Light-Key DMX Control for Mac Makes our Not Recommended ListApril 16, 2018
When it comes to intelligent lighting control. DMX Software can be a versatile, cost-effective alternative to standard consoles. With software, you can have precise control of a multitude fixtures on a rig of any size to create complex lighting shows and save time while doing so.
There’s a large selection of DMX software programs on the internet. You have proprietary solutions such as Chauvet ShowXpress, ADJ MyDMX and Hog OnPC that require the purchase of their respectively branded compatible hardware. Or the more open-source solutions such as QLC Plus, Freestyler DMX, and Light Forge that support a variety of different DMX and Artnet output hardware devices from 3rd party manufacturers.
One of the newer programs to the market is LightKey. Designed by the Open Lighting Project, Lightkey is a universal DMX software specifically designed for Mac with a modern approach featuring a beautifully designed, easy to use interface and functionality that the Mac concept is known for.
LightKey is compatible with a wide range of low-cost USB-DMX hardware from various manufacturers such as ENTTEC, DMX King, and even Robe’s universal interface. LightKey also provides full compatibility for any type of ArtNet, Streaming ACN, and ESP NET interfaces. There are claims that other USB-DMX hardware not listed on their site may work with LightKey making a potentially easy transition to the new software.
LightKey supports up to 4 DMX universes or 2048 DMX channels with variable output rates between 30-44 hz. It supports 2 input universes that allow custom tailored control through a standard MIDI controller, DMX console, or remote input from an iPhone or iPad using TouchOSC.
Setup and Patching
The initial installation and setup is Lightkey is very easy, the software automatically detects supported USB-DMX output devices and can be set up with just one click without having to make any modifications to the behavior of your USB ports. Output methods such as ArtNet will require some time for configuration, but it still configured in a relatively simplified manner.
When it comes to fixtures there’s a lot you need to know. Patching fixtures is fairly easy, if you have the existing fixture profile within the program, you can an easily drag and drop your selected fixture to the desired starting DMX address on the grid in the fixtures manager.
There’s a lot of existing fixture profiles available in the software with great support for brands targeted to mobile-DJ users such as ADJ, Chauvet-DJ, Blizzard, and other entry-level makes as well as support for legacy models. Even though there is a lot of profiles available, the program lacks support for more advanced fixtures like Elation, Martin, and Robe.
Fortunately, you can also create your own fixture profile within the software, and it’s fairly easy to do so. But the program does not have an option to manually adjust DMX channels so it can be complicated to determine what channels control each function of a fixture without a user manual.
Control and Programming
Overall the control interface of LightKey is a very simple and modern layout with all of your cues, sequences, controls, live preview all on the same screen. A 2D visualizer is used instead of 3D which make it hard to visual the movements of moving lights properly or see exactly how a show is going to look in a live setting. Lightkey uses extensive keyboard shortcuts to quickly access menus and certain functions of the program, however, some of these vital functions such as your pan/tilt adjustments and effects generators are only accessible through keyboard shortcuts.
Once you gain an understanding of the shortcuts, programming is pretty easy and simple to understand for those who are new to lighting. For more complex rigs and movements, the functionality can be limited. The lack of a virtual DMX board leaves you only being able to control your lights based on the functions available in the design menu. Meaning that certain advanced functions for moving lights like dual prisms, zoom, and hybrid functions may be hard to access without manipulating the fixture profile. Built-in effect macros for LED wash fixtures was hard to trigger via DMX.
The FX generator for moving lights is extremely limited. A user is required to use preset movements paths located in the pan/tilt menu. These movements can be customized, but only to a certain degree. For more complex movements you may need to create a sequence or create a preset and adjust duration times to offset synchronized movement.
The movement presets seem to be focused on pointing the light frontwards towards an audience. The FX generator is not entirely friendly for programming movement paths for scanners. Despite these limitations, it isn’t entirely impossible. LightKey 2 has released a new FX generator that provides better support for FX on other fixture functions.
Live control on LightKey has a wide range of versatility. You can easily drag and drop all of your presets into live control to create buttons or faders that are fully customizable. With chases and movement presets you can fully adjust the speed on the fly without having to create separate presets based on speed. LightKey 2 now also supports control for the new TouchBar on MacBook Pro models, adding an easy fader without the need for a touchscreen.
All live functions can be triggered through preset keys on your keyboard, your MIDI controller, or TouchOSC which might be the most friendly way if you need faders. On top of that Lightkey also has beat control that can control the speed of sequences based on the beat the software is given which can be manually set, through MIDI clock signals from DJ software like Traktor.
Priority levels on Lightkey tend to be counter-intuitive, rather than an HTP or LTP option you would normally see on controllers. LightKey uses numbered priority levels from 1-9, meaning there is no option to set your LTP presets, these priority levels tend to not respond how they should unless they’re precisely set.
Even if the priorities are set properly, conflicting presets with the same priority level may not override like it would with LTP. So it’s a matter of making sure your toggle buttons are off before turning another on.
Putting LightKey to the test, we’ve tested with many various fixtures, including older fixtures. Many problems were found with LightKey unfortunately. One major problem with it is software stability. Multiple times during the tests both during programming and a live setting during a small party, the software would freeze and completely lockout mouse and keyboard controls. Because of that, there was no ability to force quit the software which lead to ultimately having to force restart the computer. Something that cannot happen during a show or gig, especially for mobile DJ’s looking to use this software in conjunction with DJ software on the same computer.
Controlling fixtures tended to be limited. One scanner we tested had only 4 channels, with channel 4 controlling gobos, strobe, and shutter. The strobe function was not accessible in this software. When testing with more advanced fixtures, the software did not send signals to strike the lamp on discharge fixtures or do a simple remote reset. Effect macros were not supported for LED wash fixtures.
So If you’re looking for a cheap and quick way to get into intelligent lighting control. Lightkey is a great choice, you’re getting a modern program that has a lot of capabilities and ease of use even for someone who doesn’t know lighting control very well. Provided that stability is improved at a later time, this software would work well for a mobile DJ, small touring concert, a small venue or any environment that just needs some decent lighting control. However with the lack of precise controls and tools to create complex shows, this software will not suit a large venue, concert, festival or any type of environment that requires sophisticated lighting control for almost any situation.
LightKey is not entirely free. While there is a free version to download with all features included, it only allows up to 24 DMX output channels. LightKey charges an annual license fee based on how many output channels you need, in efforts to eliminate a high one-time purchase price with continuous updates.
Pricing starts at $69/year for 256 channels, $99 for 512 channels, and $349 for the maximum output available. $99 per year for one universe is actually quite high considering one-time purchase solutions like Chauvet Show Xpress or Chamsys interface that can start at $100.
If you’re looking for an easy and quick way to get into intelligent lighting control. Provided that stability is improved at a later time, this software would work well for a mobile DJ or a small rig someone who needs easy control that is not familiar with lighting. Between the cost, the lack of precise controls and tools to create more complex shows, this software may not be suitable for an install environment and certainly not ideal for larger rigs.
One of the biggest reasons for LightKey’s popularity is its Mac OSX compatibility. Keep in mind that there are other lighting programs available that are supported on Mac that have not experienced any of the issues we’ve experienced with LightKey.
Our Favorite Mac Compatible Software Programs:
- Chamsys MagicQ for Mac
- ADJ MyDMX 3
- Chauvet ShowXpress