What Do You Need to Make a Great Light Show Happen?

Getting lighting gear together for a Christmas display at first can seem overwhelming and trying to figure out what you really need to make it all work. Once you understand the terminology and how everything works together it’s actually a fairly simple setup.

In this post, we’re going to review the basics of what gear you will need to be able to create a great light show.

To get started, we’re going to work backwards and start with the lights and work our way back to how to power and control those lights.

Lights

The most known piece would be the actual lights that you use in your display. This could be the strip lights that are often used in most homes or if you looking to create a display, pixel nodes that are wired together are great to start with.

What Do You Need to Make a Great Light Show Happen?

When working with pixel nodes you have ability to set each pixel to light up differently than the others. The plug receives the power and data, and you then set those pixels up on what is known as a “prop”.

Props

A prop is a terminology commonly used that basically means anything that would shape your pixels. This could be your house, a display, corrugated plastic, and so on.

Power and Control

To get your lights or pixels to light up they’ll need a way to receive power and data to do so. An important piece to keep in mind is that when data has to travel a long distance there is more of a likelihood that there will be a struggle for the data to get from point A to point B.

Of course the actual distance amount can vary, but a good rule of thumb that I use is 25 feet as my limit.

Controller and Power Supply

I do have my own setup with a waterproof box, but there are many different ways you can actually set this up.

What Do You Need to Make a Great Light Show Happen?

In this box, I store a few different pieces that you will need for a display. You’ll need a controller, possibly a receiver board, a power injection board, and a power supply.

What this does is act as a communication piece between the computer and helps send the data and information on what the pixels should be doing.

Computer

The last piece would be your computer. In my setups I use a very inexpensive tool known as Raspberry Pi microcomputer. But you can also use a PC or even a Mac. This is where the data and the information actually originate for your lighting.

You won’t need a super fast or even a fancy computer to run your lights but it does need to be reliable and in working condition.

And that’s it! These are the basics of what gear you will need to make your first Christmas light show happen!

How Do I Begin Sequencing Music to My Christmas Light Display? – Tips to Get You Started

When you are selecting your audio and begin to approach sequencing the lights it can all be overwhelming when you get started. In this tutorial, we’re going to walk through how to get started and tips on sequencing your lights to the music.

This is a great introduction to how to look at music and creating lighting that will help highlight the audio and create a great lighting show for your audience:

In this video I use xLights but these tips are the same regardless of what program you decide to use. When sequencing your lights to the music you want everything to flow together so that your lights match the melody of the song.

Getting Started

Once you have your music selected you want to get started by listening to the song and making notes (and time stamps) of where the music changes. In most cases you’ll have a break down of the intro, verse, chorus, bridge, and end.

Identify the different portions of the song and highlight the highest point of the song. Listen for the low, mid, and high peaks of your song. Where and when does the song reach its peak? That high point of your song is where I recommend getting started with your sequencing.

High Point

The high point and the most complex parts of your song are where I recommend getting started with sequencing your lights. Lighting is all about dynamics and making an impact during the points of the music.

Generally, this will be where you see the most activity in your audio. It’ll look like a bunch of clustered parts of your song.

How Do I Begin Sequencing Music to My Christmas Light Display?

In the song for the tutorial, it’s the chorus’ of the song. You want to be using all of your lights and create effects to match the melody during that high point in your song. Have your effects moving and everything going to reflect the energy of that moment in your song.

Slow Points

With the song I used in the tutorial, the slower parts of the song are the verses. In most songs, the verses are usually the same so create the look during the slow points (or in my case the verses) and copy that look to be used for the rest of the verses.

How Do I Begin Sequencing Music to My Christmas Light Display?

If you have a verse that is slightly different than the other verses be sure to use your original look but tweak it to match the difference in the melody.

Bridges

Up next you have your bridges in the song. Bridges just help connect the verse and then the chorus. Create a look that will help this be a smooth transition between your verses and your chorus.

Once you have the chorus’, high point of the song, verses, and your bridges done you should already have 90% of the lights and audio done.

Intro and Ending

The intro part of your song is a way to warm up your audience and create a transition from the end of one song to the introduction of the upcoming song.

Depending on how the audio begins you want to keep it simple with minimal lighting. This will help warm up your lights and set the stage for the music.

