Preparing to buy for first setup - appreciate any advice

auschucky

New elf
Joined
Mar 22, 2021
Messages
2
Hi,

I've just mocked up my first christmas lights design in x-lights and attached it to this post.
Layout.png

I'd really appreciate any advice on the layout - things that are more complicated, things that are less complicated, any ideas on how to make the display better? Also let me know if more info if needed to asses, like measurements or approaches.

I'm looking to understand what I need to buy, so I guess working backwards from that looking at things like:
- how to structure the layout of the display
- where i'd position the power
- how i'd mount the lights
- how much gap between the lights
- where would I need power injection
- any other important things?

I've also done a bit of research into how to set it all up but would really appreciate advice. I'm thinking 12V lights with a Pixel F16V3 controller and maxwell power injection with lights connected together using X-connectors - but I guess that's all up for feedback.

Thanks for helping out a noob :D
 

LawrenceDriveLights

Full time elf
Generous elf
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Jan 16, 2018
Messages
425
Welcome to this hobby of holiday lighting

Some quick responses ;
how to structure the layout of the display -Looks good, personally I would consider replacing tree you have with some arches, as arches do tend add some great movement

how i'd mount the lights - various ways to do house outlines, conduit and chromatrim, drill conduit to suit the pixels are a couple of the more common methods to mount pixels, plus then you need a way to mount the conduit to your actual hose ie some use cable tie mounts, some use conduit clips, some use 3d printed mounts etc

how much gap between the lights -Most tend to use 2 inch or 3 inch spacing, personally I find 3 inch spacing ok for house outlines, some do prefer 2 inch

where would I need power injection - this is determined by the amount of pixels you decided to attach to each output of your controller ie how mnay pixels per string, rule of thumb for 12v pixels power inject at the every 200 pixels or so. Power injection requirements can also be impacted by cable size etc.

any other important things -100 trips to bunnings :), lots of things to consider really, controller location / controller enclosures. due you wish to add music if so FM transmitter, budget, its not only the pixel price to allow for, will need PSU's, cables, conduit, some basic tools, solder iron, solder, heat shrink, etc etc etc.

Looks like a nice layout, there is some ACL minis coming up around various parts of Oz, so my best advise would be to attend one as you will receive lots of great hands on advice and information


There is also some great videos available to watch on both the ACL youtube channel and the xLights.org video section
 
Last edited:

i13

Senior elf
Joined
Jul 5, 2013
Messages
994
I can think of a few points:
  • Read up on the differences between 12V resistor and 12V regulated pixels if you haven't already: https://auschristmaslighting.com/threads/12161/
  • Ask for custom pixel wire spacing with some headroom but not an excessive amount. Having longer wires between each pixel results in more voltage drop.
  • Go for pixels that have 18 AWG wire. Thinner wire is cheaper but it means more voltage drop. You can often request 18 AWG wire from the supplier if you see a pixel type that you like which is listed with thinner wire.
  • Decide on a power distribution layout. Do you want to have all power supplies and controller ports in one central place or do you want to spread them out? There are advantages and disadvantages each way. I prefer to spread them out but I do have a lot of 5V pixels.
  • For bullet-shaped pixels, my personal preference is black pixels with coloured wires. I have to explicitly ask for coloured wires because it is difficult to tell the wires apart when they're all black. I can tell the input from the output because one is a mirror image of the other. The clear outer casing of most pixels makes it easier to tell the wires apart but it will discolour in the sun. It doesn't seem to affect the light output but I may as well avoid it if I can. The coloured wires can fade (black wires don't seem to fade) but I can still tell the faded coloured wires apart. https://www.aliexpress.com/item/4000105913323.html?spm=2114.12010615.8148356.37.367465c4I0UneZ
    I'd choose black wires if I was using square pixels because I can read the labels for the wires on the back of the pixels. There's no perfect option and it depends on personal preference. https://www.aliexpress.com/item/32900119176.html?spm=2114.12010615.8148356.13.51cc68fcvFdcLS
For things to buy:
  • It is worth getting a decent soldering station.
  • Add a cheap pixel tester to your order so that you don't need to set up a proper controller and risk damaging it each time you want to test something. This is an example: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/32261108366.html
  • Have you thought of ways to get the music (if you have music) to the viewers?
  • Have a stash of black cable ties. You'll end up using ridiculous numbers of them. Black cable ties last the longest in the sun compared to other colours.
When injecting power, remember that you can inject power in both directions. Data is directional but power isn't. LawrenceDriveLights mentions injecting every 200 pixels. This means that no pixel will be more than 100 pixels away from the nearest injection point.

