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Kim Campbell
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I want to set up a musical light display for next Christmas but have no idea where to start! What controller do I buy? I have no electrical background at all so I was thinking about a plug and play system from LOR. I am considering a 32 channel "Showtime" package but I don't know if that is too much for a newbie. Should I get and 15 amp or 30 amp? Should I scale back to a 16 channel or maybe even and 8 channel? I tend to want to go whole hog or none so I think I wouldn't be happy with and 8 or a 16. Then what lights do I buy? Should I use the standard minilights or LED's? I think I would prefer LED's because if I understand anything I've read so far they use less power and besides I think they are much prettier than the minilights. How many lights will I be able to use? I don't quite understand the concept of amps per channel or wattage or voltage! Will I be able to set up my own sequences with music or can I buy pre-programmed ones? I'm a bit confused! I think it will take me the whole year just to figure this out. HELP! :shock:

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DavidPeterson

Kim Campbell wrote:

I want to set up a musical light display for next Christmas but have no idea where to start! What controller do I buy? I have no electrical background at all so I was thinking about a plug and play system from LOR. I am considering a 32 channel "Showtime" package but I don't know if that is too much for a newbie. Should I get and 15 amp or 30 amp? Should I scale back to a 16 channel or maybe even and 8 channel? I tend to want to go whole hog or none so I think I wouldn't be happy with and 8 or a 16. Then what lights do I buy? Should I use the standard minilights or LED's? I think I would prefer LED's because if I understand anything I've read so far they use less power and besides I think they are much prettier than the minilights. How many lights will I be able to use? I don't quite understand the concept of amps per channel or wattage or voltage! Will I be able to set up my own sequences with music or can I buy pre-programmed ones? I'm a bit confused! I think it will take me the whole year just to figure this out. HELP! :shock:

We're here to help :)

While the Showtime product is excellent, it probably isn't necessary. One showtime controller is I believe $329, while a fully assembled and ready to go CTB16PC is $250. There are differences between the two, but identical when it comes to the features in the show they support. You can save another $40 or so if you put it together yourself (the one where the card is already soldered.) Those are very easy to put together, it mostly is just plugging in the power cords and the strain bracket, since they mount the card in the box for you now. All you need is a screwdriver and pliers. No real electrical knowledge needed on that one, just follow the instructions.

Whether you get one controller or two is up to you but you want at least one 16 channel. I wouldn't really bother with an 8 channel or 15 amp Showtime. Remember you can add on later. You may not want to do more than 32 channels your first year, but even if you just get a 16 channel controller, you can buy more for the 2010 season. I have 32 for my first year and that was enough channels to keep track for the first year.

If you are using minilights, you don't have to worry as much about amps, but you are only supposed to plug 3 sets of minis into each other. Where you have to be concerned about power is particularly larger bulbs, like C7 or C9s. LEDs are great, but you have to make sure they work well with effects. Some don't fade well, or at all.

As for what you'll need: 1 or more controller, the software, network cables (one from the computer to the first controller, then between each controller). I would also get the USB adapter. For audio, most of us use a FM transmitter connected to our computers (I use a Ransay 25B.) Then extension cords, extension cords and more extension cords.

You can buy sequences, in fact Light-O-Rama sells some of them, I believe Wowlights.com does as well. Then of course a lot of us are happy to share ours. There sometimes is a lot of editing to have it make sense on your setup, but it at least helps with the timings.

A lot to think about, but at least you are thinking about it early enough!
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:::laughing::: Thanks for the post -- I remember feeling like that too!

So many of your questions would be answered with "Well, it depends."

Do you already do a display now? What does it look like? Do you want to leave it as-is and animate it or are you looking to start over?

If a rule of thumb is 1 minute of any given song takes about an hour to synchronize per 16 channels, how much time do you want to spend sequencing songs?

Since you're into the ready-made products, the enclosed boxes are a great place to start. You really can't go wrong with any of the boards -- just get them with the optional cords and mounted in enclosures. If you're using LEDs you won't need the massive amperage some of us use with floodlights and incandescents.

Here is one controller calculator (from Rick Williams) that will help you calculate current needed: http://quartzhillchristmas.com/12.html

I would recommend first seeing if anyone in your area is doing LOR and visiting their setup. Ask questions, look at the interface and how they use their controllers... so many unknowns will be answered if you can do this.

Cheers!

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Well, it depends :)

Showtime vs PC has already been discussed. Unless you have a need for a UL approved fixture, stick with PC.

