What Software Should I Use to Run My Christmas Lights? Vixen, LOR, or xLights?

A few years ago, I made the decision that I wanted to build my first Christmas light show.

So, I went ahead and started going….

Step 1: Buy some lights.

Step 2: Get them wired.

Step 3: “Sequence” them to music.

And that’s where I drew a complete blank! Having a background in stage lighting, the first 2 steps were pretty easy to learn, but the software aspect was a bit more difficult – let me explain.

Christmas light sequencing programs don’t really work anything like stage lighting control programs, even though they use the same protocols and similar types of lights.

So, I began to do some research.

It turns out, in Christmas lighting, there are 3 main programs – Vixen, Light-O-Rama (LOR), and xLights.

In this article, I’m going to dive in to each program and weigh the pro’s and con’s. Each has it’s strengths, so while I’ve found the program that I enjoy best, you may find a different program best suits you. Let’s dive in!

Vixen

Vixen is a free, open source sequencing software for Christmas lighting.

For my very first year, I used Vixen to make my display and was quite happy with the experience and outcome.

Vixen in action!

If you’re just starting out, and aren’t the kind of person who really dives into detail and making everything just perfect, then Vixen may be right for you.

Setup

Vixen allows you to simply set up the design of your show in 2D, and then sequence patterns and videos across your individual elements or your whole display.

I found the setup a bit confusing at first, but I think that was mostly because I wanted it to work like a stage lighting console, which it is not. Once I got the hang of it, I found that there were tools built in to quickly and easily set up my lights inside of Vixen.

Yes, the interface can feel a little clunky and confusing between the different windows, but if you follow the tutorials that are provided by the developers it’s not too difficult to learn.

Sequencing

The selection of different effects is pretty vast, and as you gain an understanding on how to use them, you’ll find you can really do a TON with it.

Like most programs in Christmas lighting, Vixen offers a timeline to set your music on. You can then drag and drop different FX on different elements of your show, which lay out vertically, and then play it to test it as you work.

There are not a lot of “pre-built” sequences available for Vixen, so you’re going to be rolling your own FX and building them into sequences.

Some folks find this to be their favorite part of making a display – I enjoy it a good deal myself. It does take a great deal of time, especially if you want to be particular or do complex effects.

But, if you’re not that type of person, then I’d probably recommend looking at the other options below. 🙂

Scheduling

Vixen offers a great scheduler to set up your display to run automatically.

I set up my show quickly, and let this run for the entire season last year (Late Nov – Early Jan), with absolutely no problems.

I did hit one hiccup, when I wanted to create a static scene for my indoor Christmas tree.

I needed to have it turn the pixels on my tree on and blue for the daytime hours, and unfortunately, Vixen doesn’t really allow you to create non-musical sequences.

Because of that, I had to create an hour-long sequence that repeated all day. This mostly worked, but occasionally I would notice as the tree would quickly blink when the sequence restarted.

My Take:

I think Vixen is an excellent program, and probably the quickest to get up and running with.

It’s not as complex as the other options below, and I’ve found that I get frustrated when trying to do very complex FX…but that’s probably the lighting designer in me!

If I wasn’t so particular, I could definitely use Vixen for years to come and be very happy with my show. Even though the “industry” of Christmas Light folks definitely prefer xLights, I think Vixen is a very solid choice, and perfect if you’re not going for an overly complex show.

It’s quicker to learn than LOR or xLights, so if you’re tight on time, it’s a good one to use.

Light-O-Rama (LOR)

I’ve got to warn you right now, I’m not a big fan of LOR.

While Light-O-Rama was probably a pivotal program in getting this industry started, it just doesn’t shine above the other options available today!

LOR is a paid program, and to be honest, it’s quite expensive for a “once-a-year” use, especially if you upgrade it yearly and want to have a large display.

Note: To test Light-O-Rama, I downloaded the demo and worked with it. Unlike the other 2 options, I have not used LOR on a live display.

Setup

LOR really confused me when I first installed it. Like most software, I unchecked the box to place an icon on my desktop, as I really like to keep things clean.

