How To Setup Easy Quiz for Use With a DMX Hardware Controller
What is DMX lighting?
DMX is a digital protocol… blah, blah, blah. Forget the textbook definition. For any event host running game shows, trivia quizzes or other contests, DMX lighting offers a new level of excitement and professionalism for your events. Anything new can seem complicated at first, but we'll show you how to bring a few elements together to get you started in adding this new, dramatic dimension to your events.
What Kind of "Dramatic Dimension" Can DMX Lighting Add to My Events?
Just a few examples:
- Color! Lots of it... light up your game show stage on command with colors of your choosing
- Illuminate contestant podiums in custom colors when a contestant presses their game buzzer
- Instruct moving head lights or lasers to sweep across the room to announce the big winner
- Command a string of lights to chase around your backdrop like a movie house marquee
- Flash any and all lights or issue strobe effects on command
- Control other DMX equipment like fog or bubble machines
- You can even synchronize a lighting display with your game show intro music or video! (Calm down. That's a second semester course.)
- The possibilities are limited only by your imagination
How Does DMX Lighting Work?
DMX lights and other equipment are referred to as fixtures. Each fixture is assigned a numeric “address” using push buttons and a small LED display on the fixture itself. The fixtures are then connected one to the other in a “daisy chain” fashion. The last fixture in the cable chain is connected to a DMX “controller.” This controller can be a computer running DMX controller software or a DMX hardware controller. We’ll discuss only the hardware controller in this article. For more information on DMX fixtures, cables/adapters and controllers, links are provided in the sidebar.
What Does the Hardware Controller Do?
The hardware controller is an electronic device that sends instructions through the DMX cable to the specific fixture we wish to control. That’s why we assigned each fixture a numeric address in the paragraph above. A hardware controller has a series of switches and sliders to manually control fixture functions like color selection and dimming the lights up and down.
Once your DMX lights are connected to the hardware controller, an operator can move the sliders and switches to create the desired lighting effect. I know...
"You're kidding, right? Who could possibly be bothered with this type of complex equipment while trying to run a game show or quiz game event?"
That's a great question, and there is a solution. All those manually controlled settings can be stored in a scene and assigned to a scene button for easy recall anytime that same lighting scene is needed. Instead of moving all the sliders and switches to recreate the scene, the operator need only press a single button to recreate the exact lighting effect.
Great - But I'll still need a human operator during the event to press the scene buttons, right?
Nope! We have a final piece of wizardry to put into play. There is a long-standing music industry standard for connecting computers to digital music equipment called MIDI. (It's an acroynym for something, but who really cares?) This MIDI standard assigns a number to every note on the music scale. Again, we don't really care what number is assigned to which note, we're just going to use the MIDI interface and the digital “MIDI note” data to electronically press those lighting scene buttons we have programmed into our hardware controller.
How do we do that?
By adding just a couple more pieces to complete our intriguing puzzle. We already have our choice of DMX lights or other equipment connected with one daisy chain DMX cable to our hardware controller, and the controller is programmed with the lighting scenes we plan to use in our event. Now we want to use our computer and the MIDI standard protocol to send instructions to the hardware controller. Don't worry, it's easy to do.
How To Connect Your Computer to Your Hardware Controller
First, you will need a controller that has MIDI capability, that is, a MIDI IN port so it can process the "MIDI note" data we are going to send it. This type of controller will allow you to assign a MIDI note to each of the lighting scene buttons you have programmed into the unit. You'll have to check the user guide for your controller for these instructions. Make sure your DMX controller has this capability or you'll be stuck with needing that human operator to push the controller buttons - and we don't want that! In the case of the Obey 40 controller pictured in this article, the lighting scene button and "program bank" used to store the lighting scene defines the MIDI note that will trigger it. A section of the MIDI Map from the User Guide is shown here as an example of how to determine the MIDI notes we'll need to make things work hands free.
Making the computer connection.
Our computer is going to send MIDI notes out the USB port (we'll get there in a minute). To connect your USB port to your controller, you'll need a USB-to-MIDI adapter cable.