15 or 30 AMP? If you go the PC route, they will come as 30 amp boards.

How many channels? I would start with ordering the starter kit (software and adapter - upgrade to usb if you don't have serial available on your computer.) This will get you the software at today's prices. Will probably go up next year. This will also allow you to experiment with sequencing to try to figure out how many channels you might want. You can buy the controllers during the summer sale.

Minis or LED's? Pros and cons to each. Minis are certainly cheap and on sale now. LED's should last longer and use less power. Some do have issues.

How many lights, I don't understand amps per channel, wattage or voltage. Assuming you go the PC route: Each channel is capable of 8 amps. Each side of the board is capable of 15 amps. The entire controller is capable of 30 amps. 15 amps = about 36 strands of 100 count minis or 500 + strings of LED. Here is a good table to help figure your loads:

http://www.planetchristmas.com/FigurePower.htm

A couple of quick rules:

1) You never have enough channels.

2) You never have enough time to sequence all the songs you want.

3) You do not have enough extension cords.

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DavidPeterson

iresq wrote:

A couple of quick rules:

1) You never have enough channels.

2) You never have enough time to sequence all the songs you want.

3) You do not have enough extension cords.




#2 and #3 definately true. #1 to a point, but you also don't want to start too big. You don't want to get overwhelmed with a lot of channels.

One other suggestion is to figure out what you want your channels to be early. Everything else depends on that. Even using premade LOR sequences, you can spend quite a bit of time making changes, just maybe not to the extreme of an hour per minute or more.
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Kim:

This is our first year with a 16 channel controller and I made a mistake in waiting until Turkey Day to get going. The easy part is truly hanging up those lights, although at least once they ARE hung the rest is done form inside the house. Things to consider:

For each 16 channel controller you need two 20 amp circuits to plug it in to. You only use 75% of a circuits ability so that gives you the 30 amps needed to run that contoller to it's max. Of course say if you are just using it on a pair of leaping arches you are only looking at about 5 amps or so (with 8 channels per arch and 100 minis lights per channel.) Easy thing to remember 100 mini lights is 1/3 of an Amp so 3 sets is a full amp. Using this, a 30 amp contoller will handle 9000 mini lights, or an average of 560 per channel.

Push Eject is right on as I found out the hard way the past couple of weeks. 1 minute per each 16 channel contoller takes on average 45 minutes to an hour to sequence. A 5 minute song can easily take 4 or 5 hours to set up. Luckily a lot of the christmas songs are in the 2 to 3 minute range.

Luckily these members are awesome with sharing sequence files and it's just a matter of matching those up with your music. They'll usually tell you who did the song and what album/CD it was on becuase it has to match exactly. If they did Rudolph to Burl Ives version you probably wouldn't be able to use a different one and have it Sync. I'm finding that out now myself with Faith Hill and Where Are You Christmas? My music is 4 minutes long right off the Grinch soundtrack and I have a couple version sent to me that aren't close or cut maybe. Some will even hook you up with the audio file they may have used.

It's a big project, as my lights where every year, even before I bought this first controller. But after actually seeing a song fired up on the system for the first time, the extra work in the end makes it that much more worth while jumping in to this system. Can't wait to add on next year.

And don't forget....Extension cords!! ;)

Lenny Ruel

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LENNY RUEL wrote:

For each 16 channel controller you need two 20 amp circuits to plug it in to.

That may or may not be true. I have 4 controllers on 2 20 amp circuits. You need to understand your power needs by working backwards - from the bulb to the plug. I am about 70% led. I have two arches with 14 strands of 100 minis. These particular strings pull .30 amps (measured with kill-o-watt). So this controller is only using 4.2 amps and that is only for the very brief periods of time when but are 100% on. My mega tree pulls less than 2 amps. that's a little over 6 amps for those two controllers. You get the idea.

It's all about planning. It can be a little overwhelming at first but just take it in steps.
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iresq wrote:

I have 4 controllers on 2 20 amp circuits.

I have 4 controllers on 1 15amp GFCI outlet. A lot of those channels are LED, but I also have 56 C-7 candlesticks, 5 strands of mini icicles, some rice lights, animated deer motors, and 20 or so strands of mini lights. It all seems to work on one outlet. I haven't measured or even calculated the current yet.
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Dennis Cherry

My best advice is READ, READ, READ.

