Introduction: Computerized Christmas Light Display

This instructable is a guide to creating a basic Christmas lighting display that is synchronized to Christmas Music. There are many videos on the internet of this popular form of expression with regards to the Christmas season. This instructable will show the basic equipment needed and the process of building a computerized lighting display for Christmas.

Step 1: Purchase the Equipment.

There are many different lighting controllers that can be used. For this example, I am using Light-O-Rama controllers.
The package I purchased was the Light-O-Rama 16 Channel starter package, which includes:
LOR1602W - 16 Channel 30 Amp Controller
Light-O-Rama Software - Extended Edition
USB485B - USB to RJ45 Powered connector
50ft Cat 5e Network Cable

Total cost of $437.95

If you're savvy with electronics, you can purchase DIY kits for significantly cheaper.

Other equipment includes:

Computer to run the software
Christmas lights of your choice
Lots of extension cords
Some method of delivering sound to listeners
Time to design and program

A quick word on sound:

There are two ways I can think of to deliver the sound; using speakers, or an fm transmitter so people can listen in their cars. I will be using speakers for this demonstration. Also keep in mind that with fm transmission, there may be regulations on that in your area; and with speakers, respect your neighbors and keep the volume loud enough for bystanders to hear, but not so loud that you are disturbing neighbors.

Step 2: Design Your Lights!

For this example we will keep it simple. We only have 16 channels to work with, so the design can't be too elaborate. If you decide to expand and add more controllers in the future (which is as easy as buying another one and plugging it in), you will need to think more about aesthetics and choice of color when designing your lights. The worst thing you can do with lots of channels is just have lights and figures scattered all over your yard in no particular order. When designing the lights, you want them to be complex enough to intrigue your audience, but not so complex as to confuse them. You need to have a pattern that they can follow.

For my light display this year, we have four fake trees, seven reindeer, a manger scene, two lighted real trees, a Santa face, lights around the perimeter of the roof, and a Santa and reindeer on top of the roof. If you count, you'll notice that I have seventeen items and only sixteen channels. In order to make everything work, I combined the Santa face with the roof lights (more on that later). Draw your design on paper or in the computer and number each item with what lighting channel it will be on.

Step 3: Assemble Your Lights

Follow your design and set up your lights in your yard. Remember that everything on each channel needs to be connected together. You will need to combine everything on each channel down to one plug through multi-plug extension cords or multiple outlets.

You also need to determine a place to mount your lighting controller. You can put it anywhere; just remember that your lights have to plug into it, so don't put it so far from your house that you need 50' extension cords for everything. Also remember that it has to plug into your computer, so buy a network cable long enough to reach from the controller to the computer inside.

Step 4: Set Up the Controller and the Software Part 1

Personally, I found it easier and more interesting to program the lights with the controller on the floor with extra lights plugged into it so I could see what I was doing as I did it. If you like this method, make sure that you don't mount the controller outside until after you're done programming.

Using the CD that came with the controller (or by downloading the drivers from the website), follow the directions to install the software on your PC. Once that is complete, start by removing the screws from the front of the controller and remove the face plate. Run your network cable through the hole in the bottom and plug it into either one of the network jacks. Also, if you have more than one controller, you'll need to set the controller number from the dial inside the unit. Take note of this number because you'll need it later. It should be 0, 1 by default. Plug in the power for the controller. This particular model has sixteen channels, eight on each side, so it will have two plugs to plug in. Turn the power on. You then need to connect the network cable to the USB adapter and the USB adapter to your computer with the included USB cable.

Step 5: Set Up the Controller and the Software Part 2

You can then run the hardware utility to test the equipment. Launch the Hardware utility by clicking: Start -> Program -> LightORama -> LightORama Control Panel
The control panel is a little light bulb icon in your taskbar. Right click on it and go to Hardware Utility. (Hardware utility is also in programs, but you will need to launch the control panel as well.) If the control panel gives you an error about com ports, press ok and ignore it for now.

From the Hardware Utility, click Auto Configure in the top left corner. Assuming the unit is powered on and set up correctly, the hardware utility should detect and set the appropriate com port. If it doesn't, refer to the setup documentation that it came with for further assistance. Once it has detected the com port, change the max units in the top right corner to 5, unless you have more than 5 controllers. Then click refresh in the center at the top and it will detect your unit. Play around with the controls in the center window to see the different light options. As long as the lights turn on, you are all set to start programming!

Step 6: Set Up the Sequence Editor Part 1

Close the Hardware Utility and launch the Sequence Editor. The sequence editor is where you'll program your lights to turn on and off with the music. By this point, I hope you at least have an idea of what Christmas music you'll be using for your display. Rip the song you want from your favorite legally purchased (or otherwise) cd to an MP3 file on your computer. You can also download the songs from the internet. For my example, I am using Carol of the Bells.

To begin, so to File -> New -> Musical Sequence. You then will need to select the music file of your choice. After doing that, fill in all of the appropriate information on the New Musical Sequence page. Make sure you set the number of channels that your lighting display will be. (16 for me) You can also play with these settings to optimize your show. Select how you want events to be placed. An Event is basically a point at which something happens with the lights. It can be turning the lights on or off, fading them in or out, or setting them to shimmer or twinkle. Events are what make the lights work. Your events can line up with the beat of the music, or with words or any other significant part of a song where you would like lights to change.

Step 7: Set Up the Sequence Editor Part 2

I like to use the Tapper wizard to set events. With the Tapper wizard, simply tap any key on the keyboard along with the beat of the song. This will insert events in all the necessary places for you to create your light show. When finished, if you don't like the placement of some events, you can move them by clicking and dragging them earlier or later in the song. You can also add events by right clicking on the channel at the place where you want the event.

