Kick off the Christmas decorating with a review of 3 types of LED strings

[Todd Harrison] has been on a quest to replace his incandescent Christmas lights with less power hungry LED lights. There are plenty of options out there, but so far he hasn’t found any have the appearance he’s looking for. Since last year he bought three different kinds to try out and has posted a review of each.

Check out the strand of Brite Star Symphony Lights he’s showing off above. There is a white ‘Try Me’ button that lights up the string while still in the package! This offers fifteen bulbs each twelve inches apart. The strand draws 8.4 Watts when in use, you can connect up to 30 strands in series, and they are RGB lights with several different blinking patterns. He spends nearly an hour on this strand in his video review.

Next on his list is a set of Brite Star Classic Style C7 lights. They are single color and are meant to look like traditional large-bulb incandescent strands. At 2.4 Watts per strand you can string together 87 sets of them. This video is much more concise at around twenty-five minutes.

Finally he looks at the Brite Star 50 Mini LED strings. These are the traditional white Christmas tree lights, except in LED. One bulb every four inches on the string adds up to a 2.4 Watt power draw. You can string 58 sets together for a 1000 foot long string. [Todd] spends less than eight minutes reviewing this set.

You can see an intro video after the break but the full reviews are linked in his article. He really liked the Symphony Lights but the other strands have some issues. He discusses what he sees as design flaws in those strands and has decided they’re not really usable because of flickering.

Comments

  1. ameyring says:

    My local Rite Aid store had the Symphony lights in a 10-bulb set for $15 when you use a Rewards card. Can’t wait to play with it! If I remember correctly, they were going for closer to $60 last year, but it may have been a 15- or 20-light strand.

  2. He needs to review them after they have been used. I’m seeing all sorts of issues with lights here (Manila) which are usually cheap Chinese LED strings.

    They are assembled by first soldering wires to the legs of the LED. Then they place a spacer between the legs (to prevent shorting) and finally use a hard plastic shrink tubing to complete the assembly. The problems I see are 1) wires that come loose from the LED leads if any stress is placed on the string and 2) rusting LED leads if they come into contact with moisture (there’s no indications on the box if the lights are indoor only).

    I have also come across misplaced shrink tubing, so that the LED leads are exposed. Because the LEDs are driven with 220VAC, this can lead to a short or a nasty shock.

    If you want long strings of LED lights, they will have to powered by 220VAC (110VAC in the States). But then you expose yourself to possible shock hazards. Try to keep the LED strings in an area will they will stay dry and will not be subjected to undue stresses – like Little Billy yanking on them.

    There are also a lot of the ‘meteor lights’ available, which also have their own issues. I have purchased both the single tubes with 48 LEDs and the string of 6 tubes with 18 LEDs in each.

    The single meteor tubes have issues with the LEDs – they look like a very cheap brand – which seem to have a high initial failure rate. Of 5 single tubes of 48 LEDs each, I have 6 LEDs, spread across the tubes, that have either failed completely or don’t reach full brightness. Replacing the LED corrects the problem.

    And both the large (48 LED) and small (18 LED) tubes have problems with moisture – they are supposed to be sealed, but some appear not to be. So, when it rains, the tubes fill up with water. This isn’t as bad as it could be as they run the LEDs on +5V in these tubes and not 220VAC like the strings. My solution was to both try to reseal the top of the tube and drill a small weep hole in the bottom cap of the tube.

    Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!

    • eldorel says:

      Most of the outdoor meteor tubes I’ve seen are sealed and filled in, so that there is nowhere for condensation to form.

      I may be misunderstanding your comment somewhat, but it sounds like you are using indoor lights outside.

      If the lights aren’t specifically labeled for outdoor use, they are indoor only lights.

  3. timothyscarlson says:

    100 LED strings are selling for around $4 here (Manila). Single Tube Meteor Lights (48 LED) are selling for $5 each. A string of 6 smaller Meteor Lights (18 LEDs each) is selling for $10.

    I’ve already had them apart to check out the innards – to the dismay of my wife. And I’ve purchased about 10 strings of 100 LEDs lights of various colors to stock up my LED parts bins. Plus it gives me wire, some SCRs, a button, a cap, and a couple of resistors to add to the bins.

