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Thread: Uh Oh...I feel a new hobby coming on...

  1. #1
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    Question Uh Oh...I feel a new hobby coming on...

    New Member here. First let me say I have way to many hobbies as it is, but somehow I found myself here after a little google research for ideas rolling around in my brain. Second I know it's way to late to start something for this season, so I'm asking some general questions with the ideas of what I "may" be able to do and plan for. Third I'm fairly technical...my background is IT - Firewalls, networks, PC repair, scripting, programming, etc, etc. so I feel this wouldn't be that hard for me to grasp, but I also feel the dark side pulling me in and I'm thinking to myself..."you could get carried away with this if you're not careful" Haha. So here I am on a forum asking a bunch of people who are addicted to LED's if I should dive in. So help me out if you can by answering these questions.

    I'm thinking of ordering just a few things to wet my whistle so to speak. Just get my feet wet and give me an idea if this is something I can plan for next year. This started out from a google search wanting to put up some permanent lights to my newly painted house that I won't have to take down/put up every year and I can change to suite the holiday (green - st. patties day, red/white/blue -july 4, etc, etc). But just to learn this and get me going in the right direction I have a few "small" projects lined up. Namely: a Boblight/Ambilight for the rasberry pi I have next to my TV, and a few stars modeled after this pictured one below we already own using some bullet type 2811 smart pixels.

    Questions:
    • What would you all recommend for a controller to learn from, but also one suitable to "grow" into a whole house unit. Assume for this purpose 150 ft of roof line, 3 windows, a few stars, deck railing, etc. I've heard falcon, but want something that's fairly easy to learn for someone new and give me the most "success" factor.
    • What LED's are most using for their projects. I'm thinking these bullet type as I've come across them and I know they'll work for the star pictured, as well the flat versions could be used for a boblight, etc. maybe this is an open ended question. lol.


    Any and all thoughts will be appreciated and thanks in advance if you've read this far.

    star.jpg

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Uh Oh...I feel a new hobby coming on...

    I too was in your position, wanting to do Christmas, a huge technical background(robotics/manufacturing), and finally dropped the ball on my first display earlier this year.

    It sounds like you have done a lot of research already, and you should decide which way you really want to go. do you want just LED(the route i chose for reasons)? are you wanting to go Pixel? this will determine the controller for you.

    I went with the renard plus, you are going to have to solder them together(I or someone here may be willing to help you with that). they switch 120Vac or DC depending on the SSR(relay board if using the Renard 32).

    I cannot speak on other controllers as i have only used Renard. but i have been very please with it.

    I like vixen 3 for the software, was very intuitive.

    i orderd all my M6(M5Faceted) LED from 1000 bulbs. I love the non perfected look of them, the randomness of direction if you will.

    my largest piece of advice is start early(sounds like your on that path). in my short 10 min display i'm sure i have over 100 hours in just the programming of it on only 32 channels(could be more or less depending on how intricate and detailed you want it to be). and 40-50 hours in the mechanical setup, then 4 hours to setup the display.(if your interested http://doityourselfchristmas.com/for...mas-show-is-up ) we just launched the show with our family and friends last Saturday, it was so much fun! well worth the effort.

    TLDR: start early, decide on direction(string led or pixel), Have fun with it!!!!! don't make it a job.

    -Aaron W.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Uh Oh...I feel a new hobby coming on...

    I would suggest:
    Pixels (you're going to end up wanting them anyway.. skip the old school stuff) $10 - ?? a strand
    ESPixelSticks for Controllers (small low-cost wifi controllers = fewer wires and a fraction of the cost of the 'big controllers') ~$10
    FPP & Raspberry Pi for playback & control $30
    Vixen3 & xLights for making the blinky/flashy $free

    Power will depend on what you want to do

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Uh Oh...I feel a new hobby coming on...

    The falcon controllers are currently your best bet for easy to learn and adaptable to all sorts of needs. They would fit the bill as a "whole house" controller.

    However, from a guy with several years experience. Consider if that's what you really want. I've moved away from the idea of a big controller that can do everything. I've moved to many inexpensive single output controllers. It solves a lot of problems you create for yourself when you try to run everything from one spot. I've fallen in love with the ESPixelSticks this year.

    For pixels, there's lots of options. But I'd recommend that you choose a reliable supplier that you can buy from year after year. I'd also recommend sticking with 12V pixels. They're more forgiving, especially if you intend to distribute them all from a centralized controller.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Uh Oh...I feel a new hobby coming on...

    I think both of the previous posts have given you excellent advice here. I would just add that I would recommend the big controller (Falcon, SanDevices, etc) if you have large, dense display elements (big mega tree, big matrix, etc). Smaller controllers (like the ESPixelStick) work nicely for smaller items. With that said, I use 28 of the ESPixelSticks and drive my entire house outline, windows, and most of my display elements. I do have two SanDevices controllers for some items and will likely add more in the future.

