How to Prepare Audio for Your Christmas Light Display

When you preparing your lights and planning your Christmas display, one of the first items on your to-do list is preparing your audio. This is a step that you want to have ready before you even begin sequencing your lights.

The goal is to make sure that you are bringing in a track of audio that is the same volume level as your other tracks. This is a very important step for any type of show.

If you purchased your track from a digital source, or from a CD, or even a new or older track the volume level can vary depending on the source. You don’t want the audience adjusting their volume level, the goal is doing that yourself.

Checking Your Audio File Type

To get started you first want to verify the type of audio file you are working with. If your audio type is an MP3 format then you won’t need to convert it.

If your song is saved inside of a program such as iTunes you can check the audio type by right-clicking on the song, click “Song Info”, and select “File” on the top menu. You want to look for type or kind and this will tell you what type of audio file it is. If it’s not an MP3 audio file, you will need to convert it to one.

Converting Your Audio File

To convert your audio file to an MP3 file, inside of iTunes you want to select the song and go to “File” on the top menu bar. Inside the drop-down menu select “Convert” and then select “Create MP3 Version”.

Now, on certain computers, you may not have the option to select the create MP3 version but this can be added. To do this, select “Edit” on the top menu bar and then click “Preferences”.

A screen will come up and in the General Tab just click “Import Settings”. A new pop-up will come up and on the top, you will see Import Using, in the drop-down menu select either “MP3 Encoder” or “Wav Encoder” and click “OK”. You will be directed back to the General Tab and just click “OK” again.

At this point, you should be able to have the option to convert your audio file to an MP3 file. Go back to “File” on the top menu bar. Inside the drop-down menu select “Convert” and then select “Create MP3 Version”.

This will convert your audio file to an MP3 version.

Saving Your MP3 Audio File

Now, that your audio file is converted you want to make sure to save it and have the file in the right location. Inside of iTunes, you will see the new song come up. Right-click on the new file and select “Show in Windows Explorer.

This will open up a new folder and you will see the new audio file and it should be listed as an MP3 type. Make sure to save your new audio file to the proper folder that you can reference back to when needed.

Normalize Your Audio

Now that you have your audio in the proper format you can now normalize it. To do this you can use a free program called, Audacity. This program works on both Macs and Windows. To download this and set it up on your computer, click here to download Audacity.

Once you set up and open the Audacity program you’re ready to pull in your audio file and normalize it. Before you do this, it is recommended to change the audio file name to include raw. For example, you can name it Rudolph Red Nose – Raw. This way you know which one is the original file.

Pull up your audio file and you can drag and drop it into Audacity. Once the audio file is imported select “Effect” on the top menu bar. In the drop-down select “Normalize” and a pop-up will come up. It is recommended to keep the settings the same and just click “OK”.

Once the normalizing process is complete go up to “File” on the top menu bar, select “Export” and then select “Export as MP3”. This will export your new normalized audio file.

Be sure to save this new file and change the name raw to normalized so that you will know this is the new updated file.

How to Use Falcon SmartReceiver Boards

The Falcon SmartReceiver is the new standard in “differential” receiver boards for Christmas light pixel controller boards like the Falcon F48, Falcon expansion boards and the F40-PB, F32-B and F8-B controllers from Kulp Lights.

These receivers allow you to “daisy-chain” multiple boards together so that you can use all of the pixels available on each port, even if your different props and strings of lights are far apart from each other.

But how do you use these boards? Unlike their predecessor, these are not simply “plug and play”.

Truth be told, I spent a few hours banging my head against the wall when I first got these, as I couldn’t figure out how to make them work. Turns out, it’s actually quite simple!

In this article, I’ll show you how to both set up the board in xLights, and also how to set the switches on the receiver board itself so that your lights work much more quickly than mine!

xLights Setup for Falcon SmartReceiver Boards

The most recent versions of xLights thankfully offer full support for the SmartReceiver boards, making it quite simple to set up if you are doing your controller configuration from the “Layout” tab in xLights (which I do recommend):

Under the “Controller Connections” heading (which you may need to maximize with the “+” sign on the heading), you’ll then see “Smart Remote” as one of the options.

