Klayfish

Starting over again...using LEDs. Tips?

16 posts in this topic

Most of my songs were programmed some time ago, when I was using incans.  Over the years, after Christmas sales have allowed me to slowly convert the display to LED.  At this point, I'm basically 100% completely converted.  As you guys know, and I've found out through experience, LED doesn't respond to SE commands the same way incans do.  Some of my songs now look really bad, like just random flashing that could rival a Japanese cartoon.  So I plan to start over and redo the programming, especially now that I was able to score a bunch of single color LEDs in the after Christmas sales (I had mostly multicolors until now). 

 

So for those with a lot of experience programming in both incan and LED, what tips can you offer in the conversion?  Doesn't seem to me that sparkle or twinkle work very well with LEDs, or is there a trick to it?  I definitely plan to follow the K.I.S.S. philosophy, as I have very limited time to program...I do it for 30 minutes at a time while sitting in my car during lunch breaks at work.  The plan is to get one song per month done.  I have 32 channels, so it's not an overly complicated layout.  I actually use a lot of "mirroring"...for example, I have a row of 8 mini mega tomato cage trees that are one channel each.  I hook those channels into a grid that I lay out on the lawn (8 horizontal rows and 8 vertical rows). 

 

Thanks for any suggestions you can offer! 

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I use cheap (1/2 wave) M5 LED strings . They twinkled and shimmered just fine. LEDS respond faster, so there is not the 'fade' you see with incans.  ON or OFF

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LEDs shimmer and twinkle extremely violently. The heat-up and cool-down time of the incandescents smooths out rapid flashing but that is not the case with LEDs. I have a display where there are 3 single-color strands on each house element, so in the event that I need to make something shimmer, I will leave 1 strand on solid and shimmer a second strand on top of it so that way the display is never completely off. I spend a lot of time in my programming putting small fades before and after each event as to soften the glow of the LEDs to give them a softer more incandescent-like glow. Another thing to keep in mind is that LEDs typically only have noticeable brightness differences during fades between about 6% and 80% intensity. If you are to make a fade in your display and you want it to be more linear (like incandescents), programming that fade to start at 6% or so and ramping up to ~80% is a good way to do that. The biggest thing I would advise is to always have a visual resting point in your choreography. LEDs can be very harsh if every element is always flashing. A color wash on the house or a certain lighting element that can be tied to a soft undertone in a song can really help keep the display from being too flashy. The thing that makes a display look harsh is when the entire display is on-off-on-off. If there is a constant light from somewhere or very smooth fading you can avoid that.

Here is a video of my display from last year. All of the white and green lights are LED and the red on the house is incandescent, and I think you'd be hard-pressed to spot the difference. Almost every LED event is faded on and off to as closely match the soft glow of the incandescents as I could. So for example when I do a chase of the LED mini trees, instead of starting at 100% intensity and fading down to 0% like I would with an incandescent string, I put about a 1/8 of a second fade up from 6% to 80% intensity, then a solid intensity block, then the fade down. With that technique the difference between LEDs and Incandescents are almost indistinguishable. To keep a consistent visual style throughout the song I do that to almost every on-off event of the LEDs.

 

 

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12 hours ago, LightsWithSoul said:

LEDs shimmer and twinkle extremely violently. The heat-up and cool-down time of the incandescents smooths out rapid flashing but that is not the case with LEDs. I have a display where there are 3 single-color strands on each house element, so in the event that I need to make something shimmer, I will leave 1 strand on solid and shimmer a second strand on top of it so that way the display is never completely off. I spend a lot of time in my programming putting small fades before and after each event as to soften the glow of the LEDs to give them a softer more incandescent-like glow. Another thing to keep in mind is that LEDs typically only have noticeable brightness differences during fades between about 6% and 80% intensity. If you are to make a fade in your display and you want it to be more linear (like incandescents), programming that fade to start at 6% or so and ramping up to ~80% is a good way to do that. The biggest thing I would advise is to always have a visual resting point in your choreography. LEDs can be very harsh if every element is always flashing. A color wash on the house or a certain lighting element that can be tied to a soft undertone in a song can really help keep the display from being too flashy. The thing that makes a display look harsh is when the entire display is on-off-on-off. If there is a constant light from somewhere or very smooth fading you can avoid that.

Here is a video of my display from last year. All of the white and green lights are LED and the red on the house is incandescent, and I think you'd be hard-pressed to spot the difference. Almost every LED event is faded on and off to as closely match the soft glow of the incandescents as I could. So for example when I do a chase of the LED mini trees, instead of starting at 100% intensity and fading down to 0% like I would with an incandescent string, I put about a 1/8 of a second fade up from 6% to 80% intensity, then a solid intensity block, then the fade down. With that technique the difference between LEDs and Incandescents are almost indistinguishable. To keep a consistent visual style throughout the song I do that to almost every on-off event of the LEDs.

