How to Use The Falcon Player (FPP)

Learning how to install and use the Falcon player definitely presented some challenges for installation and how to use it. I had purchased a Rasberry Pi because it was on sale so I wanted to give it a try.

In this first video, I tackle how to install FPP or also known as Falcon Player as this was very new territory for me. This is a way that a lot of people run their shows automatically without a computer running Mac or Windows.

How to Install FPP

When I had first got started I had difficulties understanding exactly what I needed to do for installing FPP. The most reliable resource I was able to find was the forum on falconchristmas.com and the topic was FPP2.x Installation Instructions.

The first step is to install the latest image from Github.com. Make sure you do install the right version. The BBB version stands for the beagle bone and Pi is for the Rasberry Pi version.

Next, you want to burn the image on an SD card. It’s recommended that you use a program such as ApplePi Baker or Etcher. In this tutorial, I was able to use Etcher because it does run on a Windows system.

Burning Image to SD Card

When you download and launch your program you want to select the FPP image that you had downloaded.

When doing this step please make sure your SD card is plugged in. You also want to make sure that you get a class 10 so that it can run full speed.

So, you select the “image”, then select “target”, click “continue”, and then click “flash”. Let the program run as needed and it will let you know when it’s complete.

Setting Up Your Falcon Player

The next step for the setup and according to the original forum topic is plugging in your SD Card into the Pi/BBB, connecting to a network cable, and powering it on. When the unit powers on it should have the lights come up on the unit itself.

After 30 seconds of the unit being powered on go to your web browser and type in: http://fpp.local and this should pull up the FPP Falcon Player as seen below.

You will have a notice on the top of the page stating the SD Card has unused space. By clicking “Advanced Settings” you can create a new partition to save your shows.

To create a new partition just click “Advanced Settings” and then click “Grow File System”. You will be brought to a new page and the bottom it will say Please Reboot, so let the system reboot. Once it is is rebooted then the new partition has been created.

Using FPP (Falcon Player) to Output to Pixels

After being able to install FPP and getting it work the next step is figuring out how to get a sequence set up on it. In this next video, I walk through the steps on how to set this up.

After working through this video I realized that it is very important to note that you need to either have a network switch or be setting this up next to your router so that your Falcon Player, lights, and Pi can all connect with each other.

Pulling Sequence Files from xLights

I had originally set up my sequences through a program called xLights. If you used a different program the process should be similar. You do want to make sure you are able to pull the files as FPP.

The best method is to export your sequences through the FPP Connect. Please make sure your FPP is connected and running so the programs are able to connect and pull the sequences.

Setting Up Sequences on FPP

Once you are able to pull the files for your sequence you want to open up your Falcon Player. On the top menu bar select Content Setup and then select “Playlists”. The following page should come up for you.

Create and name a new playlist and click “Add”. Under the Playlist details and New Playlist Entry, you can select the type. In this video, we are working with a sequence only. When you make your selection just click “Add”. Under make playlist, you should see your new sequence come up. When done be sure to click “Save”.

Checking the Settings

While setting this up you want to be sure that you have the right settings. On the top menu bar, you want to go to Input/Output Settings and then select “Channel Outputs”. On this screen make sure the output is set up and then set the interface and the universes. Most changes will require you to do a reboot.

The next step is to set up your scheduler. For testing purposes, I had just set it to run all the time. You can set this up under Content Setup and then go to Scheduler.

To check what your system is doing, you can always go to Status/Control on the top menu to check what your system is doing. If you did set up a scheduler it would tell if the sequence you had set up is running.

As I had mentioned earlier make sure you are able to set up everything either next to your router or use a Network Switch. This will make the setup and testing so much easier for you.

Why Are Some of My Pixels Turning Brown or Pink? 5 Ways to Solve This Problem!

Channeling my inner Clark Griswald, I connected my first set of pixel lights and turned them on to full in xLights, only to find that while many of my pixels looked great, there was a definite “fade” to a brown-ish/pink-ish color across my strings of new LED pixel lights.

Perhaps you are running into this issue with your pixel Christmas light display – you’ve turned things on for the first time and you can see that some of your pixels just aren’t right, especially in white.

Is there a problem with your pixels? Why are they turning brown or pink?

Christmas light pixels turn brown or pink when they don’t have enough voltage in order to run correctly. While they will still technically work, it’s important to fix these problems for the visual look and also the longevity of your pixels.

What’s Going on – The Voltage Problem…

It’s all about power. The types of pixels that we use in Christmas lighting are run at a low voltage, which means that we don’t have a lot of room for the voltage to lower before we have problems, such as the “pinkish” fade that we can see when we turn a long string on full white.

Think of it like this – you’ve got 2 highways leaving a city. One has 120 lanes, the other has 5. As they head into the suburbs, each highway loses one lane every 10 miles.

No, this isn’t one of those evil math problems about the trains leaving the cities at different times…keep reading…

The highway with 120 lanes will have no problems at all – in 60 miles, it’s only dropped a small percentage of its total lanes.

