Monthly Archives: November 2017

RGB Pixel Display SetUp Day

HAPPY THANKSGIVING! It took much longer than anticipated to get everything set up, but it’s done! Almost showtime!

SetUp day is when I set aside time to actually set the display up for the season. Ideally, I’d have all fabrication done and just need to set everything up. I don’t believe I’ve EVER had an ideal situation – I’m always fabricating something. So not ideal, but it just adds to the time required to get everything ready.

I started off fixing the power injection problem I had last year on the mega tree because I did it wrong. You should transfer data and GROUND (or negative) between strings. I only transferred data which allowed stray voltage to affect the lights. Turning brightness down to 30% solved most of the flickering problems, but it did not eliminate them. So I’m putting new ends on each of the twelve strings so they can be used interchangeably and I’ll wire them up as needed.

The first prop to set up is the lights along the back fence. The fence faces a street so I have a string of 175 pixels mounted to EMT. I tie-wrapped each node to the EMT. I highly suggest getting a tie-wrap tool for stuff like this. It makes tightening and cutting the excess much easier.

The new window outlines needed some fabrication and my solution was to use rebar for the cross pieces. The vertical Boscoyo strips stay straight by themselves, but the horizontal strips need support. I tie-wrapped each horizontal node to rebar using an alternating pattern of bottom two holes and top two holes in the strip. That seems to keep the pixels straight. I used masonry bits to drill holes in brick for the eyelet standoffs and the windows are now outlined.

The mega tree was fairly easy to set up this year since it didn’t require any fabrication. I used the ASAP pole design from last year and was able to string the tree while it was horizontal. Once the strings were attached, the tree was pushed upright. I connected the ends (bottom) of each string to an 8-foot PVC ring with Ball Bungees and staked the ring to the ground at several points around the ring. This adds support (once the mast was cranked up) and does not need guy wires. Granted, the tree is less than 15-feet tall, but a nice gust of wind will topple it without the support from the stakes.

It took several hours to fix all the electronic issues I had, but some of that was anticipated due to the new stuff. I had planned on filming that part, but I quickly realized it was going to be a longer process that I thought. Reconfiguring the controller was the easy part. Finding that I had not connected pigtails to the controller or not having wire connected well took some time. Then there was the large 288-pixel wreath with a bad ground that took and extra day to resolve.

All in all, it was fun setting up the display. A few challenges to overcome, but I’m ready for showtime!

Good luck with your displays and Happy Thanksgiving (if that’s something you celebrate where you are)!

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Central RGB Pixel Controller Box Rebuild

I’m rebuilding my main RGB pixel power and data distribution box, leaving room for expansion for next year.

I try to run most of the lights from a central controller box underneath the mega tree. I created a box last year that worked great, but did not have room to expand so I rebuilt it this year using some lessons learned form last year. I also got some new cable glands to hold onto the wires protruding from the box. They don’t make it water tight, but they do hold onto the wires well so they won’t get pulled away from the controller if I happen to accidentally trip over the wires.

I also used a different layout for the internal components. I left room for expansion as I’m sure I’ll add more pixels next year and will need more power supplies. All electronics are mounted to a 1/2″ piece of MDF. The board can not be removed once the wires are attached, but provides a solid base for everything and adds a little weight to the box.

I mounted the controller and expansion board to a piece of PVC “wood” left over from the P10 sign build and oriented that vertically to save some room. It makes it a little hard to make connections, but since that won’t happen a lot, I felt the tradeoff was worth it in space saved. The box is tall enough to add a second controller on top if needed.

I used fuse blocks for power injection distribution for safety. Last year, I totally bypassed power distribution on the controller, but felt I could use it this year for props that don’t need power injection. It does make managing power among the four power supplies a little trickier, but given enough thought and planning, it can be done.

I’d still like to build a small cover for the box as I’m using trash bags and straps to secure it. A cover in the shape of a Snoopy house or Christmas present would hide the box and provide some protection from rain or snow.

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Quick RGB Pixel Sequencing RGB Technique – Part 2

We went to a polo match last weekend and we continue sequencing the song we started last time. Set your clocks back an hour and we have less than three weeks to get ready for showtime!

Richard left a comment on the previous video to use two or three layers of random effects so I add those in this video. Excellent suggestion. It gives xLights the opportunity to fill in more effects when it chooses one that is probably better suited for adding on top of another effect as opposed to acting as a complete effect.