 

 

Thanks!!  Can you give me an example of what you mean by  "A color wash on the house or a certain lighting element that can be tied to a soft undertone in a song can really help keep the display from being too flashy."

Edited by Klayfish

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A color wash can be as simple as using an RGB spotlight on a wall somewhere.  Fades are an excellent way to minimize some of the "flashy" look.  Better sequencing goes a long way also.  It's perfectly okay to flash lights on and off occasionally.  I like keeping background props like buildings lit while having things like arches, mini trees, etc do the heavy lifting.  I also believe in maintaining a visual anchor for a viewer's eyes to further mitigate the "flashing".  Most of the time.  There's a lot to be said for lights jumping out at a viewer from the dark.

I must admit I was amused reading about trying to sequence LEDs to look like incandescents.  My brain kept asking "Why"?  If a person likes the look of incans, why bother to get LEDs in the first place?  Seems to me like it's just a waste of time and effort.  Full-wave LEDs are bright and their color is intense. (Half-wave not as much of either)  Side-by-side, incans would never be mistaken for LEDs.   Nor can the two be made to look like one another except by muting/dumbing down the LED's  Again, why bother?

Twinkle and shimmer (what the heck is sparkle?) work excellently with LEDs.  Especially shimmer.  Shimmer sucks with incans because of the time it takes an incan filament to go from off to on, followed by the time it takes for an incan filament to go from on to off.  With LEDs shimmer comes alive! 

Too much "flashing" is a sequencing condition that can be overcome by experience and by spending time consulting with and studying the videos of people whose displays don't flash.

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I think the difference being as in my case if your running 30,000+ lights, LED's it make a huge impact on your power bill. At .14/KWH could be $3000.00 or $300.00 for the month. Just saying :)

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I don't know much about Canadian LEDs, but in the US, I believe you could run 30,000 LEDs 24/7 for an entire month and not come anywhere close to $300.

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19 hours ago, George Simmons said:

A color wash can be as simple as using an RGB spotlight on a wall somewhere.  Fades are an excellent way to minimize some of the "flashy" look.  Better sequencing goes a long way also.  It's perfectly okay to flash lights on and off occasionally.  I like keeping background props like buildings lit while having things like arches, mini trees, etc do the heavy lifting.  I also believe in maintaining a visual anchor for a viewer's eyes to further mitigate the "flashing".  Most of the time.  There's a lot to be said for lights jumping out at a viewer from the dark.

I must admit I was amused reading about trying to sequence LEDs to look like incandescents.  My brain kept asking "Why"?  If a person likes the look of incans, why bother to get LEDs in the first place?  Seems to me like it's just a waste of time and effort.  Full-wave LEDs are bright and their color is intense. (Half-wave not as much of either)  Side-by-side, incans would never be mistaken for LEDs.   Nor can the two be made to look like one another except by muting/dumbing down the LED's  Again, why bother?

Twinkle and shimmer (what the heck is sparkle?) work excellently with LEDs.  Especially shimmer.  Shimmer sucks with incans because of the time it takes an incan filament to go from off to on, followed by the time it takes for an incan filament to go from on to off.  With LEDs shimmer comes alive! 

Too much "flashing" is a sequencing condition that can be overcome by experience and by spending time consulting with and studying the videos of people whose displays don't flash.

Basically I wanted the brightness, the really true intense color, and the capability to do more intense shimmers and certain effects that require the responsiveness of LEDs just in case a song calls on it, but most of the time in my sequences I want to give it a softer feel hence the little fade details and such. It's probably a weird niche way to program but I like the look of the end product so I can't feel too bad about the extra time spent on getting it. I agree with your emphasis on sequencing George. Honestly if I watch a video or drive by a display and the first thing I see is a lot of flashing I'm gone within a couple minutes. It legitimately gives me a headache. I mean no disrespect if anyone likes a very flashy display, that's just my personal preference. 

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Thanks all.  Some follow up from my end.  I guess I'll have to try to do some more testing into twinkle and shimmer.  All I know is that when I programmed them for incans, I was fairly happy with the result.  Now that they're LED, I don't like it.  Too few lights are twinkling, it looks more like random spot lights flashing. 

All my lights are Wal-Mart bought, not sure if that makes a difference, and I don't know what half wave vs full wave even is. 

