The Color Mixing Christmas Light Project

Discretely Controllable DMX Driven RGB Pixels

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Archive for the '2009 Project' Category

RGB Node Availability

Posted by JEC on 26th December 2009

Unbelievable.

The interest this project grown far beyond anything we ever imagined.

When we started out we had a few ideas about what we wanted to achieve.  We are pleased we’ve got over our own ‘line’, and are now able to ramp things up & make the technology available to everyone else.

In the process, we’ve been asked a thousand questions concerning ‘when’ and ‘how much?’

So here goes.

During 2009, we spent a lot of time (and money) researching and developing various design ideas. Where we are today is a long way down the track from the original classic pixels first released in 2005.  Our goal in 2009 was to find an affordable, reliable RGB node, suitable for large scale deployments. Getting a working design is only part of the challenge.  We’ve looked at various production options as well.

The difference in build quality between factories is significant!  Component choice is also important: inferior parts will run for a few days  or weeks, then completely or partially fail.

Sometimes cheap parts come at  a very high overall price.

Our testing will continue on some new products this year as well, but the new nodes that we have now, are performing well.

We’ve now invested a significant amount time and money ensuring our nodes will be reliable.  R&D is like that – lots and lots of sunk costs, destructive field testing, and often very little apparent result.

The nature of the Internet (and hardware hackers in general) almost certainly guarantees that someone else will find and start to sell an apparently similar product. There’s not much we can do to stop that.  And frankly, we’re not interested in trying.

Competing solely on price only leads to disappointment and frustration for all parties, and it’s not a game we’re interested in playing.

Know also that components which appear identical on a computer screen may behave in a radically different way in real life.

What we will offer – on absolutely everything that leaves the shop –  is a 100% money-back, no-questions-asked, we’ll-be-devastated-if-your-system-doesn’t-run-perfectly guarantee of support and service.  Each system will ship with a hearty helping of peace of mind.

That’s the value we’re adding to the process, and we think it’s significant.

To stay informed, just enter your name and email address in the top right corner of this page.  You’ll be the first on your block to receive  project updates.

We have got a number of other products now ready for release in 2010.  We’ve thought long and hard about how to proceed.  Our goal is to offer something useful to both the ‘DIY’ crowd and those seeking a complete turnkey solution.

Led Wall Washers and Tubes

We have some very bright tubes and wall washers that we have almost finished testing.  More details will be released as they become available.

Thanks!

Again, to stay updated on the project, just enter your name and email address in the upper right corner of this page.

Questions?  Comments?  Want to reserve your bits right now?  Send a quick email to ‘john AT response-box.com.’  We’d love to hear from you.

Warmest regards,

JEC & mrpackethead

Posted in 2009 Project, Drive Gear, Pixels | 30 Comments »

New Video Footage

Posted by JEC on 23rd December 2009

Finally!

A couple days ago I rented a Canon EOS 7D + 28-70 F/2.8L lens, which I used to capture some footage of the house on a frozen and windy night.

The camera can shoot full-on HD video – 1080p at 30 fps.  5 minutes of footage fills a 4 GB flash card.  It’s compressed quite a bit by Youtube, but the actual color rendition is as close as I’ve ever seen.  Audio is the same as you’d hear if you visited in person.

This next picture is the physical incarnation of an idea my wife had.  She wanted snowflakes on the house.  Lots of ‘em.

So we sketched up a family of flakes in the CAD program, then emailed the DXF files to the metal shop that’s just up the road.  The shop tightly arrayed the flakes on a 4′ x 10′ piece of aluminum stock, then cut them out on the laser table.

The large flake  shown here measures 23″ from tip to top and contains 83 RGB nodes on ~ 1.5″ centers.  83 nodes equals 249 channels of DMX and/or Art-Net.  So 2 per universe.

Since we left ‘practical’ behind several months ago, such a massive channel count poses no problem at all.

23" Aluminum snowflake with RGB DMX Nodes

Snowflake, fully loaded & waiting for installation.