The 5-lane highway, on the other hand, is in big trouble. It quickly loses a massive percentage of its lanes, leaving a traffic jam!

It’s kind of the same thing with pixels…

As power travels across wires, it begins to lose voltage. For things around our house that run off regular “wall-power”, you can get a good bit of drop and have no problem. 5 volts off of a total of 115-120v wall power (here in the US) is no problem.

But 5v or 12v pixels? Just a volt or 2 gets you into dangerous territory – and low voltage power loses voltage across wires at the same rate as the 120v outlet power.

Now that we see the problem, let’s talk about possible solutions. While it’s a singular problem, there actually are 5 different ways we can resolve it!

Solution 1: Less Brightness

Our core problem here is that there is too much voltage drop by the time we get through all of our pixels for them to function properly. This is caused by a combination of long wire length + total electrical load.

If we lower the brightness of our pixels, we will then lower the electrical load, which also lowers the amount of voltage drop across our wire.

Most people do NOT run their Christmas displays at 100% intensity…in fact, many folks run at 30%-50%!

So, if you are running your pixels at full, consider turning them down. The article that I linked to in the previous sentence explains how to find a good intensity for your display, and how to get the most out of each pixel that you have.

This is by far the quickest and easiest way to resolve the problem if you can get away with it!

Solution 2: Power Injection

While the “standard” and most simple set up for pixels is to apply power through the pixel controller, you CAN add in more power as you go to make much longer strands of pixels possible from one controller output.

Power Injection Tee – these make power injection simple.

Power injection works in a few different ways.

If you are using 1 power supply for both feeds of power, you literally can apply the power + and – to both the start and the end of the pixel run. This will feed power from both ends, essentially doubling the length you can run compared to just feeding power at the front end.

Since you were likely going to plug in another string of pixels for your next prop at the end of the first prop anyways, it’s not much harder to add more power.

The only “gotcha” with power injection is that it’s very important to leave a gap in the “+” wire if you are using 2 different power supplies. Fail to do this, and sparks will fly!

Read my full article on power injection here! Power injection can seem complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. However, there are less complicated ways to fix our problem, such as…

Solution 3: Less Power Drop from Cable

One of the biggest rules in low-voltage power is this: get your power supply as close to the start of your pixels as possible.

This applies in the world of Christmas lighting as a 5v or 12v power supply that is 10′ away will have much less voltage at the beginning of the string than one that is 6″ away!

As a general “rule-of-thumb” you want to be sure that you get your power supply as close as possible to the start of your string of pixels. This will ensure you begin the line of lights with as close to your target voltage as possible!

With most power supplies, you often can tweak the voltage to be higher or lower to compensate for long cable runs. While this isn’t ideal, it can work – BUT be very careful to not overdo it, as you can easily fry your lights if you provide too much voltage!

Solution 4: Separate Outputs on Your Controller

I remember reading a survey recently on one of the holiday lighting Facebook groups about power injection.

Many of the folks that manage large displays chimed in, and it was not too surprising that many of them opted to spread their lights across more controller outputs, rather than use power injection.

The idea behind this is simple: Less power injection = a less complicated set up, which also = a faster setup!

Plus, if a prop goes down, you don’t lose any props that are wired after it. And with the SmartReceivers that are now standard for many pixel controllers, you don’t lose output capacity by ending a string early.

So, for most props, it makes sense to just give the prop it’s own port on your controller.

The only time it doesn’t make sense is for more power-dense props, like a matrix. In that case, using power injection saves you a good bit of cost and complexity because there is so much power needed in a small area.

Solution 5: Higher Voltage

If you look at any pixel vendor, you’ll see that 5v pixels are the cheapest, 12v are a little more expensive, and 24v is the most expensive (but most Christmas light vendors do not sell 24v).

Just like we learned above, the higher the voltage, the farther/more lights you can run before you have to add more power or stop.

So, if you haven’t bought your pixels yet, buy 12v. Just do it. If 24v becomes more common in the future, buy those!

And if you do own 5v pixels, then inject power often. As you expand/repair your display each year, begin switching failing props over to 12v – your sanity will thank you!

What Percentage of Intensity or Brightness Should I Run My Pixels At?

If you have worked with regular Christmas lights you may notice there are just a couple of settings such as off or on. With incandescent lights the only control you have is to turn them on, off, or dim them!

When it comes to pixels you may notice how bright these lights can get – so this brings up the question of “what percentage should you run your pixels at?”

This is a question I get a lot but there is no hard and fast answer to it. There are a few determining factors that you want to consider when deciding what percentage you should run your lights at.

How Bright are the Pixels?

Different brands and types of pixels actually have different brightness levels, but how can you tell the difference?

If you are working with different types of pixels in your setup the best way to see the different brightness levels is setting them up, turning them on, and see how the pixels next to each other. This will help you see the brightness difference in your lights.

It may be helpful in your current setup as well as future setups to make note of the different brightness levels with brands or the type of pixels you are working with.