Finishing Touches

Once you have your lights sequenced, go through and listen to the audio and watch your lighting. You want to look for making transitions between the different parts of the songs.

Then, make any changes and tweaks to your lighting.

How To Use An Old LOR Controller with xLights

Working with a LOR controller is very common when working with Christmas lighting. A lot of people will either already own their own LOR controller or like me, just order a used one off of the interent.

So, how do we connect the controller, lights, and lighting controller? In this tutorial, I am using xLights but this would still apply if you using a different lighting control software.

Before getting started you want to be sure you know what model and version of the controller you’re working with. This will definitely make the process easier for you when you configuring and setting up your controller.

Configuring Your LOR Controller

After doing a little digging, I found that I have a (model and version) and that I would need to purchase a Light-O-Rama USB 485 to get started with configuring the unit. While the controller does have an ethernet port it actually uses a USB485 or DMX type of signal.

To get started, you first need to configure your LOR controller. As mentioned earlier, it’s much easier to know what unit your working with so that you can find the exact directions. I found that the unit I have is a CTB-16D and found Setting the Controller Unit ID instructions through Light-O-RAMA.

After doing more research, with my controller model I am able to skip using the USB485 and use a DMX signal instead. Looking at the controller, all I need to do is set the rotary switched to “0” and “1” that will set it to channel 1 with DMX.

To Check Your Firmware Version

If you’re not sure what firmware version you have, there is a way to check this. First, you need to plug in the USB485 and if you haven’t already you’ll want to download the Light-O-Rama Sequencer program.

Once you have the software downloaded, your USB 485 connected to the LOR controller, you should be good to go. For specific instructions for your unit, you can download the documentation here.

Next, using the Light-O-Rama Control Panel program, just follow the prompts, and then you should see a “Blue Light Bulb” in your task manager. “Right-Click” the lightbulb and select “Hardware Utility”. A window will pop up as pictured below.

Screenshot: 5:15

In the left sidebar, click “Auto Configure” and it should be able to locate your LOR controller. Once it does locate your unit go over and click “Refresh” and the program will begin looking for the unit on your network. In the meantime, be sure to plug in a couple of your lights so that you can test the controller.

Once it’s done searching your network, the program will tell you the model and firmware version that you have available. Since you’re on the same screen go ahead and test your lights to make sure it is working.

Connecting the LOR to Your Controller

In this tutorial, I am using my Falcon controller but if you have a different unit the steps should be very similar. To get started first plug in your unit to power and get it set up on your network. Then using a network cable connect from your DMX output to the LOR controller. With both units connected and powered on you should be able to configure your Falcon controller.

If you still have the manual for your controller then having that available is a great to be sure you are able to setup everything properly with your LOR controller. Most likely, the manual will be able to tell you how to and where to connect your Falcon to your LOR controller.

For example, with my Falcon unit the instrucions specifically state do not hook your LOR to DMX 1 and instead use DMX 2 or DMX 3.

How To Use An Old LOR Controller with xLights

Going back to the Falcon controller setup, I now need to set the serial outputs for the unit. If you using a different brand these setting should be under either serial or DMX outputs.

From there, you’ll select the port you’re using and change the DMX start address if you need to.

Connecting Your Lighting Program

Once you have the settings and channels set up properly, you’ll then want to launch your lighting control program. Personally, I do use xLights but this would be standard if you use another program.

If you’re new to xLights, be sure to check out my post on How to Begin with xLights.

Inside of xLights, I decided to just create a new show instead but it’s up to you. On the left sidebar, click “Add Ethernet” and put in your IP address, and starting universe. When done click “Save”.

When setting things up it may be easier to set everything with one light so that you are able to test it. It would make things easier in case you need to troubleshoot. Next, in xLights you can go to the layout where you’ll set up your light that you’re testing with.

How To Use An Old LOR Controller with xLights

Since I was using a simple strand of lights, I adjusted the settings and light count. Be sure to set the start channel as well.

Inside of xLights after saving the light settings you’ll want to make sure you select “Upload Output”. There will be light next to your buttons that go from red to green. This means that the lights are good to go.

From there you should be able to turn on your lights and it should work. If there is any troubleshooting be sure to check your connections between your controllers, lighting program, and even your lights.

