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Remote Control Light Dimmer

Posted: Mon Dec 05, 2016 3:32 am
by ShopRat
Here's a project that's been bouncing around my head for years (like a BB in a boxcar); remote control of a few theatre lights.

Background; Many years ago, I was involved with community theatre (read "LOW budget"), often working with lighting. This is different than "special effects" lights mentioned in Jon McPhalen's N&V articles, where the lights ARE the show. "Our lights" are a support act so the audience can see the actors and scenery, and to set the mood. 100 to 1000 seat auditoriums had lighting dimmer systems from 1970's auto-transformers to aging solid-state 19 channel, 3000 Watts-per-channel (11---2400W channels more common). I used a few 600W residential dimmer switches in 4" square outlet boxes with pigtail plugs (similar to the 4-way outlet multipliers once common in home workshops and residential construction sites) for "extra channels." I began experimenting with X10 Home Automation, thinking I might also use them at theaters to cut down on the extension cord mess. Then life took a hard turn, limiting that volunteering, followed by a house fire which ended the Home Automation experiment. Now, life looks like I may get back into theatre in a few years.

My question is which communication style would be cost effective for limited personal use, portable to different auditoriums: X10 protocol over the AC lines, XBee style radio network, or something else? Range of 150' or more (not always line-of-sight), controlling up to 750W bulb. I believe I can handle testing and construction with (mostly) thru-hole components. but "piggyback" existing radio transciever modules (if needed). I expect data packets of several bytes reliably delivered in one or two seconds a reasonable initial goal. I'm familiar with AC, planning to use triacs w. heat sinks for the power control section, and a PIC-type microcontroller interface between communication and power control. Or maybe there is a hackable holiday light sequencer available?

My concern (so far) is noise, whether on the AC lines or in the radio frequency used, limiting usefulness in various venues. My perception is that AC power is slowly cleaning up (new appliances putting less noise to their source) while "wireless everything" is adding potential interference in the radio spectrum.

To recap: Looking to build/buy portable remote control light dimmer(s) for 750W without breaking the bank; X10 protocol, XBee radio network, or other? Sorry for the long post, I was trying to cover enough of the project without getting too verbose. Thanks in advance for all suggestions/comments.


P.S. For the curious, a 600W residential dimmer will power two 500W "sunlight in a window" lamps for at least 20 minutes, but I had to wear gloves to unplug after that scene ended :smile: . Also, sharp readers may have noticed the odd number of channels above; I counted usable channels on aging equipment. They typically came in 6-channel increments.

Re: Remote Control Light Dimmer

Posted: Mon Dec 05, 2016 6:05 am
by Engineer3104
If you've successfully used X10 products before, take a look at UPB products. (Universal Powerline Bus). Like X10, it uses the powerline for communication, but that's where the similarity ends. UPB is MUCH more robust than X10. Stronger signal, many more features. Setup is via your computer using free UPStart software. Plug-in and hard-wired units available, with up to 2400W dimmers.

Two big suppliers are:
Simply Automated

Note: If you're working in a 3-Phase environment you MUST use a 3-Phase repeater for proper communication.

Re: Remote Control Light Dimmer

Posted: Fri Dec 09, 2016 6:41 am
by ShopRat
Thanks, Engineer. I don't think I'd seen UPB before. Yes, initial research suggests it's based on the same basic ideas as X10, but much more robust. Almost as if UPB came from an effort to "fix" problems with X10 :smile: .

I recall looking through some X10 forums several months ago. A common problem seemed to be lack of use/knowledge of the "split-phase" signal coupler on 115/230V systems.

This is the kind of idea/suggestion I was asking for :grin: . Thanks again for the reply and the links.


Re: Remote Control Light Dimmer

Posted: Fri Dec 09, 2016 10:11 am
by Engineer3104
You're welcome ShopRat.

After working in the X10 world for over 30 years, I've come to really appreciate the power of UPB.
There is a bit of a learning curve, but some excellent tutorials are available on the two websites mentioned.

The biggest feature is "Scenes", where you can have one transmission control up to 250 receivers simultaneously, each with their own brightness level and fade rate.

PM me if you have any questions regarding UPB.


Re: Remote Control Light Dimmer

Posted: Tue Dec 20, 2016 9:53 am
by VernGraner
ShopRat wrote: To recap: Looking to build/buy portable remote control light dimmer(s) for 750W without breaking the bank; X10 protocol
I would reccomend that you have a look at wireless DMX systems. A good place to start is parts express: ... earch=true

and here's a video tutorial:

DMX is pretty much the stage lighting standard. Also, if the wireless part isn't in the budget at the start, you can use standard "mic" cables (the ones that are XLR to XLR) to wire up your lighting systems. :)