In order to create a great light display you’ve gotta do some planning. We started off by taking a picture of our house, doing A LOT of reading on the forums mentioned here, followed by asking A LOT of questions, and then proceeded to start documenting our planning. How many lights you use is entirely up to how much you think you can handle. There are really no limits (Other than real estate). Keep in mind that more lights requires more power and power injection, more cable, more soldering / crimping, more props, more time, more work and more money! We suggest taking it easy the first couple times you do this and then slowly figuring out what you can do year after year. It never fails that we try to keep squeezing in more and more up to the last minute before show time. We keep a list of wants to add to the show each year and fit in as much as possible each holiday season. You’ll never get them all in and you’ll never run out of new ideas for additions and changes to keep your list full. Our list hasn’t ever really shrunk. The most important thing is making sure you finish in time to actually display your show!
Controller and Power Distribution 2.0 (TEMPLATE) – This is the worksheet we use to do all of our planning for lights and power distribution. This document isn’t overly complex but does have a lot of formula’s helping us calculate and balance our resources (Controller and Power) usage. It’s important to track power usage as a lack of power or injections could lead to incorrect color, control failure or damage to your lights or controller. This spreadsheet also helps us track channel counts for the xLights and Falcon Player configurations as well as helps to map out your pixels per port on your controller. Please feel free to copy it and use it for your own display planning. If you have any questions about it please use our Contact Us form. You can also view our live worksheet here to use as an example.
There are different practices for how people put together their display and controller connections and no one practice is better than the other…it’s all personal preference. Here are the most common.
- Centralized – This is the model we use and we like it because it costs less (less controllers) and overall controller and channel usage is a bit more simplified to manage. In a centralized model you bring everything back to one controller until you’ve exhausted all of its resources. This model requires less controllers, but more power injection as well as some way to extend the transmission distance of the data signal from the controller to the first pixel since it usually cannot go more than ~50 feet before the quality becomes too poor. The max distance between pixels is even less, usually ~15 feet, so keep that in mind as well. There are different ways to extend the data signal using either:
- Null Pixel – Each pixel serves as a re-transmitter of the data signal. A pixel is called a Null Pixel when it is used solely as a re-transmitter for distance and not actually mapped to any models in the display. This is configured in the controller so it essentially ignores that pixel. You can read more about Null Pixels here
- uAmp – The uAmp is more of a signal conditioner. It cleans up the data stream allowing it to transmit much further than any null pixel getting you up to 75 feet between pixels. This also operates transparently so there is no need for the controller to account for its existence
- F-Amp – This is what we use. Similar to the uAmp mentioned above the Falcon F-Amp is a line buffer designed to boost the data signal that controls 3-wire pixels. The F-Amp can be attached directly to the pixel controller or can be placed some distance away from controller.
- Distributed – In a distributed model you distribute controllers or controller expansion boards across your display so that everything is localized to your display elements. This removes the need to extend the data signal with uAmp’s or Null Pixels and possibly even the need to inject power as each controller or expansion port “usually” is providing it’s own power. The power injection part isn’t always true as you can provide power independent of the controllers if you wish to