How It All Works

This is intended to be everything you could possibly want or need to know about our Christmas light display. The hope is that this information will inspire and aid you to create a light display of your own and help add a bit more wonder to an already wonderful time of year.

We would also like to give a major shout out to Matt Johnson from San Antonio. His light show on YouTube inspired us to get into pixel lighting and gave us a standard of excellence and precision to strive for. He also has several how-to videos that were immensely helpful in understanding some of the parts required for putting together a legit Christmas light display.

Below is an overview of our system showing how it is all hooked together, along with dedicated pages for each component. There are also other miscellaneous pages dedicated to specific issues we encountered and the lessons we learned from them.

Master Wiring Diagram

Our entire Christmas light setup in one “simple” diagram.

Starting the Process

Preparing for the Adventure

Understanding Pixel Lighting

LED Pixels

Mounting Pixels on the House

Wiring the House Pixels

All About Power Injection

The Attic Control Center

As we laid out the system, we quickly determined that the attic was the most logical location to house most of our Christmas light electronics. While not the most convenient to access, it is the best option for shortening our cable runs and getting the best audio performance out of our FM transmitter, while also being 100% weatherproof. As an added benefit , we can mostly just leave the equipment there in the off season.

Philip built a shelf for holding the electronics at the front of the attic right next to front-facing air vent through which we run all of our cables. One helpful thing we did was to wire in a power outlet right next to the shelf and put it on a light switch that lives in the laundry room (that’s where our attic access is). Having a switch in easy reach means we can hard reboot the system if needed without having to get a ladder and climb into the attic to cycle power there.

The attic control center. We have tried several different placements for the FM transmitter but this one seems to be the best with the least amount of interference.

The attic houses the following equipment:

Sandevices E682 Pixel Controller

Power Supplies

Raspberry Pi & Falcon Player

Network and Router

FM Radio Transmitter

Car Counting and Associated Equipment

The Garage Shelf Mini Control Center

We also have a mini control center in the front corner of the garage for controlling Universe 1 of pixels (the front of the garage) and the yard elements on the mailbox-side of the driveway.

The mini control center in the garage. An Ethernet cable runs from the router in the attic to the pixel controller.

This houses the following equipment:

Sandevices E682 Pixel Controller

Power Supplies

Front Porch

Starting in 2018, we decided to run universes 6 and 7 from their own power supply and wireless pixel controller, primarily to avoid stringing multiple extension cords across the roof. These two universes are on the left side of the house and pretty far from the attic control center. Instead, we mounted a power supply and controller to the underside of the porch ceiling where it is protected from the elements.

The front porch ceiling with its mounted equipment. We tried to be discrete with running the cables as well, and for the most part, they are well hidden from the street by the eaves and by the column.

The front porch “control center” contains the following equipment:

Power Supplies

ESPixelStick Pixel Controller

Backlighting the Front Windows

One of the unique features of our Christmas light display is the backlighting of our three front windows. Prior to 2017, we achieved this effect through the use of LED Par Cans. From 2017 on, we have used window light boxes to achieve a similar effect but better.

Window Light Boxes

Turning the Garage Door into a Canvas

In 2020, we replaced the 4 seven-segment displays on the garage door with a full LED pixel screen. As with the old elements, the pixel screen presented several interesting challenges due to the need for the garage door to remain operational.

Garage Door Pixel Screen

Bringing the Lights to the Sidewalk

Our 2016 show was limited mostly to the house itself and thus was fairly two dimensional. In 2017, we introduced two new lighting elements in the yard to add a third dimension to our show: LED Snowmen along  the sidewalk and Light Bulb Rails lining the driveway. In 2021, we introduced a new interactive display (in the neighbor’s yard) to give people the chance to interact with lights using various controllers.

Snowmen Army

Light Bulb Rails

Interactive Light Display

The Bomb Box, the Trees, and the Sign

The nerve center of our yard elements is our “bomb box”, so named because of all the flashing lights, clicking sounds, and wires contained within. It contains equipment for controlling our handful of traditional strings of Christmas lights as well as the audio speakers for the front yard.

Front Yard Relays (aka Bomb Box)

Front Yard Audio

Info Sign

The Trees

The Creative Aspects

A good Christmas light show is not just about the technology. There is also a lot of creativity that goes into preparing the music and sequencing the lights.

Crafting the Music for a Christmas Light Show

Sequencing the Lighting Effects with Vixen

Filming a Christmas Light Show

Bringing the Vision to Life

Channel Output Mapping

Other Miscellaneous Items

Traffic Control

Advertising the Show

The Other 11 Months…How to Store All These Lights

Old Master Wiring Diagrams

Our pre-2020 entire Christmas light setup in one “simple” diagram. This is here for reference to show how things have evolved over time.
Our pre-2018 entire Christmas light setup in one “simple” diagram. This is here for reference to show how things have evolved over time.