How Do You Attach Christmas Light Pixels to Your House?

When getting started with Christmas lighting, you probably have all the pixels, conduit, and so on but how do you attach Christmas Light Pixels to your house?

To keep everyone happy you also want to consider making the setup and tear down as easy as possible without leaving any traces or marks on the house. Today, I am going to share some simple tips on what I had used this year for mounting pixels to the house.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out the 2019 display set up and walkthrough of the different tools and strategies I used this past year.

How I Set Up My Display and Controllers (2019 Walkthrough)

The Basics of Setting Up

After some trial and error, I was able to find some ways to easily set up lights on the house. To get started, I began with the top of the house and worked my way down.

At the top, I used Wired Watts pixels that I ordered from WiredWatts.com. What I liked about these is I was able to set these up to be more permanent and use throughout the year. It was actually very easy to do and I go more into how in this post, How to Setup Permanent Lights on Your House.

So far these are still working very well and they are still attached to the house. If done correctly, they won’t be very visible and nobody will notice unless the lights are in use.

Using PVC Clips

As most would, you’re probably looking for a temporary set up and for this, I have a couple of different methods. For the outline of the house and windows, I like to take advantage of the vertical and horizontal spaces.

When working with vertical I like to use the regular Boscoyo Strips because they are easy to set up with and they are great when storing out of season.

Not only are these strips great for storage, but they also work great when you want to keep your lights straight with columns, windows, and outlines.

To mount these to the house I used just PVC Clips that you can get from a couple of online retailers such as PixelWorkShoppe.com or HolidayCoro.com.

What these clips do is whether you’re working with conduit or PVC pipe, it allows you to just snap-in your light set up.

Setting up the lights in PVC pipe or conduit may take some time beforehand but once you have them set up you can simply attach it to the house. Then, when you need to take your lights down, you can just snap them off and store them.

This past year with everything set up, it only took us 90 minutes to take down all of the lights. The lights that took the longest were actually the conventional lights.

Another tip is keeping everything standardized if you can. I tried to keep everything at 8-foot lengths when I could. This meant I only needed 3 PVC clips to mount the lights to the house.

Using Bungee Balls

On the areas where I didn’t need to use PVC or conduit, I had found a couple of neat tricks to mount the lights.

To help mount just the strips, I had used 3-inch coated screws to help stretch the strips and use them on the garage or carport part of the house. But instead of using zip ties, I found these Bungee Balls on Amazon that worked really well.

You can set up the strips, and a couple of inches below use a screw or eyelet to connect the bungee ball to. This helps keep the tension on your light strip and keep it straight on the column.

By doing a simple bungee ball loop, you can add tension to the light strip and keep everything fairly straight and in place. Be sure to give it 2 – 3 inches of space so that it can tighten it up.

Working with Wires

Lastly, a piece of advice I wanted to share is to be considerate of when you working with wires. I had found that with standard bullet node pixels, you’ll be working with some extra wire slack. But the square type pixels don’t have as much wire to work with behind the pixel.

When you set up pixels that will bump up against the house, definitely consider working with the square pixels because they have less wire. This means that they won’t stick out as much when they’re set up against the house.

Try to use the standard pixels on areas that aren’t against the house so that the extra wire won’t be forced to stick out and have extra space behind them.

Should I Buy Pixels from a Pre-Sale? Or Are There Other Options?

During the start of a new year, there’s often some buzz going around about Pre-Sales. What is a pre-sale exactly and should you consider it?

A pre-Sale is when you have the opportunity to purchase your Christmas lights very early in the season and the cost is set at a discounted rate.

In Christmas lighting, when it comes to pixels that change colors and dance to the music that these are often manufactured in China. So, when it comes to considering the pre-sales, this is when an importer within the United States will sell pixels at a special price if you pay ahead of time.

Why Would You Do It?

Most vendors or importers that sell these pixels wither do this business as a hobby or even part-time. Because of this, the profit margin for these business owners can very thin.

Regardless, this does give you the opportunity to purchase your pixels ahead of time and allows the importer to not have to purchase the products beforehand.

The theory behind this method is that if the products are purchased before the Chinese New Year celebrations, the lights can be manufactured before their holidays and shipped to you before the factories shut down for a while. Not to mention there will be a time delay to ship merchandise overseas and going through port authorities.