Pitch or Distance of the Pixels

The next determining factor to take into consideration is the pitch or the distance between the pixels.

When the pixels are closer together you normally won’t have to run them as bright. But when you have pixels that are farther apart you may need to run them brighter compared to pixels that are closer together.

Distance From the Viewer

The last determining factor is how close are the lights from the viewer? The lights that are closer to the viewer will most likely not have to run at a higher percentage because it will be closer to the viewers.

The lights that are farther away from your viewers will most likely be run at a higher percentage because they are farther away from the viewer.

At What Percent Should You Run Your Lights?

Once you have reviewed the factors above and have an idea at what you are working with now you may be asking what percent should I run these lights?

A good starting point is running your lights at 50%. This can be a good number because in most cases it isn’t overly bright and you don’t lose too much resolution when turning them up or down.

As I mentioned earlier the brands and types of lights you are working with are really going to affect the outcome.

Some brands really push for the level of brightness which when working with Christmas lights really may not matter. Other brands push to be just good enough to make an impact.

The best way is to go through your lights, see how they look and compare next to each other, and make notes of the differences so you have an idea of what you are working with. Once you know this you then can go into your controller and optimize the settings for your lights.

You can adjust the settings for the lights that are going to be closer to the viewer can be turned down, the lights that are farther from your viewers will need to be bumped up a bit.

At the end of the day, your goal is to have your display brightness even throughout the setup. You don’t want your lights to deprioritize other lights in your display. When your display brightness is even it does make for a cohesive and smooth looking display.

How Do I Get Clear Signal out of My FM Transmitter for My Christmas Light Display?

When you’re making an animated Christmas light display, one key part is often the music. This allows you to make your light sync with the music you choose, and create a really impressive show!

While it would be really cool to set up a big PA system and blast your tunes through the neighborhood, your neighbors might not be excited about that approach!

That’s why we use FM transmitters to play our music over the radio so that cars driving by can hear our music and enjoy the show without bothering the neighbors!

The first step is to get the right FM transmitter – and I cover that here in this article!

But even when you have the right transmitter, it’s not always easy to get a great signal – especially if the road or driveway is a distance away from the transmitter!

This is a big problem and the reason why pretty much every FM transmitter you can buy has bad reviews online! Getting a good transmitter is half the battle, but then you need to know…

How To Get Clear Signal Out of Your FM Transmitter

But then we need to place it well, optimize our audio, and optimize our radio broadcast.

When you optimize for these 3 variables, you’re MUCH more likely to get a clear broadcast of your display across anywhere that it can be seen.

Here’s what to do!

How to Place Your Transmitter Optimally

When you open up the instructions of most FM transmitters designed for the hobbyist, you will find some very vague instructions about where to mount your transmitter – if you get any instruction at all!

When I bought my first transmitter, I was faced with the same thing, and it didn’t really help me determine where to put my transmitter.

So, I started experimenting and exploring.

I moved the transmitter up high on the wall, I moved it low. I tried it just inside exterior walls, and also on interior walls. I moved the antenna around, and I tested the results.

By far, the biggest impact was made by getting the transmitter up high and as close to the front of the house as possible.

For me, this made the difference between barely being able to get a signal in my front yard vs. getting a signal in my car at the end of the street hundreds of feet away.

This makes sense if you understand or think about “real” full-power FM radio – they always get their transmitters up on hills or mountains, and then mount the antenna on a tower to get it even higher!

Anything solid between your transmitter and the audience will cause the signal to be weakened – including drywall, insulation, etc.

I did find, however, that it was better to get the transmitter high up inside my front room, vs close to the ground outside.

Metal objects reflect radio signals, so you should keep your transmitter clear of any metal sheeting, foil-backed insulation panels, etc. (Most home insulation is not foil-lined)

It seems that (for my house, at least), getting the transmitter up high was more important than getting it outside. But, mounting it on the front side of the front bedroom DID make a big impact vs the back side of that same bedroom, just 12 feet away.

Your results, of course, may vary.

How to Optimize Your Audio

Once you’ve got your transmitter mounted in the right place, it’s time to get the audio right.

Audio professionals often talk about “signal vs noise”, and this applies so much when working with an FM transmitter.

If the audio you feed into your FM transmitter is too low, you’ll hear a lot of static because there is always some static in the background, and you have to turn the sound up a TON to get your music feed. The amount of signal vs the noise that exists in your system is too close in volume, and it becomes difficult to tell the two apart!

But, if the audio is too high it will “clip” which also causes distortion and static.

You want your music to be at a consistent level between songs (or “normalized” which can be done with a program like Audacity), and you want that overall level to be as loud as possible without causing any clipping.

normalize audio audacity
Use programs like Audacity to normalize your tracks

Normalizing is an important first step, since music tracks from different decades, styles of music, or different media (i.e. ripped from CD vs bought online) will be at different levels!

Once the audio is normalized, you can find the best level to run your show at.

