(Seems like we are off to a really late start this year.)

First, the layout changed again. I’m hopeful and saying this is the “final”, but it depends on whether or not we run out of pixels for everything.

Layout as of September 2022

This year is all about saving money. Kim ended up unemployed for the summer, we had to pay for roof and deck repairs, and the cost of materials for doing everything including our light show skyrocketed by at least 70%. We had fairly ambitious expansion plans, but they have been put on-hold.

I did decide to do a Maxitree, sort of halfway between a mini-tree and a Megatree. It will be about 8′ tall, minus the star, and similar to the largest mini-tree last year- will hold the projector for the video matrix. The initial plan was to use a deer stand on the oak tree for the projector, but this will look a lot better, at least to non-hunters. (I did think decorating a deer stand for Christmas would be interesting though.) The Maxitree will be 20 strands by 50 pixels with 2″ spacing. I recycled last year’s Megatree topper for it, and hope to do a build article about it and the new projector housing later.

The mini-trees are gone, consumed literally by the Maxitree, but we may still do “micro” trees using parts from the front fence that we aren’t using this year. Those aren’t in the layout picture above. We are recycling strip and pixels for the Maxitree and may just not have enough left over for them.

As I noted earlier in the year, we are moving the Megatree to the other side of the yard. The oak tree was blocking it from many viewing angles and it just didn’t look right to me stuck behind a real tree in the back of the display. I was also concerned about our guy line anchors, which were not positioned well due to tree roots and rocks in that part of the yard. We are doing a larger video display screen, along with the Maxitree, at its old location. The video screen, Maxitree, or both will be visible from most viewing angles despite the oak tree.

We laid out the new Megatree location and moved the hole for it earlier this week.

Mega Tree position marked.

In the picture you can see roughly how we deal with the bottoms of our Megatree strips. We don’t use a “base” for them, and instead draw an arc using marking paint and use stakes and bungee balls to hold them down. The arch marked is roughly where the stakes will go once we set up.

The hole is one of these, which worked really well last year:

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I like this over the “portable hole” that a lot of people use (basically a big block of concrete with a hole in the middle), because we don’t have to store the bulky concrete “hole” the rest of the year. It provided a solid footing for our Megatree last year, and should work well for our new one this year. It’s “portable” too, in that we unscrewed it from its location last year and moved it to the other side of the yard. 😊

New Megatree base hole. Ruined two pieces of rebar screwing it in.

The new Megatree will have 8 more strands (32 total) and will use the same vertical pixel spacing as last year’s. (75px x 2″) We got a new steel topper plate for it so we can keep the 180-degree format while adding density. I hope to cover more of its construction in a later article.

New Topper Plate 2022 (Top)
New Topper Plate 2022 (Top)

I made some software changes as-well. Our Oak Hills Lights Web site will now have a “live” playlist, or at least almost-live, which will show the currently-playing song. Any playlist changes are automatically pushed to the server, and the “Now-Playing” information is updated about every 15 seconds. So- if someone wants to see a particular song- it will be a lot easier to determine when it might be played that night. Our playlist will still be close to three hours long and shuffled nightly.

Playlist with “Now Playing” info!

Our Info Display matrix has a new controller, power supply, and software, and should be significantly more reliable. It’s also been relocated slightly since it is “permanently” installed and I wanted to center it more and give it more protection from the weather. The old controller was overheating and power issues were causing it to lock up occasionally last year. It is updated live by the show-runner computer and should always have accurate song information. I’ve been stress-testing it in the summer heat to make sure all systems are go for Christmas. Additional behind-the-scenes software and hardware improvements have been made to our power system and the rest of our controller computers/components. FPP 6 will be used throughout, along with my custom code which is all being revised.

Info Display Matrix

(Hard to see in the daytime. The text is broken up because of the camera shutter, and is not an error.)

That’s all for now. I started building our new Starburst for the Megatree last weekend, and hope to have it finished, along with build details, this weekend. The Maxitree is next up on my build list, along with the additional strands for the Megatree. Lots of pixel-pushing in our near future…