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Frequently Asked Questions:

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What does it take to do this?

Passion, Imagination, Time and Money. You don't need to be an Engineer (but it doesn't hurt)

 

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Why do I do this?

It's just plain cool! I like to be creative and do things for other people. I've met so many people that enjoy the effort and I crave attention.

 

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How long have I been doing this?

Since 2005. I started with a single controller and a bunch of cheap mini lights.

 

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When do the shows run?

Halloween shows typically start by mid October and usually run from 6:30PM - 9:30PM
Christmas shows start the first Saturday in December and run from 5 PM - 9:30 PM
The show runs until mid January

 

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What radio station do you tune to?

Currently 89.1 FM is what I use. This may change if a licensed broadcaster takes this frequency in my area.

 

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How many lights are there?

About 32,000 (I stopped counting), I'm also using RGB LED light strips with 150 LEDs each, do you count those as 150 LEDs or as 450 LEDs (3 x 150) each?

So here's my best guess:

5200 LEDs just in the rosemary bushes in front.
1200 LEDs in the tree on the left
3000 Mini-lights in the spheres in the tree
1800 bulbs in the rope light in the tree
250 LEDs in the "Blizzard" lights inthe tree
32 CCR's with 450 LEDs each = 14,400 LEDs
45 Snow flakes around the house with 50 Mini-lights each = 2250 mini-lights
2592 lights in the rope lights on the right hand side of the driveway
500 mini-lights in the snowflakes on the CCR tree
300 LEDs in the "icicle" lights on the CCR tree
300 mini-lights in the ropelight pointsettias
6 40 watt bulbs in the penguins
1 LED floodlight for the Grinch

So this adds up to 31,799 but there are other lights I'm probably forgetting to count.

Normally I also have another 1600 orange LEDs mixed in with the Rosemary and tree lights but now I use them only for Halloween.

There is also a 2000 lumen video projector

 

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What are the advantages of using LED lights instead of "mini" lights?

They use 1/20 of the power.
They don't burn out
They don't fade
They don't break
They are very pure colors

 

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Are there disadvantages of using LEDs?

Yep!
They are expensive.
The sockets tend to corrode which causes the string to fail. (Commercial grade lights are less prone to this but cost 2 - 3 times as much)
They don't dim linearly like mini lights do
They are monochromatic (not a warm glow like mini lights)

 

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How long does it take to setup?

Starting in September, it takes 4 weeks for Halloween. After Halloween, it takes 2 weeks to switch to Christmas.

 

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How much is my electric bill?

The lights aren't all on at once and most are very low power LEDs.
My latest calculation shows about 103 Kwh (kilowatt hours) increase which equates to about $6.2 for a month extra ($ 0.06026 per kwh).

It's a little difficult to separate out just the Christmas light expense since I don't have a separate power meter for the lights and they're all on
different circuits. Most of the increase in my bill are due to heating costs during December and January.

If I were using standard "mini" lights the power consumption would be 20 times greater and therefore the electric bill would likely be $120 month more.

The LEDs are much more expensive to buy but pay for themselves over time.

 

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How do you synchronize the lights to music?

I have my own low power FM transmitter tuned to an unused station. A computer runs the "Light O Rama" software to send lighting control signals to multiple light controllers placed around the property while simultaneously broadcasting the music. It's all done through software.

 

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What kind of computer is used to run the show?

Well it normally doesn't need to be anything special but this year (2010) I beefed it up considerably to be able to run multiple LightORama networks, a lot more CCR's and video simultaneously.

The computer has an Intel I7 3gHz CPU, 6 GB of memory with a mirrored pair of 2 TB SATA hard drives and a dual output high performance video card

 

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How long does it take to create a show sequence?

About a two weeks for a new sequence, once created I tweak it a little each year.
 

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What equipment do I have?

Qty Part # Vendor Description
1 CMB16D www.lightorama.com 16 channel DC Controller
2 ServoDog DMX www.lightorama.com 14 Channel Digital I/O Controller
16 CTB16PC www.lightorama.com 16 Channel High Power AC Controller
32 CR150D www.lightorama.com Cosmic Color Ribbon
1 FM25B www.hobbytron.com Ramsey 25mw digital synthesized FM transmitter
10 "Blizzard" www.ChristmasOnManor.com LED snow simulators
3 Chauvet SM-80 www.CheapDJGear.us Artificial snow machines

 

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Where did you get all the equipment and software?

