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Thread: Starting Out

  1. #1
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    Default Starting Out

    Well hey! This post is going to be the start of my endeavour to automate my lights for the Christmas '08 and on. First, a little about myself. I'm currently living in Green Bay, WI, which could quite possibly be the most boring place on earth, but that's beside the point. I work as a lighting engineer in a large congregation of 2000+. We run a fully ETC-based lighting control system, with an Express 48/96 console running on a 3D Visualization server using Emphasis and Cast WYSIWWG. This is all powered up by 4 DMX repeaters, a 48 port Cisco switch, and 600 Sensor+ dimmers. In another part of the building we have an Express 125/250 console with 200 Sensor+ dimmers. All houselights are the responsibility of the Unison control system. That setup is controlled by a 2D Emphasis/WYSIWYG server. As far as lights go, if anyone's interested, we run an army of ETC Source Four ellipsoidals and Par64s, along with 4 moving head 575s and 10 Am DJ 575XTs. In the other part of the building there are 6 Am DJ 250w Scanners and 4 Elation 250w Scanners.

    As you can see, I'm very familiar with stage lighting systems and the DMX protocol. I would absolutely love to implement DMX into a system in my yard. However, commercial products would be extremely costly. Now, I am in no way an electrician, so I really wouldn't know where to start building a full DMX512 system. If I did, however, I would also like to build custom dimmers. Again, I really wish I could go this route, but it would be either expensive or time-consuming.

    The other thing I was thinking about, if DMX couldn't be done, was an Olsen 595-based system. This seems pretty straightforward; a controller board that runs out to SSRs. It doesn't seem too hard to do, but I sacrifice dimming capability. Not a biggie, but I would like it. (I realize I could use a Ren-C, but that seems like it would get messy. If not, I'd be willing to go this route. Again though, diagrams are a good thing! There seems to be a lack of them on the forums and in the wiki.)

    I was also thinking about a Renard system. I'm less familiar with this, and would like more info. (Diagrams or pictures would be nice!) I've seen a lot of layouts with SSRs built into the controller, but I would rather run Cat5 outside and around parts of the house than extension cords. Can that be done with Renard?

    I've also decided that if I need them, my SSRs are probably going to be pigtail breakouts, encased in a PVC cap pod. This seems to be the most space-saving and weather-resistant design. It's also suitable for indoor use. (For window displays.) I understand the concept, but I'm still not quite sure how the wiring would go, between the board itself and the cords. That isn't a top priority right now, though. I'll figure it out in due time.

    Moving on. I've familiarized myself with Vixen somewhat, but I have a major concern. Is there a way to toggle lights on and off outside of a show? I would just want to run a fraction of what would be set up when the lights weren't moving.

    Finally, there's the matter of PCBs and parts. In the near future I should have a way to etch my own, but there's still the matter of drilling. I have relatives with drill presses, but I don't own one myself. I could definitely use theirs, though. As time progresses I'll need more info on transferring designs to boards, however. I also might just get in on the coops.

    Well, not so finally on the PCB paragraph. Moving on to lights themselves, heh. I'm currently running about 2000 blue/white mini lights, as well as 10 90w halogen floods. (Also blue/white.) There are also larger lights on the roof, although I don't remember how many. I'd like to use the same larger ones on a line of 13 medium-sized pines on the side of the lot, but that's a lot of SSRs and a lot of stringing! I'm already being lazy and using floods on trees instead of stringing them. I'd like to however. When I do start pulling the automation together, hopefully by the end of Spring '08, more lights will definitely make their way into the display. This is already a big hobby, and I fear that automating it will make it an obsession. Oh well.

