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Thread: Advice on controller to use with Vixen

  1. #1
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    Default Advice on controller to use with Vixen

    Hello all,

    Ok, I been doing some more reading and I am kind of torn between using the KIT-17 system and the "Grinch" system. Due to a lack of time and money, I have decided that for a beginning set up, I am going to start with 16 channels, non dimming for now.

    In terms of lighting, I do have some lights already, but I would like to get about 8 of those candy canes and set them up in a row for some chase routines. The remaining 8 channels would control lights in bushes and icicle lights that are hanging from a trim flange across the facade of the house.

    I think 16 channels should be enough to get me going.

    Now on to the systems:

    Kit 17 Pros:

    1) A complete kit, I don't have to outsource parts. I order from one place. I can build it right away and connect it to my computer.
    2) Over all cheaper and faster way to get into computer controlled Christmas lighting.

    Cons:

    1) Relays are noisy mechanical ones
    2) Set at 8 channels
    3) Expansion would require the purchase of more parallel boards.
    4) Channels would be capped at 24 because most computers cannot handle more than 3 parallel ports.


    Grinch Pros:

    1) Relays are solid state for quiet operation
    2) Set at 64 channels for a single parallel port.
    3) 192 channels max across three parallel ports
    4) Wiring connections are smaller as I can completely isolate the high voltage section and build the ssr's into standard electrical boxes with the outlets.
    5) Possibly could add dimming to later on (not sure about this pro though).

    Cons:

    1) Initial higher cost because of more wiring and more boards involved.
    2) I have to outsource parts and boards from several suppliers.
    3) Overall longer construction time.

    So my dilemma right now is cost and time. Coming off of a fairly expensive Halloween project I am looking to keep costs at a minimum. Time is of an issue too as I would like to get a display set up by the first week in December.

    So what would be your opinion on what I should go with?

    Thanx,
    Geo

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Advice on controller to use with Vixen

    well, your kit is very old technology..its not expandable...the Grinch is. And you you can expand the Grinch to dim in the future. But very few computers have parallel ports and usb-->parallel adapters do not work.

    The Grinch requires external SSRs which complicates the construction. I would suggest you look at ones with onboard SSRs like the REN24, REN24SS or REN16SS. They are all dimmable as they are and are simple to build.

    but that is just IMHO.
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  3. #3
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    Default Re: Advice on controller to use with Vixen

    Welcome to DIYC! This is a great community.

    There are pros and cons of all light controllers that exist today. Selecting just the right one is an ongoing process -- and most of the folks here have probably evolved over the years, starting with something a lot different than what they have now.

    If you're in a hurry, the kit/relay method is a pretty quick way to go to get into blinky-blinky pretty quickly. They're not horribly noisy, although being mechanical, they do have a more limited lifespan than the electronic kind. But still, you should get several years' use out of them.

    Cost is of course an issue with all of us. Can't give you much help there other than to say, "Watch out -- this is a highly addictive hobby and it's a virtual guarantee that you'll wind up spending a lot more than you originally anticipated, regardless of the controller setup you choose."

    The other issue right now is time. Most of us are already scurrying around trying to finish up for this season. If you plan to do something this year, you need to get started yesterday! That means you've got to pull the trigger pretty soon!

    But in the meantime, welcome again to DIYC!

    -dave

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  4. #4
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    Default Re: Advice on controller to use with Vixen

    I built a grinch years ago but fried it in early testing. I forgot a resister someplace and the board is dead. If your concerned about getting the IC's or a board for a grinch, I have both that I am willing to donate to anybody that needs them. All I ask is a few dollors to pay for shipping. Also need to find them but believe they are in my box of electronic devices.

    I recently built the SS8 and am going to test it in my display tomorrow. So far I'm happy with it. THough I'm hoping the Renard Simple Series or whatever it's going to be callled will go CO-Op next year. I like the idea of spereate SSR's from the controler.

    If your curious, it's the wire from J2 to someplace under RJ45 D that is fried. Probablly have to remove the Jack and place a jumper wire to fix it. Otehr wise, its cheaper than buying one CO-op and then the parts.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Advice on controller to use with Vixen

    Another thing to consider this late in the game is the actual physical location of the boards. There's peoples on both sides of the pond who have boards. So for example if you want to order a Grinch that's from wjohn who is in Australia - which is a bit of a problem if you're in the US. However if you try one of the SS series waynej has those and he's in the US. You haven't listed a location - so I'm just going out on a limb here. Trying to find the thread that has all the stockers of boards, or is that in the wiki??
    Ugh, this year will be too busy. I'd like to buy a vowel and more time please.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Advice on controller to use with Vixen

    Quote Originally Posted by JFTiger View Post
    I built a grinch years ago but fried it in early testing. I forgot a resister someplace and the board is dead. If your concerned about getting the IC's or a board for a grinch, I have both that I am willing to donate to anybody that needs them. All I ask is a few dollors to pay for shipping. Also need to find them but believe they are in my box of electronic devices.

    I recently built the SS8 and am going to test it in my display tomorrow. So far I'm happy with it. THough I'm hoping the Renard Simple Series or whatever it's going to be callled will go CO-Op next year. I like the idea of spereate SSR's from the controler.