Simply choose the receiver that you wish to assign, either “A, B, or C”. The letter that is capitalized out of the 3 is the one you are choosing.

Like any other controller, you then simply set the port you would plug the lights into, and the Protocol (type), and you’re off to the races….or the light show!

Dip Switch Setup on Falcon SmartReceiver Boards

Once xLights is set up, it’s time to set up your receiver board. This is where the most confusion comes from, as the receiver board itself doesn’t come with any manual.

If you’re smarter than me, then you looked at the bottom of the circuit board when you bought it and saw this:

Looking carefully, you can see the options for the “mode switch”.

Normal Mode: This functions like a “standard” receiver – as if only 1 receiver board is being used, and all ports use their full count of pixels. Use this if you know you’ll never add more receivers to the line.

Smart – A, B, or C: This enables the “Smart Receiver” mode and sets the receiver as A, B, or C. It’s very important that the letter matches up to xLights – or else you won’t get the connection you want!

Troubleshooting the Falcon SmartReceiver Board

Once you’ve got everything set up, you should be able to send it a sequence of data from xLights or a Falcon Player and see output to your lights.

What if it doesn’t work? Below, I am compiling a number of answers to any problems I run into or hear about:

My Lights Don’t Turn On with the SmartReceiver Board. What Do I Do?

The first thing you need to do is check the wiring of your pixels themself. Are the correct wires hooked up in the correct places?

If the answer is yes, you can test the lights using the “test” button which is in the middle of the SmartReceiver board. This bypasses the signal from your computer and simply tests that the pixels are wired correctly with power.

If they don’t work from the test mode, then your problem is either with the power to your pixels, your SmartReceiver, or both!

If they DO work from the test mode, then your configuration in xLights or your controller isn’t correct. I’ve occasionally seen that the data gets corrupted on it’s way to your controller from xLights, and re-uploading the information from the “Setup” tab fixes it.

How Do I Push Pixels into Corrugated Plastic (Coro) Props?

For my Christmas setup this year I am adding snowflakes to the display. In this tutorial, we’re going to walk through how to push pixels into the prop, add them to xLights, and how to work with the wiring diagram to saving time and frustration.

Coro Prop Layout

The props used in this video are 2 sided and fairly simple to work with. Personally, my preference is to work with 50-pixels string at a time but these props only need 48 pixels.

Looking at the prop, note that the front side of your prop is going to be the flat side and this is where your pixels are going to stick out. The backside of the prop with the hole is where you will feed your pixels through.

Before you start pushing your pixels in you want to make sure you add these in right so that you only have to do this once for the initial set up, so how should you do this?

Finding the Wiring Diagram

While to most this is just a snowflake prop, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes especially when we’re working with pixels. So, to help save you some time and headaches we’re going to make sure we add these pixels in the right way.

Inside of xLights you want to click “Create New Download” and a window will popup. Here you will select the brand of your prop and then select the type. Next, you want to add it to your display and once it’s added we can get the wiring diagram to work off.

On the display, inside of xLights, select the prop, right-click, and select “Wiring View”. This is the key and will give you the wiring diagram on how to add your pixels to the prop. You’ll notice on the wiring diagram it does note that it’s the reverse view since your adding the pixels to the backend of the prop.

Pushing In Your Pixels

With the prop ready and your wiring diagram as the roadmap, you are just about ready to get started. Get started with laying and smoothing out your pixels. You want to make sure that you have your pixels going in the right way.

With the pixels I used in this tutorial there is an arrow on the back of the pixel indicating if the data is going in or the data is going out. Other pixels may not have an arrow but will have initials on the back of the pixels such as DI or DO. DI stands for Data In and DO is for Data Out. Make sure to find the first pixel and it’s labeled as the Data In pixel.

Now that you have the pixels ready to go and the diagram it’s time to start punching in the pixels. In the tutorial, I used the square nodes which are easier to work with for this prop but the bullet nodes may take a little more effort to add to the prop.

Once you’ve added the pixels for the first side of the flake make sure that it looks right when you view it from the front. The wires should be at a minimum if done correctly. Then continue on with the rest of the prop.

