Category: Builds

Building stuff. Sometimes cheap and easy. Always an adventure!
Some failures, some successes.

New xLights API, Package Script

Late last year, the xLights developers started adding API functionality to xLights so you can script repeating tasks. For example- you can roll your own batch-render or batch controller upload scripts now. The API is still being developed, but I asked the devs to include an option to package a sequence as part of it, and they followed through! As of v. 2022.1, packageSequence is now included in the API. The reason I asked for this is it saves a lot of end-of-the-season tedium for me, and I’m sure others. Since our layout changes fairly significantly each year, along with …

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Oak Hills Lights Power Consumption

Okay, the numbers are in… From Thanksgiving Day through New Year’s Day we used a whopping 92.19 kWh of electricity. At $.12/kWh that’s a total of $11.06! We did have a Raspberry Pi controller (Show Runner) and a small network switch running on separate (un-switched/monitored) power. Given the maximum wattage of the power supplies running them, they likely contributed less than $1 more, so we will say $12 for a grand total! 🙂

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A couple of FPP matrix display scripts…

Updated November, 2021: Script Updates and related text changes. Our show has a long matrix display above our carport/driveway that displays general show information, along with our “Tune To” FM frequency to listen to the music, and song information. Usually in order to do this- the information needs to be built into the musical and lighting sequences. Sequencing to music for these shows is tedious and time-consuming enough, without having to deal with what text to display in each one. Another problem is if you need to change any of the text- you have to re-build and re-render every sequence …

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Quick Build – Wago Bus

This is one of those: “I’m going to see if this works…” builds. I needed some power busses for the top and bottom of our mega tree. The biggest down-side (and only, in my opinion) to using 5v pixels is you need a lot of power injection. We are using 75px. strands, so applying the “50 pixel rule“- I’m injecting at the top and bottom. That means for 24 strands- I have 12 injection points on each end. I thought about wire nuts, solder, or a whole lot of splices, but decided instead to go with my favorite electrical connector- …

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More Power!

So the front of our house has a bunch of convenient outlets, but they are all run off the same 15A GFCI breaker. Knowing that likely wasn’t going to be enough power for our show, we ran quite a bit of our 2020 show using extension cords from a set of 20A outlets we have in the back of the house. This obviously wasn’t very convenient or probably safe. Each extension cord also had a relay box on it, which worked well, but provided multiple potential failure points. This year I wanted to have dedicated outlets just for the show …

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ASAP Jr. Mega-Tree Pole Change

Just a quick post on this. For our Mega-Tree, I bought 1.5″ and 1.25″ galvanized conduit for the pole. We also have a hole in the ground for it already. I’ll post more details about that build once we set the tree up this year. It quickly became obvious that these poles would be WAY too heavy to just prop up and drop in the hole, especially when everything was fully extended, including the pole for the star. So- I decided to use the most-excellent Monkhouse ASAP Jr. setup for it. http://www.magicchristmas.org/asap-jr.html I ran into a small problem though. The …

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“Permanent” FPP Master Controller and FM Transmitter

While revising almost everything for our show this year, I decided to more-permanently install our master FPP controller (Raspberry Pi 3B+) and FM transmitter. The controller lives on my desk most of the rest of the year because I use it to test new FPP versions, and I wanted to move it out of the way. I also might use it for other lighting projects during the off season. The FM transmitter was always awkward to keep outside because of its attached antenna, and the need to keep its PSU some distance away from it to cut down on any …

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Colorlight Controller Box Builds

Last week I posted about my P10 Column Build. One big problem I had was the Pi-P10 controllers I tried to use just didn’t work. They had a terrible amount of flicker, and I was unable to find any actual support for them. So- my next most expensive option was to switch to Colorlight cards. These are purpose-built cards made specifically to drive portions of very-large P10 or similar LED displays. They are reasonably inexpensive (around $26 as of this post), and while they are a bit of a pain to configure- once configured they should “just work”. One oddity …

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Raspberry Pi 5v Power Regulation

