A little background

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…

14 Replies to “A little background”

  1. That was amazing! Thanks so much for the fun show. Wish I could be there to see it in person. Looks like you spent days and nights on it. Go UD! Merry Christmas!

  2. Huh.

    So, I wasn’t impressed with this at first…mostly because I thought yuns used the kit.

    Now I’m pretty impressed. Good job!

  3. AWESOME!!! REally like your show. Last year I did MIA paper planes. I was looking for a song to do this year but ran out of time.. Contact me because I wanna see your sequence.. This year I am running 800 channells with Lynx controllers and hop across the street wireless with the DIY built controllers and transmitters and receivers. contact me and we can swap sequences if you want. It will give me a fast track to getting this song done! We run vixen so it will be easy..

  4. Very cool! I knew you engineers were going to be good for something!

    Class of ’85 Comm Art Major

  5. Great job! Totally enjoyed it. Love the song you picked to. It is going around FB. everyone loves it. Your parents should be proud.

  6. FAB! I’m sure your mom is VERY proud, I know I would be. Keep up the good work. Engineers Rock!

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