In most instances, you can get the pixels you want at a discount and you’ll be able to have them delivered before the actual holiday season takes place.

Should You Do It?

Depending on your personal preferences, a Pre-Sale would be a good option if you do not mind purchasing your lights ahead of time. There will be some time before you actually receive the pixels but it would most likely guarantee that you have the lights delivered to you before the holidays.

Another circumstance to consider is what might be going on with trading between the US and China. If there is an increase in tariffs this could actually increase the overall costs of lights. In some cases, the costs of the lights were close to being the same as just purchasing the lights here in the US.

I have personally used the pre-sale option and it worked out very well. If you know ahead of time exactly what you need and how much, placing an order at the beginning of the new year may be a good fit for you as long as you don’t mind waiting up to 6 months for delivery.

Other Purchasing Options

Lastly, there are other options for purchasing lights for your Christmas display. One example I’ve seen is ordering from a vendor such as RGB Man, where in some cases they are able to get you the pixels within a month delivery time.

You always have the option to purchase from China directly, if that’s a route you wanted to consider.

Overall, if you have a bigger display and you need to purchase a large number of pixels then the pre-sale route would be a good option to consider. Being able to purchase your lights ahead of time as well as being able to save yourself some money would definitely be a very good option.

How I Set Up My Display and Controllers (2019 Walkthrough)

For the 2019 Christmas light display, I was really excited to try some different approaches and really expand my display.

In this video and post, I am going to walk through the set up I used for the display and hopefully this will be able to provide some inspiration on how you want to do the layout, wiring, and working with data.

Attic Power Supply

At the front of the house, access to the attic is mostly centered so that’s where I decided to put some controller setups.

How I Set Up My Display and Controllers

Using a CG15 Box made by Cablebox, is a weatherproof. I wanted to use weatherproof just in case there was any water that may have gotten into the attic.

The box stored the Rasberry Pi which is running the light show for the house. Honestly, I am torn on using Rasberry Pi for my lights because personally my preference is working with a desktop instead and setting up my lights with a program such as XSchedule or Vixen.

Throughout the front of the house, I was able to set up some permanent outdoor lights that I will be able to leave up all year. You can read more on how to do this, on my article about Permanent Outdoor Christmas Lights.

I set up a 4 output controller by Advatek and this controls my roof lights as well as outputs the DMX for the icicles.

Garage Posts

For the garage posts, I decided to use Boscoyo Studio Strips and all you need is a nail or a hook to stretch the strips into place. I used these at the entrance of the garage space.

Boscoyo Strips

What I do like about these strips is that they are very easy to use and holds the tension really well so there’s not as much movement.

On the other side of the garage space, I set up a power connection so that we could keep power cords out of the walkways as much as possible. This just has a simple timer that will turn the lights on and off at a set schedule.

Front of the House

At the front of the house, there is a box set up with a Falcon differential receiver and a power injection board.

This is set up to help control the lights over the garage, a couple of props, the sign in the front, and the left side of the house.

The sign was actually a very easy one to build where I just put together the wooden frame and was able to attach the sign to it. Personally, this approach was better since the sign did light up and passersby were able to see it.

The Porch

The porch definitely has a lot more design and lights on it. For the stairs and the porch poles, I was able to use more Boscoyo Studio Strips.

I was also able to set up more strips of lights, the props, and icicles for the point in the roof for lighting. These lights are controlled by DMX on the Pixlight board.

For the vertical strips, I was able to set these on the outside of the posts and just used a pipe to help hold them together and used the HolidayCoro clips.

Lastly, we have the control command center that mostly took place on the porch. It wasn’t as organized as I would have liked if I spent more time on it but it did work out very well.

On the porch, I have the main Falcon F48 that has a 300-watt power supply, a power distribution board, and a smart receiver all in one box. This all flowed and work really well together in managing all of the lights associated with the front porch.

There was also our tree indoors that I used an ENTTEC controller and power supply that controlled about 100 pixels set up on the tree itself.

An item I used a lot when working with connecting pixels was Scotchlok Connectors. These are so much easier to use and set up instead of sodering.

These Scotchlok connectors could possibly pull apart if they are pulled on hard enough, but I still like them a lot. (Check out my article on Fixing Pixels here!)