The installer spit out a number of installed programs (literally, 13), and I inevitably choose the wrong once when I first tried to launch it.

As I got into the program, I found that it was on par with the other options when setting up my display. It had more “tooltips” and popups to guide me and felt a little more polished than other options but wasn’t really any more efficient than the other programs.

I did appreciate that the “patching”, or assigning of lights to controllers, is built-in to the sequencer. Simply double-clicking any of my props allowed me to edit the patch settings for that prop.

Sequencing

When you get to sequencing, you realize that the LOR program was definitely designed for regular Christmas Lights, and not pixels – they were a “add-on” later.

There are (2) sequencing windows that you have to use in order to work with pixels – the “Sequencer” and the “SuperStar Sequencer”.

The LOR SuperStar Sequencer in action

The regular sequencer can generate effects like twinkles, chases and on/off for regular Christmas lights, and then can import “SuperStar” sequences that control pixels.

So, it’s a little awkward compared to other programs, having to go to a completely different window to program your pixels, but it works.

While it’s easy to see the downsides to this approach, the upside is that you have to save all of your pixel sequences as individual files, so you can easily bring them into different sequences as you program your show.

Scheduling

Like the other Christmas light sequencing programs, LOR’s scheduler is pretty simple to use and allows you to configure dates, days of the week and times to run your show.

It allows you to run background shows as well, and is pretty simple to understand.

My Take

As I mentioned at the top of this section, I’m not a big LOR fan.

Is it a good program? Yes. But the fragmented nature (so many different little programs), and the cost really turn me away from recommending it.

xLights

xLights is THE popular sequencing program for Christmas lights in the “DIY” community.

Like Vixen, it is open source. xLights has a VERY passionate community behind it, and it’s easy to see why.

It’s a really good program, that can do some really complex things. Plus, the developers are constantly improving it for the users.

But newbies be warned – it DOES have a good sized learning curve. Still, it’s the best, most complex and most often updated program available!

Setup

One of the things that I really like about xLights is that everything works within one main window.

When you go to set up your lights and patch them to DMX or e1.31 sACN, it’s all within the same window, just different tabs.

Creating your models and patching them to addresses is pretty straightforward. Plus, like Vixen, you can re-address and change models as you go, and your programming adapts to your display.

Sequencing

When it comes to sequencing, xLights follows the same general format as the other programs.

You have a timeline, and left to right is time. The vertical axis of the chart, contains all of your individual props and groups of props.

You are then able to drop drag-and-drop different effects on different props at different times. You can also click to customize effects, and of course there’s a really great preview available on the side of this window.

I really like how xLights keeps everything within a single window.

In Vixen, you have a few different floating windows that are completely separate, and sometimes it gets a little confusing.

But, if you do need to full-screen any of your xLights windows, like your house preview,  you can totally do that in order to have it on a second monitor.

Scheduling

Scheduling in xLights actually happens in a separate program called xSchedule, which is automatically installed when you install xLights.

Using xSchedule is pretty straightforward, and if you look online you can find videos that describe it as well.   

Like the other programs I’ve reviewed in this article, you’re able to set different schedules for different days of the week, different dates, and different orders.

I also really like how xLights supports static “Animation” sequences that don’t require a music track. These work well for in-between songs, or even if you want your whole display to be without music.

It all happens within a pretty no-nonsense interface, and as I’ve been testing it, it plays back flawlessly.

My Take (and Conclusion)

xLights is a really good program, but also is pretty deep and can be confusing.

My recommendation is this –  Check out Vixen, and if it looks to you like Vixen is going to be too simplistic or feel limiting, then move to xLights.

Also, if you plan to import sequences that you buy from other people, then you’re going to want to use xLights.

It has more of a learning curve than Vixen, but if you want the more advanced options or need to import sequences, then it’s totally worth the time you put into it!

I hope this article has helped you to understand the differences between these programs, and get you started in choosing the right one for you.

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!

  • […] Interested in comparing all 3 main Christmas light sequencers? Check out my full article here! […]

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