The lighting controllers and software came from www.lightorama.com
The servo controllers came from www.lightorama.com
The FM transmitter came from www.hobbytron.com
RC servos and linear actuators came from www.servocity.com
CHAUVET SM-80 MINI SNOW MACHINE came from Music Novation
The "Blizzard" lights (simulated snow falling effect) in the left tree came from www.christmasonmanor.com
The animated arches, tree and lights around the house trim are "Cosmic Color Ribbons" from www.lightorama.com

 

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Where do you buy your lights?

Where ever I can find them the cheapest! Usually from Home Depot.
Snowflake lights were purchased from www.bronners.com

 

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Where did you get the animatronics?

I built them myself out of parts from hobby and surplus stores. Jack Skellington is made using standard RC servos that would go into a radio controlled model car or airplane. I've also used a couple linear actuator servos available from www.servocity.com or www.trossenrobotics.com Other motors, relays, etc. came from local surplus stores, Radio Shack or the Internet.

 

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How do you make it snow?

Well, it's not real snow, it's a machine used in theater. I'm using a "CHAUVET SM-80 MINI SNOW MACHINE". You can find these on sale for about $75. I modified mine so the computer system can turn it on and off. I've also added a 5 gallon container and a positive pressure pump to hold more snow fluid.

The snow actually consists of the following formula:

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1.5 gallons distilled water (do not use tap water!)

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16 oz of 70% Isopropyl alcohol

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16 oz of kids bubble bath

This is pretty much the same thing Disneyland uses during Christmas time.

 

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How did you figure all this out?

The lighting stuff is easy, "Light O Rama" has put together packages simple enough for most anyone. It just takes time, motivation and yes, lots of money.

The FM transmitter is easy too, anybody can buy one on-line and just plug it in.

Ah, the animatronics, well that's a bit different. I'm an engineer, need I say more?

 

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How difficult is it to create a show sequence?

It's not difficult at all just very time consuming. You can actually purchase premade show sequences from the Light O Rama website. You don't need to be a software Engineer.

In my case, I have 2400+ channels. Each channel can control one or more strings of lights. Let's do some math; A typical show sequence lasts 3 minutes, and I typically create 20 timing events for each second. That means I have to program 2400 (channels) x 3 (minutes) x 60 (seconds / minute) * 20 timing events (per second) for a total of 8,640,000 events for the sequence. The Light O Rama software simplifies this process by providing a simple graphic interface that lets you use your mouse to click and select groups to turn on or off. You can select any entire channel (or group of channels) and set their values in a couple of clicks. You can download the software user manual from the Light O Rama web site.

The hard part is in listening to your music over and over and over again to make sure you configure each channel to turn on or off in sync with the music. Trust me, you'll be hearing the music in your head for a very long time!

 

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What's it cost to get started?

Hmmm... that's a tough one, it depends on your goals and your skills. You can buy everything fully assembled and ready to plug in and run or you can buy kits.

A single Light O Rama 16 channel (high power) complete startup package costs $377.80. If you want to build it from a kit you can buy it for $149.95

A basic version of the software is included if you buy the hardware but it has limitations. The full blown version costs $139.95 (more bells and whistles).

A low power FM transmitter (assembled) costs $139.95. A kit costs $44.95

Now you need:
    Extension cords (lots of them)
    Power strips
    Lights
    Lots of time

If you build everything from kit versions it might cost you $300 - $400 for everything.
If you buy everything pre-built it could cost you $600 - $700.

Don't try to keep up with me, I have over $30,000 invested so far!

 

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What are the songs you are playing?
 
Song Album Artist
"Carol of the Bells" A Fresh Aire Christmas Manheim Steamroller
"Carol of the Bells" Christmas with Monique Danielle Monique Danielle
"The Russian Dance" (Nutcracker suite) Tchaikovsky Tchaikovsky
"Time" Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd
"Wizards in Winter" The Lost Christmas Eve Trans Siberian Orchestra
"Amazing Grace (2008 Party Version)" Dancing Christmas 2007 Yule
'Christmas with a Capital 'C'" Snow Go Fish
"You're a Mean One Mister Grinch" How the Grinch Stole Christmas How the Grinch Stole Christmas
"A Soldier's Silent Night   Downloaded from YouTube

Several songs have been edited to limit length to less than 3 minutes.

 

bulletWhere did you get the animated Pointsettias?

I made them myself out of red ropelight. Each pointsettia is comprised of 4 pairs of ropelight leaves. Each pair is connected to a separate Light-O-Rama channel so the flower can be made to appear spinning.

 

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