G-35 circuit board porn

[Todd Harrison] took a slew of pictures in his quest to loose all the secrets of the G-35 Christmas Lights. These are a string of 50 plastic bulbs which house individually addressable RGB LEDs. We’ve seen a ton of projects that use them, starting about a year ago with the original reverse engineering and most recently used to make a 7×7 LED matrix. But most of the time the original control board is immediately ditched for a replacement. It’s become so common that you can now buy a drop-in board, no hacking needed. We enjoy the hard look that [Todd] took at the electronics.

The stock controller uses a single layer, single sided board. There’s a resin-blob chip, but also an SOP-20 microcontroller. Since [Todd's] using several strings of lights on his house, he wondered if it would be possible to improve on the controller in order to synchronize the strands. His investigation showed that the board was designed to host a crystal oscillator but it is unpopulated. Unfortunately you can’t just add those parts to improve the timing of the chip (firmware changes would also be requires). He found that there’s a spot for a push-button. Quickly shorting the pads cycles through the effects, shorting them for a longer time turns off the string of lights. There is wireless control, but it seems that the only functionality it provides is the same as the unpopulated switch.

We enjoyed the close-up circuit board photos, and we like the spacing jig he used to attach the lights to his fascia boards. We’ve embedded a lengthy video about his exploits after the break. Continue reading “G-35 circuit board porn”

G-35 Christmas lights do make a great LED matrix

This fully-addressable RGB LED matrix was built by [John Graham-Cummings]. He didn’t start from scratch, but wisely repurposed a strand of GE Color Effect lights and built a pleasant looking case in which to mount the G-35 hardware.

We’ve seen this hardware used in a similar way before. Because each ‘bulb’ has its own microcontroller, color data is shifted in via a serial bus. Orient the modules in any pattern you choose and account for that layout in software.

Since the strings have 50 bulbs, [John] simply cut off the one on the end to form his 7×7 matrix with the remaining 49 units. A square of plywood with a grid of holes holds each in place. Cord mess is not a problem as the extra was cut out and the remainders were soldered together again. [John] uses an Arduino Pro to feed in the data, which you can see for yourself in the clip after the break.

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Syncing two strands of G35 Christmas lights

Lights

For a few years now, the set of Christmas lights most wanted by hackers and makers the world over is the GE G35 color changing set. With 50 individual RGB LEDs controlled by a microcontroller, these light strings can display any pattern of lights with the help of something as simple as an Arduino. The stock light sequences are a little problematic, especially if you’re running more than one string.

[Todd] picked up two G35 strings, and even when they’re turned on at the same time the light sequences slowly go out of sync after a half hour or so. He came up with a great way to make sure these lights stay in sync that requires only a slight modification. To make two light strings stay in sync, it’s simply a matter of disconnecting the data line from one string’s controllers and bridging that connection with the other string.

It’s a very easy modification, but it won’t give you twice as many individually controllable LEDs – for that, you’ll have to use either multiple Arduinos or buy a longer RGB LED strip. Still, having two identical 7×7 LED panels is better than a single panel, so we’ll have to tip our hat to [Todd] for this one.

CheerLights: Synchronizing Christmas lights around the globe

cheerlights-synchronized-christmas-lights

They say that the holidays are a time to gather with others, which usually translates into spending time with friends and family. The folks at ioBridge Labs thought that while friends and family certainly are a big part of the holidays, it would be pretty cool to gather together flocks of strangers by using the Internet to synchronize their Christmas lights.

Participation in CheerLights is pretty easy, requiring little more than an Internet connection, some GE G-35 Color Effects lights, an Arduino, and an ioBridge. While those are the recommended components, an Arduino Ethernet shield will handle networking just as well. There really are no restrictions when it comes to hardware, so if you are so inclined, it should be relatively easy to roll your own display using simple RGB LEDs and a µC of your choosing.

The colors are dictated by the group’s Twitter feed, which can be found at http://twitter.com/#!/@cheerlights. Whenever a message is sent to @cheerlights along with a color, all of the light displays listening in will change simultaneously.

We really like the idea, and think it would be pretty cool to see this sort of program rolled out on a neighborhood or street-wide level, so you could see dozens of strings changing colors all at once.

If you’re interested in checking out CheerLights’ current color, be sure to take a gander at their live stream here.

[via BuildLounge]

GE Color Effects hacking for the nautically inclined

ge-color-effects-controller

[Jim] wrote in to share some work he did with GE Color Effects LED lights in an effort to create a light display for his boat. He saw our coverage of the Color Effects G-35 hacking efforts by DeepDarc last year, and knew that they would be prefect for the boat. He did some careful scouring of eBay to score 8 strings of lights at bargain basement pricing, then he got down to the business of hacking them.

He originally built a control circuit using a single PIC18F, but just before he started to put everything together, he realized that wiring everything up would be a huge undertaking. Going back to the drawing board, he decided it would be best to replace the lights’ stock board with one of his own. Now, he uses a single master controller board to send messages to his slave “pods”, significantly cutting down the amount of wiring required for the project.

The display looks great as you can see in the video below, though as many do, [Jim] has plenty of improvements in mind for the future.

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Scrolling marquee made from GE Christmas lights

[John Riney] picked up three strands of addressable Christmas lights and used them to make a scrolling marquee. You may remember that the G-35 lights were hacked at the beginning of December, and we saw a project or two that involved these fun toys.

In order to make the display [John] modified the original packing material to hold three strands in a six by eighteen grid for a total of 108 pixels. In the video after the break he points out one interesting feature of the strand that we don’t remember from looking at the original hack; each bulb’s address is not fixed, it can be set after power-up. This works the same way as sending color data, except that you just send the address. This makes controlling a grid like this extremely easy from a microcontroller programming standpoint. Once all of the addresses have dropped down the serial bus, you’re ready to start sending color and intensity data packets.

The setup is fast, bright, and beautiful, taking just three pins of an Arduino for control. The only thing holding us back from trying this ourselves is the $150 price tag. But that was before the holiday, and we have heard some whispers about closeout deals on this product.

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Chat list indicator uses hacked xmas lights

Here’s a way to display which friends are logged into chat. This uses the same G-35 hacked Christmas lights we saw earlier in the month. [Andrejk's] company uses Microsoft Lync as their chat protocol when working in teams. The service has an SDK that allowed him to write some .NET code to check status and display it on the string of lights. It works much as you would expect; red for busy, green for available, purple is out-of-office, and we’d guess that yellow is for away. Watch him demonstrate the system after the break.

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