The video clip below shows it running a simple – yet frantic – test pattern.  It’s really, really bright.

With any luck, we’ll have a whole flock of these mounted on the house after Christmas.  They’ll run through January & hopefully counteract the cold grey winter.

As always, if you’d like to hear when contact on this site changes, just enter your name and email address in the upper right hand corner of this page.  As a member of our exclusive ‘Insider Club,’ you’ll be the first on your block to receive the updates.

Thanks!

Posted in 2009 Project, Photo / Video Clips, Pixels | 7 Comments »

A Grainy Video Clip

Posted by JEC on 16th December 2009

My wife’s little Nikon point & shoot shot these clips. They’re not spectacular, but they’re at least something. Note that these clips aren’t synchronized to music, they’re just part of a larger cue stack that repeats every 10 minutes or so.

Later this week I’ll be able to post some HD video clips + audio + decent color reproduction.

Posted in 2009 Project, Photo / Video Clips, Pixels | 1 Comment »

Still Photos

Posted by JEC on 14th December 2009

No video yet, but here’s some stills I took of the house. The purity of the LEDs’ color cuts through the darkness like a razor.

Current count is about 612 RGB pixels, driven by 3 Art-Net bridges. For convenience, the patch is spread over 6 universes of DMX.

Rough calculations say that at full brightness, the lights draw 60 mA per node –> 36.7 A at 5V –> ~160 watts total.

Note that the two pixels on the balcony which appear to be ‘dead’ are actually blocked by the balcony’s iron handrail.

Many of the blue / purple pictures are actually part of a longer ‘plasma’ sequence which features red, blue and purple blobs sweeping across the entire house. It’s pretty neat looking in real life.

Click to enlarge.

Posted in 2009 Project, Installations, Pixels | 5 Comments »

A Mere Preview

Posted by JEC on 14th December 2009

Hi!

Yesterday (Saturday) morning UPS delivered the missing link of this year’s light display: a USB dongle, used to authenticate the software which drives the LEDs.  The software can be downloaded free of charge.  However, communication with the outside world requires an decryption key.

Since then, I’ve installed and tested two Art-Net bridges, which drive about 2/3 of the existing lights.  Tomorrow morning, weather pending, I’ll add the third controller and record some decent images.

In the interim, enjoy this grainy, overexposed foreshadowing of things to come:

2009 RGB Node Preview from Engineering Solutions Inc on Vimeo.

Posted in 2009 Project, Photo / Video Clips | Comments Off

mrpackethead’s LED Tree

Posted by JEC on 7th December 2009

New Zealand co-developer mrpackethead finished up a ‘mega tree’ using 2,000 of the new waterproof LED nodes.  It’s 6 meters high and – I’m told – absolutely stunning to experience in person.

Here’s a video clip of its maiden voyage:

Other interesting bits:

Power When fully lit, the tree draws ~ 120 A at 5.0 V DC.  He is using 10 x 100W switch mode supplies. Cost per hour to run is about $0.05 NZ.

Drive Software Quartz Composer (OS X), Madrix, walker design (compatible with vixen btw)

Note that there’s been some additional discussion of the tree / controller system on the Do It Yourself Christmas forums.

Posted in 2009 Project, Pixels | 6 Comments »

mrpackethead’s Art-Net to DMX Bridge

Posted by JEC on 7th November 2009

Down-under colleague mrpackethead designed this plug-in module for the Art-Net controller.  Sized to fit in the footprint of two existing logic chips, it generates 4 universes of DMX.  As boards size is limited, it contains outputs on .1″ pin headers only.  Each output is based on a discrete RS-485 driver chip and a high-speed optocoupler.

Yes, the optocouplers may not be needed.  But the extra layer of protection isn’t very expensive to include.

A few days ago, I spoke on the phone with a gentleman who installs large-scale Christmas light displays.  Apparently his client’s system was hit by lightning.  The better part of 40 controllers were destroyed, likely by current traveling up and down the data distribution network.

