A Clear Christmas Tree Means More Lights!

For all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, people still find ways to make time for their passions. In the lead up to Christmas, [Edwin Mol] and a few co-workers built themselves an LED Christmas tree that adds a maker’s touch to any festive decor.

Before going too far, they cut out a cardboard mock-up of the tree. This an easy step to skip, but it can save headaches later! Once happy with the prototype, they printed off the design stencils and cut the chunks of clear acrylic using power tools — you don’t need a laser cutter to produce good stuff — and drilled dozens of holes in the plastic to mount LEDs, and run wires.

A Raspberry Pi 3 and Arduino Uno make this in league with some pretty smart Christmas trees. MAX6968 5.5V constant-current LED driver chips and MOFSETs round out the control circuit. During the build, the central LED column provided a significant challenge — how often do you build a custom jig to solder LEDs? That done, it’s time for a good ol’-fashioned assembly montage! The final product can cycle through several different lighting animations in a rainbow of colours — perfect for a festive build. Continue reading “A Clear Christmas Tree Means More Lights!”

Bringing A Christmas Lights Show Inside

Instructables user [Osprey22] has been building towards this Christmas for years. Why? This year, he has brought an impressive musical Christmas light display inside, and at a fraction of the cost too!

An box at the tree’s base hides the power supply and the controller boards — a Raspberry Pi and a SanDevices e682 Pixel controller for the 400 WS2811 RGB LEDs — with an added router to connect them to the main network. The Pi is running Falcon Pi Player and a projector somewhere in the region of $100 complements the light show.

As far as mapping out the LEDs, Xlights is the program of choice, locating the LEDs in space with the help of a cell phone video recording. [Osprey22] had to write a quick program in C to fix the LED overlaps in the grid. (A spreadsheet would work just as well, here). Oh, and the gifts at the bottom of the tree double as a projector screen!

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Make Christmas Commercial Again with this Tiny TV Ornament

Readers of a certain age will remember a time when the Christmas season in the US officially kicked off after Thanksgiving. That was when advertisers began saturation bombing the communal mind with holiday-themed TV commercials night and day. Broadcast TV no longer holds sway like it did back then, and advertisers now start their onslaught in September, but you can put a little retro-commercialism back to Christmas with this 90s Christmas commercial-playing ornament for your tree.

The idea came to [SeanHodgins] after stumbling upon a collection of Christmas commercials from the 1990s on YouTube. With his content identified, he set about building a tree-worthy display from a Pi Zero W and a TFT LCD display. An audio amp and tiny speaker from an old tablet and a LiPo battery and charger form the guts of [Sean]’s TV, which were stuffed into a 3D-printed TV case, appropriately modeled after the TV from The Simpsons. The small fresnel lens that mimics the curved screens of yore is a nice touch. The software has some neat tricks, such as an HTTP server that accepts the slug of a YouTube video, fetches the MP4, and automatically plays it. We prefer our Christmas tree ornaments a little quieter, so a volume control would have been nice, but aside from that this looks like a ton of fun.

This isn’t [Sean]’s first foray into tricked-out ornaments, of course; readers might recall his IoT cheer-measuring Christmas ornaments from last season.

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A Very MIDI Christmas Lightshow

Christmas light displays winking and flashing in sync to music are a surefire way to rack up views on YouTube and annoy your neighbours. Inspired by one such video, [Akshay James] set up his own display and catalogued the process in this handy tutorial to get you started on your own for the next holiday season.

[James], using the digital audio workstation Studio One, took the MIDI data for the song ‘Carol of the Bells’ and used that as the light controller data for the project’s Arduino brain. Studio One sends out the song’s MIDI data, handled via the Hairless MIDI to serial bridge, to the Arduino which in turn sets the corresponding bit to on or off. That gets passed along to three 74HC595 shift registers — and their three respective relay boards — which finally trigger the relay for the string of lights.

From there, it’s a matter of wiring up the Arduino shift register boards, relays, and connecting the lights. Oh, and be sure to mount a speaker outdoors so passers-by can enjoy the music:

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Engineer’s Primer on DIY Christmas Light Shows

Each year brings new Christmas light shows, with synchronised music and wild blinking decorations to light your eyeballs ablaze. Now, many of us have dabbled in the dark arts of blinken, tinkering with LEDs or flashing a neon bulb or two. There’s plenty of tutorials on how to control all manner of lights, but they’re often written for novices. Learning the basics of electronics for the nth time when you just need to know the specifics of a protocol or what IC you need can be a total drag. That’s why [Bill Porter] has written the Engineer’s Guide to DIY Computer Controlled Holiday Lights.

[Bill] covers the topic from start to finish – not just the technical side of things, but practical considerations about where to source components, and timescales for keeping your project on track. It’s no coincidence this is coming out in January – if you want to get something big up and running for Christmas, it’s time to start now! The guide gives links to forum communities that put in large group orders for parts early, and ship them slow to save money.

Other areas covered include software for creating advanced sequences for your lighting setup, which allow you to map animations over your entire layout. There’s also tips on which controller hardware to use for incandescent lights and the now-ubiquitous WS2811 strings. Even better, [Bill] shares specific tips on how to avoid common problems like voltage drop over long pixel runs and communication issues.

It’s a testament to [Bill] and his experience – the guide is an excellent way to get right up to speed with the state of the art in DIY Christmas light shows, and will save you from all manner of pitfalls. If you need to build something big this year and don’t want to reinvent the wheel, this is for you.

It’s not the first time we’ve heard from [Bill] either – check out his stunning wedding invitations or his repair of a science museum exhibit.

Wifi-Controlled Christmas Ornaments!

Trimming one’s Christmas tree can be an enjoyable tradition year after year, but every once in a while some variation on  the established order can be just as fun. Seeking some new ornaments to and desiring to flex his skills, Instrucables user [Gosse Adema] created a LED-illuminated, phone-controlled, deltrahedron Christmas tree ornaments.

Wemos DI Mini Pros are the brains of these little guys, WS2182b RGB LED strips — being the superb go-to’s that they are — light the ornament, and a 5 V power supply keep them lit. [Adema] used the Wemos specifically to create a web server unique to each ornament, and goes into incredible detail on how to program each one — now there’s an arrangement of words you wouldn’t expect to see — providing all the code he used, as well as the models to 3D print the deltahedron.

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3D Printed Greeting Cards

T’is the season to hack, and the maker brigade won’t disappoint — there’s no better way to crank out a few cute holiday tchotchkes than to fire up the 3D printer. [Niklas Roy] has released gDraw, a software package that creates G-code to print out 2D drawings on your 3D printer.

The interface is simple, allowing the quick and easy creation of basic vector drawings. The program then converts the paths in the drawing to a G-code representation that your printer follows to squirt them out in plastic. Think of it as the 3D printed equivalent of the “Stroke Path” tool in Photoshop.

[Niklas] chose to demonstrate the software by creating some interesting greeting cards that Big Christmas is sure to rip off next year and sell for $30 a pop. The printed plastic drawings give a fun 3D effect to the cards, and we’d love to see more examples of art created with this technique. The software was designed to work with the Ultimaker 2, but with tweaks, it should be able to generate code for other printers, too.

We’ve seen plenty of great festive hacks over the years — like this awesome laser projection setup.