If you’re running a Christmas Light Show that includes pixels, then the signal that goes from your computer to your controllers runs over a network.
Whether your display is simple, with just 1 controller, or complex with many controllers, the question still remains: should you run your display on your home network, or let it run on its own network?
If you’re running a simple show over E1.31 (sACN), then the answer may be “Yes”, but there are a few things you still need to watch out for. If you’re running Art-Net and/or using a lot of controllers, running your show on your home network isn’t the best idea.
Taking a step back, I realize that we need to cover a few basics on networking in general, and the internet, and what all of these terms mean. If you’re new to networking, this will be helpful!
Your average home network gets the internet via a router, often provided by your internet provider. That router actually plays 3 roles – router, access point, and network switch.
The router connects your smaller network to the larger internet. The access point gives you wireless access to your network, and the network switch allows you to connect more than 1 wired device to your network.
If this is new to you, then you’ll want to check out my full article on networking, which covers everything you need to know right here!
Controlling Your Light Show on a Network That Has Internet
When you put your light show on a network that has internet, there are a few things to worry about:
The biggest disruption to any “show computer” is automatic software updates.
Whether that’s the latest Windows or Mac OS update automatically installing, or a simple xLights or Vixen update screen launching instead of your show after a power outage, software updates can halt your show and if you’re not home, you might not be able to do anything about it!
In addition, if you install an update during the display season and there’s a bug, it could cause your display not to run.
Whichever the case, this is why I don’t put my show computers on the internet, and I don’t install updates of any kind once the season has begun!
Art-Net signal, in particular, is not always friendly with internet signal on the same network.
Because Art-Net sends out so much information on a constant basis, you can see flickering or even outages to certain pixels when there is internet traffic on the same network as the internet.
It’s better to use e1.31 sACN, but it’s best to keep it completely separate.
Have I run hundreds of pixels before with no problem from the internet? Yes.
But I also have run the same quantity on other occasions and had issues…it really depends on your connection to the network and what else is happening at the same time.
I’d rather be safe than sorry!
While it’s not a threat most of us think about or deal with, your display computer could get hacked if it’s online or even on a wireless network that is not on the internet.
It could just be a 16-year-old kid who’s bored down the street, or it could be hackers from another country randomly finding your computer.
Whatever the case, you don’t want it stopping your display!
The Best Choice For Stability
As you can probably guess, my favorite way of setting up a display is to be completely, 100% off the internet and off of wireless.
Let’s face it – wires are reliable and work great! And unless someone literally plugs into your network, there’s no chance of hacking.
Can it be “easiser” to run your controllers wirelessly? Sure, it can. But, you run a much greater risk with wireless of having a drop out or interference issue that stops your show in it’s tracks!
The Best Choice for Ease-Of-Programming
If you want to make programming updates wirelessly, I get it! It’s a lot of fun to be able to run your show wirelessly from your front yard or vehicle and make changes on your display live.
For the best of both worlds, here’s what I do:
I run all of my show equipment (computer and controllers) on a separate network with a basic router that is off the internet. This protects me from anything outside as I build my show and test my display.
I leave the wireless on my router turned ON when I need to make tweaks or test things outside. Then, once it’s show time, I turn OFF the wireless function of my router (or access point), and then my show is am as safe as possible.
What About Falcon Player (FPP)?
If you use Falcon Player (FPP) to run your show via a Rasberry Pi or BeagleBone computer, then you might need to keep some elements of your players online.
When you use multiple Falcon Players together, it’s easiest to connect them to the internet for the clocks to get proper sync to the actual time.
Thankfully, most Rasberry Pi’s have both a wireless and wired network interface, so you actually can connect to both your home and show network, but still keep the show information separate from the configuration.
Once set up, the Art-Net or e1.31 sACN information will flow down the wired show network, and the wireless will allow you to make changes to your show. It’s a win-win!
Since FPP doesn’t do automatic updates or run any of the regular operating systems, it’s fine to leave it online.
I guess there’s a tiny chance that you could get a hacker in, but it’s highly unlikely with such a niche piece of software.
Finding the Right Show Network Setup for You
Hopefully, by the end of this article, you are less confused and more informed than you were when you started reading this article! My goal is that you now know the best way to run YOUR specific show and understand why that is the case!
Networking can be a bear to understand, but it’s always worth it to have a properly set up show that runs seamlessly every single night!