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Complete newbie looking to get started


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So I'm going to sound like a complete newbie, but that's OK...that's what I am. I need some input, and please remember that I know nothing about this stuff yet, so please try to keep the responses in the "Controllers for Dummies" lingo. :D

I posted my story in the thread about giving away a controller. But in a nutshell, I'm looking to take my display to the next level this year. Until now, I've only done what the average person might do...i.e. buy lights at Wal-Mart and string them on the trees and bushes. Admittedly, it's a bit more than "average", as I have about 8 blow ups, some other display items and such. Last year, I built a ramp for my Santa sleigh blow up, put a $10 lit up reindeer in front of him and made it look like he was taking off. That's my avatar picture. I also found a DJ music light controller that had 4 plugs in it on Craigslist. So I divided up my lights into 4 sections and had them flashing. But that's the extent of my fancy work. Here are some pictures, sorry they're not great photos, I took them in a hurry and only captured a portion of our lights. http://s1197.photobucket.com/albums/aa424/Klayfish/Christmas%202011/

As I wrote in my other post, my grand vision is to have a display that draws huge crowds and I can have holiday fundraising events for charity. But one step at a time. This year is step one. I've never looked at a light controller before, don't know how they work, etc… Don't know anything about sequencing, though I understand the concept. I don't know how many lights I have right now, should I go count first? All I know is that it's several large boxes full. Obviously, I fully intend to add to it year by year. I was given the recommendation on Planet Christmas of switching to LED lights, as that would save me from having to upgrade my electrical panel, and I think that's a marvelous idea. But they're expensive, so that will also be a little by little process.

So where do I start? What would be a good controller to start with, that could handle yearly "upgrades" to my display? I'd also like to broadcast music over FM and have the lights timed to that. I know how to use a computer, but I'm not a guru, so hoping I can find stuff that's almost "plug and play".

Sorry for the totally basic questions, but I've got to start learning. Thanks for any input!

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Not to dissuede{sp?} you in any way, but this stuff is nowhere near plug and play at all, it takes a lot of work and dedication to get these displays off the ground.

I'd strongly suggest you search out the forum and read as much as you can, download the Demo software and play around with it to get a feel for it.

Also read all the LOR manuals on the software, the controllers and any other hardware you may wish to purchase now and in the future You really need to know what you're getting into here.

And the best thing anyone can tell you is read, read, and read some more, as well as play around with the demo software to make sure you do understand how it works and all goes together.

And if you have someone in your area that can show you how they do it, hands on learning and seeing how things work up close and personal would definitely help you to see, and know, whether you really want to delve into this aspect of Holiday lighting and move into the zone many of us decorators are in.

But I can assure you, this is by no means anywhere near plug and play like a Mr. Christmas box, that's plug and play.

Again, this takes many hours of sequencing the music to get it looking good, as well as figuring out your power requirements depending on display size and type lights, and many, many extension cords to go from controllers to lights. Placement of lights and decor, and placement of controller/s.

Again, not trying to deter you away from all this, just trying to give you an idea of what you're actually looking to get yourself into.

So many jump into this without realizing the time and effort it really takes, then get disgruntled and sell off their equipment because they didn't bother to read the forums, search out answers, read manuals on BOTH the hardware and software to know what all is involved and required for this hobby. So they sold everything off because it wasn't as easy as a plug and play like they thought it was, unlike a Mr. Christmas unit, which is plug and play.

Once you read and have gotten a grasp on everything, most of us use the CTB16PC Controllers in our displays, some use Mini or DC-MP3 Showtime Directors to run the show without the need of a computer, and most use an FM Transmitter of some kind, with EDM being the top rated by most users here, and I'd think possibly Mobile Black Box may come in a close second or possibly third. But stay away from the Whole House Transmitter, it's proven far too many times to be unreliable when it comes to getting the signal out to the road and into folks vehicles.

Anyway, welcome to the madness, that is, if you opt to continue on with everything after you've done a bit more research on how all this goes together and works.

That's about the best advice I can give you. Hopefully others here with a lot more experience may be able to give some better insight into what you're looking to get into. As these are my opinions from my own experiences when I got into this hobby a few years ago.

Edited by Slipstream
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I agree start with the demo. I looked at your pics of the display,and what I would do is leave all that static and start with around 32 channels. you can do a mega tree with one controller,and withthe other controller you can do a couple arches and mini trees. I would watch some videos on you tube so you can get an idea of how people have props in their layout. I would think with 32 channels you could get away with not upgrading you electric,maybe add a few outlets. Welcome to the group,have fun

Edited by james campbell
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Thanks guys! No worries, you're not discouraging me from getting into this. I can't say I "know" how hard it is, because I've never done it. But I understand that it's not something I can just plug into the outlet and flip a switch. My other hobbies are cars and weightlifting/bodybuilding (even though I'm not a really big guy). In the years I've been lifting, I've seen a lot of people come in expecting to just do 3 push ups, one bench press and 10 minutes on the treadmill. They then get frustrated when they aren't "ripped" in 2 weeks and quit. They don't do the research and realize the work and dedication it takes. Not just in the gym, but in the nutrition plan. So I fully understand what you're saying about understanding what you're getting into. I know it's work and isn't easy, and I'm ready to take the first steps. I'd guess it's like any other hobby, you gotta start somewhere. Even my simple static display I have now takes me a fair amount of planning, a lot of extension cords and a lot of time. So I can imagine this stuff takes a lot more.

