From Humble Beginnings
To the one of the most technologically advanced neighborhood light shows in Central Ohio.
Who we are
About us and our story
Go straight to the nerdy tech stuff!
Sometime in the late 80’s and early 90’s
COne of the creators of the LDP light show, Byron Gunter, started saving his allowance money to buy Christmas lights. Soon, his display and efforts attracted the local news media and Byron was officially hooked on lights!
In 2014 Byron bought a house in Lucy Depp Park (the yellow one with the donation box) and realized that he had a perfect canvas in the ravine/trees for Christmas lights. The first couple of years was simply a static display.
Later in 2015 LDP got some new homeowners. Enter the Rhodus family. Kevin Rhodus has some background in theater, show control and networking. The guys got to talking and decided to put together a light show. The first show year, 2017, was just Kevin and Byron’s house using just Light-O-Rama controllers. (More on that in a minute in the tech section).
In the second show year Dave Johnson got on board to add a third house to the show. Since then, every year we’ve added neighbors (we’re up to 6 houses), acreage (and complexity!) to the show. It’s created a community in our neighborhood that we think is pretty cool. We have planning meetings, go out to dinner together, have walkie-talkies to communicate, and fires–lots of fires. And if you see a tractor or four-wheeler going down the street, it’s probably Dave, Kevin or Byron hanging some last minute lights or fixing something–make sure to wave hello!
Now for the fun part–how we make it work!
Step 1: Hanging and Wiring the Lights
We officially start in late summer by planning for what we will be adding the next year. This year that involved building all the new controllers and power supplies we needed to make the pixel forest. Most of the controllers we utilize come as individual parts that we have to source and then build into enclosures to make them able to survive the weather of Ohio in winter. We then start the tedious process of hanging lights and installing all the supporting equipment. It takes 2-3 months to wrap all 7.5 acres of trees, bushes, and houses. Each tree gets wired back to a controller. For the trees with regular LED lights, these controllers are Light-O-Rama CTB16PC. These boxes work like 16 light switch dimmers in one. Each Light-O-Rama controller gets their own range of channels assigned to each outlet. These all wire together via CAT5 cable to either a Pi with a Falcon PiCap or a DMX output on a pixel controller.
In the case of the pixel forest and other pixel elements, every single LED on the strand has 3 individually controllable channels (1 each for Red, Green, Blue). To make these work, every 4 trees connect back to a differential receiver. This provides both power and the data to control each tree within 20’ of it. It takes 24 of these differential receivers to power and control the pixel forest.
Each differential receiver connects back to a output on a pixel controller (either a Kulp F40D-PB or an output from a Kulp F8-PB or Falcon F16v3). These controllers each have a Beagle Bone (mini computer) that is running Falcon Player software. These controllers are all wired together via our show control network. When the show is playing, the main controller in the shed sends out a message every second to all the remote controllers to keep them all in time.
To be able to cover all 7.5 acres, the control network utilizes Ubiquiti wireless point to multipoint transmitters. There is one main antenna and 5 remote antennas installed throughout the show to extend our show control network.
Step 2: Programming the Show
This year we switched from Vixen to xLights for programming the show. The first step in programming the show is laying out all the lights for the show onto a virtual map of the neighborhood. This not only allows us to preview what the show will look like on screen but also allow us to apply effects across the entire show. Each strand of lights is imported and assigned their channel in the layout. We also set up groups of lights, like All LEDs, All Pixels, West Side, and East Side to make programming easier.
With the large number of channels (almost 46,000), it is important to make sure we do not accidently overlap channels and that each channel in software matches in the controller. Luckily the software has lots of great tools to help us in doing this. We can manage all our controllers from within xLights and have it push configurations to the controllers for output channels.
Once it is all setup, then the fun of programming begins. This is by far the most tedious part of the show. The finale this year took over 25 hours to program. When programming, we are able to view the show on the 3D model from multiple angles to see what the show looks like from all the different vantage points.
Step 3: Running the Show
Once the show is programmed, we load the compiled show into all the controllers. For this year, we have the show split into 7 individual controllers. Each controller gets a copy of the entire show and then plays back the channels for the lights attached to it. The master controller in the shed synchronizes each of the remote controllers to what it is playing back.
Since there are so many parts required to make the show run correctly, we utilize a piece of software called UNMS to monitor all the devices connected to the show network. This software checks to make sure every piece of equipment is online and will send email alerts if one of the devices drops offline. It also allows us to view the speed and health of the wireless uplinks between the show.