Step 8: Set Up the Sequence Editor Part 3

The next step is to set up your channels to output to a controller. Right click on channel 1 and go to Change Channel Settings. From the Device Type menu, select the Light-O-Rama controller. You will also need to set the controller number. For one controller, the Unit number is 01, and the Circuit number is 1. Press OK and it will ask you how many channels is on that controller. (Mine is sixteen). You can also right click on each channel and change the name based on what lights you have. You can change the color too.

Step 9: Program Your Light Display

Once all of the setup is finished, it's time to program. The different lighting functions are as follows:

On - Turns on the lights
Off - Turn off the lights
Fade in - Fade the lights in
Fade out - Fade the lights out
Twinkle - Makes lights blink on and off randomly
Shimmer - Makes lights flash on and off simultaneously (strobe effect)
Set intensity - Sets intensity of lights to 0, 50%, or 100%. (does not work well for LED lights)

Select the appropriate tool and click in each event where you want a specific channel to turn on or off. You're pretty much on your own for designing your lights. Here are a few tips I can offer:

- Think about the mood of the song. If it's a quick song, use warmer colors and quick flashes. If it's a slower song, use cool colors and more fades.
- Don't flash all of your lights from the beginning. Follow the feel of the song and build it visually by adding in more lights as the song builds.
- Don't have too much flashing all at the same time. It confuses the audience.
- Save your work as you go.

You can press the play button at the top to see your progress in action. You can also use the animation tool to draw each channel in the window. This will help you visualize how your final display will look.

Step 10: Run the Show

Mount your lighting controller outside and hook up all the tights. Run your network and sound cables and hook them up to your computer.

To create a show, run the Light-O-Rama simple show builder. Follow the on-screen instructions to set up your show. Add your musical sequences and set the display time. Remember to be courteous to your neighbors. Don't run the show all hours of the night.

Once you run the simple show builder, right click on the Light-O-Rame comtrol panel in the taskbar (little lightbulb icon), and click enable shows.


Please note: This is only a 16 channel display. The more elaborate displays have from 64 to 128+ channels. Next year I plan to get some of the DIY kits and expand drastically. Look forward to a more elaborate instructable next year.


Video of my lights with a better angle coming soon!

Comments

author
Ripper69 (author)2015-12-07

Hello. I am going crazy trying to figure out how to incorporate, or even find, the strobe lights many of the new light shows use. I got some bulbs labeled as c7 strobes and took some bulbs out of a normal c7 string and replaced them with the strobes. You don't get much of the effect others are showing. What did I do wrong? Did I buy the wrong things? Please help!

author
ConnorM3 (author)2014-11-24

what is the cheapest way to do a light show.

author
JLeith (author)2012-12-18

Hello Captainharlo,

I like your display sequence using the Light-O-Rama 16 channel. I have a ground display characters that use the incandescent lights and the window covering and perimeter lights are LED’s. From you info the Light-O-Rama won’t work on the dimming but have you used the Light-O-Rama on LED lights ?

John

Dec 20th and Pre 109.JPG
author
chimneystax (author)2012-12-01

Hey.... Si from New Zealand here... I'm really looking forward to seeing how you get on with the 64 channel setup ... I'm looking at setting up my 13 meter Christmas tree on a similar system but the main restriction I have here is accessing the best lights for the job... do you hae any recommendations?

author
calebgrant (author)2011-12-07

hey actualy you can do this alot cheaper for mabey 100 dollar's if you have the light's already just get that software lightjam's either buy it or get the trial like i did and then get an adapter to hook up the light's to your computerbut lightjam's is for club use but im still able to use it for christmas sry for my spelling

author
lwhetsto (author)calebgrant2012-01-02

What type of adapter would you use? I want to try using it for my christmas lights and don't want to pay a fortune. I would really like to use those less expensive rgb led lights. Suggestions?

author
led235 (author)2009-12-29

 SERIOUS QUESTION:
DOES THIS WORK WITH MAC OS X LEOPARD?
THANKS

author
rmuller3 (author)led2352011-09-09

it works as far as i know cause i run it on a mac

author
octavian234 (author)2009-11-27

This is really cool! To bad i don't have $400 just laying around. :(

author
dodo91 (author)2009-04-26

this is awesome! to bad i ... 1. dont know much about this stuff 2. missed this before christmas.

author
mikeyharm (author)2007-12-31

Outstanding! Happy holidays to all with too much time on their hands. Want less time on your hands? Have a baby.

author

lol!! That is so true!

author
thermoelectric (author)2008-12-09

This is only a 16 channel display. The more elaborate displays have from 64 to 128+ channels. Next year I plan to get some of the DIY kits and expand drastically. Look forward to a more elaborate instructable next year.

How are you going on this years display and Instructable?

author

It's progressing well. I'm going to update the istructable with this year's info. I have 64 chanels this year. Unfortunately, the weather is making it quite dificult to get all the lights set up.

author

Ooh, I can't wait to see the results with 64 channels, Are the controllers homemade? Aah, That's sad, C'mon weather clear up for captainharlow!

author
noahh (author)2008-09-24

You could use this for controlling complex halloween displays, right?

author
captainharlow (author)noahh2008-12-04

Sure. Any lighting display that uses standard plugs. That's actually a really cool idea. Have some scary music and strobe lights controlled...

author
thisisaric (author)2008-03-31

Nice job, although this is more so an instructable on how to use a Light-O-Rama kit. Anyone looking for a DIY to build a light controller from scratch (and save a little money) check out http://computerchristmas.com/ for schematics and http://www.vixenlights.com/ for software.

author
hepchick20 (author)2007-12-31

Fantastic job!

author
GorillazMiko (author)2007-12-31

Wow.. you have made your yard look amazing.. very nice job.

author

Thanks!

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