So, if you are taking down your lights I would recommend pinching the two connected ires together and then use a zip tie to help hold it together so that the wires don’t separate.

How to Fix Bad Pixels: Scotchloks vs. Solder Sleeves vs. Soldering

When it comes to needing to repair a pixel or connecting new pixels there a few different methods you will be able to do yourself. In this post, I share the 3 most popular ways and compare them against each other.

Whether you are fixing a pixel or extending your pixel row you want to make sure you only need to this once and it’s done right so that you don’t have to go back later. In this tutorial, I’m going to walk you through 3 different approaches to fixing a bad pixel.

For each method, there are only a few tools that you’re going to need handy. We’re going to first look at soldering, the soldering sleeves, and lastly scotchloks.

Soldering

If you are repairing a pixel or even connecting a new row of pixels the first step when working with a soldering iron is making sure you let the tool warm up completely first.

How to fix bad pixels

The tools you would need for the soldering method are:

  • Soldering Iron
  • Solder
  • Wire Strippers
  • Heat Shrink
  • Scissors

With your pixels laid out, you first want to make sure you know where the data input it and the data output is. Next, you want to separate the wires and then using the wire stripper, strip wires on the ends you want to connect.

How to repair bad pixels

Once you’ve stripped the wires you will then use the soldering wire and begin to tin then. As mentioned earlier make sure to have your soldering iron heated up and ready to use.

Take each stripped wired and be sure to heat it up using the iron. You want the wires to be very warm before applying the soldering wire.

Next, you want to use heat shrink and cut the sizes the pieces that you need for the wires. If these are outdoor lights I would recommend using waterproof heat shrink.

If the wire is long enough, slip on the heat shrink piece before soldering the two wires together. Then, you can solder the wires together and have a strong connection. One thing that can go wrong with soldering is if the wires aren’t heated all the way it will make a poor connection.

Another note to add is that I do not recommend purchasing your pixels from Amazon or eBay because most products have the shortened wire so that they can reach a specific price point. This makes it difficult when wanting to repair a pixel or add to it.

Soldering, when done properly, makes a great connection and if the wire is long enough you can do it right with no issues. The downfall is that this method does require the most tools and can take up a good chunk of your time just doing a repair.

Solder Sleeves

The next method to fixing a bad pixel or adding to it is using a soldering sleeve. This is much easier than having to use a soldering iron.

I normally purchase these sleeves off of Amazon, you can see them here: Soldering Sleeves.

The tools you’ll need for this method:

  • Soldering Sleeves
  • Wire Stripper
  • Heat Gun

First, you’ll need to layout your connections and know which is the data input and the data output. Then, you’ll need to strip and separate your wires.

Then, taking your soldering sleeve and slip on the sleeve to one of the wires. With the stripped wires, you want to twist the two connections together so that they can hold their own.

This might take you a time or two to have this down but you just want to twist them together so that they can hold when you slip the sleeve over the connection.

Slip the soldering sleeve over the connections so that the silver strip on the sleeve is centered on the connection of the two wires, this is where the actual soldering will happen. The red strips are the adhesive line heat shrink and will block the water from getting to the connections.

Once you have the sleeve in place, you will then use the heat gun to solidify the connection.

Using the heat gun, I would start with heating the silver strip so that it will liquefy and melt the connections. Be sure to spend time on this and make sure it does melt and solidify your connections. Then, move over to the red strips and this will activate your adhesive to seal the connections.

To make sure the sleeve is used properly I always go back to the center strip and make sure it melted properly.

Soldering sleeves are great when working with thicker wires or even in a tight space. It’s not my favorite method but it’s much quicker and easier than using a soldering iron. As long as it’s done right, it will work just fine.

Scotchloks

The last method to use for fixing a pixel would be the Scotchlok method and is actually my favorite method to use.

With Scotchloks I only use the 3M brand and you only need one tool to do this method:

First, go ahead and spread your wires and be sure to know the data in and the data out just like the previous methods. Then, start with your first two wires and slip them into the scotchlok all the way in. There are three holes but it does not matter which two slots you slide the wires into.

Using the pliers you can just gently squeeze the Scotchlok with some pressure until the sealant comes out of the Scotchlok. The sealant that does come out is what is used to waterproof your connection.

