A little background

The history of how I got into the DIY Christmas scene.

Hey everyone!  I decided that it might be fun to blog about the progress of this project, so I set up a wordpress blog (love the new version, by the way!).

This blog/site is dedicated to the Christmas lights project I’ve started.  I’m sure you’ve all seen the animated Christmas light displays (like this one: Frisco Christmas Lights – Wizards in Winter).  Being an Electrical Engineering major, and avid fan of music in general, I figured it only fitting for me to get involved in this fun Christmas time activity as well.

I first ran accross the Youtube videos of the animated lights (like the one that Miller used in their Christmas commercial) back in 2006, with some friends in our freshman-year dorm.  I was addicted.  If I remember correctly, that guy used a commercial product known as Light-O-Rama.  Here’s the thing:  LOR controllers are expensive. Their 32-channel controller (with software) will run you $700 (we’re talking almost $22 per channel!)

So I started looking into coming up with my own controller.  I’d previously done some things with MIDI sequencing, and knew that it would be a good way to sequence digital MIDI events to an audio track.  After a little searching around on circuits websites, I came accross a PIC microprocessor-based design that converted an incoming MIDI stream to 24 digital outputs.  Run those to 24 relays, and should be pretty simple!

Well I played around with a few designs, and once I saw more videos of controllers that incorporated dimming, I became dissatisfied with my current plan and abandoned it.  Lights ramping-on and -off just looked too cool.  After more research, I stumbled upon something I couldn’t believe I’d never found before: DoItYourselfChristmas.com.  A suprisingly large group of people that designed, and built their own Christmas light hardware!  So I read, and read, and read, before deciding that the “Renard” platform was definitely the way to go, including full dimming!

Advantages over LOR:

  • Cost – I spent about $70 on parts for my Renard 24.  Now we’re talking; about $3 per channel.
  • Software – The de-facto standard for sequencing/controlling software amongst the DIY Christmas guys is Vixen.  This is a modern, feature-filled software package written in C# / .NET by a man under the title ‘KC’.  It’s free for anyone to use and is truly remarkable.  Check out VixenLights. com to see for yourself.
  • Experience – Come on, I’m a computer geek! Of course this is going to be fun building/wiring this myself!  Besides, I’d never soldered an entire PCB on this scale before, so might as well learn now!

So, I jumped in and got in on co-op buy of one Ren24 PCB, and one set of components (Thanks, WakeFan!).  Construction to follow…