THIS LINK shows one made by FORE and sold on Amazon for under 20 bucks.
The USB connector goes to your computer of course, and the MIDI OUT plug connects to the MIDI IN port on your controller. That's not a typo because our MIDI note data will be going OUT of your computer, and OUT of this cable adapter, and IN to your controller. What's left? Oh yes... how do we get the correct MIDI notes going out of the USB port? That question gets addressed by your computer application.
Sending MIDI Notes Our Your Computer's USB Port
Let's jump back to the music industry for just a minute. If you installed music creation software on your computer, you could display a piano keyboard on your screen. Then, with your computer connected to your DMX controller, you could click on the piano key with the matching MIDI note for your desired lighting scene. Your lights would instantly light up according to your preprogrammed instructions. Easy Peasy. Rock groups and music performers have been using this method for years by employing a small digital keyboard connected to their lighting controller and marking the keyboard keys in some way to identify the lighting scene they will trigger. Clever, but that still requires a human operator to push the right keys at the right time. And seriously... what a mess!
That won't work for most event hosts, especially if you are a one-person show. So we need game show software that has the ability to send out the MIDI notes we designate at the times we specify. Now the bad news.
Sadly, not many game show / trivia quiz / buzzer game... software applications offer this feature. But take heart. Our FREE Easy Quiz software will do all of this! How is that possible when the big guys seem to be ignoring the professionalism and drama DMX lighting can provide for your events? Short answer: It was in response to a customer request six years ago. He asked whether Easy Quiz could send MIDI notes to control DMX lighting. At that time, it could not. I talked to my programmer and did some web research... and three months later Easy Quiz was controlling DMX lighting equipment!
How To Setup Easy Quiz to Send MIDI Notes
In the original version of Easy Quiz, custom sounds could be played for any or all of the major quiz game events. Here's a list:
- Get Ready screen (where the host reads the question)
- Buzzers ON screen (player race to press their buzzer first)
- Player Name screen (displays the name of the first player to buzz in, and supports up to 50 different sounds for a max of 50 players in a quiz)
- Wrong screen (displays when the player gives a wrong answer)
- Right screen (displays when a player gives a right answer)
- Scores screen (displays player names and scores)
For DMX lighting, we decided that each of these major quiz events would be a good opportunity to present a unique lighting scene. So for each sound event, Easy Quiz can also send an assigned MIDI note number out the USB port and on to the DMX controller for lighting scene selection. This is done by specifying the desired MIDI note in the config.txt file that Easy Quiz reads and uses for all the user-specified variables in the quiz.
Breaking down the demo config.txt file
In this section of the config.txt file we find numbers assined to each of the MIDI note variable names Easy Quiz uses for sending MIDI notes out the USB port. The variable names have an obvious correlation to the quiz events in the list above. For our demo video ( at the end of this article), we chose these simple lighting scenes using the two DMX Par lights shown in the video:
Remember, we have already created the desired lighting scene for each of these quiz events and saved it to a lighting scene button in the hardware controller. All we need to do now is tell Easy Quiz what MIDI numbers we want for each of these events. This is done by assigning numbers to the corresponding variable name in the config.txt file used by Easy Quiz. Any text editor can be used for this task. The relevant section of the config.txt file looks like this for the lighting scenes stored in our Obey 40 controller:
The variable noted by the red arrow is vital because it tells Easy Quiz to select the MIDI device that contains the text "USB" in the system-detected MIDI devices. Don't worry if you don't understand it, just make sure you have this line in your config.txt file and that your FORE USB-to-MIDI adapter cable is connected to your computer before you launch the Easy Quiz software.
The MIDI note numbers 8-12 are used in this file for our demo video because they are the corresponding MIDI note numbers assigned to the desired lighting scenes we stored in the Obey 40 controller. Save this confix.txt file and we're done! Launch Easy Quiz, use the TEST BUZZERS screen or jump right into the quiz game and you should be producing lighting displays for each of the sound events you have configured in your controller and in the Easy Quiz config.txt file.