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Digital Controller For Christmas Light Shows

Want one up on your neighbours? Instead of a static Christmas Lights display (so passe!) now you can have the ultimate in Christmas extravaganzas. This amazing controller will bring your Christmas lights to life, making them flash, dim up and down, you name it, all in time with your favourite Christmas music. It's easy to build, easy to connect and, best of all, easy to program!

Part 1 - by Nicholas Vinen and Jim Rowe

Features

Audio THD+N 0.06%

Audio Signal-to-Noise Ratio 65dB

Audio sample rates (kHz) 11.025, 12.0, 22.05, 24.0, 32.0, 44.1, 48.0

Audio file formats WAV format, 16 bit PCM, mono or stereo

Music capacity At least 4GB (ie, more than six hours at CD quality)

Playback order By directory order, alphabetically or random (shuffle)

Number of light “channels” 32 (max. 4 slaves = 32 channels)

Light power per channel 25-1200W (230V AC) or 12-600W (115V AC)

Total light power (four slaves) 9200W (230V AC) or 4600W (115V AC)

Extra features Remote control, Filament preheat, Volume control

Infrared formats supported Philips RC5 12-bit, NEC 16-bit

OK, we have to admit it. We first had this idea after watching Chevy Chase’s “Christmas Vacation”. Then it was given further impetus by a YouTube clip we saw a couple of years ago. It’s taken a while to put the idea into practice!

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You’ve probably seen the clip we’re talking about. Just one version of it has had nearly seven million hits! But if you haven’t and/or if you’d like to see the inspiration – and get some idea of what this will do for you, check out www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmgf60CI_ks (or simply enter “Christmas Lights” on YouTube).

Actually, we lie: we’re pretty sure that controller only had about 12-16 channels. Ours has up to 32, so you’ll be able to put that to shame.

Just imagine the neighbours – they’ll be as amazed as everyone else who stops to admire your handywork this festive season.

There are certainly some amazing displays this time of year. But for the most part, they’re static. Most don’t DO anything except look pretty. With this controller, yours can look pretty AND look spectacular at the same time.

We know that quite a number of readers have used SILICON CHIP’s DSP Musicolour Lightshow (June-September 2008) to control their Christmas Lights, flashing them in time with music. That’s fine, of course, if all you want is flashing lights.

Like the Musicolour, this unit has multiple high-current Triac outputs capable of phase-based brightness control. But that’s where the similarities end. With this new controller (or more properly called a sequencer) you can program in specific lighting patterns and movements, similar to the YouTube clip above.

We decided that for this application, rather than attempt to synchronise the light show with music being played from another source, it would be best to have the Controller itself play the music AND sequence the lights. This makes for a self-contained project which will always keep the light sequence strictly in time with the music.

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The hardware

The hardware is split into two sections. One is a small plastic box containing the master unit while a larger instrument case houses the slave unit. Between one and four slave units, each of which controls up to eight channels, can be connected to the master.

The master unit, which is controlled via a hand-held remote, plays the music and a sequencer file (which you set up) from an MMC (MultiMedia Card), SD (Secure Digital) card or SDHC (high capacity) card. It sends serial commands to the slaves via a Cat5/6 cable with up to 30m between the units.

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