Hardware

We do our best to build everything we use in the display. Not only is buying pre-made showpieces, controllers, etc. costly, it takes all of the fun out of it. More than half the fun of putting on these shows is building everything ourselves, especially the circuit boards for the light controllers.

Electrical

The house already had a 220V 50A breaker that was running to the stove circuit, however we have a gas stove, so that wasn’t being used. I installed a 220V 50A RV plug on the outside of the house and wired it to this breaker, after disconnecting the stove circuit. I built a portable sub-panel that plugs into this outlet. The sub-panel currently has six 15A GFCI circuits, allowing for 90 amps of power. From the sub-panel, 300′ of 12/3 cable and over 500′ of heavy duty 14/3 and 16/3 extension cords run to the controllers. From the controllers, approximately 2000′ of SPT-3 extension cord runs to each of the show pieces or lights. Most of this is custom extension cords that we made to go a specific distance to the display elements we were controlling. In 2011/2012 we added the pixel strips to the roof line. They all run on 12V that comes from two 650 watt ATX power supplies and is carried through CAT5 cable. We are currently using around 50A of 12V power and almost 700′ of CAT5 cable to run the pixel strips. Additionally there is about 400′ of CAT5 interconnecting the controllers sending control signals to the lights.

220V 50A Outlet
220V 50A Outlet
Portable Subpanel - Interior
Portable Subpanel - Interior
Portable Subpanel - Handle & Weatherhead
Portable Subpanel - Handle & Weatherhead
 

FM Transmitter

In order to allow viewers to hear the music from the comfort of their own cars, and to prevent from having to play the music out side on speakers, thus annoying the neighbors, we transmit the audio on an unused FM station. We tried two different transmitters. Initially was a cheap Vastelec FM01. It worked well initially, but for some reason the quality of the transmission diminished about two weeks after the show started. We then purchased an EDM LCD RDS transmitter. This transmitter has been far superior to the Vastelec one in every way, and it allows us to display the name of the current song on the radios of viewer’s whose radios support RDS. The transmitter is attached to a simple dipole antenna that was tuned specifically to our transmitting frequency.

FM Transmitter - Powered up and Transmitting
FM Transmitter - Powered up and Transmitting
EDM LCD Transmitter Powered and Transmitting
EDM LCD Transmitter Powered and Transmitting
 

Controllers

Lynx EtherDongle
Lynx SmartString Hub
Lynx SmartString Controller
Lynx Express

Show Computer

In 2013 we switched from an actual computer to using a Raspberry Pi to run the show. It is a $40 Linux computer that outputs the signal to the lights and the audio to the FM Transmitter based on a schedule that is setup on it. This means we no longer need to keep a computer on or have to worry about messing up anything while using our normal desktop computer. For 2013 we sent the output of the Raspberry Pi (Falcon Pi Player) to the Lynx EtherDongle for output to the lights. For 2014 we are planning on adding a Falcon Pi Dongle to replace the EtherDongle and cut down on the network traffic that e1.31 generates.

Historical

This is all equipment that we used to use, but have now upgraded to something else.

Controllers (2009 & 2010)

In 2009 the show ran on four Renard 24 (Ren24) controllers. Each one was built by me. I ordered the bare circuit boards, the parts, and the enclosures and assembled each one into a working unit. This was about a month’s worth of work alone. The controllers are currently running DMX firmware, and are able to be used with any other equipment that can speak DMX. Each controller will control 24 channels (24 separate on/off circuits). In 2009 I had a total of 96 channels of separate on/off control. The Renard series is also capable of dimming, and we take full advantage of this in the show.

Ren24 - Test Fit in Heat Sink
Ren24 - Test Fit in Heat Sink
Ren24 - PCB/Heat Sink Mounted & Wires Attached
Ren24 - PCB/Heat Sink Mounted & Wires Attached
Ren24 - Finishing Touches
Ren24 - Finishing Touches
 

In 2010, we added 128 additional channels with two Grinches and two DMX Grinch Convertors by Robert Martin. We had 16 original SSRs and 16 SSRezs attached to the Grinches.

Show Computer (2009, 2010, 2011)

The show is running on an old Acer laptop that has a 650 Mhz PIII processor and 384MB of RAM that is running a custom version of Windows XP that has had most of the “bloat” stripped out of it. This allows it to run fairly fast for such an “ancient” machine. The only software installed on the machine is the software that controls the lights (Vixen), and the software that controls the text displayed on your radio (MiniRDS). Towards the end of 2011 I wrote my own sequence player in PHP (called Chet) and used that to control the display.

Show Computer (2012)

In 2012 I switched to using an old IBM Thinkpad that had a bit more oomph than the old Acer. It had a normal version of Windows XP and ran my sequence player that I wrote in PHP, Chet.

DMX Dongle (2009-2011)

The DMX signal that tells the controllers what to do is generated by a DMX dongle that was designed by Robert Martin. He suppled me with the circuit board and the parts, and once again, I assembled it to cut down on costs. It basically allows for functionality that would require a $150 piece of commercial equipment, for around $40.