PoE Powers Christmas Lights, But Opens Up So Much More

Addressable LEDs are a staple of homemade Christmas decorations in our community, as is microprocessor control of those LEDs. So at first sight [Glen Akins]’ LED decorated Christmas tree looks pretty enough, but isn’t particularly unusual. But after reading his write-up you’ll discover there’s far more to the project than meets the eye, and learn a lot about the technologies behind it that has relevance far beyond a festive light show.

The decoration is powered exclusively from power-over-Ethernet, with a PIC microcontroller translating Art-Net DMX-over-Ethernet packets into commands for the LED string. The control board is designed from the ground up and includes all the PoE circuitry, and the write-up  gives a very thorough introduction to this power source that takes the reader way beyond regarding PoE as simply another off-the-shelf black box. Along the way we see all his code, as well as learn a few interesting tidbits such as the use of a pre-programmed EEPROM containing a unique MAC address.

So if your house has CAT5 wiring and you want an extra dimension to your festive splendour, you’ve officially got a whole year to build your own version. He’s featured here before, with his buzzer to break the Caps Lock habit.

12 thoughts on “PoE Powers Christmas Lights, But Opens Up So Much More

    1. Similar 50-long strings of WS2811 (Neopixel) chips cost no more than $10/50 on Aliexpress. You can get them often for as low as $7 excluding shipping. “WS2811 12mm” is a good search term for these.

  1. Excellent achievement and mong overdue, as long as there is Ethernet (w/PoE) available, which for me is a stretch goal. E1.31 (wireless DMX) is likewise doable for those difficult situations where no PoE is available. An ESP-01, some power and you are off to the races. Google ESPixelStick for details. I switched to 12V pixels for my Christmas decorations this year, $32/100 on Amazonia.

    1. I have a bunch of the Fork In Eye ESPixelSticks and made some of my own boards that run the same software. They’re definitely cheap and convenient. I used them at Halloween and Christmas this year. I need to consider making a 802.3bt board that can drive 100 of the 12 V pixels (72 watts) next.

  2. Nice project!

    I did something similar recently.
    I drive 30 addressable RGBW leds with 802.3af
    For the controller I used ESP32 + LAN8720 and I run the esphome firmware to integrate it with home-assistant

  3. Sorry, but Eh. This is equivalent to blink an LED with an Arduino. Let me know when you’re talking about hundreds/thousands of strings of LEDs and home shows with animation and video playing on strings. Such is the state of holiday lighting enthusiasts. A common show driving software package runs on a Raspberry Pi, or clusters of them, or on PCs. Here’s one enthusiast:


    And one of his professional displays: https://youtu.be/n5FigvfEizc

    Feel free to check-out Youtube with “christmas lights”.

    There are many, many, many more enthusiasts whose home lighting shows have hundreds and thousands of strings and whose power requirement pushes the 200 amp limit of most residential power boxes. Many of those shows would easily exceed the 200 amps if all LEDs were on at once.

    1. To the comment Sorry, but Eh…..

      Au contraire! You must understand the basis of the project. Yes pixels have been driven from Arduino for ages now. This is not the basis of what is being demonstrated at all! The basis??? The fact that you can drive pixels without a power supply in sight and utilizing the POE technologies of a POE Ethernet Switch is what this is all about. Take a step back and think what possibilities you can do with this? One POE Switch 4-48 port options, Up to 300 Feet runs and no power supply is nothing to Eh about! Its not a perfect for all solutions but its one worth considering. My 2 cents

      1. To the comment Sorry, but Eh…..

        Why is it that the people who just have to sit on the sidelines and snipe; the ones who have done nothing interesting and never will; the whiney ones who say “oooh you’ve made a spelling mistake” or “ you wrote the code in basic instead of Transformational J and that’s sooooo 19th century”; why is it that these people never give their names? They wouldn’t dare say this except from a safe distance where their lack of achievement, probably their lack of any sort of activity, can’t be seen. They are cowards of the worst sort.

        Be kind, be interested, be excited rather than continually looking for faults. The human condition is surely not best when it consists of a continual state of being smugly, boringly ineffectual.

    2. What you have failed to grasp about this site is that it has both the spectacular and ‘eh’ hacks; the huge, complicated, expensive ones to admire from afar and the little, simple, inexpensive ones to inspire us to actually get our hands dirty and make something. Both are a blessing.

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