The best way to find this level is to start low and keep bringing up your volume until you begin to hear distortion or clipping on louder portions.

Then, back it off a bit and you’ve found the perfect volume!

It also helps to get a good quality audio interface from your PC. There are many great options that use USB audio to get a much clearer signal from a PC or Raspberry Pi, such as:

…and neither of these bust the bank account!

How to Optimize Your Broadcast

Last, we need to make sure we are broadcasting at the right frequency and power.

Because we are transmitting at much lower power than licensed radio stations, we need to stay out of their way if we want to have a chance at being heard!

Thankfully, the free website “https://radio-locator.com/” allows you to enter your location and see what the best open radio stations are.

Radio-Locator Website Results

Often, these are at the bottom of the FM band (such as 87.9), but that isn’t always the case. If you in a major metropolitan area, it might be difficult and take some trial-and-error to get the best frequency picked out.

You also want to consider other displays. If other people are broadcasting a Christmas light display in your neighborhood or nearby, check to see what frequency they are using and use something different!

Make Your Clearest Audio Ever

I truly hope that this article has helped you make the clearest audio possible for your display.

While getting your radio transmitter set up correctly might seem like “magic” it doesn’t have to be mystical! Follow these steps and you’ll be on your way to your clearest audio yet!

How Far Apart Should I Space My Pixels? Pixel Pitch for Christmas Lighting 101

When it’s time to start getting the lights ready for the season, you want to have a general idea of how much you want to space them apart?

The standard pixel light distance is about 30 centimeters. Now, some pixels you have the option to space them from anywhere from 1 inch to 3 inches apart.

But the answer really depends on where the lights are positioned and the look you want to give.

Distance

The closer your house is to the street or closer how close the pixels will be to the eye of the watcher the closer you will want to have your pixels together. How close you put your pixels together visually is up to you.

The closer you do put your pixels together the more “Hi-Def” your video or animation is going to look. But this can be a problem because if you move your pixels from 2 inches to 1 inch apart you almost will have to double your pixel count. Which would mean you need twice the amount of power supply, wires, and almost twice the amount of pixels.

Go Test It

Whenever I am thinking about how to approach my pixel pitch or even helping others with their pixel pitches I always go back to saying, go test it.

For example, I tried the 2 inches apart pixel for my pitch and I felt it looked great. If I had doubled that originally I would have cost myself a lot more in the long run.

Another thought to consider is that most of us are not running our pixels at the full 100%. This means that if we are running them at 50% we only get half of the resolution.

Visuals

As I mentioned earlier the closer the house is to the road and onlooker the less distance you want to put in between your pixels. But because of this, you won’t have to run your pixels as bright either.

Now, if your house is farther from the road you can actually space your pixels farther apart but you should run them brighter.

My Recommendations

My recommendation is starting with a 2-inch pitch. Depending on what other lights you are working with may look better with either less or more distance between the pixels. I know that for my set up I did set the roof of the house to be 3 inches apart because it’s the furthest away from the road.

The great thing is that when using programs such as Vixen to help design your layout you’ll realize that you are not tied down to one solution. Be sure to test out different pixels and distances to see what will look better for your setup.

How Do I Keep My Christmas Light Show Safe From The Rain and Snow?

One of the biggest challenges of running a Christmas Light display is the weather!

While we’d all love to be like Australia and enjoy the summer sun for our Christmas season, this simply isn’t reality!

Keeping your display safe from the weather also doesn’t have to be difficult. There are proven ways to water-proof your lights by paying close attention to your connections, your lights, and your controllers so that they stay dry.

If you follow a few simple steps, you can build a display that is mostly trouble-free each and every season!

The Common Enemy – Water

Whether it’s raining, snowing, sleeting, or some other kind of precipitation is falling, the common enemy of a Christmas Light Display is water.

Since we’re dealing with electricity, water is not really our friend. When it gets into our lights and connections, it causes problems.

From lights only “kind-of working”, to complete failure or strobing/flashing, water is not our friend when it gets in the lights!

How Do I Waterproof My Christmas Light Pixel Display?

When I first began working with Christmas lights, my first instinct was to wrap each and every plug, connector and wire with electrical tape.

The truth was, my work in stage lighting had taught me that this was the correct thing to do in order to keep the water out. But I quickly found out, that this is not the case – more often than not it keeps the water in!

Rather than try and “shield” our connections from getting wet, it’s actually better to protect them for when they do get wet. There’s a BIG difference between the 2, so let’s dive into what we need to do!

Your Pixels and Christmas Lights

Our lights – are they waterproof?

The first part of our display that we need to waterproof is our lights themselves.

If you’re using pixels, chances are they’re completely waterproof from the get-go. Most pixel “nodes” and other forms of pixels in the Christmas lighting world are injected with clear epoxy to keep them totally waterproof.

If any element of your show is not waterproof, then you need to enclose it in some way to make it waterproof.

For example: many displays use P5 or P10 panels to display video in high resolution. From the factory, these panels are NOT weatherproof, but there are many well-documented enclosure builds for these.

