Why Should I Use xLights to Control My Christmas Lights?

If you go searching for software to run your Christmas light display with, you’re going to quickly find xLights as one of your main options.

Among the sea of different software for your Christmas Light display, why should you choose xLights?

And even if it is a great piece of software, is it the right one for you?

In this article, I want to discuss both of these things. Not only do I want to talk about the pros and cons of using xLights, but I also want to help you decide if it’s the right program for you.

What Makes xLights Unique?

When I compare the different Christmas lighting programs on the market, xLights feels the most finished, and the readiest for modern pixel type Christmas lights.

And since the future looks bright for pixels, this is a clear advantage! As I’ve written about in other articles, pixels have come down in cost to the place where it doesn’t make sense to buy traditional Christmas lights anymore for a animated Christmas light display.

xLights is also the only program I found that is able to do all of the patching, set up, sequencing, and testing all via one unified window.

Maybe this is just me being picky, but it sure makes it easy to set up and get rolling on your computer! Once I got the basics down, it felt pretty natural to flow between the various windows as needed.

Not only that, it is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux on their downloads page.

Setup

What I really like about xLights is how simple it is to bring in a picture of your house, draw pixels on top of it, sequence it music, and then set up your controllers and have a show running!

I’ve found the drawing tools in xLights to be well described, and pretty simple to use.

1 big tip – the “polyline” tool requires you to press “ESC” at the end of your line, not “Enter”. Other than that, most of the other tools use the simple “click once and drag” operation.

It’s easy to line up your lights with your house (tip – use a photo of your house with lights on it if you have one!), and there’s even a 3d mode, which can be useful if you are on a corner lot or have 2 sides of your house to work with.

We only real downside that I see is that it’s pretty easy to accidentally mess up the design of your display while you program, instead of having it “locked” in a completely separate window like Vixen.

Sequencing

One of the areas that xLights excels is in sequencing itself.   Once I learned how xLights worked, I found that sequencing with it was incredibly powerful, but also could be learned fairly quickly.

If you’ve worked with editing audio, you’ll find the sequencing interface to be very familiar.

Sequencing in xLights

On the horizontal, we see time going by. If we add audio to our sequence, we’ll a “waveform” view of the audio in addition to the time.

Using the QMVAMP plugins (an extra download on the xLights download page – don’t miss it), you can even autodetect beats and bars of music and then display them on your timeline for accurate placement of effects.

On the vertical axis, we see our different elements, or “props” that make up our display. These are the lights that we laid out in the “setup” stage.

Above the main sequencing window, we see a variety of different effects and settings that we can work with.

Getting started with sequencing is as simple as clicking and dragging the effects you want on to the props in your show, then set the time to what you desire.

While there are a lot of advanced settings, you can stay out of them too, and keep things simple. One setting you will want to use, however, is the “Groups”. These can be created in the layout tab and allow you to run a single effect across multiple props – even across your whole house!

I’ll be the first to admit, that I abandoned xLights for my first season in favor of Vixen, because I saw so many options and details and I just got confused.

But if you’re willing to take a little more time to learn, I think you’ll find it saves you time and gives you more possibilities as you sequence into the future.

Options

xLights has a ton of options available, and different ways to accomplish the programming of your display.

With that can come a lot of confusion especially if you watch tutorials from multiple different people, who have different ways of doing things.

While I really like xLights, this is the biggest turn off for me.

I know that a lot of beginners can easily get turned off by all of the different methods and some of the terminology that xLights uses…but that’s why I’m here to help make things simple. 🙂

My advice to you – check out my “xLights Quick Start Guide“, or follow another teacher, but try not to jump around different teachers too much. This can get really confusing!

Scheduling

Scheduling via xSchedule is really simple…and I like that!

Personally, I found Vixen’s scheduling interface to be a little more fluid, and that is probably because many xLights users use Raspberry Pi mini-computers to run their displays, instead of xSchedule.

Still, it wasn’t too difficult for me to figure out in the end, and you can learn it too. (Again, I cover it in my xLights Quick Start tutorials on Youtube)

Conclusion

xLights is a really great program, but it’s not for everyone.   

If you want to keep your display really simple, or are overwhelmed by the number of features and options available in xLights, then you should probably look at Vixen.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I used Vixen my first year, and was really happy with the outcome. It’s not as “slick” looking as xLights, but don’t let that stop you from creating a great show. Often, less options are better!

But, if you are excited about the future, don’t mind spending a little bit of time learning, and enjoy the new features and promising developments, then I think xLights is an excellent pick for your Christmas lights display.

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

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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