This is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s a busy time of the year, but it’s fun. If you’re not into the holidays, chances are you’re too busy and you need a vacation. Even the busiest individuals can enjoy the holidays. Since I was little, I was always fascinated with Christmas lights and decorations. (1980’s photograph will be inserted at a later date)
There’s nothing like seeing the faces of the young and old when they see the glow of Christmas lights. Over the years, things have changed quite a bit. We’ve gone from C7/C9 bulbs to more energy-efficient LED lights. We’ve decided to save on space by eBay‘ing our classic, plastic blowmold figures to make more room for our collapsible wire frame deer and Airblown inflatables. Over the past 5 years or so, I’ve started my own collection of items. I’ve grown to have over 10,000 lights including 33 blowmold figures, 3 inflatables, and over 1200 feet of extension cords.
Recently I decided that wasn’t enough. I needed to fancy my inner-geekness. This is where synchronized lighting fit in.
There are a couple of different ways to get a synchronized light display as well as various different technologies to take you from start to finish.
Mr. Christmas Lights and Sounds (Better known to brand-name shoppers as the GE Lights and Sounds) – These devices are already pre-built and contain basic functionality. They can control between 6-10 channels and have 20 built-in songs. However, they limit the amount of lights and customization that can be handled by a single box. For $50-$150, they’ll get you started. (I used one last year and have it available if anyone wants it.)
From Scratch (ie: Phidget Interface Kits) – Brian Peek from ASPSoft wrote a very good article over at the Coding4Fun website. In his example, he uses a Phidget Interface Kit and C# 2008 to build his display. This is great to learn how the system works, but again, you are limited to the number of channels you can utilize. I really wish Phidget would release some higher power boards. I’d love to be able to control my lights from within a .NET application. That would be too cool.
Using the Experts – Controlled lighting isn’t new, it’s just new(er) to Christmas. In fact, many of the “experts” just began to support the classic controlled lighting interface known as DMX. There are quite a few companies out there, but I’d recommend Light-O-Rama, D-Light, or Animated Lighting. I personally own a single 16-channel 1602 controller from Light-O-Rama. Most of the synchronized displays that you see use Light-O-Rama hardware and software. Although, D-Light is picking up ground especially in some “virtual Christmas” communities.
So, what does this all mean? Well, if you’re into the holiday season as much as I am, you better get started.
Want to know what I’ve done this year? Hop on over to my holiday blog at mylightdisplay.com. Over there I talk a little bit more about my specific display including how to setup an FM transmitter, using the Light-O-Rama software and system, and much much more. If you’re in the Northeastern Pennsylvania area, be sure to stop by my display. You can also find local displays by visiting the Display Links at SynchronizedChristmasLights.com. If you’d like to participate further in the Christmas talk, hop on over to MyHolidayDisplays.com.
I’ll leave you with a link to the video of my house on YouTube.
Have a safe and happy holiday season!