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What to buy for the long run


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This year I plan on getting a light-o-rama set up and doing a mega tree. My plan is to start off with a 16 channel unit and then expand on that in the years to follow.

I see there is the 16 channel show time starter package that will get me going. I'm also a bit of a DIY guy and I saw the CTB16PC DIY kit, the one with the card already assembled just put on the cables. I see that kit is cheaper and it looks like the showtime package is a heavier duty set up. Is that heavy duty unit worth the extra money?

I was thinking going with the kit I could talk myself into buying a second one and get more channels (obviously). But is that the best decision for the long run? Especially since I plan on expanding it every year.

I understand that I'd have to buy the software too but that should get me everything I'd need with the cables included in that.

Thank you,


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I would start with the kit if it were me, I like the idea of having one of the showtime units in the mix. I started out buying 3 of them and later I think it is overkill. There are feature differences if you compare but not monumental ones. The showtime unit is UL listed so if a public display, like the city park was ever in the future, i would think you would want that. I have 3 showtime and 3 PC units but i have not put on the cords or tested the PC units yet, I expect no performance issues at all.

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I'll bet you get many responses to this! And the overwhelming response will be the CTB16PC, that's what I will say - I have 6 of those myself and started with 2.

For me, the biggest consideration is if you plan to use a computer to run the show. It doesn't take much of a computer to run the show, I used various parts of laptops that date back to the late 1990s the last 2 years.
That being said, I've had problems both years (entirely related to how junky the computers are), and have ended up using my work computer in it's place. For this year I got a single Showtime controller with MP3 show director, which will work with my other 6 PC controllers, and I can bypass using a computer to run the show.

Bottom line: if you intend to use a computer to run the show, get the CTB16PC card assembled starter kit. My 11 year old actually puts these together for me.
The cable will run from the computer to the controller, so plan where you will have those placed and get the cable long enough (network cables are relatively cheap, I have a few over 100').
The computer doesn't necessarily have to be dedicated to running the show, but it is really nice if it can be. If you are using a clunker, be prepared with a backup plan! (if your "backup" computer is a non mobile desktop, make sure the cable will reach to it also if possible).
You didn't say, but I assume you want to transmit on the radio? You'll need an FM transmitter, but that's a whole other discussion...
And extension cords! You'll be surprised how many of these you end up needing. Eventually you will probably buy SPT spools and make your own. You will need at least one (and possibly two) of the thick grounded cords to run from the outlet to each controller (I have to use a 100'+80' for one of my controllers). From the controller to the lights, you can use 6'-15' pre-made "indoor" extension cords if you're careful. (For your tree, hopefully you'll plan it out with the controller close enough you may not need any).

These are but a few of the "hidden" costs of getting started. You can do a wonderful show with just 16 (or 32) channels if you're are at all budget minded, and that is plenty to get started with.

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I have both, but I vote for the PC also. The PC wasn't offered when I first started LOR, but if it had been, I still would have gone with the PC.

If you don't get the starter kit though, don't forget that you will also need one of the USB adapters to run LOR with your computer.

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I own mostly the PC controllers & some Show Time boards.

I like the PC controllers and they do the job.

Showtime controllers come with a 2 year warranty and the PC controllers come with a 1 year warranty.

The showtime comes with a steel enclosure whereas the PC controller is weather proof plastic enclosure.

The Showtime controller is UL listed & more than like CSA approved too (Canada)

The Showtime can handle 40 amps compared to 30 amps on the PC controller but if you use LEDs then no issue for awhile.

For the price of 1 Showtime controller you can buy 2 PC kits plus a few bucks.

Bottom line............. for your own personal use the PC controllers will do the job.

So start with 32 channel (48 would be better) but 32 is good.

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Thanks for the responses. Please keep em coming if you have any thing further to add on this.

I have a couple spare Pentium 4 PCs (nice thought on the backup) that can be used for the LOR display. As well as plenty of CAT5 cable. I wasn't even considering music. Just animating the display (tree). If I go with 32 channels I'll probably do more than just the tree. Of course now you'll get me thinking about music.

So to do this I would need:

1 (or more) PC-CTB16PC-COMPLETE - http://store.lightorama.com/ctascpa.html

then the SPK-ST software (S2) Basic (for up to 32 channels)
Add on the USB485 controller
CAT5 Cable of the needed length.
the CABLE-USB485B (usb cable w/filters) (I think that's included)

Then I should be set if I understand it all correctly to get it up and running with animation. No music but that like you said that is for another discussion.

Also did I read correctly that I can have the CAT5 cable be up to 4000' long?

Last year I did what I call my first real display (static). I did figure out the SPT extension cords would be great and plan to get some cord this year. Now I'm fretting over the lights for the tree but that's for another discussion...

Thank you all

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First, Aixelsyd, welcome to the hobby, and the greatest group of just-not-right people on the planet!! :)

2010 is my second year with LOR. I started with a single 16PC kit, the Starter kit (USB connector and Basic software). I quickly saw that 16channels wasnt enough, so I added two more 16PC controllers just a couple weeks later. I had considered the 16ch Showtime package, but for the money (the 3 16PC kits = 1 Showtime package), the solder kits were the way to go. I have been soldering since age 8 so it was a no-brainer. You've got the computer to run the show (and backups too), so I'd say you're set with the PC kits.. If you dont get the dongles with the kits, dont forget you'll have to find short extensions to run out from the controllers (abt $1 - $2/ea), and if you dont really load up a lot of strings (incand's) on each channel, you can go with the lower-power sinks, more LED's wouldn't matter either.

Good luck, and welcome again..


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