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Technical

Our display is controlled by a computer which plays the music and sends commands over a network to light controllers. We currently have 19 controllers that each have 16 light circuits for a total of 304 individually controlled circuits. The items in our display are a combination of home made and commercially available products.

The heart of the system is software and controllers from Light-O-Rama (LOR). This solution allows you to control Christmas lights (either incandescent or LED), spot lights, and other display items. The actions of the various items can be synchronized to music. The LOR software suite allows creation/editing of animation or musical sequences. It also includes utilities to create and schedule shows, run the show, and test the hardware/lights.

Light actions that can be done on each circuit are: On, Off, Fade up, Fade down, Twinkle, Shimmer, and more. Different circuits can perform different actions simultaneously.

This is a LOR model CTB16PC controller. It has 16 output circuits and is powered by either 1 or 2 AC power cords. For high power loads it is configured with 2 power cords that are connected to individual branch circuits. This provides a maximum of 30A for lights. In lower power settings (like our display with mostly LED light strings) the controller can be configured with a single power cord.
The controller contains a small Microchip PIC microcontroller that receives commands from the computer running the show and controls the 16 output circuits via components called Triacs. The Triacs are bolted to the heat sinks on the left and right sides of the controller.
This controller is available fully assembled or in various stages of assembly as a kit.

LOR also sells commercial grade controllers that are housed in a metal box.

The communication network from the computer or director (another LOR product) that is running the show uses an asynchronous serial code over a EIA-485 (also known as RS-485) network. Since PCs do not typically have EIA-485 ports an adapter is used. I use a USB to EIA-485 adapter that I purchased from LOR as part of a starter package.
LOR also offers additional adapters including wireless types.
The LOR EIA-485 network is a bus topology that uses one pair of wires to form a balanced signal. Every device on the bus is connected to the same pair. LOR allows this network to be 1000s of feet long.

Each LOR controller on the network is assigned a unique 2 digit Hex address. Up to 240 controllers can be on a single network. You can have more than one network by adding additional EIA-485 adapters to the computer that runs the show. This allows many 1,000s of channels!

LOR also offers standalone show players so you do not need to run a PC for your show. You can download the show sequence and music files onto a SD card and insert this into the show player. See the LOR site for details.

We use an old Rotel stereo amplifier connected to a pair of outdoor speakers so viewers can listen to the music.

We also broadcast on 96.5 FM using a low power stereo transmitter (the black box at the bottom of the picture.)
The transmitter is from
EDM Electronics and provides a very high quality signal. This allows viewers to sit in their cars and listen to the music while watching the show.

A Y cable is used to connect the PC sound output to both the amplifier and FM transmitter.

I installed a waterproof box on the side of the house for the outdoor speaker and LOR network connections.

The two 8 pin modular jacks are both for the LOR network. The USB-485 adapter from LOR is designed to connect anywhere in the EIA-485 bus, at either end or anywhere in the middle. It has two jacks so I brought both out to the external box. Standard CAT5 cables are used to connect to the controllers in a daisy chain manner. The total bus length can by 1000s of feet.

For our Christmas display I use one jack for the right side of the display and the second for the left side. This way I do not need to cross the sidewalk that divides our front yard.

Additional waterproof boxes are used for the GFCI outlets to power the display controllers. We currently use 10 GFCIs to power our display.

The Megatree is built using a 10 and 5 section of 1 1/4 black pipe. 4 guy wires attached to 4 lengths of rebar driven into the ground stabilize the pipe. The two sections are coupled together and topped with a Mega Tree topper hook from Christmas Light Show (ChristmasLightShow.com). This provides 16 hooks to hang the light strings. The bottom is made from PVC pipe. The light strings are hung from the hooks and zip-tied to the PVC pipe to form the shape of a Christmas tree. There is an outer PVC pipe ring to form the outside of the tree and an inner PVC ring to form a trunk. The lights drape down from the hooks, around the outer PVC ring, then into the inner PVC ring. The ends of the strings hang down from the inner ring.
The star on top is a wire frame with rope light attached. It screws into the Megatree topper. This is also available from Christmas Light Show.
There are 50 or so strobe lights inside the tree to add sparkle for special effects.
Our tree uses Red, Green, and Blue LED light strings. 32 light strings with 100 LEDs are used for each color for a total of 9,600 lights. Each color is controlled in 16 segments. 48 cicruits are used for the LEDs, plus one each for the Star and Strobes for a total of 50 channels.
Three LOR controllers are attached near the bottom of the central pipe. I built these controllers using longer output tail connections to eliminate the need for 48 extension cords!

You can see a sign that displays the FM frequency next to the Megatree. This is important so visiters know that they can tune the FM radio in their car to listen to the show! The sign is a piece of corrugated plastic (coroplast) with black vinyl lettering cut on a Cricut machine. A short piece of PVC pipe and a couple of end caps hold 4 C9 type light bulbs to light the sign. The PVC pipe was cut lengthwise a couple of times on a table saw to allow light out of the bottom. After the end caps were glued on the outside was painted with black paint.

Leaping Arches

Leaping Arches are a nice addition to a Christmas Light display. An easy way to make them is to wind light strings on sections of black plastic pipe. Each section is then slid over a thinner gray PVC electrical conduit to make the arch. 4 foot lengths of rebar are driven into the ground to hold the PVC pipe. The pictures below show a completed arch and the segments.

I used two colors, red and green, for the arches. LED strings of 100 lights are used for each color on each segment. 8 segments are used per arch, a single 16 channel Light-O-Rama controller is used for each arch.

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