The third slot on the scotchlok is used so that you can test the voltage on the connected wires.

When using the Scotchlok method it is the easiest and quickest method of the three methods. It also only needs just one tool to do it. The downfall to this is that by some chance if the wires get yanked on they can slip out of the Scotchlok and you would have to repair it again.

How To Set Up Permanent Animated Christmas Lights on YOUR House

If you’re like me, I really enjoy having a display put together for different holidays. But with each holiday it can be a lot of work to put up and then have to take down lights after each one.

So, how do you go about setting up permanent lights but make it look good on the house? We’ll go into that topic here as I show the tools and set up I have for permanent lights on the house.

Setting up some permanent lights doesn’t have to expensive or even difficult. It’s as simple as finding the right lights and then setting up a simple controller as well as having the power supply ready to go.

Light Modules

One of the products I decided to go with is from WiredWatts.com and it’s a pixel bar as seen in this image below.

House Outline Pixel Bars

These light modules or pixel bars are super easy to set up and use. They come in one-meter strips and can be cut to fit as needed. You can snap in your pixels, connect the pixel bars, and with the 3M Sticky back, you will not have to worry about the lights coming down.

My advice is that when you do select your area to put these pixel bars up, make sure that’s where you want them to be because it will be almost impossible to get them to come off.

The LED’s that come with these light modules have three pixels and they all run on the same address. Just keep this in mind when you design a light show.

Note – in the video, I had noted that these were discontinued. After speaking with Ken from Wired Watts, I was assured that more were on the way, just not for the same (2019) Christmas season, so that is why he marked them as such!

Putting Your Lights Up

When deciding where you want to put your lights be sure to record the measurements so that you know roughly how long you need your strips to be before you start cutting them to fit.

These strips currently come as an ivory color and if you do want to have them match your siding, you can actually spray paint the strips if need be. They blend in very well with your house and nobody would know from a distance that you have permanent lights up.

As I mentioned earlier, be sure to decide where you want the lights, measure how much you will need, and then purchase the light modules.

Once you have your light modules ready, you can start installing them on the house. With the 3M Stick Back, this will make the project very easy at this point.

If you do have some triangle points on the roof that you’re working with be sure to start measuring at the point first so that you know where you need to cut your light modules. This will help keep your setup symmetrical with the rest of the house.

Running Wire

If you have attic space in our home, this could be very beneficial for setting up your controller and power supply. With my current setup, I did get a little creative on how to run wire and where.

For my house, I was able to just drill a hole in the roof soffit and run wire through there, so that it wasn’t visible on the outside.

For the wiring, I decided to go with the LED 18/3 wire and then I would be able to wire these pixels back to the controller I had set up in the attic space.

This type of wiring is more of a hybrid between the regular wire and dual injection because I am only using it for one power supply set up. I can just connect the positive and negative together so that the data flowed the correct way.

Once I had all of the wire set up I was able to get the controller and power supply testes and ready to go.

If you’re still new to this type of project be sure to check out my articles on the power supply and how to set up a controller before getting started.

How Do I Schedule My Christmas Light Show to Run Automatically?

I love having a Christmas light show at my house, but it sure wouldn’t be as much fun if I had to wait around for 5 pm every night to press “start” on my show!

Luckily, my show runs automatically and yours can too. But how does it work?

To automate your show each night you have (2) options – you can either use your sequencing program (Vixen, xLights, or LOR) or a special piece of software called Falcon Player, which runs on Raspberry Pi microcomputers.

Each has its pros and cons, which is why I want to go into detail here and share how they each work, and why you should choose one over the other.

How Will Your Show Run?

Before we talk about the specific programs to run your show automatically, let’s first consider the different options that we have for our show’s setup. That is, how we will structure our different sequences and playlists for the show each night.

All 3 options of scheduler do the same type of thing, just all in their own ways.