    With your IT background, I would start with ESPixelStick and FPP running on a Pi with a few strands of WS2811 pixels. For under a $100, you should be able to get started experimenting. Just a warning ... that will be the cheapest part of this hobby. This hobby will consume as much of your time and your money as you will allow it to .

    Good luck and Welcome!
    Keith

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Uh Oh...I feel a new hobby coming on...

    I would like to add my two cents...

    I would not assume that you should only be looking at pixels.
    100% Pixel shows do not look the same as shows based on regular AC light strings.
    All you have to do is watch the great Christmas light fight on TV to see the stark difference.

    Just because we do computer animated lighting as a community should not be construed that we all do pixel based shows.
    Oh nay nay.... In fact, I believe most shows are still based on AC strings.
    My LED AC string mega tree has a look to it that a pixel tree will never replicate.
    Of course, there are things you can do with pixels that no AC string can replicate.

    So... if possible I strongly suggest you try to find some shows in your area to go see. (Your profile doesn't say where you are, so you may want to add your general location and folks can respond in case they are nearby.)
    With luck, you can see AC string and Pixel strings in use.

    Either way, you will have fun.

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  8. #7
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    Default Re: Uh Oh...I feel a new hobby coming on...

    I've also moved away from the larger controllers (except for areas where you have a dense collection of props), and now am preferring the PiHat/PiCap: two output controller that sits on top of your Raspberry Pi. I think this would be somewhat analogous to the ESPixelStick--small, inexpensive devices that can be located anywhere that your display calls form.

  9. #8
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    Default Re: Uh Oh...I feel a new hobby coming on...

    Quote Originally Posted by ukewarrior View Post
    I would like to add my two cents...

    I would not assume that you should only be looking at pixels.
    100% Pixel shows do not look the same as shows based on regular AC light strings.
    All you have to do is watch the great Christmas light fight on TV to see the stark difference.

    Just because we do computer animated lighting as a community should not be construed that we all do pixel based shows.
    Oh nay nay.... In fact, I believe most shows are still based on AC strings.
    My LED AC string mega tree has a look to it that a pixel tree will never replicate.
    Of course, there are things you can do with pixels that no AC string can replicate.
    I'm intrigued by your statement.

    Are you claiming that AC LEDs "look better" than low-voltage (5v or 12v) LEDs? Or are you attributing the "looking better" to the controller (SSR versus smart-pixels)?

    What exactly does an AC LED mega-tree have, that a smart-pixel LED mega-tree can't replicate?

    Or is this simply a variation of the "vinyl-versus-CD" argument?

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Uh Oh...I feel a new hobby coming on...

    AC lights have a "Look and feel" that many find desirable. Others love pixels. You will have to decide for yourself what makes your heart go boom. I have both in my show. Most of my lights are pixels but there are still 40 channels of AC dimmed strings. I have dumped all of my incandescent and replaced them with LEDs, but for certain things I prefer M5 lights to pixels. As for controllers, I have a REN64, a REN8 and four F16V2s.

    Going out and looking at other displays is a good place to get some ideas about how you want your show to look. No one here can determine what is going to make you and your family happy. Every December and January my wife and I go out to a planning dinner. We sit and discuss what we liked and did not liked and what we would like to add next year. Makes a great night out for us and we have a starting point for the next season.

    As a place to start experimenting I would get a raspberry PI, load FPP (Falcon Player) software on it, slap a PiCap on it (gives two ports for pixels and a port to connect a renard controller), get a small Renard controller with integrated AC SSR. Buy some lights at the Walmart end of season sale, pick up a string of 12V WS2811 bullet pixels on Ebay along with a 12V power supply. Now you have all of the parts for a small show. You can add ESPixel sticks to this setup once you get a feel for how the pixels work (remotes your pixels from the PI).

    2017 adding 2 more candy canes, 7 Mid trees and a Halloween show. Removing most 2812 strips and replacing them with bullet pixel mounting strips. Replacing many buck converter waterproof bags with printed boxes.

  11. #10
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    Default Re: Uh Oh...I feel a new hobby coming on...

    Quote Originally Posted by Bwinter View Post
    What exactly does an AC LED mega-tree have, that a smart-pixel LED mega-tree can't replicate?

    Or is this simply a variation of the "vinyl-versus-CD" argument?
    Generally it's randomness vs order. while a pixel tree can be designed to look like a regular string, and a regular string can be trained into a neat order, that's not typically how it goes. Most people who do pixels do them in razor sharp lines with neat strips to hold them perfectly spaced in a row all facing exactly the same direction. Most AC strings are left with the bulbs loose and pointing whichever way they end up. It's a very different look. Both have their beauty, but they're definitely different.

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