One of the most common questions I get asked is "How does it work?" or "How do you get the lights to blink in time with the music?" so I created this page to try and help answer a few questions.

Rather than showing my exact setup, I will try to explain why I use some gear, how it fits and how things are made to go Blink in the night.

This page is very much a work in progress and images and diagrams will be added as I get time.

The Parts

There are a number of different parts used to make the display work. Each item has a use, a reason for the particular choice, and they include:

  • Computer
  • Software
  • Controllers
  • Lights/LED's
  • Cable
  • FM Transmitter

Computer

Over the years the Computers use has changed. Originally it was used to program and to drive the equipment to do the display, from an old Toshiba laptop back in 2007 that both sequenced and drove the lights, and then to an Intel i7 3770K which was used to sequence and n i5 3570K used to run Light Show Pro used to drive the lights.

In 2016 I decided to change from Light Show Pro to a much better and more reliable program called xLights, and this also allowed me to drive the show not from a purpose built computer worth hundreds of dollars, but a simple $50 Raspberry Pi. The bonus is that the software on the Pi and xLights are free, and actively and continually developed, unlike Light Show Pro.

The Raspberry Pi connects to a standard computer network consisting of a pair of 16 port TPLink Gigabit Switche, and all the controllers connect to this network and receive data and timing packets via this simple networ, and as of 2020 there are 15 controllers, the main Pi controlling the network, plus 4 additional security cameras connected to the network. A small low-powered FM transmitter is also housed in the same case to send the radio signal to the cars watching the display.


Software

My software of choice is xLights.

The software is used to program when each light or light set is on, what intensity, and what color if it is an RGB Light or string. A graphical render of the music can be used to track the beat, intensity and that way the lights can be illuminated in time with specific parts of the music to get the effect I want. It might sound easy, but it takes between 2 and 5 hours per minute of music to program the display, so this is not a quick thing.


Controllers

I have used a combination of controllers from a number of companies in the display in previous years, but now I have pretty much settled on the Falcon F16 controllers, 5 of which are used in the 2020 display. I still use a J1Sys P2 on the Bethlehem star, a J1Sys P12S in the Jet Ski and a combination of Beaglebone Black and Raspberry Pi's for other items. In previous years the controllers were matched to the lights in the area, leaving them close to 100% utilised, but now the Falcon F16 V3's can drive over 16,000 pixels off each board, so in many cases I am only using a small fracion of their power, running just a few thousand pixels off some of them.

The 2 DMX universes are driven off both the J1Sys P12S and a Falcon F16, and drive items like a DMX smoke machine and a pair of Moving Head lights.

 

The above pic is a Falcon F16 V3 and 2 power supplies used in the rose garden controller. 16 Outputs, over 600W of power supplies are in this newly rebuilt box for 2020.


Lights/LED's

Almost all the pixels used in the 2020 display are from Ray Wu. There are a few that may get used in 2020, but likely will be back in 2021 for a new prop in the driveway and they are from Stellascapes.


Cable

The amount of cable used in the display is rather rediculous, and instead of buying cat5e and 6 core alarm cable by the 100m roll, I have now resorted to using 305 meter boxes of it, going through 1 a year on average. I estimate that there are about 800m of cable used as part of the display.


FM Transmitter

I have a couple of FM Transmitters, but during the 2019 show a failure of the Vast FMT212R meant I had to go back to the old reliable HLLY transmitter. This plugs into the main driving Pi and sends the audio signal to the cars watching the display, as well as to a couple of radios we place around the yard for those on foot to hear the show.