With the finished product, everything should look nice and neat from the front-facing view. The wires on the backside of the prop should mostly be organized and barely in view.

Depending on where the prop is being set up on your display you may consider zip tying the wires on the back of the prop. With this being set up on the porch and 15 feet away from the normal viewer, this is something that needed to be done. However, that just depends on your personal preference

Finishing Touches

For the display I am using this year, I have 3 snowflake props set up on the porch. But as a backup, I did set up a fourth prop just in case one of the props need to be replaced. Sometimes, having a backup plan or a spare available will be a great help so you can just replace the prop and fix the other unit when you’re ready to.

As I mentioned earlier this particular prop takes 48 pixels but I always work with 50 pixels strands, so what do you do with the other 2 pixels? You have a couple of options with these. You can either sauder off the two extra pixels or you can just account for the two pixels in xLights.

Inside of xLights, I add the two extra pixels as blackouts or null pixels. Once you add these, it’s easiest to keep them at the top of the lists and always keep them set as black in the display so nobody is going to notice them in your setup.

How Do I Build a Testing Controller for my LED Christmas Lights?

Whether this is your first year setting up a display or you have a few years under your belt you may realize that you need a tool to test your lights at full capacity.

It’s important to test before you put your props up on your house to make sure they work properly!

In this video, I’ll walk you through the basics of setting up your very own testing controller.

Figuring the Math

Before setting up the controller you have to work with some math to make sure your pixels can be tested properly. Not to worry, in the video and below we discuss the amps, wattage, and volts.

The first step to this setup is working on the math between the amps and power supply. Since I had purchased my lights with DIYLEDExpress.com I was able to pull the specs of the pixels from their site. The lights used in this video are .72 watts per pixel.

Depending on where you had purchased your lights, you should be able to get a spec sheet of the pixels that you had purchased.

Even though you may not be running your pixels at full capacity in your show, you still want to test and run your lights at full to make sure they are functioning as they should.

Next, in order to keep things simple, you may want to consider running 100 pixels per output. The reason why I choose 100 is that I know that’s how many I can do without injecting more power. So with some math, I know that .72 times 100 = 72 watts per output.

For voltage, I had decided that from now on I will only be working with 12 and 24 volts. In this video, these are 12-volt pixels, and at 12 volts that’s 6 amps. Watts divided by Volts equals Amps.

Building Your Tester

It won’t take very many supplies for you to put together your own testing controller. Before purchasing equipment be sure to check that you don’t have some of these items or something similar on hand.

Some of the items mentioned in the video:

One of the basics is finding a housing unit for your controllers. My personal preference is the ammo crate as used in the video but this can be any sort of storage unit you might have laying around. Be sure to consider something that you can cut holes into for the power cords.

Pixel Controllers

Of course, to test your pixels you need a pixel controller. If you’ve seen some of my previous posts or videos I’ve worked with a few different types and brands.

With the math figured out previously just make sure to select a pixel controller that can handle the amps for your lights and set up. As mentioned in the video above I decided to go with the Pixlite 4 Eco Controller because it’s a great unit and I can work with a standard 360-watt power supply. So, with 288 watts I can run those lights on full all day long without thinking twice about it.

Another reason why I decided to go with this controller is that it has 4 outputs and each output can handle 100 pixels. When testing pixels you don’t want to go with more than 2 strands per output. If one pixel goes out the data will stop at that pixel and you won’t know if the pixels after that are functioning or not!

So, while you want to make your tests efficient and effective hooking up to many pixels on one output can really cause a lot more work and battling the lights. If you hooked up more than (2) strands, you’d have to re-test the strands downstream from the bad pixel. I don’t like retesting!

The Box Setup

Testing Controller Setup

The setup I use is very simple. You have the box or storage unit, a power supply unit, and my pixel controller. As mentioned earlier if you want to run your cords through the box or you can just leave the connectors in the box, it’s up to your personal preference.

Testing Your Pixels

Once you have your setup done now you need to test your pixels. Depending on the software you are using you can just log on and set your lights to a testing sequence or even create your own testing mode.

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!

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