I think the mini suggestion from LawrenceDriveLights is a particularly good one. Approximately where are you located? There might be one nearby. There are presentations which explain the details of how to set up a display like this and more. You'd get to meet many of the forum members. If you're planning on buying something, check whether the vendor is attending a mini nearby because you could avoid postage costs. Regardless, I still recommend researching as much as possible beforehand.
 

auschucky

New elf
Joined
Mar 22, 2021
Messages
2
Thanks so much @LawrenceDriveLights and @i13 ! There's some great info and suggestions there.

Can I also ask with the power injection, how many power injections can come off a maxwell LRS 350-12v? and I'm correct in saying the negatives need to all be connected together? Also what's the maximum length of the power injection cable from the maxwell power output to the lights? and the maximum length of the data cable from the controller to the first light.

Also with the Pixel F16V3 controller can I extend using https://www.pixelcontroller.com/store/index.php?id_product=56&controller=product and an ethernet cable? What's the maximum number of pixels you can connect to each of the 4 ports?

I just got a message about a Sydney meetup so i'll def have a look at that when details are available.

Thanks again!
 

Jay.S

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Joined
Dec 31, 2016
Messages
220
Location
Narangba
Just some quick thoughts... If most of your viewers will be standing roughly where the photo was taken from, the light from the garage door down the driveway, on the left don't make sense as they won't be visible. As other have said forget about the tree, you will never get those lights as straight as you have drawn them in, and it will look fairly messy. You have a lot of lights BEHIND trees/plants/shrubs (at least from where the photographer is standing). Rethink those. The way you have it laid out now has a lot of horizontal lines and not so many verticals. It will look nice, but it will be hard to sequence. I would go for one DENSE prop that is not an outline, to break it up. The start above your front door needs to be above the garage, it has better visibility there.

I think, for your power supply you mean Meanwell :) The number of injections you can run off 1 PSU depends on how many lights you plan to run and what brightness. Length of cabling depends on a few things again, like wire gauge for instance. There is a lot to learn in this hobby, but you have plenty of time! Welcome!
 

TerryK

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Feb 9, 2020
Messages
395
Location
West Central Ohio
Without repeating what others have mentioned: The F16V3 will support slightly more than 16,000 pixels but no one that I know of loads one that heavy. There is a threshold slightly under 700 pixels per port where the refresh rate can be increased which gives a smoother display. Most individuals I think stay under that threshold. Yes the F16V3 can be expanded with the receiver but to drive them there is an expansion board that is needed too. Per port, the F16V3 can have 1024 pixels connected. What one needs to keep in mind is the F16V3s expansion ports share pixels with the board mounted ports. In other words, the total connected ports at 1024 pixels per port go above the approximate 16,000 total pixel limit.
The F16V3 is a nice controller but I prefer the F4V3. It can expand to 12 ports 1024 pixels per port and there is no port sharing.

Power injection is a rather opinionated topic and there are some very good videos to help one understand elementary theory and how to implement power injection. Presently I am out to about 45 feet (approximate 15 meter) for power injection and data without using any F-Amps (and plan on going further). It is typically suggested to have/keep supply negatives connected. There are other situations where not BUT one really needs to have a good understanding to insure everything safely works properly. As such, for safety and less complexity, recommending common negatives is better.

Not too sure about the house layout though. The greenery complements the home nicely but for pixels, I'm not sure. Too much is hidden I think. Guess I am leaning more towards a front lawn display. Minimal on the home if any or perhaps a few standard non-animated white. I'm thinking more WS2811 floods on the home to color/shade it, and floods under the trees. Panels in front of the hedge or elevated panels behind.
 

i13

Senior elf
Joined
Jul 5, 2013
Messages
994
The differential receiver board can be used with a Falcon F16 but you'll also need a differential expansion board to connect it to the F16 https://www.pixelcontroller.com/store/index.php?id_product=44&controller=product
Another option is the Falcon F48. This doesn't need an expansion board in order to use the receivers but it doesn't have any on-board pixel outputs. The current F16 and F48 divide their total number of supported pixels between three rows of outputs. The first row is the 16 outputs that are already on the F16. Adding an expansion board to the F16 or using more than four receivers on the F48 starts the second row. There should be new Falcon models released this year so you might want to compare them to the current models and see whether you think they're worth the wait. https://falconchristmas.com/forum/index.php/topic,13929/