Your Wiring and Connectors

Example of a Pixel Controller Box
When wires connect: a place that can cause issues with water!

Where your wiring connects together is the single biggest point of failure from water intrusion in a Christmas light show.

If you’re using standard Christmas lights with “pass-thru” plugs, go ahead and lay a small piece of electrical tape on any exposed connectors, or face them downwards so that water can’t collect.

Any extension cord connections on the ground can be raised up or you can use a protector box like this one to keep the connection dry.

For pixels, we’ve got to waterproof our waterproof connectors.

The people that sell you your pixel lights are going to claim that their connector is “waterproof”, but no connector on Christmas lights is 100% waterproof.

When we’re talking about electronics: every light, wire, and connector has what is called an IP, or “Ingress Protection” rating. This is a measure of how the item stands up to dust and liquid intrusion.

The second number of the IP rating deals with water. Common ones that you’ll see are “65” or which is dust-tight but only good against high pressure “jets” of water.

The second number generally tops out at 8 for electrical items, and that ensures that it is good under immersion in a pool of water at a certain depth.

Why am I saying all of this? Because…

“Waterproof” is not really a technical term, but rather something that marketers use to give you a general idea of how their connectors will perform.

But no connector in Christmas lighting is truly 100% waterproof. While they will stay dry most of the time, it’s those few times that they get wet that drive us crazy!

So, how do we keep this stuff dry and working correctly?

Tip 1: Place Your Connectors Well

If you’re not already familiar, any electrical connection has (2) plugs, a male and a female. The male is the “prongs” and the female is the “holes” that receive the male plug.

When you’re placing your connectors outside, always orient the plugs so that the female is placing downwards – this may require some zip ties.

That way, if any water gets in, it will only pool in the male plug, and it’s much more likely to drain out.

Also, keep these connections off the ground. Water collects in puddles on the ground, so keeping them up saves us that trouble!

But the real secret is to keep the connection dry in the first place – how?

Tip 2: Dielectric Grease

If we gently coat out connectors in grease, it will repel the water. Dielectric Grease is an electrical-safe grease that we can use on ANY connection that is outdoors to help it shed moisture.

Application is simple – add some to a male connector, and plug it in to the female a few times to coat. A little goes a long way!

Tip 3: Keep Connections To a Minimum

Lastly, my biggest tip is to keep connections to a minimum. There is no need to use 2 extension cables plugged together to make a distance work.

Especially with pixels, get the right length extensions so that there isn’t a connection in the middle – these are just a problem waiting to happen!

Your Controllers and Power Supplies

Pixlite pixel controller
Most controllers are “bare-boards”.

Let’s talk about your controllers and power supplies.

In the Christmas lighting world, most controllers and power supplies are essential bare boards – they have all of the components they need, but you have to attach wiring to them via terminals.

So it’s pretty obvious that you need to put them in a “box” of some sort to keep them safe and dry. (It’s likely you’re already familiar with this)

There are a variety of waterproof boxes that work well and are popular, such as:

While each have their own advantages, you’ve got to keep in mind that you’ll need to get cables in and out of these boxes.

Cable glands are the go-to way of doing this – they seal the connection and allow you to have a waterproof connector just outside the box on a pigtail.

For best results, have these face downwards on an elevated box so that there’s little chance of water getting in.

Let’s Keep Your Lights Dry!

The biggest part of making your display stress-free is to keep your connections and controllers dry! I hope you’ve enjoyed this article, and that it’s helped you make a stress-free display this year!

Regular Christmas Lights vs. Pixels – What Is the Difference?

When these lights are unplugged, standard Christmas lights and pixel lights look very similar. But when the units are plugged it you can really notice the difference between the two!

If you’re looking to stand out this year with your Christmas display, make a statement, or even pair up a music and light show, using pixel lights instead is really the way to go.

Regular Christmas Lights

With regular Christmas lights, you only have the option to turn the lights on or off. Some units do have an option of different light settings. But the transition, fading, and other scenes are not as smooth as the pixels would run. At the end of the day, you can’t control any closer detail than a whole strand.

If you purchase standard Christmas lights from a regular store you will quickly notice that these lights are limited in what they can do and the control you have with them.

Pixel Lights

Christmas Light Pixels
Pixel lights up close

Pixel lights, on the other hand, are designed to make an impact on your show. When working with pixels you have absolute control over every single pixel (bulb), and you can set the color as well as the brightness.

If this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry – it doesn’t have to be!

Because pixels have so many options, the way we control them is completely different – rather than attempt to assign control to each individual light, pixels are controlled with animations and videos across multiple strands or even your whole display at a single time!

The biggest concern I see people having is whether or not they can afford pixels.

After all, if these things are so fancy, they must be expensive, right?

The Cost Difference

Now, some people would say that pixel lights are more expensive than your standard Christmas lights. I would have to respectfully disagree with this statement.

For the cost of pixels, they are just about the same if not cheaper than purchasing Christmas lights from the store. But with pixels, you can actually save even more if you purchase them in bulk and even out of season.