When you’re planning your show, you’ve got a few options for how to structure your light show:

  • A single playlist that loops – Your show will start, play through all of the songs and repeating, and then at the end of the night it will either finish out or cut off when the song finishes after the “End Time” that you set.
  • A randomized playlist – Your show will play the songs in random order until the “End Time”.
  • A beginning/end playlist – You can also specify certain sequences to start or end your show, and these will just run once each night. This is a good idea if you have a lot of traffic to your display, as it communicates that the show is just beginning/ending.
  • Background playlist – Need a prop to simply run all night with the same sequence? A background playlist can ensure that elements such as a “tune-to” sign stay lit in the same pattern all night.

On top of that, you can set your schedules to be at the same exact times every day, or you can have them run at different times every day!

This can be helpful if you only want to run on weekends or if you just want to do fewer hours during a week – a great way to keep the neighbors happy!

Now that we’ve discussed how to structure your different sequences and playlists, let’s talk about the 3 different schedulers we can use:

Running Your Show via xLights or Vixen

Both xLights and Vixen have built-in functionality to run your show completely from within the program.

In xLights, this is called xSchedule, and in Vixen it’s called the Scheduler.

But should you run your show off your computer?

On the positives – it’s the easiest and simplest way to get a show up and running. You can do everything from your single computer, so you don’t have to worry about transferring files and keeping everything on your microcomputer up to date.

You also can run a LOT of pixels – depending on the computer, you may be able to run over 1 million pixels!

If you’re using xSchedule, you’ll also get a “Status” window that shows all of your controllers and alerts you if there are any problems:

xSchedule window with controller status highlighted in green.

On the negatives, your light show is going to require your computer’s dedicated attention for the full run of your show – likely from Black Friday or early December until after Christmas!

Could you use your computer during the season for other things besides your display?

I suppose so, but you run the risk of having something go wrong – whether that be a system software update, you forget to leave the scheduler open, or someone shuts down the computer.

When I ran my show from a computer, I chose to dedicate that computer to my show, 100%. I kept it fully offline and set it up to shut down and re-start itself every day.

My first year, I used the Vixen scheduler to run my show.

Because it didn’t have an internet connection and wasn’t being used for anything else, it worked perfectly, night after night. Every 10 days or so, I briefly connected it to the internet to sync the clock, which would get off by a minute or 2.

I had the extra computer around, so it wasn’t a big deal to dedicate it fully to my display.

As you can probably see, the biggest downside to running it off a computer is that you can’t use that computer for anything else (or, at least you shouldn’t!) during the run of your Christmas light show.

On the upside, you can run your whole show on one computer, no matter how big the show is, without any worry of glitching. If you’re using xLights you also get the status window in xSchedule, which can be helpful if you have a lot of controllers.

Running Your Show via Falcon Player

On the other hand, microcomputers like the Raspberry Pi have become very popular to run your show from and it’s easy to see why.

A Raspberry Pi running Falcon Player can run hundreds of thousands of pixels from a $35 microcomputer, all on its own!

Falcon Player’s Scheduler

While it takes some more setup, using the Falcon Player frees up your main computer for other tasks and offers some more redundancy for your setup.

While I had to spend time setting up my Windows 10 PC to auto-start and shut down each day and open Vixen at startup, the Raspberry Pi with Falcon player simply boots up and starts when it receives power.

You can leave it running all the time, or you can power it on and off automatically with a smart plug or even a basic light timer.

You can learn more about using Falcon Player on my article here.

It’s Your Choice – How Will You Run Your Show?

Whether you decide to run your show from a Windows/Mac computer or from a Raspberry Pi, I hope this article has helped you to see both sides and find which one is right for you.

Like many things in this hobby, there is no “one right answer” for everyone, though I think the Raspberry Pi route is intriguing, it’s not the best for everyone.

Whichever you choose, I hope you have fun and come back here to Learn Christmas lighting to learn how you can make a fun, low-stress, and incredible Christmas light display on your house!

How Do I Run My Christmas Lights Show from a Raspberry Pi?

If you’ve spent any time hanging around Christmas light groups or forums online, then you might have heard a lot of talk about this “Raspberry Pi” and how people run their shows off of it.

The Raspberry Pi is a small, Linux-based computer that you can use to run your Christmas lights display with a program called “Falcon Player” or “FPP” for short.

If you’re like me, you’re not an engineer and the thought of delving into yet another computer program with vague instructions might make you feel sick.

Not to worry! In this article, I’m going to teach you more about the Pi, and show you what you need to get started with it.