Yep, I'm trying to read as much as I can, and start to learn the lingo. A lot of the technical stuff goes way over my head right now. It's like a whole new language. :lol: I did see as I've been reading the past week or so that the CTB16PC seems to be the commonl used controller. James, my thought was right along the lines of what you suggested. I was planning on starting this year with one controller, possibly two. So I'd have 16 channels, 32 tops. Last year after Christmas, I snapped up about 12 prelit 6' trees from Wal-Mart. I figure I can probably use those with the controller?

What I want to accomplish this year is to "get my feet wet" in this. Get a feel for it and still have something my family and I can enjoy. So I'm reading as much as I can, but with fairly limited time, it's great to get input or to be pointed in a specifc direction to read.

Edited by Klayfish
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What I did my first year was get one of the deluxe kits, soldered it together, and did an animation sequence. The lights just flashed. Then in the second year is when I went with musical sequences, FM transmitter, mini director, etc. Over the years I've built up to 160 channels, an EDM xmitter, Showtime director, a couple of Mega's, and a bunch of other stuff. I'm looking into pixels for either this year or next. It's almost too late to start pixels for this year, but I've already started, so I'm ahead of the curve. Like Slipstream said, a lot of folks join the forum late in the year after they see some fantastic video that went viral, and don't realize the countless hours that most anyone who has a large display dedicates to this "hobby", how long it takes to sequence one minute of music, how hard it is to correctly support a mega tree, or any of the other 1000 details that most casual observers have no idea go on behind the scenes. This is hard work, take your time, don't bite off more that you can chew and you will do fine. You've already got a good start with the static display, build upon it, and good luck,

Bill

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This is my first year as well. I started the process of playing with the demo sequencer and visualizer back in May. I have changed my display about 6 times and each time started over with sequences. I am forcing myself to not do any more redesigns of the display as I really need to get some sequences done. As mentioned in an earlier post, I would start with 32 channels. Not only will you have more freedom for sequencing it will also allow you to spread your power out further if you aren't using LED lights.

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I've had the software for bout a month now in DEMO mode so i can play with it an the guys here are right its complicated but i can already see just from the viz demos i made it's going to be fun and exciting to get my display off the ground :D

as they suggest get the software an practice with it the download is free

Edited by greywolf
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Hey! Welcome to the hobby!

I think that almost everything has been said. I'll just give you a few links that might help.

Controllers: Many of us use the CTB16PC controller because (for a residential display) it is cheaper, lighter, and accomplishes almost the same thing as the UL listed controllers also sold by Lightorama.

The ctb16 can come with power cables plugged in to the board and ready to go, not plugged in but in the box, or without power cables at all.

-Fully assembled controller: http://store.lightorama.com/ctretogonoas.html

-Mostly assembled controller: http://store.lightorama.com/ctascpa.html

For a first controller, I would recommend having the cables so that you don't have to create your own, but have them not plugged in yet, because you save some assembly cost. Assembly is easy and only takes about 30 minutes.

Extension Cords: You were speaking about extension cords earlier, many LightORama users have a trick to this also. To create extension cords, we purchase bulk spt1 or spt2 wire and use quick, slide on plugs that always seem to have different names. (spt wire is basically the wire in lamp cords, but is typically green and comes in 250'-1000' rolls.)

http://www.christmaslightshow.com/Spt1-Wire-Plugs-and-Sockets-for-Christmas-outdoor-decorations.html

Facebook: Many of us are on Facebook. This is not LOR monitored or created, but along with the forums here, it is a great place to get ideas, share plans, and see what all is going on.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/8111378684/

Hope that helps!

BrandonH

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I suppose that I should change my name to "Rain Maker". First I really do not suggest that someone just now about to get the software, even in demo mode, hold out any hopes of getting a show up this Christmas. For most newbies, 1 minute of sequence will take you about 10 - 12 hours. Ok you have a large static display last year. Good, now leave most of your display static and get 16 or 32 channels ( 1 or 2 controllers) and seq them. Going to need a FM transmitter if you are going to do this with music. Save yourself a lot heart burn and get the EDM radio. And I will laugh at you if you get the whole house transmitter. Only 1 out of 100 people will tell you it works for them. In a nut shell I would advise you to get software in demo mode. Go static one more year. Buy some LED strings after Christmas when on sale. Buy more when the vendors have their spring sales. Buy your transmitter now. Start socking away money for the controllers and software. Start dreaming about how you want your display to look when you add in things like leaping arches, mega tree and any other thing that is multi element.

If you try to do this all in the next 3 or 4 months. I predict like someone else hinted to, you will be selling your controllers and software at a steep discount. Although that is not to bad for the rest of us old timers.

