With the help of a microcontroller, a few strings of GE Color Effect Christmas lights can be easily turned into a fully programmable LED strip, or if you are so inclined, a huge RGB LED display. [Hubbe] had a few strings of these Color Effect Christmas lights, but didn’t want to spend the time arranging his light strings in an array simply to get a programmable display. His solution to this problem – the Chaos Display – turns strings of Christmas lights randomly thrown on a tree into a fully programmable display capable of displaying text and images.
[Hubbe] was inspired by QC Co-Lab’s light wall powered by GE Color Effect lights. Having a huge RGB LED display is very cool, but requires building a frame for each of the Christmas light pixels. [Hubbe] had a different idea – just throw the lights on a tree and use a web cam to figure out where each Christmas light is on the display.
The actual build consists of six strings of Color Effect lights. After throwing them on the tree, [Hubbe] set his phone on a tripod to record an image for each individual light. With some computing power, he was able to create a virtual display made of tangled strings of Christmas lights.
You can see a video of [Hubbe]’s work after the break.
Continue reading “Displaying text on random strings of Christmas 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.
[Jason] and his father took advantage of a week off of work over Thanksgiving to design and build a Christmas light decoration that can flash fancy patterns. He calls it the Uno Christmas Tree. It’s sixteen strands of lights draped between a pole and the ground to form the shape of a tree. The main controller is an Arduino UNO, but what really makes this work is a mechanical relay board with sixteen channels.
Using trigonometry they figured out that the decoration would be fifteen feet tall and have a five-foot radius at the base. A pipe was installed to act as the trunk, with an old toilet flange at the top and stakes at the bottom to anchor the lights. They all make their connections at the controller box using extension cords that were labelled with channel numbers. You can see the final product in the video after the break. But you’ll also want to watch the clip on [Jason’s] blog which shares the sonic symphony created when the mechanical relays really start working.
Continue reading “Christmas light controller is its own percussion section”
[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.
Continue reading “Kick off the Christmas decorating with a review of 3 types of LED strings”
[Timothy] is honing his microcontroller skills with this electronic dice project. In addition to giving him an opportunity to work on some code, the use of an 8-pin chip provides a design challenge for driving the twelve pips and providing a user input.
The project started off with some $4 strings of LED Christmas lights. He promptly disassembled the strands, each yielding 100 LEDs. The microcontroller he chose to work with is a PIC 12F629. It’s DIP8 package provides six I/O pins to work with. When examined closely you will find that the pips on a die are always present in pairs with the exception of the center pip. This means that only four pins are needed to drive one die. You can see a pair of transistors above; one is a PNP, the other an NPN. These are both driven from the same uC line, which toggles between the pair of die. This accounts for 5 of the available pins, with the sixth monitoring the push button.
If you’re planning to outdo yourself with this year’s Christmas decorations now’s the time to start planning. After all, what else have you got going on since the dreadful heat is making outdoor activities a sweat-soaked misery? Take some inspiration from [Tim] who just finished prototyping a wireless MIDI controller for his strings of Christmas lights. You can just see the four spools in the distance which are lighting up as he tickles the ivories.
The wireless link is provided by a WiFi access point which uses its USB port to control the external hardware. This is a USB Bit Whacker board which in turn drives a relay board that was designed to switch mains voltages. The high voltage parts of the rig are housed in a plastic food storage container which hosts two pair of outlets to drive four channels in total. [Tim] is happy with the outcome, which he shows off in the video after the break, and hopes to expand to a total of sixteen channels for this year’s festivities.
Continue reading “Christmas prep starts early: MIDI control for strings of lights”
[Andrew] shows us one way to reuse all those strands of Christmas lights you used for decoration this year. He had a friend that was helping with stage props for a local musical and ended up using his skills to build a lighted sign with some animation capabilities.
The original plan was to cut out letters for a sign by hand and ring them with white Christmas lights. It is possible to hand cut parts reasonably well, but [Andrew] knew he could get a much better result in less time using a CNC ShopBot to make them. He didn’t know the spacing for the lights so waited and drilled holes for them by hand. Each strand is connected to a relay, then driven by an Arduino. They turned out great as you can see in the clip after the break.
This is a timely hack, because it uses plain old while incandescent bulb strands which will be going on sale in the next few days. Usually you can get them on clearance for a dollar or less so plan ahead and hit the big box store early. Continue reading “One way to reuse your Christmas lights post-holiday”