If you’ve started looking for a controller for your Christmas lights you may have noticed the many different types of controllers that are available.
There are different brands, types and options, and it can be confusing!
It can definitely be overwhelming but how do you know which one is right for your set up?
In this post, we’re going to cover both sides of the spectrum – if you’re just starting out, or perhaps you’re looking to get a new controller.
This will be directed more towards those starting out however, well cover different type of controllers and how to choose the best one for your set up.
Types of Controllers
When you begin looking for controllers you’re going to see a few different types on the market. You have your stand-alone units and then you have the long range units.
Stand Alone Controllers
Stand-alone controllers are normally just one piece and they are great to use for smaller setups.
The range on these to keep in mind is roughly 50 feet. I recommend not going any further than 25′. Pixel data will NOT travel much further than this, and in fact, sometimes not even this far.
As you begin to get further from the controller, you may need to add in additional power supplies at the end of your light strings. Depending on the length of string, total wattage, and your wire’s thickness, you may need to reinject power over any controller’s output that is pushing even 15′!
As your voltage drops over distance, you will need to consider the additional power supplies needed. Remember, if the voltage of the signal drops too far (and this happens around 50′, sometimes sooner, sometimes later), you will have signal issues!
This is where some hobbyists insert “null pixels” to boost the signal, but I would rather simplify things and just use long-range controllers for most displays.
Long Range Controllers
The long-range controllers come with 2 separate circuit boards.
One of the boards is the brains of the operation while the other is a receiver. These units can normally extend to 300 feet or even more.
What’s the Difference
The difference between these two types of controllers is the range. The stand-alone controllers are more ideal for smaller setups as the range is only 50 feet.
When you start to work past that range your voltage and data reach begins to drop off. This will force you to find an additional power supply to help extend the range. While this is doable it’s just much easier to go with a long-range unit instead.
My personal preference and recommendation are to go with a long-range controller because of the distance, the configuration, and they just work better for you in the long run.
With a stand-alone unit, I’m hesitant to push all that power through just one board. So many, things can go wrong. But with a long-range unit, you have two separate boards working and in most cases, you can replace just a single piece as opposed to a while unit.
Lastly, the cost of just purchasing one long-range unit is normally the same or even cheaper than purchasing two stand-alone units.
Considering that the most popular long-range unit – the Falcon F48 can drive 16 receivers of 4 pixel outputs each, the cost per output really diminishes as you grow!
What Brand Should You Buy?
Since working in stage lighting I’ve always loved the ENTTEC brand units but when you are just setting up displays as more of a hobby the ENTTEC units can be a bit expensive and have more/different features than you need.
From what I have gathered in Christmas Lighting world Advatek and Falcon are both the top brands in the industry. They also have great reviews and products. Not to mention the pricing is fairly similar between both brands.
The Falcon brand is more focused and designed for those that do Christmas Lighting as a hobby. So the technical side of their products is a lot easier to work with. So, this is the brand I would suggest going with.