I also completely changed out some effects and created a standard pattern for parts of the song that repeat – like the chorus. In other words, the same group of effects are used in the song where the melody repeats. It sounds the same and looks the same.

As happened last time, I needed to go through and tweak some of the settings for effects. xLights randomizes everything and with some effects, some settings either don’t do much or look weird when set “incorrectly.” Fortunately, you can see what changing a particular setting does in the preview window for immediate feedback. Very quick and very cool.

I play the full sequence again at the end so you can compare the two versions. I may make a few tweaks here and there once I look at the sequence on the display, but I will run this as is in the show this year.

This technique is new to me this year, but I do like it as adding props simply requires a re-render to get some pattern on the new props (which usually takes seconds depending on the length of the song). I hope this helps.

Quick RGB Pixel Sequencing Technique

Here’s a quick way to sequence a song for RGB Pixels.

Here’s an introduction to xLights from Sean Meighan – awesome video, but it’s over 3 hours long so get some popcorn. It DOES cover everything so I highly recommend watching it. It is well worth your time. https://vimeo.com/239465131

This is basically a TLDR version of Sean’s video. We start by adding a timing track to the song to show changes in the music. The next step is to add random effects to a “whole house” model which I have since renamed to “All House” so it will sort properly. The whole or all house model is simply a group that has all of your display’s props so adding an effect to the group affects all the lights in your display.

You can randomly add effects to a model using a feature in xLights sequencing software (available for Mac, Windows and Linux). Some of them look great and some need some tweaking or are better used layered with other effects. Once you get the settings like you want, you have a complete sequence.

The cool thing about this technique is that adding new props to the display only requires a re-render of the sequence to light up the new prop assuming you’ve added it to the all house model of course.

I’ll certainly use this technique to get some sequences done quickly this year. You can always go back and completely change out effects when you have more time, but at least the lights are blinking for your visitors which will delight them.

Good luck with your sequencing!

Hanson Electronics – Octoscrolla

The Octoscrolla from Hanson Electronics has some interesting tweaks over the original design. Here’s a quick look at the board.

This is a video about the Octoscrolla from Hanson Electronics. The Octocrolla is a clone of the original Octoscroller design and is pin compatible (except for the real-time clock). It is a cape designed to plug into a BeagleBone Black running Falcon Player to allow you to run up to 64 P10 led matrix panels. Each of the 8 16-pin connectors can control up to 8 P10 panels.

The version shown in the video has a real-time clock chip via a TinyRTC board mounted on the bottom of the board. This is useful if you’re using this in an area that doesn’t have internet access to fetch the current time.

Trammel Hudson developed the original Octoscroller and some background information on it can be found at http://www.nycresistor.com/2013/09/12/octoscroller/

How I Do My RGB Pixel Sequences

Just a few things I think about before programming the lights and how I approach the programming process.

This is more of a philosophical discussion (and possibly controversial) about how I approach sequencing a song. There are many things to think about when you sit down to not only program the patterns for the display, but even in picking the music you’ll use and what you intend to do with your design.

If you plan to post videos of your display to video sharing sites like YouTube, you need to take copyrighted content into consideration. A lot has changed over the years about this. In fact, this year, I created a custom soundtrack for my medley (my main song that gets most of my sequencing attention). I call it my oompa loompa song because it sounds funny. The term, not the song – well maybe the song too.

Many musical artists are allowing use of their music for this purpose, but there are others that need releases before you can post them and that usually involves purchasing a license. Fortunately, some awesome artists see this for what it is and understand that by allowing you to post videos using their copyrighted music, you are actually advertising for them so they allow it. I can’t tell you how many songs I have purchased because I saw a display using someone’s music and this goes to the artists’ bottom line. A win win for everyone involved. End rant.

If you use hip hop songs, keep in mind that visitors may have better sound systems in their cars than you have in your home so the neighbors may complain about loud music outside your house. I use this genre in a couple of songs, but run those sequences early in the evening. Also if your musical tastes lie outside the mainstream, that’s fine to use, but know that it may not translate well to your visitors. It might be a fun experiment to try however.

