1. New to Christmas lighting? Get started with the AusChristmasLighting 101 Manual:
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Time frame

Discussion in 'New Members Say Hello' started by Brett82, May 1, 2016.

  1. Brett82

    Brett82 New Elf

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    Hi all. I have run a standard display for years and have decided that after a few years of umming and aaarghing that this is the year for a computer display. I've read the 101 manual a couple of times, browsed through the forums and watched conversations in chat and I think I'm starting to get an idea of what's what. I'm not going the RGB route, I'm sticking with the traditional fairy lights. Just a personal preference. In addition to the lights already on the house and driveway, I'd love to do a mega tree and, if time permits, some leaping arches. My plan was to get to the Sydney mini at the start of June and get advice and ideas before I started. But after reading some posts, I don't know if I'm leaving it a bit late. I'm a builder and like most other guys in the trade I usually work 5 1/2, 6 days a week. Am I leaving it a bit late to get it done? I haven't bought any controllers, or software yet as I was waiting till after the mini.
    Sorry for being long winded, but any advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks
    Brett
     
  2. Richie4540

    Richie4540 Full Time Elf

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    Brett, welcome to the fun, I would recommend you attend the mini in Sydney before buying anything, as this will help guide your decisions, personnally I think if you are starting out you should head towards pixels as it just give you so much flexibility later, and don't try to do your whole house in the first year, just stick with a mega tree or a single feature, this will allow you to get it done in time this year and then you can build up in the following years.


    For a system you will need


    Power supply - 12 volt 600 watt should get you started


    Rasbrry Pi with Falcon Pi Player installed- this will run the show, this is probably the cheapest thing in a system and takes a bit to set up, you could get this know and start trying to set it up and when you go to the Sydney mini take some questions along if you are having issues,


    Pixel controller - this receives info from the raspberry and runs the lights, have a look at the falcon controller.


    Pixels - 2811 pixels in 12volt seem to work well, selecting 12v to begin helps with voltage drop issues in wiring, also doing a mega tree means all the cable lengths can be short and it's one less issue to deal with when you are still learning all the other stuff.


    Wires/ housing , you will need to make some kind of box to put the controller into and then connect the pixels to, along with wires to each display part.


    Networking switch - each piece plugs into this to allow the communication to happen, I suggest you learn how to set static IP's on each piece of gear and mark them, also check out an app called Fing which can scan your network and list connected devices and tell you their IP addresses.


    Laptop/desktop, get X lights installed, this is how you generate the light show and can absorb a fair bit of time, for my first year I didn't worry about trying to time lights to music, I just made up a sequence that changed every 39 secs, and went for about 5 mins which the. Looped over and over.


    Hope this helps, even if you stay away from pixels you will still most of this you just would have a different controller.


    Richie,
     
  3. gerry

    gerry Senior Elf

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    Welcome to ACL ,

    Definitely worth going to the Mini . Even if you don't implement anything the first year , it will gibve you ideas and you can be on your way for the following year.
     
  4. Richie4540

    Richie4540 Full Time Elf

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    I should also explain why I think a mega tree is the best thing to start with,


    Short wiring runs, removes headaches from having to do power injection.


    You end up with one impressive item for your house that will stand out in your street,


    You only have one thing to have to program sequence, this can take as much time as the wiring and with only one element to program makes things a bit easier first time out.

    Fairly easy to build, just make one frame, trying to wire up say the outline of your house can take ages and if you don't understand all the wiring issues of getting power and data to the right places can sap even more time which you are worried about.

    Richie
     
  5. scamper

    scamper Senior Elf

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    I would agree to going to the mini.
    Your idea of the mega tree is a good one, they are reasonable easy to build if you just use a bit of aussie ingenuity you will find some way of making it with what ever you have lying around. Trampolines seem to be a good source of framework, in many ways.
    If you are worried about time consuming sequencing, don't let it concern you too much, as when you add more elements in most of them, you can just copy and paste from one element to another or just jam a generic effect into a new element in no time. If it is not exactly how you want it, you can fix it up later, no one will even notice. hell half the time people don't even realise there is any work performed by you, they think it is just "lucky" if the lights happen to flash or change colour at a particular point in the song.
    Being a builder, you probably see a lot of waste go in the bin at job sites, keep a look out at everything and think... How could I use that in my display? Particularly cable. if you see half reels etc getting chucked out, get it. this is only my second year and I am up to 400m and counting. And my yard is small!
    most of all... have fun!
     
  6. i13

    i13 Senior Elf

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    Hi Brett82

    I have a Christmas display that is 100% computer controlled and about 90% store bought. Personally I thought it was worthwhile keeping my store bought lights when I converted to computer control. This was not as easy as setting up pixels or dumb RGB because you're not using the lights for their intended purpose - it is a bit of a hack. The biggest difficulty was that the light sets required a variety of voltages in the range from about 24V DC to 36V DC. I had to hack each light set so they now all run at 31V DC with the same power supplies. The exact voltage(s) you choose will depend on your lights and personal preference. The first thing to do is to separate your lights into two categories. The first category is those that either have no 8 function controller or they have an 8 function controller and at least 3 wires going to the lights. The second category is those that have an 8 function controller and only 2 wires going to the lights. The hacking process for these two categories is different and they also require a different type of controller when you convert to computer control.