We have a lot of Raspberry Pis that run various elements of our shows, and powering them from “wall warts” in enclosures isn’t always practical, especially since we are already running 5v power everywhere. The problem is- if you power them using the GPIO header, there is absolutely no internal voltage regulation. So- a voltage spike or other anomaly can fry your Pi. Many of us tend to run our PSUs a bit higher than 5v too, in order to compensate a bit for voltage drop. What I decided to do is use cheap buck converters/voltage regulators you can find …

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Column Matrix Builds

Last year, we lit up two of our three front porch columns with PVC pixel “poles”. These worked really well: Pixel Columns This year we are making several changes. First, we got rid of the flat-tree in the middle of the front of the porch, so I needed to light up the middle column. Second, my lovely wife planted some new shrubs in front of the porch, which will end up growing in front of the columns. I decided I wanted something that sat up higher, but made up for being shorter by having more detail. After working on the …

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Add an OLED to a Raspberry Pi

It’s kind of silly since they spend most of their time closed up in a weathertight box, but I really like the little OLED screens on the Kulp controllers. They give me a quick indication if the controller is working, so I can at least rule it out (for the most part) if there is any kind of a problem. I figured it was probably pretty easy to put an OLED on a Raspberry Pi, and there are Caps that do just that, along with buttons and additional outputs. After seeing settings for OLED support in FPP, I decided to …

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Info Matrix (2021)

Last year we did a “Tune In” Matrix under our carport roof. It was my first DIY matrix, which actually turned out and worked pretty well after going through three revisions. It was functional, but just didn’t fit in well with the rest of our display and I wanted something with more resolution. I decided this year to “play” with P10 display panels. These are more-commonly used to build things like RGB scoreboards, billboards, and other advertising displays. Actually P5 panels with twice the resolution are used most often in these now, but I chose to go with the less-expensive …

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2021 Mega Tree

I’m going to step through this process as we work on it, so this is a build-in-progress, which probably won’t be done until Fall. So far, it’s just in the planning stages, and we have the first part of it: We also have Boscoyo strips and pixels for it, but haven’t started putting those together yet. The plan is for a 75 x 24 pixel (1800 total) Mega Tree that will be 13′ tall (without the star). With the star it will be closer to 18′ tall. It will be 270° since we are on a corner lot and want …

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G.E. Hattitude Quartet

Meet the biggest single prop we’ve bought to date: The Gilbert Engineering Hattitude Quartet! This thing is almost 4′ in diameter, and consists of a wreath/spinner and close to a dozen singing face options (with or without Santa hat). We wanted a new “centerpiece” above the porch, to take the place of the star on the the flat-tree we made in 2020. We are going to have a free-standing Mega-Tree in 2021. The frame is made of PVC and 3D printed parts from Inspire Light Shows. It will be mounted using the same brackets and hooks we used for the …

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FrankenPower Mk. III

FrankenPower Mark I-II used mechanical relays that were connected to conventional outlets. They were bulky, probably not very safe, and had to be placed in a tote to try to keep them protected from the weather. One of the original mechanical relays failed almost immediately upon use. Mark III uses an 8-channel SSR board and a much different enclosure- a “Weatherproof” cord box I found at Menards: I built it primarily using the following components: Associate (Commissionable) Link(s): Along with WAGO connectors and cheap 10′ extension cords from Menards. I cut the extension cords in half, and will use the …

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2020 Show Post-Mortem and 2021 Plans

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. …

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5v vs. 12v Pixels

This is one of the most divisive arguments you will find online among folks in the Pixel hobby, perhaps more-so than where to buy your pixels and what connectors you “HAVE” to use. Here is my take on it… First- this is all my opinion. I will very likely take a hit in several online forums for posting this. For some reason a lot of folks think 12v is the only way to go, and I disagree. Don’t do anything based solely on my advice. Do your own research and make your own decisions- as I said above- this is …

