Well, it’s mid-January and things are still getting organized and packed up as we plan for this year’s show. The roof outlines won’t be coming down until the weather improves, but almost everything else is either hung up somewhere or crammed into a tote for storage. We even already got our first order of pixels and my wife (Kim) bought us a box of new coro props to get started on. I thought I would review this past year’s experience and share some of our plans…
I feel our first real pixel show this past year went really well overall. (I did a bit of experimenting with pixels in 2019.) Early on there were some challenges and failures, and there were a few glitches here and there, but the show went on every night, and we had quite a few cars stop to watch it. (Thank you!) There were a few times that driveways were blocked and folks stopped in the middle of the road, but traffic really wasn’t an issue and as far as I know, and I don’t believe any of our neighbors were inconvenienced by it. (Again- thank you!)
I’ll skip over most of the technical details. For us- WIFI was an almost total failure. Some folks are able to use simple “NodeMCU” WIFI controllers to run their pixels successfully, but after months of struggling and failures- we gave up on it almost completely. We also tried using WIFI to synchronize things between controllers- that also failed. We do use WIFI for power management, and I plan to add even more this year, but we will not rely on it to actually run any part of our show. If I do any new builds- I will post them here, and I will continue to help others in the Facebook support groups as much as possible. I think there are just too many APs in the area, or other sources of interference. I’ve had issues with my drone too, which uses the same frequencies.
I also learned that high-density pixel controllers aren’t necessarily the best choice, depending on your layout. I will probably do a separate post about this soon. 😊
Finally- mixing Raspberry Pi and Beagle Bone -based pixel controllers can be challenging. These are the tiny SBCs (single-board computers) that are the “brains” of the controllers. I posted some about that here. I know better now! I might to a more detailed article about this too.
After overcoming WIFI issues (with a lot of wire and a new controller), these really worked well. We were surprised at how functional they were, and plan to add at least one more next year to spread them more evenly and give us a few more musical “note” options.
These actually started out as a way to get rid of extra conduit and PVC I had lying around, along with “scrap” pixels. Like the SparkleBalls, we were very surprised at how useful they turned out to be and how much they added to our display. There will be a LOT more next year.
We live in a pretty windy area, and being up on a hill doesn’t help things. We knew this ahead of time and tried to work with it, but had issues anyway with props getting blown over and decorations being blown completely off the house. Our strip tree really got thrashed several times. It held together, but watching it a few times I’m not exactly sure how. Especially with the new Mega Tree we are planning- we will start with a lot more anchors, stakes and guy lines this year.
Fortunately we didn’t have any, but there were many reported online this year. Almost all were using 12v pixels (we use mostly 5v). There are some folks working to determine exactly where things went wrong last year. Primarily it seems to have been one manufacturer who claimed “production problems” due to COVID-19. We have some 12v pixels on the roof that are definitely going away this year. They may be re-used in the yard, or sent to recycling. I just don’t trust them at this point, and have been very happy with my 5v pixels, even though they are a bit more work to set up.
Not buying anymore of these **** things! We had two blower failures this year- one we just bought after Christmas last year, and one that had only been used for one previous season. The replacement blowers cost almost as much as the inflatables themselves. Almost all of them have had light failures too. They can’t stand up to any kind of wind, and it looks like some kind of weird multi-colored fabric massacre happened if they aren’t inflated all the time. They just aren’t worth the trouble.
Being our first real year of doing pixels, we also put out assorted wireframes and blow-molds we’ve accumulated over the years. These don’t really contribute to a pixel show, and can block some of the lights. We also had issues with them in the wind (above) too. We may not put them out this year. Kim is selling or donating several, and we aren’t sure what we will do with the rest. Some of them, admittedly, have sentimental value.
The schedule kept evolving, which was probably confusing for folks wanting to see the show. We started out only running our main (musical) show from 7-9pm, but decided to extend those ours from 6-9, and eventually 5-9. We then ran later on Fridays and Saturdays for a few weeks. Christmas week we were running 5-10pm every day. We also ran “static” displays, intended to resemble “old school” Christmas lights during the off-hours, along with the inflatables and other light-up decorations.
We were, and still are, concerned about traffic and the impact on our neighbors. We don’t believe anyone was negatively impacted last year, which was GREAT! Our neighbors have been either supportive or quiet (we will take that as a good thing), so hopefully that trend will continue.
As far as we know- nobody stopped by after Saturday, Dec. 26. We kept things running until New Years Day, but may not do that again this year. It all depends on the response we get. It was disappointing to put together a New Year’s Eve show and nobody stopped by. The weather was pretty awful though, and we still had fun with it!
So- already long story short- I want to simplify the schedule this year and not change it every week (or few days) like in 2020. We were new…
This Year (2021)
Obviously things can change, but we already have new materials and pixels to get started on expanding our display this year. Our plans include:
- A “real” free-standing HD Mega-Tree.
- 3 HD Mini-Trees.
- Coro snowflakes on the roof.
- Third (center) column since we won’t have the flat-tree anymore.
- Large pixel wreaths above the porch.
- Candy canes and pixel sticks.
- Some window outlines.
- At least one more Sparkle Ball.
- Pixel swag “fence”.
- More Pixel Stakes (like twice as many).
- More music! (Please post requests on our social media accounts!)
We will still have the roof outlines and arches too. I’m thinking of re-doing our small informational matrix, and our video projection/virtual matrix screen may move outside so we can get rid of the window frame blocking the center.
Here is a sneak-peak of our working layout for this year, subject to change of course: