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mnmike3
08-16-2009, 11:04 PM
i am kinda new to the whole christmas light decorating thing. we used to decorate the house, playhouse, and yard when i was a kid but now i have my own house and last year was the first year i had the extra money to buy some lights and put them on the house. Started with 5 strings of c6 led's (350 leds total) then went back to buy more and couldn't find them anywhere in town so i stopped for the year. this year i found some for a good price on the net and will be ordering a bunch more soon. i want to do a simple computer controlled display (maybe 8 channels) with maybe some muisc and add to it over time. Also i'm trying to do this on a small budget. i have a spare computer that should work for this using the printer??? cable (can't think of the name, its on the tip of my tounge). you may have guessed i'm not the best at computer stuff, just know the basics. my question is what do i need to buy to make this work? SSR's? which ones? what software can i use? maybe a downloadable one for now? i've read alot about this but there is so much to take in it gets a little confusing for a newb like myself. i can handle the wiring part just fine just don't know what hardware i need exactly. i thought i knew but then i read ssrs might not work with led strings and i would like to keep with the leds cause of the low current.

deplanche
08-16-2009, 11:12 PM
Welcome!!!

I'd try this first to answer some of your questions.
http://www.doityourselfchristmas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=3818

The printer cable (parallel port) can be used with some controllers, such as the grinch. That will give you 64 channels, but no dimming.

The RenSS-8 would give you 8 channels and dimming, but uses a serial port. My guess is if you have a parallel port on the computer, you also have a serial port you could use.

dirknerkle
08-16-2009, 11:32 PM
Welcome, my Minnesota Friend!

deplanche pointed you to a good place for a LOT of information, but perhaps the best place to start is The "Getting Started" area of the Christmas Wiki -- a link to it is at the top of the DIYC site. It's an area that can probably answer most of your questions in short order.

Making an 8-channel rig is pretty easy to do and yes, you can do it with a parallel port and two, 4-channel SSRs. Total cost is minimal for a setup like that that would give you on/off "blinky" control of 8 channels, and at 3 strings per channel, that's 24 strings of lights. Why only 3 strings per channel? While the SSRs can handle more than that, it's a pretty good idea to keep the power drain down to about 1 amp per channel so they run cooler and safer. (Safe is good, seeing smoke and sparks is bad. ;))

Aside from the basic cost of the lights and suitable extension cords, your cost on the above would probably be in the $20-25 range.

You could also build a Renard SS8, which is an 8-channel controller that not only does the on/off blinky, it does fading up/down, which we call "dimming." You could build an SS8 for about $35. It would have the same general power limitation (3 strings per channel), giving you a good safety margin. The Renard hooks up directly to your computer by a serial cable and has the SSRs built-in.

Lastly, you won't believe how much help you can get here in DIYC. It's incredible. There are some truly smart people here (myself EXcluded) who are very, very willing to share their talents. DIYC is an amazing community.

The only thing you have to watch out for is the hobby itself -- once you get started, there's no turning back and you'll be hooked for life!!!

-dave

budude
08-17-2009, 01:30 AM
I would suggest you start with one of the RenSS series controllers as dirknerkle/deplanche touched on. The reason for that would be that you can expand to a much larger display down the road and use the same familiar hardware AND software bits. The 8-channel controller would be a good start but I'm 99.9% sure you'll be wondering what you were thinking when you're planning the show for the next year! :p

Good Luck in whatever you choose! You'll also want to get a copy of Vixen since that's the 'brains' of the whole shebang.

mnmike3
08-17-2009, 02:02 AM
i looked into the renard ss8 but i'm not sure if i want to build my own controller just yet. i've done tons of soldering with wires but never on a circut board. also i found the site that shows how to put one together and when i looked for the parts on mouser some of them were on back order till october and there was no cross refrence for the parts that were backorderd. i don't want to wait till october to start ordering parts. i want to start setting up my display at thanksgiving. is there somewhere i can purchase one or a similar one already put together so i just need to add a case and some wires? i've looked into stuff like light o rama but its way to expensive for my tastes, expecially when someone can build something so much cheaper.

I also looked into a 8 channle parallel port controller like this one here http://www.electronickits.com/kit/complete/elec/ck1601.htm but it doesn't have a dimming feature which sounds like it would be nice to have for if not this year maybe next year. any thoughts on this one?

budude
08-17-2009, 02:27 AM
I wouldn't want to push you into anything you don't feel comfortable doing but I think you would find that soldering a board up might be easier than you think. As for an already built controller, you can keep your eye on the Buy/Sell/Trade forum and put a 'want to buy' post there - you never know! You might at least find PCB/kits of parts available if not a completed controller. If you run into any issues if you choose to build you can ask questions here and get answers typically within an hour.

As for the parallel card you pointed to - I'm not familiar with that particular one. I'm guessing it would not support dimming - just on/off as you mentioned. If you're looking for parts, there are alternate sites such as Digi-Key (http://www.digikey.com/) and Newark (http://www.newark.com/) to name a couple.

mnmike3
08-17-2009, 10:17 AM
budude,
i slept on it and think i would really like to have the dimming feature. i think i will give it a shot and build my own renardss8. if i run into problems my friend went to school for electronic engineering i'm sure he can help put it all together if need be. and worst comes to worst its not too much out of pocket. I do have a couple questions on the renard though, i saw the boards for it at the same place i found the parts list i can order the boards from the directly right? they still use vixen to control it? also am i right in thinking they can be hooked up in series so i can run 8 channels this year and expand to 16 or more next? how many strings of led's can i run per channel roughly? i have 70 bulb strings now but ordering up at least 10 more strings of 50 very soon. i know the ones i have now had current raitings on the box but i can't remember for the life of me what it was. i think this year i'm going to shoot for the 1000 light mark (I know its not much around here but its a good starting point for me)

g2ktcf
08-17-2009, 10:36 AM
You get the boards for the SS series from WayneJ. The parts you order from Mouser.

Cheers,
Chris

budude
08-17-2009, 10:54 AM
I'm not sure which pages you were viewing but this one explains the Renard SS8 details:
http://www.doityourselfchristmas.com/wiki/index.php?title=The_Renard_SS8_Controller_Board

You can use RS-232 or RS-485 to connect to them from your computer. There are distance limitations with RS-232 so you may need to get an USB->RS485 adaptor depending on your setup. Newer computers (esp laptops) tend to not come with RS-232 ports anymore so you'd be looking to buy a 'dongle' anyway - in that case you might as well go with RS-485 anyway. And yes - you can 'daisy-chain' them together with other Renard controllers in the future.

As for the number of lights, if you're using LEDs you can definitely put more strings on per channel (roughly 10:1) over regular mini-lights. Someone else can probably tell you the max current limits. Generally it's 1 or 2 amps per channel and then an overall total per board of 8 amps or so - but again - you'll want to get the correct numbers for the Ren8SS.

Be sure as you look at the various bits of hardware documentation around that you are looking for the 'SS' versions because there are/were controllers before that came out such as the Renard 16 (non-SS). I think you'll be happy you go with a dimming controller. While it's not absolutely necessary, some songs that you sequence just cry out for fade-ins/outs at certain points and can really make it just that much better.

This link compares the different controllers:
http://www.doityourselfchristmas.com/wiki/index.php?title=Comparison_of_DIY_Boards

dirknerkle
08-17-2009, 11:01 AM
budude,
i slept on it and think i would really like to have the dimming feature. i think i will give it a shot and build my own renardss8. if i run into problems my friend went to school for electronic engineering i'm sure he can help put it all together if need be. and worst comes to worst its not too much out of pocket. I do have a couple questions on the renard though, i saw the boards for it at the same place i found the parts list i can order the boards from the directly right? they still use vixen to control it? also am i right in thinking they can be hooked up in series so i can run 8 channels this year and expand to 16 or more next? how many strings of led's can i run per channel roughly? i have 70 bulb strings now but ordering up at least 10 more strings of 50 very soon. i know the ones i have now had current raitings on the box but i can't remember for the life of me what it was. i think this year i'm going to shoot for the 1000 light mark (I know its not much around here but its a good starting point for me)

Renards are daisy-chainable -- you expand a system by adding more Renards and plugging the output from one into the next one, etc. So if you started with an SS8, channels 1-8 would be the first Renard. If you added an SS24 next, and and SS16 after that, the SS8 would chain into the SS24 and the SS24 would chain into the SS16. Your total at that point would be 8+24+16= 48 channels. Renard is very flexible. An SS16 is essentially two SS8 boards together; an SS24 is three SS8's on the same circuitboard. You won't have any trouble building the Renards -- just take your time and be sure not to use a super-powerful, million-gigawatt soldering iron! A soldering gun is generally too hot, the tip isn't small enough and both are bad for building these things. You really want a lesser powerful iron -- something that's appropriate for circuitboard electronics.

As far as power goes, mini-lights are typically about 1/3 AMP per 100 light string. Target has some lower amp units, but that's a good guideline. A 50-light string would likely be half of 100, so you get the idea. If you find a great deal on 50-light strings it can be worthwhile, but otherwise, you might find a better bargain if you buy the 100's and cut them in half (which is easy to do).

mnmike3
08-17-2009, 11:09 AM
yup thats the one i was looking at. forgive me if the questions are getting annoying just trying to figure it all out before i jump in and i'm sure i will have more questions once i get all the parts and put it all together. i think i only have one more question for now, whats the deal with programming the PIC? do i need to buy additional stuff to do this? this is where the lack of computer knowledge comes into play i guess

budude
08-17-2009, 11:26 AM
No - you are doing exactly the right thing - you want to have a good understanding of things before jumping in.

For PIC programming there are a couple ways of doing that - the first is that many of the Co-Ops offer pre-programmed PICs. If you miss a Co-Op there are a few folks that will offer to program them for you and you just pay postage to/from. I think there was a list available somewhere - perhaps one of the moderators like Wayne J can help out there.

Seeing as you are just starting out I don't imagine you would want to get a programmer yourself but that is another option.

Another item you may want to look into is an FM transmitter. Once you sequence up the lights you'll find it just looks like a lot of odd blinking and flashing without the music behind it... You can use speakers in front of your house also but that usually doesn't improve neighbor relations if you catch my drift. There are several options for this and there are some for sale on the forum now.

P. Short
08-17-2009, 11:38 AM
i am kinda new to the whole christmas light decorating thing. we used to decorate the house, playhouse, and yard when i was a kid but now i have my own house and last year was the first year i had the extra money to buy some lights and put them on the house. Started with 5 strings of c6 led's (350 leds total) then went back to buy more and couldn't find them anywhere in town so i stopped for the year. this year i found some for a good price on the net and will be ordering a bunch more soon. i want to do a simple computer controlled display (maybe 8 channels) with maybe some muisc and add to it over time. Also i'm trying to do this on a small budget. i have a spare computer that should work for this using the printer??? cable (can't think of the name, its on the tip of my tounge). you may have guessed i'm not the best at computer stuff, just know the basics. my question is what do i need to buy to make this work? SSR's? which ones? what software can i use? maybe a downloadable one for now? i've read alot about this but there is so much to take in it gets a little confusing for a newb like myself. i can handle the wiring part just fine just don't know what hardware i need exactly. i thought i knew but then i read ssrs might not work with led strings and i would like to keep with the leds cause of the low current.

I have just one little request. Please don't write long paragraphs without any breaks, it is very hard to read and makes my eyes hurt. Other stuff (spelling, etc) doesn't bother me, but enormously long paragraphs are difficult for me to read.

mnmike3
08-17-2009, 11:39 AM
i am very familiar with fm mods and plan on getting one for my display. they are very common in my field even though we don't like using them in our applications, i work for a car audio shop and we use them to get audio from overhead dvd players and stuff when no other option is available.

i've been lookimg around and think i did just miss out on a co-op for the renard but i was going to send a pm and see if he can help me gather stuff and maybe i can ask him about the programming stuff at the same time.

dirknerkle
08-17-2009, 03:55 PM
i think i only have one more question for now, whats the deal with programming the PIC? do i need to buy additional stuff to do this?

You can always find somebody who will be happy to flash/program a PIC for you, so don't worry a bit about buying a programmer for a while. When the time comes and you're comfortable building this gear, you'll want to pick one up. They're not very expensive, and you generally don't need them very often unless you're tweaking the PIC program code and need to test your modifications.

BTW, Phil Short is the Renard guru -- it's his PIC code that does all the nifty stuff on those Renards. There are many other Renard experts at DIYC, and you'll find several electrical and/or electronic engineers here, as well as folks who work in radio or TV.

This is the perfect place for "all you want to know about blinky-flashy!"

Again, welcome to the hobby that never ends! :D

-dave

P. Short
08-17-2009, 11:33 PM
I would actually suggest buying a programmer. Without one you're stuck if you have problems and need to re-program the PIC for diagnostics mode, and you're stuck if you need to change one of the tunables (baudrate, PWM vs non-PWM, DC vs AC, etc). You can get by without a programmer if everything goes well, but how often does that happen? How convenient is the drive from Mankato to the closest member with a programmer?

ctmal
08-17-2009, 11:51 PM
I would actually suggest buying a programmer. Without one you're stuck if you have problems and need to re-program the PIC for diagnostics mode, and you're stuck if you need to change one of the tunables (baudrate, PWM vs non-PWM, DC vs AC, etc). You can get by without a programmer if everything goes well, but how often does that happen? How convenient is the drive from Mankato to the closest member with a programmer?

I have to second this. For the couple of bucks you'll spend(I got one of the cheap one's from ebay) you can save a ton of time and frustration. If nothing else it gives you the ability to flash the diag firmware for testing if things don't work on the first time. And, just to make it clear, it is not difficult to program the pic. Phil already did the hard work by writing the code.

deplanche
08-17-2009, 11:54 PM
I third this. And while it is an extra expense up front, if you find you aren't into this hobby, you can most likely sell it here pretty quickly, and not loose too much of your initial investment.

mnmike3
08-18-2009, 01:01 AM
p.short,

you do make a good point, i might have a lead on getting a renard kit so i will see what happens there and once i get it put together i will cross my fingers and hope all is well but will still plan on getting a programmer down the road.

also sorry about the long paragraph thing, also another good point never really looked at it before but it is harder to read. i will try to limit my laziness and to small paragraphs here and on other forums.

i appreciate everybodys input very much so far i wanted to do this last year but my knowledge on doing so was much less than now (if thats even possible), i'm sure i will have many questions to come. usually i'm the one with a bunch of info to share on the forums (motorcycles) I am a regular at.

bmcgeeny
08-18-2009, 07:42 AM
I would actually suggest buying a programmer. Without one you're stuck if you have problems and need to re-program the PIC for diagnostics mode, and you're stuck if you need to change one of the tunables (baudrate, PWM vs non-PWM, DC vs AC, etc). You can get by without a programmer if everything goes well, but how often does that happen? How convenient is the drive from Mankato to the closest member with a programmer?

Well that would be me, since I am frequently in Mankato. But it would take some planing

mnmike3
08-18-2009, 09:45 AM
Well that would be me, since I am frequently in Mankato. But it would take some planing

I will keep that in mind should i happen to have any problems. i did a search of the members to see who all was here in MN and was suprised to see there are quite a few.

dirknerkle
08-18-2009, 09:51 AM
I will keep that in mind should i happen to have any problems. i did a search of the members to see who all was here in MN and was suprised to see there are quite a few.

