Computer-Controlled Animated Christmas Lights

What You'll Need
Strings of Christmas lights
Channel controllers (one for each controller)
Software (either comes with controllers or purchase online)
FM transmitter

Christmas lights can really brighten up the season, and many displays on houses can look wonderful. Driving around and seeing them lit up can be turned into a great family event. Setting up your own lights is fun too and a sure sign that Christmas is just around the corner. A display can be even better especially if you have your own computer-controlled computer light system, which animates your Christmas lights to music. Below is an overview of the materials you will need and things to consider before setting up a computer-controlled animated Christmas lights display.

 Planning Your Display

You’re going to have to think well ahead and decide how large a display you want. You can start quite a small display with 24 to 32 channels where each channel is set for an  individually controlled string of lights.

This means you’ll require plenty of lights and a controller for each channel you use. Take the time to design your display and see how many channels you’ll need. Once you’ve worked that out, it’s time to buy your supplies.

 Buying Your Supplies

Buy strings of lights when they’re at their cheapest, which is right after Christmas. Look for sales in stores and buy more than you need as it’s better to have too many than not enough!

You’ll also need a controller for each channel. You can buy these ready to go which is best option unless you’re comfortable with electrical work. Kits are cheaper but you’ll often need to solder parts together. If you’re fine with electrical work, you can do everything yourself and save a significant amount of money.

However, you’ll still need the right software to put on your computer in order to animate the lights. If you’ve bought controllers that are ready to go, they should come with software. If not, you can find free software online although you’ll have to know how to install and program it yourself.

Programming Your Display

Programming is probably the lengthiest step in the entire process since you’ll need to synchronize all the lights. Expect to spend a large amount of time doing this. Exactly how you’ll undertake it will vary according to the software you use.

Arranging Display Music

The last thing you or your neighbors want is to have the same piece of music blaring out endlessly evening after evening. The simplest solution is to broadcast your music in FM frequency so people wanting to hear it can tune in to it, although this requires a transmitter. If you keep the area very localized (within 200 feet) you won’t require an FCC license. This way everyone will be happy, although it does require more work on your part.

Power For Your Display

An animated display actually uses less power than a static display since not all the lights are on at the same time. This is better for your electric bill, but you also need to be sure you can supply enough power for your display before you set it up.

Keeping Your Neighbors Happy

Although an animated display can be a focal point for a neighborhood, having it on too long can be annoying. Just run it for set hours each evening. Your neighbors will be grateful, and you’ll also end up spending less on electricity.