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One thing MP didnt mention, is that there are a few websites that have sequences that other users have made and uploaded for newbies to try.. called "Shared Sequences". They can be anywhere from 8 to 160 channels, that we have made and ar proud of and want to give back to those just starting out, like we did long ago. You can do a google/bing/yahoo search for "Free LOR sequences" and see what you can find to put something on for this year.. it is possible. Some of the sequences have music, most dont but they list where you can get it (iTunes/Amazon/etc)

It will be work-intensive, but oh so rewarding.

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If you get a controller, and your expectations are set at a realistic level I say go for it! For someone already decorating it will be the start of going to a new world.

There are lots of sources for free sequences for you to use and customize to your elements. You do not have to have FM transmitter initially. Just using the controller to add some fades and twinkles to your already used yard decorating can be fun too.

I hope you can get a controller, actually a start-up controller package is what you really need to begin.

Yes read forums, learn, but go for it, doing it is an education in itself.

Just be realistic in what you can do in the beginning. My first year, hardly anyone saw my display, 16 channels, speakers in the yard but to me it was fantastic.

Edited by Ed P
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Can't stress enough. Read as much as you can on here. The info is amazing and a bit overwhelming. As Orville said, don't jump in thinking that this is plug n play, or you'll be disappointed for sure.

Only my second year. For my first year, I watched a LOT of youtube videos in order to get an idea of what I wanted to do. My neighbors thought I was losing it, because I used to walk across the street and stare at my house. I was counting how many channels I was going to use.

If you have a budget, then you need to plan accordingly. Don't plan out what you can't make happen with the funds that you have available.

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For my two cents worth, I found out about this hobby in November of 2008, I realized that putting something together would be impossible for that year so I found a couple of displays in my area and saw what they did. As a part time college instructor I have to tell my students that plagiarism is BAD, but as a programmer and animated lighting hobbiest, it's imparitive. I spent most of 2009 figuring out what product to use, then based on what I saw other folks had in their display, what I wanted. I started sequencing the first part of November 2009, VERY bad idea. I now start planning in January, sequencing and building in the Summer, on Halloween weekend I start putting stuff on the house. My aim is to be ready for the Saturday after Thanksgiving. 2009 was a week later, because I didn't start putting up until Thanksgiving week, anouther bad idea. That first year, 2009 when I started sequencing in November, and I needed to get the display going, it was already a week late, I downloaded a few free sequences, changed them to work with my display, it took about 4 hours. At 5:00 pm I turned it on. NOTHING. I had the wrong format for the videos/slideshows I was using, it took about 20 minutes, the funny part was my neighbors across the street heard me banging my feet on the floor; at least they didn't here my words. My lesson from that was to test at least once before the show is scheduled to start. I was amazed how the show looked and sounded, everyone that saw it liked it. I've changed things over the years that I thought could be done better, and of course I add something each year. I've had and continue to have lots of fun, I have learned that no matter what I have done, it will look great to everyone else, and the things that I see will be ok and can be fixed next year. (Don't try and fix stuff mid show). Do what you can/want and have fun with it.

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Thanks everyone for all the great input and suggestions. Sorry for carpet bombing posts this morning, but as I said before, free time is limited, so when I get a few minutes to read and reply, I do as much as I can. B) I definitely have some very realistic goals for this year. I have no expectation of having a full out show this year. I don't have the time, nor the skills to even dream of it yet. I just want to take the first step beyond static. Learning as fast as I can. Reading does get a bit overwhelming, as I don't understand some of it, but I'll learn with time and experience.

Plan on taking advantage of the summer sale, I made a different thread asking about suggestions on what to buy. I'm going to start with no more than 32 channels this season. Haven't tried any sequencing yet, but plan to this week. I had seen references to shared sequences TJ wrote about, and plan to use those while I'm still getting my feet wet in this.

Brandon,

Thanks for all the links. Didn't realize a lot of people make their own extension cords. Seems a lot cheaper than buying stuff from Home Depot. May go with the controller you recommended too, it'll be easier on my budget.

Looking forward to diving into this. Like any other hobby, I have no doubt don't start this and become an expert at it in a week, so I'm pretty well grounded on my expectations. I'm sure it's going to be a fun learning experience.

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Sorry, I'm sure it's a dumb question, but I have to ask. I've got the demo software downloaded, and I figured out how to open the sequence editor. But I'm now the proverbial deer in headlights. I wasn't able to find any beginners tutorial to help me figure out what I'm looking at and how the program works. I'm sure I just missed it somewhere. Can someone point me in the right direction? I want to start playing around with the program and learn it.

Edited by Klayfish
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at the LOR main site look to the top an you'll see all the links there and you'll find 1 on the tutorial links there i forgot the direct link to them

i'm a newbie as well my 1st yr so hang in there you'll love the results i'm going to use the lights i have C9's (changing bulbs to LED) and the few yard decor i have room for and just plug them into the controller and let them run then as i get better at it upgrade

Edited by greywolf
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