    Phew! Well I think this is about all I need to know, but I'm sure more things will arise as the project comes together. Thanks for all of everyone's help and support both now and in the future. Hopefully this year I can finally top the neighbor's display!... erm... I mean... spread Christmas spirit! :o

  2. #2
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    you could use the Lynx dimmer/controller - look in the co-op section.
    Here, just learning......
    Might tackle a project one day

  3. #3
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    Hmm... on-board SSR. I'm not a big fan of that. I've been planning out my display, and I've figured out that I need between 55 and 64 channels. However, that includes 8 on the roof, and 8 for indoor window displays. Because of this, I really would like to use SSR outlet boxes if possible. Running RJ45 indoors is no problem for me, but extension cords running through the house and sprawled all across the yard could present to be a problem. I've been looking into Ren-C/T coupled with a 595 some more and have decided that it might work. I need to do a little more research on it though. I do like that the Lynx is DMX-based, but I'm not sure it's worth sacrificing the ability to offset the SSRs.

  4. #4
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    You can build a Renard64 and run Cat5 out to SSR pods in the yard. A Renard 64 can be used anywhere an Olsen is used. The three differences are: 1) Renard needs a zero-cross signal, 2) Renard is ran from the serial port on the computer Olsen uses the parallel and 3) Renard give you the ability to dim.

    With Vixen I don't think you can manually turn lights on/off during a show . You could if it were on a different computer, but then you would need the controllers separated too.

    I etch most of my own boards. I bought a drill press for $50 at harbor freight and another $20 in small bits. It works great for PCBs.

    Have fun planning and get ready to hit the after Christmas sells for lights.

  5. #5
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    yes, to turn lights on and off while a show is not running is called a background (scripted) sequence. But your going to get help from some1 else to write one.
    [IMG]http://i212.photobucket.com/albums/cc44/Snookao/The%20Making%20Of%20Walden%20Lights/WaldenLights2007.jpg[/IMG]

  6. #6
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    Okay, so Renard it is. I'd like to go with a 64 chan offset SSR board. Does anyone have a picture of one, or even a .pcb? I'd like to see what I'm dealing with. Also, does that require a separate transformer board to power it? (The Ren-T?) What's a PIC and why/how does it need to be programmed? How does one go about dimming in Vixen? Sorry about all the questions; everyone has to start somewhere. It seems like a Renard based system will be a little more complicated than a 595.

    As far as a background sequence goes... could I just write a sequence that's a couple minutes long (maybe 5) of the lights I choose constantly on, then repeat it in the timer? Would it flicker when it loops? Or could I just end a sequence with lights of my choosing and check the option to retain the last lights on?

    Again, thanks.

  7. #7
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    There is a lot of information in the wiki about that.

    --

    Phil

  8. #8
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    I dont think background sequences have a specific time length. They just run when a program is not running.

    Dimming in Vixen is easy. You just chose your renard plug in and then just use the dimming button on your tool bar at the top. Drag over the boxes you want to have a ramp (dim) on them and click the button on the tool bar.
    [IMG]http://i212.photobucket.com/albums/cc44/Snookao/The%20Making%20Of%20Walden%20Lights/WaldenLights2007.jpg[/IMG]

  9. #9
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  10. #10
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    Maxs,
    Welcome to the community. I am happy to see, based on your 1st post , that you have done your research before posting. It is a lot easier to answer these questions when you understand what the answers are.

    Any of the routes you have talked about in the OP are viable. You have narrowed down the field to just a few designs since you want remote ssrs. You also want dimming, although you say you can do without. If you think you may want it then get it, otherwise next year you will be saying "I should have gone dimming". For this reason you would need a Renard 64, based on the channel count you are looking for. To build the Renard 64 system you will need 1 Renard 64 pcb and 16 4 channel ssr boards, all of which can be obtained by contacting wjohn. He has taken the role of the community pcb supplier, so to speak. The parts list for these can be found in the Renard sections of the Christmas WIki. You are also going to need a Renard-T board. Currently the coop stock of the Ren-T is deppleated. Contact Wayne J about them. You can also home etch one, it is a simple design.

    With alll that said DMX might be a good possibility in the future but currently it is not as popular and therefore does not have the userbase/support of the Renard.
    Thanks,
    Brian, your friendly site Admin.

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