Where pixels may cost you more is in the control aspect of things. To control pixels you’re going to need a few more things.

Pixels do take a lower voltage, so they’ll need a power supply which then plugs into your standard wall socket. Then, you will need a pixel controller to have full control over your pixels.

You can cover a lot of area with just standard Christmas lights but when working with pixels you have full control of your lights.

You can customize the lights in any way you want and you can even run video with pixels. The options when working with pixels just opens up that many more doors with your Christmas display!

Want to learn how to get started? Check out my full article here!

How Do I Use Other People’s Sequences for My Christmas Lights?

One of the most difficult parts of sequencing Christmas lights is the sequencing, or creating the patterns and motions in the lights which go to the music of your display.

The good news is that sequences can be imported from other users, including sequences that you buy online. While the process isn’t super simple, it is simpler than building a complicated sequence from scratch.

At the end of the day, most displays feature the same types of elements – lots of house outlines, trees, snowflakes, megatrees, matrix’s, and arches – so we can use these elements from other people’s display’s and apply them to our own.

Using Paid Sequences

First, I want to show you how to import a paid sequence into your display. While there are free sequences out there, and I’ll cover them below, it’s easier to import paid sequences, so we’ll start there.

Tom BetGeorge from Magical Light Shows made this video, which really shows the difference in what you get from a professional sequence, and how to map it to your display. Watch it and look below for the steps to import a sequence:

Mapping a Paid Sequence To Your Display:

The first thing you’ll need to do is look at the documentation for the sequence you’ve purchased, or open it up in xLights to see what all the groups are, and how they match up to your display.

Once you’ve done that, go ahead and change the xLights folder back to your main show and create a new sequence.

Create A New Sequence

You’ll choose a musical sequence and grab your audio file.

For most paid sequences, you’ll use 40fps in the sequence wizard but always check with your sequence vendor to see what they prefer.

Next, select “All Models”, and begin to import. Press “Import” from the top menu, and then “Import Effects”.

Import Your Models

Choose your sequence’s effects XML file. You’ll then be shown a 2-column window that features your models on the left, and the sequence’s models on the right. You’ll drag models from the right and “map” them to the column on the left.

If your sequence has props that don’t match up to anything in your display, go ahead and make some “phantom props” so that you can see what they’re doing. These will be props that aren’t actually in your display, but we’ll use them in a few minutes as we test the sequence.

At the top, you’ll see a small section with the timing tracks. I would import all of those so that you don’t miss anything that effects may reference!

When you’ve completed the mapping, press “Save Mapping” in the bottom bar.

Now you’ll be brought to the sequence view and when you hit “Save”, xLights will render all of the effects. This may take a while depending on the complexity of the sequence and your computer’s performance.

Test Your Imported Sequence

Press “Play”, and test your sequence. Look for anything that looks out of place or moments of a blackout that you didn’t intend!

One example that Tom highlights in the video is with the group of arches – not all of them were lighting up in the effect, but it was a simple fix to copy all of the effects from the working arches to the “non-working” arches.

You can also look for effects that are on your “phantom props”. If you feel like any parts of sequence on those props needs to be in your display, you can easily copy them in manually, effect-by-effect as needed.

Using paid sequences can save you even more time because they are very simple to import and generally have good instructions with them.

As you can see in the video above, Tom easily maps this sequence in less than 30 minutes (if you count the time where he skips ahead in the video…it’s probably still well under 30 minutes!).

Professional sequencers are very good at making the elements of a Christmas or other holiday light show shine!

Using a Friend’s or a “Free” Sequence

Now, I want to show you how to import a sequence from a friend or one that is found for free online.

The basic process is the same as with a professional sequence, there’s just more “figuring out” time, depending on how well the sequence you’ve gotten is documented and labeled.

The first thing you’ll want to do is to copy the sequence XML file and the xlights_rgbeffects.xml file into a new folder on your computer. You’ll also want the music file in that folder (be sure that you OWN the music before using)

You’ll then change your “Show Directory” to that folder using the icon in the top toolbar:

The show directory option in xLights

Save the sequence in xLights. Now, you’re ready to watch the sequence. This first pass is purely for observation. Take a look at the lights, and begin to decide which models and groups you are going to copy into your display.

It may not make sense to copy all of the elements from the sequence that you are importing, and some elements may get mapped to different props. I like to take these notes in a spreadsheet to keep track of what I’m about to do.

Now, you can go ahead and close the sequence, since you now know what elements you wish to import into your own sequence for your display. Follow the importing instructions above (“Using Paid Sequences”) from this point on and enjoy the show when you’re done!

Should I Sequence My Christmas Lights to Music?

We’ve all seen “that house” in our city that synchronizes it’s lighting to music, or perhaps watched an episode or 2 of “The Great Christmas Light Fight” and wondered – should I do that too?

Should I sequence my Christmas Lights to music?

