How to Begin with xLights

In this series of videos I am excited to share with you how to get started with xLights. I’ll share with you the things I wish I had knew when I just got started.

Introduction to xLights

xLights is a free and open source program that enables you to design, create and play amazing lighting displays through the use of DMX controllers, E1.31 Ethernet controllers and more.

With it, you can layout your display visually then assign effects to the various items throughout your sequence. This can be in time to the music (with beat-tracking built into xLights) or just however you like.
xLights runs on Windows, OSX and Linux.

Installing xLights

The xLights program is able to run on both Windows and Macs. To download the program just visit xLights.org.

Downloading xLights

On the home page you will see in the top menu Downloads. If you haven’t installed the program yet just go to this page. Depending on which system you are running just select Download.

If on a Windows you will most likely have a pop up from Windows because it won’t recognize the developer. This does happen with most downloads. Just proceed with the download and follow the instruction queues.

QM Vamp Plugins

I would also recommend downloading QM Vamp Plugins as this will allow you to be able to detect beats and use it in your show.

Once you’ve downloaded the programs just launch xLights and you will be brought to the splash screen. When there are new updates available you will be notified on this screen.

For updates when working in the middle of a show I prefer to not update to the latest version unless there is a bug in that version. This is just my personal preference.

Laying Out Your Display

When you open xLights you can setup the show first or what I like to do is set up the layout first. With xLights it doesn’t really matter which one you do first.

Setting Up

To start with the layout you just click “Layout” in the top left bar. Then you will want to upload an image of your home from either a saved image or you can use the image from Google Maps street view.

If you’ve decorated your house before and have an image of it during the day then this may be a better image to use since the light placing would be more accurate.

Once you upload the image you will see in the lower left of the program you can adjust the fill, width, height, etc. Once you’re done just click “Save”.

Adding Lights

Above the image you will see multiple options and styles of lights that you can add. Just hover over the options to see an accurate description. It does help to have some dimensions available that you can use and how many pixels you plan on using.

Just “Select” a style, “Click” a starting point, drag, “Select” an endpoint, click “Enter”, and click “Escape” when done.

When adding the lights you can see in the left column the model, start channel, and end channel. In the section below this you will have the option to name the lights as well information on the number of lights used, starting location, etc.

2D and 3D Views

In xLights you do have the option to toggle between the 3D and 2D View. The 3D view is great if you have a more in-depth yard to work with or even with a larger roof.

Sequencing Your Display

Once you’ve added your lights you’ll want to work on sequencing. Located on the top bar just select “Sequence”. A box will come up and you have the option to choose Musical Sequence or Animation.

Animation

When you select “Animation” you will then be given options for the frames per second. With most setups, the 20fps will work just fine. If you find that you need more then you can change it to 40fps.

Once you’ve chosen the frame then you will be able to select your view type. Just click “Quick Start”.

You will be brought to the Timeline for your lights. Located on the left is the vertical sidebar where you will see all of the lights you had set up. The horizontal bar above is the time lapse. On the vertical bar, the topmost item will be the priority.

Adding Effects

Above the time lapse, you will have multiple options of effects, colors, layers, etc. To assign one of these just “Select” an effect, “Drag” and “Drop” to the light you want to assign it to as well as the time length you want that effect to run.

Note: You will also have the ALL option on the vertical bar.

Once you’ve added an effect you can see it play out on the left model preview screen. Below the model, you can toggle the settings for the effects. Once done just click “Save”.

Musical Sequence

When working with music just select “Musical Sequence” instead of Animations. You then will select the music file, set the frames (20fps), and the select “Quick Start”.

On the vertical bar right click “New Timing” and select “New Timing Interval”. With the QM Vamps Plugins, you will have multiple options to work with. Select an option and click “OK”.

Doing this will add timing markers to your timeline. By zooming in you can add effects to play in between the beats. You would add the effects just as you would set up an animation sequence.

Network Setup

Setting Up Your Network

In xLights you will click the “Setup” tab. This is where you set up the equipment to talk to the different controllers. Then, the controllers in return will talk to the pixels.

On the the left side bar you’ll notice the multiple network types. Personally, I recommend using E.31.1 which is also know as sACN. This is actually easier and lighter on the network.

Click “Add” and then the setup screen will pop up. You will have two options for Multicast and Unicast. Multicast is more for smaller setups. I select “Unicast” for everything so that I have no limitations.

If you select Unicast you’ll add the IP Address of your pixel driver, the starting universe, and the number of universes. Once done just click “OK”. You’ll see the networks added to the screen.

Channels and Universes

Once you have the networks added you then want to double check your layout. To do this you will go back to the Layout screen and you can select the different lights to check the start and end channels.

By default the first light on the list will start as Channel 1. Any changes made to the channels and universes will need to be saved.

Testing

To test your lights and the channels you will want to have your pixels and controllers hooked up. In xLights top menu bar, you will have a Lightbulb located at the end. Just click this and click “Play” to test the lights.

By doing this you can double check the effects and colors so that you can make any necessary adjustments.

Scheduling in xLights

Once you have the lights and sequences setup you’ll want to schedule your lights. Preferably, I do try to keep a separate computer that is not connected to the internet and will run this program.

Opening xLights Scheduler on the left just click “Playlists”, then click “Add”, and you can create and add your new playlist.

After this, you will click “Add FSEQ” and select your sequence file. If you are working with audio you will have a checkbox for “Fast Start Audio” I do suggest using this option as will run much better on your computer.

After getting your settings in order just press “Schedule”. A box will come up for you to name the show, schedule your dates, the on and off times, and additional settings. Once done just click “OK”.

Lastly, save the schedule to your computer.

About the author

David Henry

David first began using pixels in stage lighting, and then decided to try it out on his house. The result? An urge to create useful and helpful information to help non-technical folks create great Christmas lighting with pixels on their homes!


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