Ask many questions now, don't hurray to buy anything until you have more knowledge. There is usually a couple of sales during the year in plenty of time to order the equipment and have it in time to use it and get it installed.

Go to:
http://www.lightorama.com/support.html

Read Sections;

GENERAL INFORMATION
QUICK START GUIDE
TRAINING INFORMATION.

Then start reading the forums to get a idea of what you want your display to look like, I guarantee it will change.

Then you can order your equipment. Software is one item that should be the first thing to buy, this will allow you to get your learning curve up to speed on programming, then the equipment.

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I know and understand all of that. It actually comes down to what you have ON at once. My thinking is always, IF I have everything one at one time what is my max?

Part of my Static display this year we went and changed over to LED C-7's outlining the entire roof line. Peaks, valleys, gutters, everything. When I used normal C-7's I'd max out a 20 amp circuit pretty much with the 14 strings of 25. That was 350 bulbs. Now We have 20 strings of LED's (700 bulbs) and are barely using 2/3 of an amp.

I expect no one except on a very rare occasion has everything on full at once, but that is where my figuring is coming from. I see the intensity values and the shimmer and twinkle affects and understand also the lights aren't using full power there either. For me, just to keep the numbers simple it is easiest to figure full intensity and everything on even though it will likely never happen. But it's also good to keep in the back of my head it's probably okay to plug a second 16 channel controller into the same set of circuits as the one I already have.

Lenny

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Lots of great advice in this thread, Kim.

Dennis Cherry wrote:

...Software is one item that should be the first thing to buy, this will allow you to get your learning curve up to speed on programming

Remember you can currently get a FREE demo of the sequencer right here that will generate valid files you can use when you do purchase your controller. That means you can start sequencing right now! ;)
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Kim,

Can you give you location on your profile. There may be members in your area that will be willing to offer some hands on assistance as you get started.

Chuck

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Kevin McQuarters

I'm in the same boat you are. I took the plunge this year with 32 ch mix of incandescent / LED I had on hand.

I agree with the others on all counts. You need to figure the load "backwards". You're correct in using the "100% On" for the load. Calculate out the load per channel (I use a Kill-O-Watt meter) and get the controllers you need to present the show you have in mind. My show is approx 50% LED to Incand. The actual load on the circuit "100% on" is 6 amps, well below the 12 amp code limit. Hope to go 100% LED for 2009!

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Thanks! :D

I think I will read on some more but after talking with my hubby, I think I will take your suggestion and start with the CTB16PC x 2. My hubby should be able to set this part up for me with little difficulty. I plan on going out and getting a lot of lights when they go on sale after the holidays. I may hold off a little longer on the controllers to see if they go on sale too. I will probably have many many more questions as I progress. So be on the look out!!

Thanks again and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

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Thanks! :D

Well...I have one inflatable snowman and a couple of stings of minis....how's that for a display! LOL I really want to do something much more exciting. We live in a small town and to the best of my knowledge, no one else has an animated display....I would be the first one so it has to look good! I have no local yocals to get advice from so you guys will be my lifeline....be prepared for lots of questions! Thanks for the calculator link...I have a look at it.

Thanks again and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

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Paul B. Anderson

Kim,

I too of course was very overwhelmed by this whole lights / music / computer animation stuff. But it's like anything else - once you have the controllers, lights and software, I'm sure you'll find it's really not so hard. I am not very computer saavy, but I find this to be reletively easy. If you haven't already, you should check out the tutorials, download the Demo version and play around with it. If you find the sequencing part of it too time consuming, you can always download pre-made sequences. My biggest problem is imagination.....I don't have much of it; so I look at what others are doing for ideas.

Whatever you do with LOR, enjoy it!! It makes for a good, fun habbit, er, hobby!! - Paul

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Kim,

Another peice of advice to remember. There will be times throughout the next year when you feel like you have a grasp on the whole thing, and then the next day you may feel like you've bitten off WAY more than you can chew. It can get very expensive if you're not careful (BTW, I wasn't very careful and it got way expensive, 11 controllers and 19000 lights later).

Whatever you end up going with, stick with it. Don't feel overwhelmed. Everyone here is more than willing to help.

Rick

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The thing that got me wasn't the lights, or even the controllers (although they aren't cheap), was the extension cords. I never figured that into the equation.

There is now way to truly express how important it is to start buying extension cords whenever you see them on sale. In my first year (last year), I spent more than double what I spent on lights and controllers on extension cords.