If you’re going to take the time to make an elaborate Christmas light display, then it’s well worth the time to sequence your lights to music too. Plus, over the long haul, it can actually save you a some money in energy bills.

While sequencing Christmas lights to music may seem difficult, it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to be a tech wizard or an engineer, in fact – anybody can make a great display!

So how do you begin? I’m glad you asked…

A Static Display, or Synchronized Lights To Music?

While it is fun and interesting to have a static display of Christmas lights plugged in across your yard and home, it can really eat up a LOT of electricity! Even with energy-efficient LED strings, many displays like this can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars in electricity over the course of a season, as they are always ON at full power.

However, if you animate your display, using basic Christmas light AC controllers or Christmas light pixels, you now have each light only on for a fraction of the time, while still making your home look just as grand. Some people would argue that it looks even grander!

You’ve certainly seen displays that use this method online or in person. When you look at a display like this, notice how each individual light or string of lights is not constantly on. Over time, that can equal quite a bit in energy saved, and also looks amazing!

*Just* An Animated Display?

At the base level, to get the energy savings and “coolness” factor, you really just need to animate your display. While you’ve probably seen people doing this to music, it’s not “required” by any means.

In fact, this is a good way to get into the hobby – you don’t have to worry about the music, and you can have the display change between a few different sequences throughout the night, or throughout the season.

What More Does it Take to Do an Animated Display?

Doing an animated vs. a non-animated display only takes a few extra elements. Instead of simply plugging your lights into the wall, you’ll now plug your lights into an “AC Controller” which will then be controlled by a computer, which runs your show.

In addition – color changing and video-capable “pixels” look amazing and can make any pattern you desire. These are the type of lights you see on TV shows and the best-looking houses in your city or town!

Pixels use a specialized controller and work a little bit differently than regular strings – which is great when a pixel goes out and you don’t lose your whole string!

If you’re just starting from scratch, you might be surprised to find out that using pixels actually isn’t massively more expensive than traditional lights – and they tend to last longer and be less prone to repairs compared to “hardware-store lights”.

Need to know more about starting with pixels? Read my article on using pixels and creating a musical display here!

Once you get things animated, it only takes a little more effect to do your show to music…

What More Does it Take to Do Music?

There’s no doubt that the “holy grail” of Christmas displays is when you do your display to music! It looks amazing, gathers a crowd, and is a lot of fun to pull off!

But – it does take more time and more cost. You’ve got to have a way to play the music, and then you have to sequence the lights to that music or buy pre-made sequences.

Let’s take a closer look at what more this takes in time and/or cost:

Playing Your Display’s Music on the Radio:

To play your display’s music on the radio, all you need to add to your shopping list is an FM transmitter and some basic audio cables.

The FM transmitter will take the sound that is coming out of your computer and play it over the radio – it really is that simple!

Small, non-commercial FM transmitters can cost anywhere from just a few dollars to over a thousand dollars, but I generally recommend one that is in the $100-$200 range – not bad for something that will last you MANY seasons of display!

Want to learn more? Check out my full article on choosing your FM transmitter!

Letting People Know How to Tune In

The last step of working with the music is to let people know how to tune in.

On a simple level, an inexpensive coroplast sign from a local sign shop or Vistaprint.com can easily be placed in front of a small flood light to get the job done. All you’ve got to do is let people know what radio station to tune in to on their car’s stereo!

On a more technical level, some people choose the upgrade to digital signage, and do do via P5 or P10 panels, with the ability to totally animate their “tune-to” sign.

This is cool, but I really like having the coroplast as well. Digital signs can break or stop working, and they don’t allow you to tell people about your display during the daylight hours like the trusty coroplast “yard sign”.

Now that we have our music “over the airwaves”, it’s time to sequence our lights to the music…

Sequencing Your Lights to the Music

Probably the biggest time suck in sequencing your lights to music is the actual sequencing of your lights to music. (Makes sense, right?)

While xLights and Vixen offer helpful ways to make sure your animations are on the beat and match the music, there is still a TON of work to be done if you want a complex sequence.

I know I have personally sequenced songs in as little as 2 hours, but easily have spent well over 10 hours making more complex songs – maybe even more!

If you add up your time, and what you value it at, you can see how this can be “expensive” to your time. Not only that, but I am the biggest proponent of making sure this hobby doesn’t hurt your relationship with your family – the most important people in your life.

I enjoy sequencing, so I like to find times to do it for my own display. BUT, to save time, I do my best to re-use some sequences from year-to-year, because it takes very little time to do so. (Simply add in any new elements from your show, and you’re good!).

Buying Sequences

One of the very best ways to save time when you are sequencing is to buy sequences.

Any quality sequence vendor will use some sort of “easy-to-import” layout for xLights, making it take less than 1 hour to apply to your display in xLights. And the best part? These sequences generally cost less than $100 (sometimes much less), and can be used for multiple years.

If you want to make a stress-free display, this is one of my absolute favorite ways to do it!

You can find sequence vendors on my “Resources” page!