In more detail:
On the current models, if you use one row, there is a limit of 1024 pixels on each output. One row is 16 outputs which can be built into the F16, an expansion on the F16 or four differential receivers on the F48 or the F16 with a F16 differential expansion board. If you want to use two rows of outputs, you'd be able to have a total of 32 outputs but the 1024 pixels is divided up between them. For example, if you set the limit to 524 pixels per output for the first 16 outputs, you'd have the capacity to set the limit to 500 pixels per output for the second 16 outputs. Note that the F48 always has capacity for three rows of outputs which must be assigned a minimum of 1 pixel per output. If you want to use 40 frames per second, you need to divide up a limit of 680 pixels instead of 1024.
For the new Falcons, things will be a bit simpler. All outputs will support 700 pixels each at 40 frames per second regardless of how many expansions and outputs you use. They'll still support three rows of 16 outputs in total.

Answering your power injection questions, the negatives do need to be connected together. The negative wire in the strings of pixels is continuous so this is one way to connect them. The positive is also continuous and it shouldn't be connected between multiple power supplies. You'll need to cut the positive wire in the string of pixels half way between your injection points when they're from two different power supplies.

The maximum number of injection points from a power supply will depend on how much current you're drawing through each injection point. I'll do an example calculation:
Pixel current: 0.0555 amps per pixel
Number of pixels per injection point: 200
Voltage: 12V
Power supply capacity: 348 watts
Multiplying 200 pixels by 0.0555 amps and 12 volts gives 133.2 watts. Dividing 348 watts by 133.2 watts gives 2.6 injection points. I find it more useful to calculate the number of pixels per power supply. One pixel is 0.0555 amps multiplied by 12 volts which is 0.666 watts. Dividing the 348 watts by 0.666 gives 522 pixels per power supply. My value of 0.0555 amps per pixel is a bit pessimistic but you don't kow exactly until your pixels arrive and you measure it. Mark_M measured it to be 0.047 amps in this thread: https://auschristmaslighting.com/threads/12161
It is important to check the specifications sheet before buying Mean Well power supplies. The actual wattage doesn't always match the model number. I'd recommend buying the RSP Mean Well supplies over the LRS if they are a similar price. The RSP has power factor correction so that it doesn't trip your circuit breaker with a smaller load than it should when you have multiple power supplies on the same outlet. It isn't likely to matter at this stage and I haven't had a problem with it myself but it could possibly come up in future if your display grows. One thing to keep in mind when using switchmode power supplies is that they briefly draw a large current when you first turn them on. This can trip the circuit breaker if you turn several on at exactly the same time.
There are ways to increase the number of pixels per power supply. One is the run them at a lower brightness. This method is effective but imperfect because you're relying on the data signal to limit the power consumption. The pixels may turn on brighter if the signal goes corrupt.

The maximum cable length from the power supply to the injection point is affected by a few things. It is ultimately the amount of voltage drop that you need to consider here. If you use thicker cable, fewer pixels per injection point or you run the pixels at a lower brightness then then it can be longer before you run into problems. Fortunately, you can double the power cables between the power supply and injection point and this should approximately double the distance that you can have; keep this in mind if you have voltage drop problems.

The maximum distance from the controller output to the first pixel is also affected by a few things. I have never tried more than a few metres but that worked. If you use a Falcon F16 (and probably the receiver boards) then you have the option of using coaxial cable to get the signal to go further than you'll ever need. There are also the options of pixel extenders or null pixels. Null pixels can be made with spare ordinary pixels if you run into trouble; they're a pixel that is placed part-way between the controller and first pixel in the display. Each pixel resends the data so it'll go a couple more metres. They use channels so they'll need to be configured but this is simple enough to do.

I definitely recommend attending a mini (meetup); I plan to be at the one in Sydney.

I like your planned layout including the pixels in the tree. I did a similar thing with a tree in the front yard here and I modelled it as an upside-down 2D megatree. The greenery could be trimmed back if it obstructs the view of the house too much but I think the pixels will shine through it enough. The tree on the far right looks like a jacaranda so it might not have many leaves in December. With a large yard and a few trees, you might want to consider adding some traditional LED strings with computer control if that's your style. Traditional LED strings are great at covering large areas without power injection. They can be controlled in a setup like this but obviously they're controlled as sets and not individual LEDs like the pixels are. Their learning curve is quite different to pixels.
 

Jay.S

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Dec 31, 2016
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"One is the run them at a lower brightness. This method is effective but imperfect because you're relying on the data signal to limit the power consumption. The pixels may turn on brighter if the signal goes corrupt." THANK YOU!
 
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