I generally run the high energy sequences between dusk and let those run for two hours. Then, I’ll switch to a more traditional playlist for a couple of hours in the evening that encourages lower sound levels. Lights are off at 10pm to encourage youngsters to go to bed on school nights. You can run playlists longer on weekends and/or on Christmas Eve. I don’t run my lights early in the morning for commuters, but if you have a lot of traffic, that might be a good idea too.

Finally, and this is the controversial part, should you have a single bush flashing or program the lights so that all of them are on? I am in the “all lights on” group most of the time, but will occasionally have some of them off. Potato potaato.

Garage Outline with RGB Pixels

Using Boscoyo strips, we outline the garage with RGB pixels. I cover a couple of different ways to insert the pixels into the strips and what we did over the weekend.

Boscoyo strips are ~1-inch-wide strips of plastic with holes for pixels every three inches. They are available in black or white and 3″ or 1″ centers – I use the 3″ version. They work great for holding pixels in straight lines and can be rolled up for storage at the end of the lighting season. I use them for many of my props.

When outlining a window or garage door opening, the vertical lines are simple. Secure them at the top and then use ball bungees at the bottom. The ball bungees are stretchy so they have will take up the slack and hold the strip in place. Plus, they are fun to say.

Horizontal lines will need some support. Boscoyo also makes ChromaTrim corrugated plastic mounts for 12MM RGB pixels suitable for mounting to something like 1/2″ EMT, but I used the strips themselves this year. I’m not sure I’m sold on my horizontal mounting method.

When setting up the pixels in software, I used the wrong numbers of pixels so the patterns were off center. Once I realized my mistake, I adjusted the numbers and the patterns looked right. Fortunately, that only took about 2 days to figure out!

Outlining a Fence with RGB Pixels

I’m outlining a fence with RGB pixels. I ran into an issue with the mounting design and took a different approach. It’s amazing how a small number of lights can look really great in your display!

My original design was to hide the mount and pixel bases behind the fence and mount the pixels on PVC pipe, but the weight of the pixels and wire ties was too much for the PVC. I decided to go with one inch EMT because it is more rigid and mount them on the outside because the top of the fence isn’t straight.

I also tried using hot glue to the base of each pixel, but it doesn’t bond well with the EMT. Wire ties worked fine and allow for fine adjustment of each individual pixel. I strapped both sides of each pixel. I recommend using a wire tie tightening tool for this. They are fairly inexpensive, but make tightening and cutting wire ties a breeze – even one-handed!

I also added pigtails to each ten-foot section of EMT to make storage easier. It may look a little unsightly during the daytime, but they become invisible at night.

This outline is 175 pixels in length which exceeds the recommended number of pixels for a single string – 100 for 12V pixels and about 50 for 5V pixels. However, I run them at 30% brightness to keep the neighbors from being blinded by the flashing lights so I did not see issues that would need power injection.

North Pole for P10 Sign

I got the North Pole (almost) completed.

This is the last episode for the P10 sign build. The sign acts as a “tune to” sign and general information about the display, namely a pointer back to this blog. It will run simultaneously with the display, but will run independently of any sequences playing at the time.

An optimization I’d love to add is current time and temperature. The BeagleBone Black does have internet connectivity so I am sure something like that is possible, but I may have to get creative with a solution for that. This will have to wait until I have more time to play with it and time is running out. I still have a lot to do to get everything ready for this year’s show.

I’ll be sure to post an episode about it if I can actually pull it off!

Falcon F16V3 Pixel Controller

The Falcon F16V3 Pixel Controller is the latest in a line of awesome controllers from David Pitts.

This video covers all the features of this new board along with an Expansion Board and a Differential Expansion Board plus Differential Receivers. If you run pixels in your display or are thinking about running pixels, seriously look at getting one of these controllers.

In RGB Pixel lighting, a pixel controller converts the E1.31 output from a computer into serial data the lights need to work. This is a specialized controller specifically designed for RGB pixel lighting.

Some other items you might need or want are a MeanWell 12V power supply or 5V depending on your pixels and possibly a Raspberry Pi 3 (board only) or Raspberry Pi 3 (full starter kit). The controller does have hardware to allow it to run Falcon Player and early reports are that the new firmware supporting that functionality looks good though I have not been able to test it yet. I will update this post once I’ve done that.

Be sure to check out other videos on my channel for more information about using pixels and be sure to subscribe for more videos. Thanks!