What Will You Do?

As you can now see, sequencing your lights to music can be a lot of fun, and it doesn’t have to take up all of your time.

Even though you have to buy more “gear” to make it work, over time the energy savings of running your whole display on pixels or with AC controllers will really save you energy cost as well.

I hope this article has helped you to more fully understand what’s involved, and how to make it happen. Be sure to check out the other articles here on Learn Christmas Lighting to paint the full picture of how to make a stress-free Christmas (or another holiday) display this year!

Should I Run My Christmas Light Show on My Home Network?

If you’re running a Christmas Light Show that includes pixels, then the signal that goes from your computer to your controllers runs over a network.

Whether your display is simple, with just 1 controller, or complex with many controllers, the question still remains: should you run your display on your home network, or let it run on its own network?

If you’re running a simple show over E1.31 (sACN), then the answer may be “Yes”, but there are a few things you still need to watch out for. If you’re running Art-Net and/or using a lot of controllers, running your show on your home network isn’t the best idea.

Taking a step back, I realize that we need to cover a few basics on networking in general, and the internet, and what all of these terms mean. If you’re new to networking, this will be helpful!

Your average home network gets the internet via a router, often provided by your internet provider. That router actually plays 3 roles – router, access point, and network switch.

The router connects your smaller network to the larger internet. The access point gives you wireless access to your network, and the network switch allows you to connect more than 1 wired device to your network.

If this is new to you, then you’ll want to check out my full article on networking, which covers everything you need to know right here!

Controlling Your Light Show on a Network That Has Internet

When you put your light show on a network that has internet, there are a few things to worry about:

Software Updates

The biggest disruption to any “show computer” is automatic software updates.

Whether that’s the latest Windows or Mac OS update automatically installing, or a simple xLights or Vixen update screen launching instead of your show after a power outage, software updates can halt your show and if you’re not home, you might not be able to do anything about it!

In addition, if you install an update during the display season and there’s a bug, it could cause your display not to run.

Whichever the case, this is why I don’t put my show computers on the internet, and I don’t install updates of any kind once the season has begun!

Traffic Interruptions

Art-Net signal, in particular, is not always friendly with internet signal on the same network.

Because Art-Net sends out so much information on a constant basis, you can see flickering or even outages to certain pixels when there is internet traffic on the same network as the internet.

It’s better to use e1.31 sACN, but it’s best to keep it completely separate.

Have I run hundreds of pixels before with no problem from the internet? Yes.

But I also have run the same quantity on other occasions and had issues…it really depends on your connection to the network and what else is happening at the same time.

I’d rather be safe than sorry!

Hackers

While it’s not a threat most of us think about or deal with, your display computer could get hacked if it’s online or even on a wireless network that is not on the internet.

It could just be a 16-year-old kid who’s bored down the street, or it could be hackers from another country randomly finding your computer.

Whatever the case, you don’t want it stopping your display!

The Best Choice For Stability

As you can probably guess, my favorite way of setting up a display is to be completely, 100% off the internet and off of wireless.

Let’s face it – wires are reliable and work great! And unless someone literally plugs into your network, there’s no chance of hacking.

Can it be “easiser” to run your controllers wirelessly? Sure, it can. But, you run a much greater risk with wireless of having a drop out or interference issue that stops your show in it’s tracks!

The Best Choice for Ease-Of-Programming

If you want to make programming updates wirelessly, I get it! It’s a lot of fun to be able to run your show wirelessly from your front yard or vehicle and make changes on your display live.

For the best of both worlds, here’s what I do:

I run all of my show equipment (computer and controllers) on a separate network with a basic router that is off the internet. This protects me from anything outside as I build my show and test my display.

I leave the wireless on my router turned ON when I need to make tweaks or test things outside. Then, once it’s show time, I turn OFF the wireless function of my router (or access point), and then my show is am as safe as possible.

What About Falcon Player (FPP)?

If you use Falcon Player (FPP) to run your show via a Rasberry Pi or BeagleBone computer, then you might need to keep some elements of your players online.

When you use multiple Falcon Players together, it’s easiest to connect them to the internet for the clocks to get proper sync to the actual time.

Thankfully, most Rasberry Pi’s have both a wireless and wired network interface, so you actually can connect to both your home and show network, but still keep the show information separate from the configuration.

Once set up, the Art-Net or e1.31 sACN information will flow down the wired show network, and the wireless will allow you to make changes to your show. It’s a win-win!

Since FPP doesn’t do automatic updates or run any of the regular operating systems, it’s fine to leave it online.

I guess there’s a tiny chance that you could get a hacker in, but it’s highly unlikely with such a niche piece of software.

Finding the Right Show Network Setup for You

Hopefully, by the end of this article, you are less confused and more informed than you were when you started reading this article! My goal is that you now know the best way to run YOUR specific show and understand why that is the case!

Networking can be a bear to understand, but it’s always worth it to have a properly set up show that runs seamlessly every single night!

1 2 3 4
Page 1 of 4
>