Lavernell Lights: How We Did It




How Did We Do It? LOR

Around 2000, I discovered a company called Light-O-Rama. Light-O-Rama manufactures control boards and software for controlling your Christmas Lights. You can buy your boards in various ways. I have tried several of their products, and most recently bought a board in kit form, which I soldered together myself. The lights are synchronized to music using the Light-O-Rama Sequence Editor. Light-O-Rama is a combination of Hardware and Software. There are control boards that you place out in the yard that are the "hands" that do the actual switching. These "hands" are linked together in a chain using standard Cat5 Network Cables. Each of the control boards we use controls 16 channels. Each channel has one or more strings of lights attached. The control board is enclosed in a weather-tight enclosure. The boards are scattered throughout the display to prevent from needing too much extension cord to reach the display elements. The first board is linked back to a computer ("the Brain") which is safe from the weather inside the house. The computer is also hooked to a low-power FM transmitter which allows cars out in the street to hear the music on a radio station. We use 107.1 FM. The low-power transmitter can only be picked up on our street. By the time you get to the end of the street, the signal is gone. The pictures below illustrate the elements of our display. Click on a picture to see a larger imamge of that portion of our display.



Controller This is one of my controllers opened up in the house. The grey enclosure the controller is mounted in has a weatherproof seal on the door. These controllers are mounted vertically to prevent moisture from getting in the seals in the bottom where the cords come out. The stakes used to mount them are made from 1/2 EMT conduit bolted to the plastic enclosure. The black cords that hang out the bottom of the box are the output of the channels to power the display elements. The Grey cable is the CAT5 that links to the other controllers. The Green cords are the power input to the board. These 16 channel boards can take 2-20 Amp inputs per board. Each of these input circuits are distributed over 8 channels.
Software This is a screenshot of the software used to design the sequence. Designing a sequence begins with choosing a song. This is the opening of Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Christmas Eve, Sarajevo" sequence. After you have picked a song, then you have to open the Light-O-Rama Sequence Editor. When you define a new sequence, it asks for the media file you will be using. After specifying the audio or video, it then allows you to tap your mouse (or keyboard) to the beat of the music to determine where changes in lights will occur. After you use the tapper wizard to set your change points, then you set out specifying which channels are to be included in the sequence. After you have defined a media file and channels, then you are ready to go about determining what is on or off at any given point in time. The best feature of the Light-O-Rama software over the competiton is that it allows fading, twinkling, and shimmering in addition to on and off. Beginning December 8, 2008, several new features were added including fading up or down along wtih a twinkle or shimmer command.
Show Editor After you have created one or more sequences, it is time to create a show. To do this, we use the Light-O-Rama Show Editor. The purpose of the show editor is to determine what sequences will play and what order. There are options for background sequences (which play all the time), startup sequences (runs only at startup of the show), Animation Sequences (non-synchronized - animation only), Musical Sequences (synchronized to music), and Shutdown Sequences (Finishes off the show with a nice shutdown). After you have added all your sequences as we have done here in the Musical tab, you determine if they play in order or randomly and how much time to wait between sequences. As you can see, we play our sequences in order with no delay between them. Saving this leaves us with a show file.
Schedule Editor After we have created the show file, we then need to open the Scedule editor to determine what show will play when. Light-O-Rama's software can be used to run a different show each night if you so wish. We run the same show each night. The only thing that is different about each night is that we run the show an hour longer on Friday and Saturday then we do Sunday through Thursday. After setting our show schedule, we click save. The only thing left after this is to hook everything up and let the show begin.
FM25B This is the FM25B FM Transmitter. It is available from Ramsey Electronics in kit form. This means you solder everything to the board. As you can see the board is pretty crowded. They can usually be found fully assembled on Ebay. Once you hook the line out of the computer's sound card into the Line in on the FM25B, your music is broadcast on the radio station selected by setting DIP swithces on the circuit board.
 In 2009, we added the ability to control the lights by calling in on a special telephone line. We have created a page solely dedicated to how to build your own queuing system for this prupose. See the Telephone Page for more details.


Feel free to email us for more information about how we control our lights. This is obviously not an exhaustive how-to, but shows what is involved in setting up a display such as ours. We can be reached using the information contained on the Contact Us page.



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