    If your curious, it's the wire from J2 to someplace under RJ45 D that is fried. Probablly have to remove the Jack and place a jumper wire to fix it. Otehr wise, its cheaper than buying one CO-op and then the parts.
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  7. #7
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    Default Re: Advice on controller to use with Vixen

    Okay ...

    1st things... Kit-74 requires Parallel port. Parallel ports are getting harder to find on computers and laptops. And USB to parallel port adapters do not work. So as long as your "show" computer has a working parallel port adapter you can do that to get started.

    The kit 74 is about $35-$50 for 8 channels. The clickity-clackity of the relays is really cool to hear... for about the first 5 minutes. After that, not so much. But it is a great kit to learn basic soldering skills and to get some blinken-flashen going on a budget. Plus the fact you have dry contact relays makes it easy to control all type of things, not just 120V lights, etc. You could control low voltage devices as well. it is a pretty versitile project and there are lots of PPT projects on the web that use the kit-74.

    You COULD get 3A capacity epoxy cased SSR's on ebay for about $5 each. So about $40-$50 for 8 channels. You just connect the 8 Data lines and ground from the parallel port to the 3-32v trigger side of the SSR and then hook up some outlets to the other side. And you end up with an 8 port SSR based "kit-74" that will do 3A per channel, no problem, and is completely silent. I have built a couple of these boxes and they work great. Just make sure of your connections before you plug anything in. 120V into your parallel port would not be a good thing. But you end up with 8 channels of silent 120V control that is relatively safe and optically isolated.

    After that you get into the PPT controlled boxes like 595/grinch. In my mind these technologies are obsolete. The contruction of the controller and then the cost of the SSR's that are required do not appeal to me any longer, regardless of the entry cost. They end up costing way more than the controller cost when you add in the outlets, housings, etc.

    Next you jump the the serial/DMX controlled REN/Dimmable controllers. You can get into 24 channels for less than $150 (Including enclosure, and cabling). Obviously a little more complicated build, but the versatility you get is way worth the investment.

    Bottom line? IMHO - If you are just getting started and are pretty new to electronics kits or projects, the Kit 74 is a great place to start. I still use mine with things like cub scouts, and for halloween. It is still fun to mess with. If you really want to get the biggest bang for the buck, save a few more pennies and go to a Ren 24 or the Ren16SS.
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  8. #8
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    Default Re: Advice on controller to use with Vixen

    Quote Originally Posted by g2ktcf View Post
    well, your kit is very old technology..its not expandable...the Grinch is. And you you can expand the Grinch to dim in the future. But very few computers have parallel ports and usb-->parallel adapters do not work.

    The Grinch requires external SSRs which complicates the construction. I would suggest you look at ones with onboard SSRs like the REN24, REN24SS or REN16SS. They are all dimmable as they are and are simple to build.

    but that is just IMHO.
    I do have some very old machines and as far as I know all of them have a parallel port. I also know that you could add up to two parallel port cards totaling 3. I believe that is the limit though as the average computer's bios only supports LPT1-3.

    Grinch is inexpensive like the Kit-17, and it's big pro is that it is expandable, but as you pointed out...it is all separate.

    Now you mentioned some "REN" model numbers. Isn't that the Renard system? Don't you need to know how to program PIC's for that? I know how to do Basic Stamps though, but as of now learning to program PIC's is out of the question. Simply put, there is no time for that.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Advice on controller to use with Vixen

    Quote Originally Posted by jukingeo View Post
    Now you mentioned some "REN" model numbers. Isn't that the Renard system? Don't you need to know how to program PIC's for that? I know how to do Basic Stamps though, but as of now learning to program PIC's is out of the question. Simply put, there is no time for that.
    Renard uses programmable pics, but you can buy the parts/boards from our folks and have the pics pre-programmed for you. It's not a big deal -- you'll eventually want to buy a pic programmer if you go that way because they're indispensible for Renards. You don't have to write the pic code -- that's already done for you!

    Renard boards can come in two flavors: all in ones where the light dimming circuitry is built in or units that have only the controlling circuitry and you use external SSRs, much like you would with the Grinch/595 boards.

    Renards are also available in 8, 16, 24, and 64 channel versions. Once you have all the parts, you can easily build one in an afternoon. They are tremendous controllers that allow for virtually every function you could think of. They can also be expanded, e.g. multiple Renard controllers can be daisy-chained together into a much larger system. It connects to the serial port on your computer and you can control up to about 256 channels through one serial port.
    Last edited by dirknerkle; 11-03-2009 at 11:48 PM.

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  10. #10
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    Default Re: Advice on controller to use with Vixen

    Quote Originally Posted by jukingeo View Post

    Now you mentioned some "REN" model numbers. Isn't that the Renard system? Don't you need to know how to program PIC's for that? I know how to do Basic Stamps though, but as of now learning to program PIC's is out of the question. Simply put, there is no time for that.
    If you watch my vids, you can program a PIC in 5 minutes or less. ;)
    http://www.doityourselfchristmas.com...read.php?t=490

    You just need a programmer. (under $50)
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