Yah, yew betcha.... dere's lots of us folkz upp here in Minnesnowta... yep. Mozt of us ain't too schmart, but vut ve don't have in der head, ve shure got in da heart, yah....

...und ve're not 'fraid to offur help to doze who need it, dat's fer shure! ;)

budude
08-18-2009, 10:28 AM
As long as you eat the Lutefisk - we'll be happy to help you... :rolleyes:

mnmike3
08-18-2009, 08:00 PM
Yah, yew betcha.... dere's lots of us folkz upp here in Minnesnowta... yep. Mozt of us ain't too schmart, but vut ve don't have in der head, ve shure got in da heart, yah....

...und ve're not 'fraid to offur help to doze who need it, dat's fer shure! ;)

hahaha........

Ryan21
08-18-2009, 10:35 PM
Hello, my name is Ryan Stephens
I am very new at this, and plan on building my first board soon. I am a little confussed. I can not seem to wrap my head around the prices. I would like to have a minumum of 32 channels
(if possible 2-16 channel boards) and eventually 64 channels (2-24 channel boards, 1-16 channel board) do you know what the cheapest way to accomplish this would be, and about how much it would cost.
i am on a tight buget so im looking for the cheapest thing that will do the trick

budude
08-18-2009, 10:55 PM
Welcome Ryan -

I'd suggest you start with the Wiki if you haven't already: http://www.doityourselfchristmas.com/wiki/index.php?title=Beginners_Guide

There's a link there that indicates price estimates:
http://www.doityourselfchristmas.com/wiki/index.php?title=Comparison_of_DIY_Boards

There are other costs not shown such as enclosures, power cables, Cat5 cable, etc - nothing super expensive but it all adds up.

There are two major types of controllers - those with on-board SSR components and those with external SSR boards/components. The internal version does not require any cabling between boards (controller and SSR) nor enclosures for the external SSRs so they are cheaper in that respect.

If you're looking for a Light-O-Rama-LIKE type of controller then the Renard SS16 would be comparable to those and would probably be the best choice for you since it's used a ton here so it has some history and it connects up with other Renard controllers with normal Cat5 cabling so that you can expand to lots of channels down the road.

Anyway - read up on the Wiki first of all to get a better understanding of what your options are. There are lots of folks here ready to answer any questions you may have!

dirknerkle
08-19-2009, 12:18 AM
Welcome, Ryan!

Budude offered really good advice. He's a very experienced DIYC-er and really knows the ropes! When I joined here last February, the first thing I did was print out everything the Wiki had to say, and I've read and re-read it several times. It's not that I'm stupid...it's... well... maybe I am a little dense after all!

And he's so right about lots of folks here being able to help. You'll find an almost endless amount of talent and creativity here, and a whole community of fun-loving, kind people from all over the world that are glad you've joined the ranks of those who many members of society feel have "lost their marbles." ;)

We don't let that deter us -- we just keep sharing ideas and celebrate the Lord by lighting up the sky!

Welcome to the hobby that has no limits!

-dave

g2ktcf
08-19-2009, 02:32 AM
Ryan,

I would also like to welcome you to DIYC. I do not have much to add as you have been given excellent advice so far. The only thing left out is to say that, although the wiki is FULL of info, it is sometimes hard to find. If you look and cannot find it, then post the question. We will not be offended and will most likely get the link to the wiki page you need.

Since you are brand new, I am going to point out one page here that is not linked at all. It is in full draft mode but you an get some idea of what you might need. Please forgive me if the spelling is off or something is missing. I am working on photos for each of these items now.