    I use and recommend an E1.31 setup even for store bought lights due to the high reliability and future expandability. The computer (or optional Raspberry Pi) outputs the E1.31 signal and I have an E1.31 to DMX bridge to convert the E1.31 signal to DMX for the DC controllers. Many pixel controllers have a DMX bridge built in so you get some bonus pixel outputs as well. 240V AC controllers are not recommended for light sets that have low voltage plugpacks. The Raspberry Pi is convenient in that you can have your light show running without your computer connected and it is a cheap way to support high channel counts. If you're only using store bought lights then your channel count will be low.

    I have pixels but only for main feature items that I want to have stand out above the rest. There are two main things you're likely to have or want that I would strongly recommend replacing with pixels as store bought lights are not as practical for these purposes
    • Firstly the leaping arches - this is what pixels are designed to do. With store bought lights you'd have to cut the light sets up and run a separate wire back to the controller for each arch segment. This is a big task and you'll quickly use up the controller's channels. Only the light sets in the first category above are able to be cut up.
    • The other thing I would replace with pixels or at least single colour dumb strip is any ropelights. 240V ropelights require prohibitively expensive and not particularly safe AC controllers although you may be able to find one second hand. Low voltage ropelights can have their required voltage increased with the hacking process but you can't decrease it. On top of these issues, ropelights are short-lived and you can't repair them. From a distance, viewers don't notice if you replace your ropelights with strips.
    It would make sense to wait until after the mini for your controller purchases but there are some things that you could get already. The first is software. Vixen and xLights are both capable of running your display and they're completely free so you may as well get started. The other thing is a power supply - you'll definitely need one regardless of your controller choice. Having one would allow you to start with the hacking. A multimeter and decent soldering station help with this too. Hacking and sequencing were actually the two most time consuming things for me when I converted to computer control in 2013.
    You're on the right track reading the forums and chat as it will help to have some background knowledge when you go to the mini.

    I know you're not planning a pixel megatree but for the sake of anyone else reading this thread I want to add a couple of points to the advice already given. If you're using pixel nodes (not strip) then I'd definitely use 5V. Voltage is a personal preference thing but in my opinion 5V is a good choice when you want to have a large number of pixels in a small area. It uses less power and you can get around voltage drop by using power injection. Power injection is more practical when all of your pixels are close to the power supply. There is more information in this thread http://auschristmaslighting.com/forums/index.php/topic,2595.0.html and keep in mind while reading it that 12V pixels from Ray Wu often draw ~18mA per colour which is not good as it increases their power requirements and voltage drop problems. Strips are different because the 12V ones have three LEDs in series to use the voltage more efficiently than 12V nodes. This means that each pixel has 3 RGB LEDs instead of one.

    It may be chepaer to buy multiple smaller power supplies instead of a smaller number of big ones.

    I'm actually really pleased to see ACL members other than me giving technical advice in the new members' section. This is what gets these sorts of productive discussions started.

    BTW, I don't think your post was long winded. As you can see, I start typing and don't stop.
     
  7. OP
    OP
    Brett82

    Brett82 New Elf

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    Thanks everyone. I really appreciate the feedback and comments. I'm learning and getting ideas already from just these few comments.

    The reason for sticking with the regular fairy lights isn't because of cost or convenience of already having them. I just like the softer look of these over pixels. Having said that, I can see why pixels would be better, especially when it comes ton the rope lights. I think that might be the route that I go down when I get to that point. I think I'll persist with the fairy lights for the mega tree and house. I have a lot of two wire lights so I'd say that I'll be getting controllers from Hanson Electronics.

    I'll take the advice on board and start out with just a couple of controlled items. The mega tree is something that I really want to get in and more then likely a few mini trees. I'd like to try for leaping arches, but I'm realistic about this and will more than likely work on these for next year. If I stick to these few things, and leave the rest as a static display I hopefully can get these going to music. Is it common to have part controlled and part static or would that look a bit odd do you think?

    Once again, thank you for the friendly welcome, great advice and feedback. I appreciate you taking the time to help me out.

    One last thing, should I jump over to the 101 basics forum for future posts?

    Take it easy guys
     
  8. i13

    i13 Senior Elf

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    Although I haven't done it myself, I would expect that the two wire lights are quite easy to hack based on how they're wired so you may as well go for it and hack them.

    Mine were all three wire and the biggest headache was lowering their required voltage. My preference overall is still the 3 wire type as their light is steady, they're cuttable into shorter sections and you can connect both channels to one controller output which doubles the number of light sets per controller. That said, if time is your main concern then the 2 wire type is probably a good thing.

    The question of whether to run a partly static display is down to personal preference. Have a look through the video section and show off arena to see what you think because displays like this do exist.
     
  9. i13

    i13 Senior Elf

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    I just had a thought. If the timeframe is an issue, I'd be happy to give you some of my Vixen 2.1 and/or Vixen 3.1 sequences and if all goes to plan with xLights, I'll have some xLights sequences later this year. The only thing I don't do is give out the music with them for copyright reasons. You'll need to obtain the song file and add it back in.

    This offer is open to anyone.
     
    drakky likes this.
  10. OP
    OP
    Brett82

    Brett82 New Elf

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    Greatly appreciated. I'm going to wait till after the Sydney mini before I do too much. I starting to get my head around it all and getting pretty excited about it all. May is pretty much a write off with work. By June I should have some jobs knocked over and be able to put some good time into it. Thanks again for the offer and it may well be one I tale you up on.
     

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