ESPixelStick Pixel Controller

Several lighting elements in our show are not easily reachable via wire from the attic where our main e682 pixel controller lives. For these elements, we use wireless pixel controllers called the ESPixelStick. These are made by a guy at forkineye.com and are available assembled on Amazon for US$20 each. The design and code is open source so you can technically build your own but it would be hard to match the same product quality for much less money.

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The ESPixelStick pixel controller. An astute observer will notice that this particular controller is being back-fed power from the pixels rather than having power originate at the controller.

These controllers are driven by an esp8266-01 wifi module (the same type we used in our earlier wifi-ication of our RGB wash lights). Honestly, the hardest part of using these modules is flashing the software onto them and all in all that is pretty easy. There are instructions at the guy’s website for how to do this (and probably linked from the Amazon page as well) and all it requires is a USB->Serial converter. There are a bunch of these for sale online but I use one I got from Sparkfun right here in Colorado. The esp8266 is a 3.3V logic chip so you need a 3.3V converter and not a 5V version or you risk damaging the module. The software library download comes along with a program to send the software to the device and it is relatively easy to use if you follow the instructions.

Part of the input you give during the flashing process is the identity and password of your wireless network. The controllers have a web interface that makes it very easy to configure them to set the type and number of pixels, the color ordering, etc. Each controller can drive up to 4 universes worth of pixels (~170*4=680 pixels), though it only has a single output and thus those pixels must all be wired serially.

The ESPixelStick also has an awesome testing feature and is incredibly useful for quickly testing a new string of pixels. It supports a few different testing patterns and we used this feature a lot as we built our different elements and needed to verify the wiring.