Talking to the Lights with Bits and Bytes

The earliest forms of computer control, though digital at their core, output an analog signal, typically between 0 and 10 volts. Many architectural luminaires are still controlled this way.  The control signal set the lights' output from zero to full intensity. Inside the controller, these numbers were generally stored using 8-bit words, giving 256 steps of resolution. With the advent of moving light systems, the resolution was doubled to 16-bit, providing 65536 steps of resolution. Computers then calculated fades that produced a one-to-one relationship between the 65,000 steps directly to motors that moved the light from, say, pan-stop to pan-stop. This concept persisted for years and, given a specific controller tied to a specific lighting system, pre-programmed shows were reproduced faithfully night after night.

 

The downfall of this method of control is that these numbers ([0-10], [0-255] or [0-65535]) mean very little in the real world. They are actually only significant when used with very specific equipment. When applied to other equipment, these numbers mean very little at all, and in fact are often meaningless.

 

 

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