    Gotta love the holidays – for me it means PARTS! :D

  4. DainBramage1991 says:

    The single biggest problem I’ve seen with LED Christmas lights is the fact that they have no proper rectification/driver circuit of any kind. They just dump straight AC line voltage into the string and add a resistor to limit current. This forces the LEDs to act as rectifiers, which creates several issues:
    1: LEDs aren’t proper rectifiers and don’t last long when being reversed 30 times per second.
    2: Running them this way creates a nasty 30 Hz flicker which is uncomfortable at best and seizure inducing at worst (a valid concern for epileptics like me).
    3: As was pointed out previously, the high voltages present at each LED are a potential safety hazard, though the risk is actually no higher than it is with incandescent Christmas lights.

    My solution is to make a simple DC circuit using a capacitor in series as a current limiter (on the AC side of the rectifier bridge, obviously), do a bit of rewiring of the LED light string so that the polarity is consistent, and I end up with a reliable, safe, and flicker-free set of Christmas lights.

    • CuriousGuy says:

      How about running the strand(s) off of a full-wave rectifier? You’d still have flicker, albeit at twice the line frequency (50 or 60 Hz), but you can throw a capacitor across the rectified supply. The lights ought to be brighter as well. One concern that I have is that with a higher on- duty cycle (shorter off- duty cycle) the lights may heat up beyond their design limits, thus shortening their life.

      • Chris says:

        I tried this last winter. (Full wave bridge) I was worried about burning the things out thinking whoever designed them may have chosen parts knowing they would be run on AC. Since I had some cheap lights I figured ‘what the hell’ and did it anyway. They are brighter and the flicker becomes un-noticable, but I don’t know how it affects their life. I did think about throwing a cap across the DC side of the bridge, but thought the increase in the average output voltage would be pushing my luck. My lights did survived the season though.

        • DainBramage1991 says:

          I run a bridge rectifier (full wave) with no filtering after and get no noticeable flicker, despite me being highly photosensitive. If I checked the output with my scope it would probably be dirty as anything, but for a string of LEDs it works just fine.
          To control brightness and LED temp, I calculated total string current draw according to approximate LED ratings (my best guess was 20 mw per LED, so I run them at about 15) and sized my capacitor accordingly. My math skills are poor, so I used trial-and-error and an ammeter to get it right.
          As for longevity, I’ve heard that these strings typically start losing LEDs after around 3 weeks. I’ve been running my modified string as accent lighting in my house 10 – 12 hours per day for the last 3 years, and I’ve only lost 1 LED out of 300. The others are starting to dim out slightly, but that’s to be expected after over 13,000 hours of run time.

    • rj says:

      1- LEDs are fine rectifiers. The problem is that they are being run at or near their limits (forward current and reverse voltage) to get the highest brightness for the minimal cost. Frequency has nothing to do with it.
      2- 60 or 50 Hz, depending on where you are, not 30Hz; the LEDs are just wired antiparallel. Flickering them at 30Hz would require substantially more complicated circuitry.

    • nickpl says:

      I would love a how to guide. I haven’t used any LED Christmas lights myself yet as I really hate the flickering.

  5. Galane says:

    How could anyone spend an hour or even 25 minutes talking about a simple string of lights?

  6. Pooty says:

    Dear lord that was a boring video…disn’t even review anything, just talked about that he was going to review them LOL

  7. Eric says:

    I just wish those cheap Chinese made indoor and outdoor usable LED light sets are better built. I’ve had strings with 3 years warranty fail in just 1 season. Upon checking, the leads (typically steel for LED) rusted and caused high resistance or open circuit. The socket often aren’t properly weatherproofed and has opening on the bottom large enough for water to seep in. The next LED string I get, I’m going to get liquid electrical tape and apply them to the bottom of every bulb socket to seal against moisture buildup and reduce rusting.

    I still have 20-odd years old incandescent light set that still worked outdoor as the bulb leads are usually made of copper and are more resistant to corroding in wet environment. Why are LED never made with copper leads?

  8. Dave P. says:

    …OK, dumb question, how can you operate more than one string of these Brite Star LED lights? I purchased 8-strings expecting to be able to tie them all together but for some reason, only the string plugged into an outlet works – no other string plugged in to another works (BTW – they all work individually). Anyone know why?

    • Dave P. says:

      …OK, I figured this out. Each line comes with a transformer which need to remain attached (there is a disconnect plug for some reason) but that transformer must be plugged into the accompanying plug on the string which then plugs into the next string of lights.

      The instructions are totally silent on how to string together multiple stings of lights…

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