November 23, 2020

As individuals get started with Christmas lighting, the information can be very overwhelming. With the information overload, I wanted to help go over the basics of how does animated Christmas lights work?

If you’re just getting started, you may know that you start with a light sequencer and the actual lights. But what about all of the pieces in between? What do you need and what can you work around? That’s what we will be discussing today.

There are a lot of moving pieces and different approaches to consider. However, they do follow the same simple pattern in setting up an animated light show.

The Absolute Basics

To get started, what are the absolute basics of having an animated light show? First, you’ll start with a sequencer, lights, and a controller.

Starting with the sequencer, you’ll have a network cable connecting the sequencer to your controller. The controller will then need a power supply. The power and data then will come together and run a light display.

Adding More to Your Show

What happens if you add more controllers to your display? Perhaps everything is more spread out or you have a larger display to work with. What would that look like?

To keep it simple and if you are working with more than one controller, you just need to add a network switch. Adding a network switch, you connect the switch to controller one, then connect controller two, add your power supply, and then add your lights to controller two.

Wireless Control

For most hobbyists, they may prefer wireless control. With wireless control they can sit in the front lawn with their laptop and make adjustments as needed. How would you go about accessing your light display wirelessly?

A simple way to do this would be to run a wire to your network switch that multiplies the network from your computer to each controller. Then, you would plug in a long network cable and run it out in your lawn.

A second way to achieve setting up wirelessly would be to switch out the network switch with a router or access point. Once you setup that up, you would then make sure your computer is connected and you have access.

Tip – If you are using a router, you need to make sure that all of your IP addresses are the in same range as the router! Many people run their show in 2.0.0.X or 10.0.0.X ranges, which can work with a switch, but not necessarily with a router.

If you’re a network wizard and you just read that, obviously I am simplifying it – there are ways around it, but if you are new to this, staying simple is the BEST choice.

How Do You Run Your Show?

If you’re new to creating an animated Christmas light show you most likely want to keep it simple. To run your show you can actually use the scheduler in your xLights or Vixen program to run your lights. I highly recommend this option for those just starting out.

An option that does get mentioned a lot is getting an FPP to run your show. An FPP is a small microcomputer that runs your show. There are a couple of benefits to this option such as it’s able to free up your computer from having to run the show.

There are some FPP units that come with an internal clock. If you were to lose power at any time and when the power resumes the FPP will be able to resume your show on the scheduled time.

There are advantages to having an FPP but it’s not required to run your show.

As Your Show Grows

If you decide to decide you want to add to your display over time you’ll notice that there are long range controllers and with receiver boards available. I’d also like to note that these are simple – just extensions to your controllers – nothing too fancy here!

My suggestion is that don’t over complicate your display and keep it simple. Try keeping everything off of your home network and that will help make the setup and the process so much easier.

To help keep this season stress-free or at least at a limit be sure to check out this article: Setup Tips and Tricks to Make Your Life Easier. Be sure to have fun with it and you’ll always learn more as you go.

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