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]

Music-synced Christmas light suit

Ah, the end of the 4th financial quarter – the magical time of increased sales, being at work the entire time the sun is up, and holiday parties. For [Andy] at National Instruments, though, things don’t seem too bad. He built a neat Christmas light suit to entertain everyone with his brilliant persona.

[Andy] always loves great Christmas light displays (he even blogs about them), so he figured a wearable light display synchronized with music would be very doable. The build is controlled with LabVIEW to convert .WAV files to power levels and frequency bands. This info is then piped into the Arduino that controls the lights.

[Andy] actually made two light suits, one for him and one for his friend [Richard]. Both guys have two light-up Christmas staffs to wield light mage powers on their coworkers. The lighsuits are controlled by Arduino/Xbee setups – one each for each suit and staff. The result is phenomenal, and should really get everyone in the holiday spirit.

Dimming AC lights the hard way

It’s that time of year again where the thermometer drops, the sun sets earlier, and we try to warm our hearts with the solstice festival that is common in our own respective cultures. Of course we all need a few strings of lights, but wouldn’t it be great if we had PWM controlled dimmable lights?

When he started out on his PWM-controlled, AC-powered light box, [Waterbury] immediately realized that relays were not going to be an optimal solution. The best way out of the mess he dug himself into would be via zero crossing. After getting a transformer wired up to a transistor for the detection circuit, a short bit of code was written in the wee hours of the morning and a proof of concept was had.

With the control box complete, [Waterbury] hacked up a quick VB app and piped the output of a WinAmp visualizer into the lights via serial. The Inception demo was great, but finer-grain control was needed. After seeing a Hack a Day post on a nice equalizer chip, the seven band output on IC were converted to UART.

[Waterbury] took his seven-band AC-controlled light box to a Halloween party with his synth and the results looked awesome. You can check that out after the break, but we’re really waiting to see his Christmas decorations this year.

Continue reading “Dimming AC lights the hard way”

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”

Christmasqualizer is the next light switch rave

[Kyle] was looking for a way to spice up his boring brick-wall dorm room. The Christmasqualizer he came up with brightens up his room and would make an awesome place for a rave.

The strings of lights in [Kyle]‘s Christmasqualizer are off-the-shelf Christmas lights. A simple circuit for the 7-band equalizer was built following this article. The build uses an MSGEQ7 equalizer chip takes audio from any source. The volume level of the seven EQ bands are output to an Arduino over a serial connection.

After the EQ chip was connected to the Arduino, [Kyle] needed a way to switch the strings of Christmas lights on and off. A few solid state relays later, and he was in business.

All the code for the Christmasqualizer is up on github. The sketch is pretty simple – connect the EQ chip as per the article, then connect the relays to the output pins on the Arduino. It’s a fun and easy project that really livens up a dorm room.

See-through LED display

[Ndsit] is having a party and wanted to liven up the place with some blinky lights. He’s a bit new when it comes to hobby electronics, and although we’d highly recommend inviting some resistors to participate, the LED matrix that he built is very nice. It’s 8×8, it’s big, and (as shown in the clip after the break) the lights seem to hover in midair. That’s because he didn’t use a substrate to make the display. A grid of enameled wire is strung between the four sides of the wooden frame. LEDs were gathered from a string of Christmas lights which means they’re in a holder and have insulated wires already connected. Each one was tied on at a junction point of the grid, then connected to a portion of the wire where enamel had been scraped off.

It works but there’s already one light that is out. We hope some current protection is added so that this can be used again and again.

Continue reading “See-through LED display”

Christmas light controller

We get a lot of tips about Christmas light controllers but rarely do they contain the kind of juicy detail that [Vince Cappellano] included with his setup. His video explaining the controller he built is embedded after the break and it’s not to be missed.

We think there’s a lot of good design invovled in this porject. First off, he’s got eight physical channels, each with optisolation and a triac for 256 levels of power control. But he was able to double the control to sixteen virtual channels if you’re using LED lighting. That’s because on those strings half of the LEDs are reverse biased compared to the rest. By adding sensing circuitry to the incoming AC, he can switch the triacs to only send positive or negative voltage through the LED strands, which produces the additional virtual channels. And did we mention that he did all this using wire wrapping and point-to-point soldering?

Continue reading “Christmas light controller”