Then, I’ll link to another article and video that goes into more detail on installing and configuring the Falcon Player. Let’s begin!

What is a Raspberry Pi?

The Raspberry Pi is a “single-board computer”, or a simple computer that you can buy for just $35 (well, kind of) and then proceed to run a variety of different programs on it – from retro video games to smart home automation!

It was developed by the Raspberry Pi foundation and originally released in 2012 as the Raspberry Pi 1. Learn more about the history and previous models here.

At the time of this writing, we’re now on to the Raspberry Pi 4, and as you can imagine, it is significantly more powerful than previous versions.

As I mentioned above, you can “kind of” buy it for $35.

I put the disclaimer there because for $35 you get the actual board with the electronics on it, but you do not get a power supply, case, or SD card – all of which are required to get it running! It’s kind of like buying a car without the tires or any gas…

Still, at the end of the day, you can get a kit for around $60 that will get you started and run your lighting display without the need to tie up your main computer. And that’s not a bad price to pay!

(Or, do what I did and buy last year’s model on eBay for $35, case and card included)

Why Should I Run My Christmas Lights with a Raspberry Pi?

The simple and clear answer is this – a Raspberry Pi is simple and just plain works.

It doesn’t run Windows or Mac OS (which have updates that pop up and other programs running in the background, and it doesn’t tie up your main computer while your display needs to run.

It’s a proven, stress-free way to run your display and even offers the ability to run a backup Pi in case of failure.

While I didn’t run my first display off a Raspberry Pi, I now use one and it’s great! I don’t have to keep a PC running in my closet during Christmas, just a small, handheld Raspberry Pi that lives in my attic. I can access it wirelessly if I need to change a setting, but otherwise, it just works.

Even if the power goes out, it’ll reboot and be back to running again within a number of seconds. And for around $60? Yes, I’ll take it!

How Many Lights Can Falcon Player Control on a Raspberry Pi?

The next question you probably have is this – how many lights can you control off a $35 computer?

While I have searched and tested my lights to try to find this answer, it appears that there is no “official” answer as to how many pixels you can control via one Raspberry Pi.

The most definitive answer I’ve found is that somewhere around 300,000 pixels, you’ll need to split up the Pi’s. Up until that point, you should be good to have a smooth show….and at 300,000 pixels, you definitely can afford to buy a 2nd Raspberry Pi!

What Pi Should I Use For Christmas Lighting?

With all of these options, what Raspberry Pi should you choose to run the Falcon Player program for your lights?

Should you buy the latest version, or save money and grab a used model?

At the time of this writing, I’d suggest buying a Raspberry Pi 3 or newer to run your display. As effects which are built into Christmas light sequences become more complex, older Pi’s have a tougher time keeping up, but again, you can run a TON of pixels off these things!

Even though you could get away with something older, I’d warn against it. Most household displays can be run entirely off one Raspberry Pi.

But, if you’re going to buy new, then buy the latest version. Because the Raspberry Pi foundation regulates the price, older models generally cost the exact same $35 as the newest model!

How Do I Run My Christmas Lights with a Raspberry Pi?

The first thing you need to do is install a program called “Falcon Player” on your Raspberry Pi. Falcon Player allows you to bring Christmas light sequences into your Pi and play them.

Installing the Falcon Player software onto a Raspberry Pi is pretty simple.

You first need to download the latest software and get an SD card of at least 8GB in hand, along with a card reader. The card needs to be at least a “Class 10” speed, such as this one.

You’ll then use a program such as “balena Etcher” to format and create the bootable SD card for the Pi.

After that, simply insert the card into the Pi, plug it in, and you’ll be off to the races!

Grab my full video guide to install FPP here!

Once you’ve installed the Falcon Pi player, you can then set up your show. Inside of both Vixen and xLights, you can export your sequences in an FSEQ format that the Falcon player can read.

From there, you’ll be able to set up your outputs and set up a schedule on the “Program Control” screen.

Once you’ve set up a schedule it’s all hands-off! Just make sure the Raspberry Pi has power, and your show will run!

The Pi then takes the place of your xLights or Vixen computer – so you’ll still need your pixel controller(s) connected via a network cable, which will then drive your pixels.

Again, this is just a brief overview, you’ll want to watch my video that is linked above for the full details.

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