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What's the cheapest I can put pixels on an internal tree for?

Discussion in 'RGB Lights - Intelligent Pixels and 3-Channel RGB' started by bovonic, Sep 17, 2013.

  1. bovonic

    bovonic New Elf

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    [SIZE=small]Hi All![/SIZE]
    [SIZE=small]My dreams of a huge outdoor display have been dashed by sad financial realities, so I'm looking at starting at pretty much the smallest scale possible with a plan to possibly work my way up at a later point. So with that in mind, I'm looking to replace the dumb pixel strings that grace my ~6ft Christmas tree with Pixels. That way I can get my head around the basic concepts of putting a display together (protocols, power injection etc) and still have the fun of designing my own sequences but do it on the cheapest scale possible.[/SIZE]

    [SIZE=small]My thoughts[/SIZE]
    [SIZE=small]* It has to be safe - my 4 year old can reach the components so it has to be safe. I can of course put everything in locked containers or similar, but the containers then have to factor into the cost as I don't have anything suitable. [/SIZE]

    [SIZE=small]* I want to use decent (Australian standards etc) power supplies so I don't have to worry about my house burning down. I may have a PC power supply that I could repurpose.[/SIZE]

    [SIZE=small]* It needs to be pixels - I want to design my own colour routines. [/SIZE]

    [SIZE=small]* I don't want to dedicate a computer to the display (though a Raspberri Pi or similar would be okay as I can factor one into the purchase without breaking the bank). I'm happy to look at an integrated device (like this maybe : http://www.aliexpress.com/store/product/T-1000B-LED-sd-card-pixel-controller-full-color-SPI-signal-output-2048-pixels-controlled/701799_1202269899.html if it's suitable - though .led format doesn't seem supported by the standard tools). [/SIZE]

    [SIZE=small]* I want the option to be able to expand on the setup down the line (eg. I'd rather use outdoor rated pixels than indoor in case I ever realise my dream to grow beyond a single lonely tree). [/SIZE]

    [SIZE=small]At this point I'm not even sure how many lights I need to make a standard indoor tree look decent. I'm open to either 5V or 12V (still not clear which is the best idea when you don't have to match existing equipment, and whether I can use the one power supply for the injection I'll need to do (it looks to be an injection per 50 pixels?))

    If you've got any thoughts as to the ideal bits to make a cheap setup, I'd love to hear them![/SIZE]


    [SIZE=small]Cheers![/SIZE]
     
  2. jcmarksafb

    jcmarksafb Hello from Christopher Creek Arizona

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    First off, Welcome to ACL! There are a lot more knowledgeable people on this forum to help you with hardware. My only input is as far as software. There are three very good free software programs out there .. HLS, Vixen 3, or Nutcracker. They all sequence very well and will be well worth the time learning them. I use HLS and am very happy with it, but read, read, and read some more and try 'em out. Don't get frustrated right up front as each one has a 1 to 2 week learning curve, but the light will shine sooner than you think. Stop by chat and say hi and ask any questions you might have. We will all be happy to help. Again, Welcome to ACL.
    John
     
  3. OP
    OP
    bovonic

    bovonic New Elf

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    Thanks for the reply John.
    I've played with HLS and Nutcracker (for a grand total of about 15 minutes each, just to see what they were like) - I'm not phased with learning the software, the learning curve is a necessary evil. I'd just like to see if there's a hardware combination that'll allow me to put something together that the family will enjoy while letting me dip my toes into a new hobby with a (sadly) minuscule budget.
    It's not worth my life if I spend money on the parts then find out they don't go together for some reason!
     
  4. ecbailey

    ecbailey Full Time Elf

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    Welcome to ACL! Im trying pixels this year for the first time on a outdoor tree so we shall see how it goes. Regarding the controller hardware, you would likely be best of spending the money on a P2 as this will allow for much greater expandability. http://www.j1sys.com/ecg-p2/


    With LSP and LOR you simply plug the controller into your 'ethernet' port and after a few hours for tweaking lights start to flash. I presume HLS and other free ones support these E1.31 (the communication protocol) controllers (well they have to if they support pixels).


    I'm still trying to work out which pixels to buy myself, however I'd suggest that it would likely be similary expensive to control the show off a raspberry pi as buying a cheap used computer. I got an old one school was throwing out but any old laptop or desktop should do, plus this makes it easier to do changes to the sequence as no transferring to SD cards ect. Regarding power consumption (cost) of the computer, you can make it shut its self down at night and then remember to hit the start button before show time...or rig something up to do it automatically.


    Power supplies can be picked up cheaply from Ray Wu's store, buying the same time as pixels will make postage more economical....when I only bought a single power supply I think postage was more than the unit! However, whether they meet our electrical standards or not I'm not sure, maybe keep it away from flammable materials, however when good ventilation it shouldn't get too hot.


    Good Luck!
     
  5. OP
    OP
    bovonic

    bovonic New Elf

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    Thanks for the reply ecbailey. What do other people think? Is that the right choice for me? Are there better choices? Are there (I won't say worse) cheaper choices where I'd have to make trade offs against the options this controller gives me but will meet the requirements?
     