Which brings me to the biggest challenge, the same one I've always had.  Time.  I just don't have much of it.  Like I said, my programming is done in 30 minute increments during lunch breaks at work.  I have very little to no time to do this stuff at home.  I realize that's a major hindrance in a hobby where many people invest countless hours.  So with that, I have no goals of having a display as fancy as most of you do, unless I pay someone to do it for me, which I'm not going to do.  My realistic goal is to do the best I can with what I have.  I'm happy with them just going blinky blink, but of course I don't want it to induce a seizure, which is why I want to start over.  So I'm happy to take any basic tips on LED sequencing, and appreciate all your feedback so far.  For me, I think the biggest challenge is knowing how and when to use fades/twinkle/shimmer.  I figured out early on in programming that simple on/off can look really bad if you do it too much.  So I've got it in spots here and there...things where I fade to black, have a few pauses of darkness, then a big flash at a major point in the song.  But I use that very sparingly.

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1 hour ago, Klayfish said:

 

All my lights are Wal-Mart bought, not sure if that makes a difference, and I don't know what half wave vs full wave even is.

Fullwave refers to the Rectification method. In our case,we feed wit AC on 2 wires, so we need 4 Diodes (in the bulge) to get full wave.

(There is a 2 diode version, but that has 3 wires in and is not compatible with USA power systems)

1/2 wave uses just 1 diode . There is no current flow for 1/2 of each AC cycle (LEDs are of 60 times a second)

If there is 1 wire going into the bulge  from the plug end (and one out to the LED side), it has to be 1/2 wave.

Full wave gets both plug wires in, and 2 more to the LEDS 

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Simple way to tell the difference plug them in and wave them around. Half wave lights will strobe and show a flashing effect while waving them around. Full wave lights will look much smoother while waving them around. 

The other thing is if you hook up LEDs to Lor AC controllers you want to change the dimming curve in the controller so you're fading up and down looks more linear, otherwise like what was said before the lights will be full brightness when you're at 50%

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I've been using L.E.D. strands from all the Big Box Retail Stores, Wal-Mart, Target, Lowes, Home Depot, Garden Ridge{now renamed to something else in my region}, Walgreen's, Ace Hardware, Dollar General, Family Dollar and even Big Lots Discount/Outlet and some I've found on occasion at Dollar Tree stores, all my L.E.D. strands shimmer and twinkle just fine, no issues with any of them at all.  And funny thing is, I originally programmed those shimmers and twinkles using incandescent strands at the time, now that I swapped out to L.E.D.'s later on in those sections the blended right in.  Now some sequences I did do a little tweaking to, others, I just left them alone and they still worked out fine for me with all those L.E.D. strands I'm using from the retail stores.

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I have only been at this for a little while but the biggest thing I have noticed is some leds fade while others do not. The lights that I got from Walmart when I fade them strobe really bad. It has been my experience this far that only the GE and some Sylvania lights are dimmable. Simmons and Philips I have yet to purchase and try

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43 minutes ago, Thebug said:

I have only been at this for a little while but the biggest thing I have noticed is some leds fade while others do not. The lights that I got from Walmart when I fade them strobe really bad. It has been my experience this far that only the GE and some Sylvania lights are dimmable. Simmons and Philips I have yet to purchase and try

Those are 1/2 wave (1 wire) rectified.  I was thinking of simply making a full wave plug adapter    using something like http://www.jameco.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=10001&productId=102980&catalogId=10001&CID=CAT161PDF

between a plug and a socket. All you need to do is get the Plus and Minus to the right socket pin so it matches the diode direction  in the string (the string won't light if it is backwards).  No need to modify any 1/2 wave string  Plug ->Rectifier>Outlet>String_plug

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19 hours ago, TheDucks said:

Those are 1/2 wave (1 wire) rectified.  I was thinking of simply making a full wave plug adapter    using something like http://www.jameco.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=10001&productId=102980&catalogId=10001&CID=CAT161PDF

between a plug and a socket. All you need to do is get the Plus and Minus to the right socket pin so it matches the diode direction  in the string (the string won't light if it is backwards).  No need to modify any 1/2 wave string  Plug ->Rectifier>Outlet>String_plug

If you use a rectifier to make full wave led strings you will most likely have to 'fix' the strings. Typically the light strings are built in two halves and many times you have to cut and flip the wires at that spot to have the entire string lit. The rectifier converts the power from AC to DC so the strings become polarity sensitive.

90% of our display is led strings from Big Lots, Walmart and other similar stores. I have cut and spliced most of our strings to work fully with rectifiers.

I got rectifier boards from DIYC and built them into small pig tails instead of putting them directly into the strings.

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I've been using 1/2 wave LEDs for years with very little fading problems. The only issue is that they will flicker when very dim, but that is fixed by adding "snubber" resistors, which I built into plugs.

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