Did I mention that you'll need extension cords?

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well this has certainly been a morning/day of learning for me, after seeing a light show on the news recently and googling light shows on youtube and alike I have become fascinated and determined to join the technically challenged and enter the realm of computerized light shows.



Not even having done a static display before light shows will be my entry into christmas lights lol. This thread has been a great starting point, but I would like to clarify a couple questions being the follwoing:

1. Using the controllers etc in a starter package from LOR I assume the lights are plugged into the controllers but myself being from Australia are these compatible with our plugs or is there a need to buy adapters etc?



2. Regarding lights plugged into controllers are these specific lights or any light imaginable, ie light sets with built in controllers (blinking, musical etc) do these work on LOR controllers and the built in controller gets over riden? or are they just not compatible?

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Kim Campbell wrote:

Thanks! :)

Well...I have one inflatable snowman and a couple of stings of minis....how's that for a display! LOL I really want to do something much more exciting. We live in a small town and to the best of my knowledge, no one else has an animated display....I would be the first one so it has to look good! I have no local yocals to get advice from so you guys will be my lifeline....be prepared for lots of questions! Thanks for the calculator link...I have a look at it.

Thanks again and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!



Kim

I too am in a very small town (approx 900 full-time residents) and no one here has more than just a few static lights strung up on their house, although the occasional
inflatable has started to show up in the last couple of years. ;)

I only put up a couple of strings of lights and a star that I have built when I was a kid (that is longer ago than I care to reference :shock:) and I decided to jump into things this year with animated lighting to try and put some Christmas spirit back into the area and I guess renew my own faith in the season.

I was only going to go with maybe 16 or 32 channels of LOR and a few hundred LED lights since I needed all new lights anyway. Once I got into this and saw what it could do, I was hooked!

I am currently running 96 channels of LOR and approx. 14,000 LED's and have just ordered 4 more controllers and another 10,000 LED's !!! :D

Not to say that you will need anything like this, but when you get going it can really take off fast. I have only had my display running since the 8th of December and now I have a dozen or more cars a night coming by to see the lights. There are people coming from towns 30 miles away just to see this and the response I have gotten from the people who have seen it and the local ones has been nothing short of amazing.

I had a little girl who ran up and gave me a hug and told me"I love your lighty show". That alone has made this more than worth it to me. This has also gotten the people in town to put up more lights this year than in the last 5 years combined so far.

It is a great deal of fun to see what this form of control and animation can do as well as the sense of accomplishment you will get when you turn it on and see it yourself and think "WOW, I did this".

On the down side (not really, but needs to be considered) this can take a great deal of time to set up and get running as well as figure out everything such as the controllers, FM transmitter, power needs, and mounting the lights.

Definitely do your homework and research things out. Start small and grow as your budget and time allow. I never could resist the "go for broke" thing myself and that is partly why I have so much going now :D.

From my standpoint I will say that Light-O-Rama equiptment is tops. It is easy to set up and figure out and they have probably the best tech support I have seen.

As far as LED's the Holiday Creations brand have been the best ones I have found so far for reliability. Not cheap, but very dependable and well made.

The other folks point about extension cords is one to take to heart as well. I have over 8,000 feet of cords so far and just got another 2 - 1000 foot rolls of spt1 to make up some leaping arches and more mini trees. It is amazing how much wire can go into this and will surprise anyone who starts out.

I think that I have done a fairly nice display for a starter year, but also once I got it up I see things that I know I want to change for next year and things that I wish I had done differently to make them better.

Everybody who has spoken to me about my display can't believe what this can do and how beautiful it looks. I just tell them "Thank You, but wait till you see what I do next year" and they just give me a "Can you really top this?" kind of look.

I have already started planning next years display and looking at ordering things for it as well as the items that I will need to build for it.

Also the sequencing of the songs is what will take most of the time to get done since I am going to have so many channels to deal with and a multitude of things going on at once.

Above all do what you think you can handle to start out and have fun. Don't get discouraged when things seem like they will never work out (I almost did not get this going due to health issues, but that is another story) and hang in there. Take a break when you get frustrated with it and come back later and you will find that the answer has come to you most times.

Above all do it because you want too and that it will bring happiness and a sense of accomplishment to you.
For others to enjoy it is really just a by-product of things (but it doesn't hurt your feelings when they praise you either :)).

Good luck with your display and remember that there are a lot of people out here in the same boat as you that can help with things when you need it.

Bill Ellick
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