2017 Light Display

After last year’s success with pixel lighting, we are very excited to continue to build on that foundation and introduce a few new elements for 2017. We are building a whole new show for this year and adding in some light-up snowmen and some seven-segment displays on the garage door, just to name a few.

2017 Show Video

New Stuff for 2017

Everything we developed in 2016 is still in use this year, with one exception: we are swapping out our window back lighting with a new solution that doesn’t cause us to lose use of 4 rooms in our house for all of December! Here is some information on the new elements and other changes to our display.

Window Light Boxes

Goodbye, LED par cans! You worked well enough but it was just too inconvenient to not be able to use (like turn on lights, walk in the room, etc.) our guest room, office, or living room (or dining room too because of our open floor plan) while the show was running due to the risk of washing out the effect with the room lights or causing shadows with our bodies.

Instead, we have built some simple wooden boxes out of cheap 1×4 material and lined the edges with LED pixel strips. A piece of white masonite-like material on the back serves as a reflector to help spread out the lights. We still use a translucent shower curtain hanging on the window to help diffuse the lights when viewed from outside. The entire system sits on the window sill (stabilized by a safety strap looped over the curtain rod) and allows us full access to our rooms.

See Window Light Boxes for the details on this new element.

Driveway Light Bulbs

One thing we realized last year is that our display was fairly two-dimensional. We had a lot of lights on the house going in the left/right and up/down directions. However, we had virtually nothing operating in the forward/back axis throughout the yard. So, this year, we have created light bulb rails to line each side of the driveway. These are made of PVC that we spray painted black and have frosted plastic wedding favor jars that look like old-school incandescent light bulbs spaced at about a foot apart. Each bulb has a single “bullet” pixel inside shining up into the frosted surface.

See Light Bulb Rails for the details on this new element.

Light-Up Snowmen

Probably the most notable new feature for this year are our 12 light-up snowmen. These add even more forward/back depth to the display as they are lined up along the sidewalk at the front edge of the yard on both sides of the driveway. We built the snowmen from three different sizes of white beach ball glued together into a tower. LED pixel strips are glued to the back of each ball so that they can be illuminated different colors. A significant quantity of fishing line and tent stakes is in use to hold down each snowman and prevent a wind-caused snowman massacre.

See LED Snowmen for the details on this new element.

Garage Seven-Segment Display

The final new lighting element of the year is the 4 character seven-segment display (think calculator screen) on the garage door. This was probably the most fun new element to create because of the logistical challenges of mounting it on the garage door while still allowing the garage door to operate normally (we are NOT parking outside all of December!). The display consists of panels of corrugated plastic with LED pixel strips adhered to them. The panels are bolted on to the garage door. Mounted to the back side of the garage door is a power supply and a nest of wires connecting each of the panels. Finally, a system of shower curtain rings, a super cheap curtain rod, and some zip ties allows our power cord to move along with the garage door as it opens and closes.

See Garage Door Seven-Segment Display for the details on this new element.

ESPixelStick Wireless Controllers

Most of these new elements run off of a cool controller we found online call the ESPixelStick. The design is open source but the designer also now sells them assembled on Amazon for $20 each. These are super small, amazingly easy to setup and configure, and seem to work very reliably.

See ESPixelStick Pixel Controller for the details on this awesome new controller.

Outdoor Audio

We learned last year that some visitors don’t come via car and thus may not have an FM radio on hand to tune in to the music. We also found ourselves standing outside watching our house light up on many occasions throughout the season (usually with other people but not always…we are lighting nerds after all). To make the show more enjoyable for everyone, we are adding two outdoor speakers with volume set fairly low so that those on bikes or foot can enjoy the full experience of the show as well.

See Front Yard Audio for the details on our new outdoor audio setup.

Car Counting

One of the most challenging new items this year is a security camera that can give us a view over the front yard and street in front. This serves two purposes. The obvious one is to have some insight if we get vandalized or if nature causes issues to our display. The more interesting purpose is to provide video for a car counting algorithm so we can keep track of how many people visit our show and how long they stay to watch it. This is definitely a stretch goal for this year but there is some cool free software out there that will hopefully make it doable.

See Car Counting and Associated Equipment for the details on this.

Vixen Usage

Not only has the Vixen software improved over the last year but we are also getting more experienced at using it. We finally figured out how to unleash the power of Vixen for full house location-based effects where it can calculate the spatial relationships between different sets of lights. Some effects that took Rose 2 hours to program last year can now be done in a few minutes and it also unlocks some effects that would never have been practical or even possible to do manually.

Rewiring Universe 1

With the addition of more elements in the yard, we had the opportunity to rethink how we drive some of the pixels on the house. In particular, universe 1 on the front of the garage required a lot of power injection due to the long cable runs. We realized that we could use our extra Sandevices E682 Pixel Controller in the garage and drive both this universe and the yard elements on the mailbox side of the driveway. This saves running a lot of power cable, though required the addition of an extra Ethernet cable. We tried going wireless for this but things didn’t turn out so well. You can read that saga on the Network and Router page.

Rethinking Power Injection

We came to a realization that we were running more cables across the roof than required and not using all of our existing copper wire well. Specifically, we were using several extension cords for some of our longer runs for 12V power injection, but only using 2 of the 3 copper conductors in the cord. Since voltage drop due to line loss is our primary reason for needing power injection (as opposed to total current draw exceeding capacity of the cables), we can safely send a second path of power injection down the unused conductor and have both paths share a common ground. The power injection page describes this setup in detail.


This year’s show is about 8.5 minutes long and runs every 10 minutes. When the show is not running, we have some interlude lighting, a brief voice over from Philip, some background music, and a countdown timer running on the seven-segment displays.

Our experience last year was that a 10+ minute show is just a bit too long for people’s attention spans. Also, the 4.5 minute interlude was long enough that people could arrive, come to the conclusion that they were seeing all there was to see, and drive off without ever seeing the actual show. Hopefully, shortening the show a bit so we can run it more often will help with this, as will the countdown timer to the next show.

For the show, we play portions of the following songs/quotes:

  • Beethoven | Trans-Siberian Orchestra
  • Angels We Have Heard on High | Relient K
  • God Rest | Gary Hoey
  • Quote from Home Alone
  • Carol of the Bells (Dubstep) | Capital Kings
  • Light Me Up | Owl City / Toby Mac
  • Quote from Charlie Brown Christmas
  • Wizards in Winter | Trans-Siberian Orchestra
  • (Interlude) The First Noel | Gary Hoey