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Star Stake Quick Build

We’ve already started working on some things for next year… We found these metal stars at Hobby Lobby over the weekend. We already had a couple-dozen of these “Quick Light Post” metal light pole/stake things from Menards. They sell them every Christmas, but they never seem to show up online. I’ll post a manufacturer link ASAP. “Quick” just refers to this article- it took a lot more time than I had planned and a lot of zip ties to pull this off, but in the end- I have a 20-pixel mini-star on top of a 5-pixel stake. I’m planning to …

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Ch-Ch-Changes…

So, I think I’ve made it through a big learning curve with regard to Master and Remote FPP setups, and controllers in-general… First I found out that the Kulp K16A-B controller is fantastic as a stand-alone controller, or as a Remote, but NOT as a Master. For some reason it just has media timing issues that appear to be unresolvable unless they eventually get fixed in firmware or FPP. If you want a very-expandable single-controller to run your whole show (and it likely can)- then it is still a great option. It also works outstandingly well as a Remote. Update …

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Up and Running!

Oak Hills Lights officially started on Saturday night, Nov. 28th! It’s been an uphill battle the last couple of weeks, as I noted in my previous post. The problems have primarily been syncing issues, scheduler issues, and problems with our WiFi SparkleBalls. Our display is running now through Jan. 3rd. Current hours (subject to change based on traffic and impact on neighbors) is 6-9pm Sun.-Thur., 6-10pm Fri.-Sat. It’s a repeating playlist that lasts about an hour. Syncing Issues The real problem is the BeagleBone SBCs that run Kulp controllers appear to poor audio timing, making the audio run slower than …

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Update. Frustration!

Okay, so to get a few things out of the way… The Redneck Matrix Mark II was fairly quickly replaced with Redneck Matrix Mark III. I needed more resolution to make text more readable, since I’m using it for tune-in and song information. I didn’t do a build post for it because it happened pretty quickly. I switched to using this stuff: Associate (Commissionable) Link(s): …and I can’t recommend it enough for doing matrixes. It fits the pixels perfectly and you can choose whatever density you want. It was a LOT easier to deal with than the metal mesh, and …

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ESPixelStick ESP32 Build (Alpha)

First off, FYI- there is a new release of ESPIxelStick v.3.2 that fixes the Mac flashing issues that have been a problem for v3.1. If you are running the original ESPixelSticks, or NodeMCUs based on ESP12, like D1 Mini or similar- get that release as it is pre-compiled and just works. https://github.com/forkineye/ESPixelStick Note: I am just covering my experience and outlining the process of compiling (building) the firmware for ESP32. I am not covering the basics of how to use the Arduino IDE to install libraries and compile/flash code to an MCU. There are other resources for that. This is …

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Vankyo Projector Power Control

I posted earlier about the dirt-cheap Vankyo projectors that some people use for their displays (for rear or front projection). These things are about as cheap as you can get for reasonable quality. One problem with them is there is no way to control the power without either physically pressing a button on top of it, or using the remote control that comes with it. There are no USB or serial control options, so the “Projector Control” plugin for FPP won’t do any good. I decided that what I needed was an “IR Blaster” running on the Raspberry Pi that …

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Cheap Rear Projection

A few of the sequences I downloaded/purchased this year actually have video files. I also wanted to try out a Virtual Matrix, since it just wasn’t going to be practical to build a large enough one this year for what I wanted to do. So- I decided to try a rear-projection setup. First up- the projector. I didn’t have one, and needed one cheap. Someone on one of the forums I’m on mentioned these: These things are small and cheap. I got one for $75 on-sale last week from Amazon, although they are usually around $100. Here is a current …

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MAX485 Differential Transceivers

I was digging into how Differential Receivers for LED lighting systems work, and was told about these MAX485 Transceivers on one of the forums: These little boards cost around $1 each, and can be used to extend a WS2811 (Pixel) data signal for hundreds of feet (probably close to 1000 with proper shielded RS-485 cable). You don’t have to use the Differential ports on your controller- you can extend any pixel port. My understanding is that the 4-Port differential systems used on Falcon and Kulp boards use similar technology- the transmitter side is built-in to the boards, and they use …

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