“I’ve never seen the inside of so many chips!  no only were the  485’s blown open but in many cases the PICs and the 74xxx chips  that go between the PICs and the optos were also blown open.  it  was amazing.

-Drew Hickman, Holiday Technologies, www.holidaytechnologies.com”.

Ouch.

'Daughterboard' for the Art-Net controller which generates 4 universes of DMX

'Daughterboard' for the Art-Net controller which generates 4 universes of DMX

Posted in 2009 Project, Drive Gear | 1 Comment »

The DHL Fairy…

Posted by JEC on 30th October 2009

… dropped off a well-worn package Thursday morning.  14 Kg of halfway-around-the-world happiness are now spread out on the workshop floor.

I’m now the proud owner of 1000 pieces of waterproof addressable RGB node:

Smart 12mm Waterproof RGB Chain

A while back, I scanned blueprints of the house into the computer, and then imported them into the CAD program.  It appears that we need ~ 960 nodes to cover the rooflines, raingutters, windows and main entrance arch.

The controllers are coming along nicely as well.  I’ve currently got a single data output which can drive 300 nodes at a 25.5 Hz refresh rate.  With some optimizing, those numbers should reach 340 nodes (2 universes of DMX) and 44 Hz frame rate.

Then, it’s a simple matter of cloning the output drive code as many times as are needed, up to the limit of my firmware and the ethernet processor.  Supporting 2048 nodes (13 universes!) in a single string would be wonderful.

Monday afternoon I’m expecting a batch of controller circuit boards as well.  These boards will contain the ethernet controller.  We now have sample code which pulls data from the ethernet interface at 7+ megabits / second.

So the jump from ‘barely stable system at 10 Hz and 1 universe of Art-Net’ to ‘screaming fast’ should be significant.  Switching from serial SPI mode (3 pins) to parallel data transfer mode (14 pins) makes a huge difference.

Onward!

Posted in 2009 Project, Drive Gear | 3 Comments »

Asian Node Control – Update

Posted by JEC on 15th October 2009

It’s been a busy couple weeks…

News: we have the beginnings of an Art-Net interface for the new 4-wire nodes from Asia.  For being totally unoptimized, it’s running fairly well.  The Art-Net input code currently barfs if more than a single universe of data is present on the wire, or if a single universe is updated at more than ~ 10 Hz.

However, it’s very satisfying to see the node appear and properly complete the ‘handshake’ process with Artistic License’s ‘DMX Workshop’ software suite.

We now have an official Vendor / Product ID from AL as well.

Next step is to streamline the code, remove the ugly bits, and increase throughput to support 2-4 universes at ~40 Hz refresh.

Onward! Thanks for visiting.

Posted in 2009 Project, Photo / Video Clips, Pixels | Comments Off

Pixel Driving Software

Posted by JEC on 22nd September 2009

This post is meant to answer some of the questions I’ve received in the ‘comments’ section, as well as through private email exchanges.  Specifically, “Great!  I now have $X hundred pixels.  How do I control them all?”

Having a background in theatre / live production / staging, I lean towards tools written by and for those people.

There are many choices for controlling large arrays of RGB nodes.  A nicely written tutorial on the subject is here.

A google search for ‘pixel mapping software’ will return many options. Price ranges from free to many thousands of dollars, depending on the number of outputs required. Software options include Colour-Tramp by Artistic License,  Chamsys MagiQ PC (free, multiplatform!), RadLite/PixelRange, Green Hippo’s Hippotozer software, and many more.  Also interesting is Landy Bible’s .Matrix program – sort of a poor man’s Catalyst server – which speaks Art-Net and is free from his site.

There’s also possibilities of building custom patches using MAX/MSP.  Finally, the fine folks over at kineme.org have done some neat work using Quartz Composer under Mac OS X, plus plugins for USB-DMX dongles and Art-Net.

Note that our (coming soon!) Art-Net interface will work with all of these commercial programs…

Posted in 2009 Project, Drive Gear, Pixels, Uncategorized | Comments Off