Micro Pixels – First Test

2009 RGB Micro Pixel
2009 RGB Micro Pixel

Two days ago the FedEx fairy delivered our first factory-assembled batch of Micro Pixels.

I unwrapped a handful, snapped a couple pictures, then plugged them in on the workbench.

Nothing happened.

Double checked the board layout against my schematic and the controller’s datasheet. The trusty ‘scope showed that all the signals were in their proper places.  And the control program was the same one I’d used when testing the rough system prototype a few weeks back.

Bizarre.  Potentially very expensive.

After another hour of testing, I discovered that the sample LEDs from the factory were different than the production LEDs.  Each had six pins and looked identical to the eyeball.  But a diode tester revealed that the polarity of all three LEDs was reversed 180 degrees.

+ + +
- - -


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+ + +

Turns out the LED factory had switched things around but not updated the datasheet on their website.


Good that this was a test run of 100 pieces, instead of production assembly in multiples of 1500.

I used hot air to remove the three LEDs, then spun them around and re-attached.

At full power, these chips are exceptionally bright. They leave ghostly spots on my eyeballs.

Before running out of time that afternoon, I reworked three of the boards and chained them together.  Everything operated flawlessly.

I love the simplicity of this new design.

P.S.  We’ve had a suggestion for a new name for these guys:


3 LEDs, 3 Colors, price approaches the $3 range in large quantities.

What do you think?

(Note: There’s some additional discussion on the controller design in the ‘comments’ section below.  So click there to learn more.)

6 Replies to “Micro Pixels – First Test”

  1. Appears that you provided a footprint for either RJ45, or a 6 pin DIP header.
    Is that correct?

    (are you going to sell off any of the “LED REVERSED” units?) “:o)

  2. @Andrew: You’re correct… The idea is that the boards can be easily and quickly daisy-chained together using cat5 jumpers. Or, for more permanent installations, they can be hard-wired using 18 gauge wire for power/ground and something finer for the data connections.

    The second footprint is standard 2×3 on .1″ spacing, and the jacks are set close enough to the edge of the board that right angle connectors can be used if desired. Molex, et al, have stacks and stacks of styles to choose from, including a couple which boast waterproof connections courtesy of a silicone gasket on the female plug.

    A further step for permanent installations / fixed length strings would be to wire the boards together, then run the whole assembly through an ‘overmolding’ injection mold process. This way, everything is sealed and weatherproof.

    RE: selling all or part of the sample batch…

    Probably, but not for a few more weeks.

    50 pieces have been shipped to a co-developer. My remaining 50 are being reworked locally to allow further testing, video shooting and the like.

    The gritty details of the head-end controller are still being sussed out – it’s probably another few weeks before we’ll have production circuit boards on the bench.

    If you haven’t already, join the ‘Insiders Club’ described in the top right corner of the page. In addition to getting automatic updates when these pages are updated, we can notify you of special ‘shop cleaning’ bargain sales, etc.

  3. G’day from down under John,

    Mate, absolutely blown away by this latest version of your RGB pixel project, that’s perhaps the cleanest design that I’ve ever seen,

    so brilliant in fact, i was wondering if you would be selling them at a later date on a sizeable scale, as my mind has wondered into the domain of a 108×62 16:9 Pixel Wall in a performance space i get to play in…
    and to use 36 of these in 12x40cm round paper lanterns (3 in each) to suspend from the grid in said space…
    even @ AU$6ea that’s amazingly cheap..

    I’m very interested to see your idea’s for the controller..

    keep up the absolutely amazing work!


  4. @Adrian – Thanks for the kind words, and yes to all your questions. 🙂

    I’m just back from a week’s holiday, and am quite excited to get moving on this project again.

    WIthin a couple weeks we’ll probably be running a batch of 3-6K pieces. 2/3 have been spoken for already, the remainder are ‘on spec.’ So scale is no problem at all. The parts come in reels of 1,500 pieces, so it makes most sense to fabricate in that multiple.

    The controller is nearly finished. Gist of it is that it will accept any voltage input from 15-50V, AC or DC. There’s a DIP switch for setting the system’s start address, plus some diagnostic LEDs. Power and data connections are via screw terminals, and we’ll also offer ‘pigtails’ for XLR5, XLR4 (power + data, color-scroller style), XLR3, etc. Each controller is designed to drive about 40 pixels. There are cat5 jacks on-board for directly connecting the pixel string.

    If the firmware ends up running as planned, there will be two drive modes: “Straight Through,” where DMX data is copied 1:1 to the pixels, and ‘Effects Engine,” where 1-5 DMX channels can be used to drive an entire string in various patterns, colors and speeds.

  5. Hi. Its the ‘co-developer’ here. Due to time pressures, i’ve not quite got as far as i’d hoped on this, but I’ve just sent John, what I think can go to the factory to produce a PCB for the controller. In addition to what John has mentioned above the controller has a USB interface. This will initially only provide a bootloader function for firmware updates, however in the future, expect to be able to provide control via USB.

    I’ve also designed the board so, it can do double duty as a power injection point. Same PCB, just a lot of parts left off. This will allow you to chain together up to 170 pixels from a single DMX universe. You’ll need one controller and three power injectors. I’ll draw a picture soon.

    Also, i’ve put some of these pixels inside a 20mm clear plastic tube. It becomes controllable rope light! i need to figure a way however to keep all the pixels lined up the same way. (cable ties) This will be really useful for me, as i want to install them outdoors.

    I’ll be installing 1200 of these in my own show this year, down-under in Wellington NZ.

  6. Awesome work there guys.
    I can see a use for a few hundred of these myself. Can’t wait till you get the production running on these and the controller. It would certainly be nice to see it this year although I’m sure that most of us have more than enough planned out already that it would be tough to take on more at this point.

    But oh the possiblities for next year already !!!

    I’ll be watching the progress and waiting for sale announments.

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