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DMX / E1.31


Prior to 2014, all of the hardware we leveraged was basically just tricks for switching AC curcuits on and off. Although the LOR controller supported dimming, it basically implmeneted this by switch the AC current to a normal outlet on and off very quickly. The challenge with this techology is that you had still has to basically switch entire strings of lights on and off. In 2011, GE introduced the "GE Color Effect" lights for Christmas. Each "bulb" contained three leds (one Red, one Geeen, and one Blue) as well as some control chips. Using a serial protocal it was possible to make each bulb appear as any color by mixing the amout of Red/Green/Blue present in a single bulb. These light strings turned out to be easy hacked to work with controllers other than the original controller and it started a revolution.

By the time we wanted to test using this level of control in our display, multiple others in the "do it yourself" Christmas Lighting community had discovered China was already manufacturing RGB "pixls" for applications in outdoors signs with well documented protocls (like WS2811). Soon lighting enthusiasts were developing custom hardware for controlling these RGB Pixles targed at those working on Holiday displays. In 2014, we used our fix pixels on the grid under the countdown clock. By 2016, we had eliminated nearly all of the AC lighting circuits in favor of pixels as well as a few "dumb" RGB componets (explianed more below). Because there are multiple Pixel protocls, the community adopted a standard of using DMX for the common communication protocol back to the controlling computer as DMX is popular in the lighting communiting for control lights and intensity.

The Pixels We Use

For most of our display elements (grid, bushes, megatree, and arches), we use WS2811 IP68 rated RGB Pixels. We use differnt form factors of pixles. The grids, trees, and house outlines all use Bullet Nodes. For the arches, we use high density Flex Strip. The bushes use Brilliant Bulbs that have the same 5050 RGB LEDs as the strip. Most of the Pixels we own our 12V, but the pixel grid under the clock is 5V. The only difference between 5V and 12V pixles are really power efficency (5V better) and how frequenly you havve to inject power (more often with 5V.).


Regardless of the style of Pixel, they all work the basically the same. Each Pixel requires 3 DMX channels, one to specify the intensity of red, one for green, and one for blue. (This means that our Mega tree with 2400 nodes, requires a total of 7200 DMX channels and our 8x18ft grid takes a wopping 14628 channels!). Although there are a number of RGB Controlers on the market, we currently use AlphaPix 4 controllers from Holiday Coro. I'll be the first to admit that there are nwer controllers with better features on the market, but these conrolers have proven stable with the newest firmware and I like having one type of controller so that I only have to keep one type of spare. Because we have so many Pixels, we use E1.31 which is basically DMX over eithernet. It is the controllers responsiblitiy for taking the DMX data and converting it to the WS2811 serial protocal that the pixels understand. These controllers sit ouside, near the pixles in water proof enclosures.

Dumb RGB

Although most all of our display is now smart Pixels (that allow each individual Pixel to be a different color) , the Stars in the yard use "Dumb RGB" nodes. The core difference is that all the nodes in a strand will display the same color. We use these in the stars because (1) We need multiple lights in each star to make it bright enough and (2) the stars are atleast 8ft apart from each other and early Pixels really couldn't be more than a few feet apart before the signal would be lost. We use five 27 channel controllers (9 RGB) Controllers to control the intensity of the Red/Green/Blue RGBs insde of each star.


(Click image to enlarge)
Bullet Node
Multiple Bullet Nodes
Front of our Big Grid
Back of Big Grid
Flex Strip Pixels
AlphaPix 4 Pixel Controller
9 RGB Dumb Controller
Dumb RGB Nodes

Learning more

If you'd like to learn more about RGB Pixel technology, I suggest checking out The Aus Christmas Light 101 Manual

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