The Gory Details

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

MasterBlock

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.

attic

The attic control center. The Raspberry Pi is hanging by its cables off to the left, but it probably should go back to living on the table. The network video recorder and Ethernet switch are solely used for the security camera. 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

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 the same effect but better.

Window Light Boxes

ESPixelStick Pixel Controller

RGB Window Wash Lights

Turning the Garage Door into a Canvas

In 2017, we added 4 seven-segment displays to our garage door. These presented several interesting challenges due to the need for the garage door to remain operational.

Garage Door Seven-Segment Display

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.

LED Snowmen

Light Bulb Rails

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

Bringing the Vision to Life

Channel Output Mapping

The Off Season

The Other 11 Months…How to Store All These Lights