  6. jcmarksafb

    jcmarksafb Hello from Christopher Creek Arizona

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    Sorry to be so vague about the hardware, but there is a lot of very good hardware out there. Each one has it's pros and cons so different people swear by what they have. I'll just list what I use and am very happy with.
    Software .. HLS http://joehinkle.com/HLS/ (the latest version)
    Controllers ... the Sandevices e-682 http://sandevices.com/ I like these as they have 16 physical outputs on them.
    LED nodes ... http://www.aliexpress.com/store/product/DC12V-input-12mm-WS2811-pixel-node-100pcs-a-string-IP68-rated/701799_735790044.html these fit perfectly into 1/2" fence fabric so no drilling and you can redo it anytime.
    LED strips ... http://www.aliexpress.com/store/product/5m-led-digital-strip-DC12V-input-WS2811IC-256-scale-10pcs-IC-and-30pcs-5050-SMD-RGB/701799_568458133.html these have worked very well for me with a very small percentage of failure.
    PSU ... http://www.aliexpress.com/store/product/350W-Dual-Output-Switching-Power-Supply-88-264VAC-input-12V-350W-output-CE-and-ROHS-approved/701799_289599951.html I've had very good luck with these. I find by using a bigger power supply than I need, they last much longer.
    Anyway, this is what I use.
    Hope this helps
    John
     
  7. OP
    OP
    bovonic

    bovonic New Elf

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    The controller's still >$100, can I work with a cheaper controller? I know $100 isn't much in the scheme of a big display, but for lighting up a single tree it's a big ask from the Finance minister.
     
  8. jcmarksafb

    jcmarksafb Hello from Christopher Creek Arizona

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    Sorry about that, I certainly understand the money constraints. I am sure that there are other cheaper controllers out there, but I can't recommend any of them. Stop by chat and ask. There are many people using different controllers there who would gladly help. Hope this helps, and good luck!
    John
     
  9. OP
    OP
    bovonic

    bovonic New Elf

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    Well I've finally bought some pixels - now to see how quickly Ray can deliver them (hopefully quickly as anyone who actually wanted lights up this year would already have theirs!)


    I've found an alternative to a traditional controller. I was going to use a teensy or fancypixel, but the lead time to get one to Australia's too big when I want something before Christmas this year, and besides which, I've got concerns about the performance as I don't know enough about these kinds of boards. Instead I'm going with a Beagleboard Black - a heck of a lot of bang for your buck at around $60. Apparently I can drive thousands of lights with it, plus it's usable for lots of other things through the year if I want to do something different with it (think Raspberry Pi but more powerful).


    Now to sort out a power supply (I'm thinking of reusing the 5V line off a PC power supply though I read the Voltage can fluctuate a bit without something on one of the 12V lines) and misc pieces like connectors and heatshrink. Bring on the pixels!
     
  10. OP
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    bovonic

    bovonic New Elf

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    To thank everyone who gave me input to my little project (and I'm sure everyone is desperately waiting on closure on this forum thread) - an update as to how it played out.


    Thanks to the help of the kind members of both the AusChristmasLighting and the Robots and Dinosaurs Google Groups forums, I finally came up with answers to all my questions and made my Christmas lights dream (at least the small version of it) happen.


    The end result was as follows :
    I had a left over 12v power supply from a previous EL Lights Christmas lights project that I decided to use to keep my costs down. I looked at using a PC power supply as I had one handy but I ran out of time to source the particular resistor I'd need to put some load on the 5V line to make the ATX supply "turn on". From what I read, pulling power straight from the 5V line was risky as it could fluctuate up a few volts and fry pixels so the 12V dedicated supply was a much better option.


    12V also meant voltage drop wasn't an issue (I didn't think it would be over the ~2m cable run, but hey, with very limited time, any risk negation is good risk negation!) On the positive power feed from the supply I put a 4A fuse to protect the small gauge wires the pixels use, as well as the small wires the UBECs had.


    After the fuse I split my power out to 3 separate feeds - 1 for the Teensy, 2 for the 50 pixel strings I used. Right before the Teensy and the strings I put a 5A (max) UBEC. The UBECs are used a lot in remote control vehicles and manage the voltage conversion - they're nice and simple, positive/negative 12V "in" wires, and positive/negative 5V "out" wires. Solder them in in-line, and that was power sorted.


    On to the data lines for the strings : My aim was to have a pixel display that didn't require expensive equipment / a dedicated computer to run it as that's a lot of cost/overhead for a simple display. The Teensy fit the requirement perfectly! At a HUGE cost of ~$20US, I got a finger-sized microcontroller that did everything I needed it to. Following the suggestion on the Teensy page (http://www.pjrc.com/teensy/td_libs_OctoWS2811.html) I put 100 ohm resistors on the indicated pins, and attached wires from them to the data lines on the pixel strings. A quick upload of the OctoWS2811 example code and I had the pixels turning on and doing basic colour changes!

    Some things that caused me headaches
    * Trying to solder wire/resistors directly to the holes in the Teensy when you have only basic soldering skill wasn't a good idea - it's called "Teensy" for a reason! Things went a lot smoother when I soldered in header pins. I still had issues though - I could've done with another pair of "helping hands", and I'm still not sure what the best way to hold the Teensy, the header pins, the soldering iron and solder is if you want things to end up seated properly.

    * My design needs more connectors (and better connector types for the connections) - to change the code running on the Teensy (i.e. the lighting pattern) required pulling apart half the display, getting the Teensy to the PC to upload the code (trailing several metres of wire), then connecting everything back together again. I'll need a better plan for next year.

    All things considered though, it was a resounding success, and my thanks go out big time to both communities for their assistance.

    Project cost :
    Pixels : ~$70
    Teensy : $20
    Power supply : ~$30 (from memory)
    Cable : ~$10
    Odds and Ends : ~$15
    Total : ~$150

    I don't have photos handy right now to post, but here's a video of the finished product.
    Custom Christmas tree lights
     
  11. dale82

    dale82 Senior Elf

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    Well Done! I hope the new year brings you closer to building the display of your dreams
     
  12. Charl Marais

    Charl Marais For my twins was the excuse I started with.

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    Brilliant DIY job mate. Shows a dedication and resourcefulness that will stand you in good stead with future builds.

    I like it 8)
     

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