighting is a crucial factor. Good lighting enables drivers, motorists, and pedestrians to be able to see clearly when on the road. 

The high mast lights used on the roads are put in regular intervals to ensure that the lighting is uniform through the road network. For ease of control, the DMX lighting control is preferable on the roads and highways.

Sport Fields

Different sports require different lighting options. This, in turn, means that both DALI and DMX are good options for sports field lighting. It is the ultimate goal to ensure that both the players and the audience have a good experience and that the lights do not distract them in any way.

A tennis court, for instance, would be the best fit with high mast poles with the DALI controller. This is so because the tennis court is not big, making it easier for the lights to be controlled individually. 

The best way to enhance the audience’s experience on the field is to use DMX lighting control. DMX has fast speeds, and the effects are an admirable feature as the color of the lights can change instantaneously, making it fun for the spectators.

Both of the two light controls are a perfect option on sports fields. Some sports arenas integrate both controls in different parts of the field depending on the lighting needs. Often, you will find the DALI controls off the field and DMX on the field. 

Commercial Settings

Commercial settings such as airports need adequate lighting on high mast poles. The controls used for the light fixtures are also crucial. Besides, people at the airport including pilots need sufficient lighting throughout. 

For commercial settings, both lighting controls are used. In areas that require constant lighting, DMX is mainly preferred, while areas that need controlled lighting would be best fitted with the DALI control system. 

Factors to Consider When Choosing between DMX and DALI Lighting Systems 

As we have seen throughout this reading, both controls are very effective in different applications. And most often, you will find them integrated into one application area to provide the required lighting requirement. The big question, however, is, which should you choose?

Well, there isn’t a clear answer to this, but we can give you a few tips that will guide you in deciding which one to choose.

1. Installation

The installation of the lighting controls you choose plays a significant role. It is essential to understand the process to gauge how long it would take. 

A professional technician who has experience on the same is in a better position to advise on the duration the installation will take as well as the materials needed. As a rule of thumb, for the wiring and other aspects such as screws, etc., you should always have some extras just in case they are needed in the process.

2. Lighting Requirements

What lighting project are you working on? What lighting needs does it require? When choosing any of the two lighting controls, it is vital to understand the nature of your project and the lighting requirements needed.

Both DMX and DALI serve the purpose, but the one you choose should meet the project’s needs. The two controls can also be integrated into one system to provide you with both control options. 

For spaces such as restaurants, clubs, and other businesses, DMX is a popular option due to its color effects. On the other hand, DALI is a popular option in areas that require adjustable lighting controls.

Conclusion

The technology used in lighting controls has evolved over the years. DMX and DALI are on top of the game. Both of these systems are compatible with most LED lights. 

Your choice of the system to use jots down to the intended purpose. You need to choose a control system that matches the requirements of the lighting project. 

The cost of installation is also a crucial factor to consider. You can consult a lighting professional to guide you on the best type of system to choose from two. And remember, it is also possible to integrate both controls in one system. 

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