See http://www.doityourselfchristmas.com/wiki/index.php?title=DIYC_Tools

Best of Luck,
Chris

dirknerkle
08-19-2009, 10:26 AM
Since you are brand new, I am going to point out one page here that is not linked at all. It is in full draft mode but you an get some idea of what you might need. Please forgive me if the spelling is off or something is missing. I am working on photos for each of these items now.

See http://www.doityourselfchristmas.com/wiki/index.php?title=DIYC_Tools

Best of Luck,
Chris

Terrific page, Chris!!! That'll be a fabulous addition to the Wiki when you're ready to release it!!!

-dave

Ryan21
08-19-2009, 04:40 PM
thanks for all the help
i have decided on the grinch board
one last question though do you know if you can leave a few of the ssr's off and it still work

dirknerkle
08-19-2009, 04:50 PM
thanks for all the help
i have decided on the grinch board
one last question though do you know if you can leave a few of the ssr's off and it still work

Sure. A Grinch has 64 channels, and you can use any of them that you want, although it will be easier for you down the road if you use them in ascending channel number order (start with channel #1 and go forward to fill as many as you'll use -- for 48 channels, you'd use 1-48 and leave 49-64 alone).

When you set up Vixen to talk to the Grinch, you would set it up as a full 64 channels (65 if you want to add a music beat track to it as well). When you set the cells to turn on/off the lights, you'd only set the channels that you'll use, leaving the others blank because they have no real function until you connect them up to SSRs.


BTW, the Grinch controller will work whether SSRs are connected or not -- it doesn't know or care. All it does is turn things on/off "internally" and if there's an SSR on the other end, it responds to the Grinch's signal. If no SSR is there, nothing happens.

Ryan21
08-19-2009, 04:54 PM
awsome thank you so much yay!!!

budude
08-19-2009, 04:58 PM
Yes - you can populate the SSRs as you go - each SSR has 4 channels on them. You could partially populate those also if you are really on a budget! There are a few different AC SSR modules including the Oz, Ez and Neon to name a few - but they all do basically the same thing...

Just wanted to be sure that you know the Grinch is not dimmable on it's own. You also need to be sure you have a real parallel port on your PC - I could be wrong but I don't think it works with the USB-Parallel port adapters. Also - many laptops have very low outputs on the port and may not drive it well.

soundmankc
11-01-2009, 11:57 PM
I am also a newbie. Right now I am kinda like the kid staring in the candy store window and dreaming of all the neat stuff inside. I am sure I will have many questions to post.

Unfortunately I cannot access the wiki from work (grrr) but will try and check things out there and answer some questions on my own. I just wanted to say that, after looking around some on the forum, I am overjoyed and amazed at all the intelligent and helpful folks here. I look forward to getting to know alot of you. Keith

planker
11-09-2009, 12:31 AM
Ok newbie here. I have decided to go with the grinch as I donít need dimming capability yet. I have tried to get my order setup through www.mouser.com. however they are out until after Christmas of the 8/8 rt angle rj45 jacks. can I substitute them with another type...maybe a verticle plug?

Chris

dirknerkle
11-09-2009, 11:26 AM
First of all, welcome to DIYC!

Sure, any RJ45 jack will work -- vertical, horizontal -- whatever. Just make sure they're the 8/8 pin types for Cat 5 and not the Cat3 type because you'll want all 8 connectors (even though you don't use them all).

There are also other sources for parts -- www.futurlec.com is another place folks use, and sometimes it's helpful to put out a call here on DIYC -- there are folks here who stock a lot of things because it's often less expensive to buy 100, 200, 500, etc. of an item that you know you'll need. There's a lot of sharing here at DIYC and folks are always glad to help.

You're getting kind of a late start, but there's still time. A grinch has 64 channels, and you'll also need external SSRs for it, too. The grinch will take you about an hour to build. Each SSR about 20 minutes. Less time as you get more and more experienced... You don't have to USE all 64 at once, but they'll be available. You can build as many SSRs as you'll need and grow later.

-dave