Trigg Christmas Lights
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Technical Information

For anyone looking to do an animated christmas lights display, I would definately recommend visiting the Aus Christmas Lighting forums at www.auschristmaslighting.com and saying hello - there is so much information there, and a heap of people happy to help out.   

But you'll want to know upfront that this isn't an "end of year" hobby - most people start planning their displays in January (or even earlier), and you certainly do need a lot of time to source all the relevant bits and pieces, and get aquainted with it all.

Power Usage

This is one of the questions that always gets asked - how much power is being used?    The calculated maximum draw of my whole display in 2013 is 2.2kW, which is when every single display element is lit up in white.    However, on average, it's probably only a maximum of 20% of all lights switched on an given time, so we'd be looking at a maximum 50 units (kWh) of electricity for the 4 weeks of the display - approximately $15 at current prices.  

So the power bill is certainly the least of your worries with this hobby!

Hardware

All lighting is sourced direct from China, including many custom built to spec.   There are approximately 15,000 LEDs in total, with about 12,000 of these in single "dumb" strings where each string is a single colour, and the whole string turns on or off together.

The remaining LEDs are "smart" RGB lights (otherwise known as pixels), where each individual LED (or sometimes 3 LEDs) is connected to it's own microchip, which means that that pixel can be turned on or off by itself (and also be turned on to any colour we like!)   This allows a huge amount more flexibility and creativity, but certainly complicates the whole process!

The 10 stars on the house were cut to size by a local perspex supplier.  I then glued the sides together, inserted Smart RGB modules, and siliconed the front on (so I can get inside later if need be).   These stars have 17 pixels in them, allowing a few different effects, like spinning of the star, or the multi-coloured twinkle which looks great.

The star on the top of the tree was hand made, and has 140 individual pixels on it, with each of these having three 5050 LEDs, so it's pretty bright (hence why you can't really see the effects on my videos)         The three spinners/fireworks above the garage utilise strip lighting, and each have 10 arms and a total of 370 individually controllable LEDs.  This allows for some great effects

The Candy Canes are very easy to make - two candy cane shapes are cut out of corflute, and pixel modules are sandwiched between the two.  

I am using a mixture of control hardware, including 16 Channel Lightorama DC Controllers, 27 Channel DC controllers from Ray Wu (China), DR4 ethernet-DMX gateways, P2 and PixAD8 pixel controllers from J1Sys and e680 & e681 pixel controllers from SanDevices

These are all run via DMX (as used in stage shows and music gigs), with the DMX data being sent over Ethernet (known as E1.31) from my PC in the house.  I have a dedicated separate network for the lighting - I have an 8 port switch and recently had to add another 5 port switch to the mix as I ran out of ports.  

Getting further into the technical nitty gritty of the "smart" pixels - I use three different types of pixels:

  Pixel strip (used for arches), which have WS2803 chips in them (one chip for 3 RGB LEDs), and I also use WS2811 pixel strip for the spinners/fireworks above the garage

  Rectangle Pixel Modules (used for the stars, candy canes and "tune to" sign), which have TM1804 chips in them (one chip for 3 RGB LEDs)

  30mm Round pixel modules - used for the star on the top of the tree, which also use WS2811 chips

  50mm Round pixel balls - used for the curtain of balls across the balcony - these also use WS2811 chips.

  Pixel Strings (used for the strings on the tree), which also use TM1804 chips (one chip per RGB LED)


Various power supplies required (27V, 12V and 5V) plus an ethernet switch and the DR4 ethernet gateway (which takes e.131 from the network, and spits out 4 DMX Universes)
 
An enclosure with a PixAD8 pixel controller (directly connected to ethernet), and a 27 Channel DC controller (receives DMX from the DR4)
 
Another enclosure with 2x 16 Channel Lightorama DC controllers.  These can handle LOR protocol, but I run them in DMX mode, so they also take DMX from the DR4.

Software

I am using Lightshow Pro as my controlling software.   Like any software, there is a bit of a learning curve, but once you get used to it, you will get moving pretty quickly.    Don't underestimate the effort involved in sequencing channels to music (especially with lots of channels) - some people report spending 10 hours+ to sequence a single minute of music.