StellaSparks (Sneak Peak)

Here’s something fun we’ve been working on lately:

Yclept ‘StellaSparks’, each contains 3 super-bright white LEDs inside a waterproof chassis.  Super bright!  Here’s a clip of them running.  The tree is decorated with 6 of our ‘StellaGreen’ RGB node strings (85 nodes per string) and a set of StellaSparks (30 strobes on 1′ centers, plus an 8′ leader).

Strobe pricing is $135 for a 38′ string.  These can be directly controlled by our E16, E16-2 or E4 controllers.  Preorder now, or wait for off-the-shelf shipments the shelf in 4 weeks.

Madrix Fixture Files

Fabian Gordon (here’s his site) was kind enough to build Madrix fixture files for our RGB strings in various configurations.  Without further ado, here they are:

  • 1 x 42
  • 2 x 21
  • 3 x 13

They’re combined in this .zip file:  rgbnodes

Thanks, Fabian!

2011 Fire Sale

E16 RGB Node Controller

Current Stock (updated as quantities change): More than 30 20


We’re cleaning out the factory & need to move a stack of last year’s E16 controllers.

When the E16 was introduced in mid-2010, it was hard to know how popular it would be.  Since then, hundreds of them have been deployed in some very challenging situations, from the hot Australian sun to the bone chilling mountain winter of the USA.

However, it’s now April and there’s a limited number of E16 controllers that need to be cleared from stock.

This is your opportunity to get them at a fraction of what they sold for last year.

The E16 system drives our up to 16 strings of our RGB LED pixels.  Refresh rate is 44 frames per second across the entire system.

All configuration is handled by an internal web server, so you simply need to use a web browser for easy system setup.

There’s no need to install special software.

Light control is via ethernet using industry standard Art-net or E1.31 protocols.

Simply plug in some strings, add power and you’re blinking!

We’ve bundled up a package which includes:

* The Top ‘control’ circuit board, which accepts ethernet data.

* The Bottom ‘drive’ circuit board, which contains high-current connectors for the power supply, 16 fuses for the output strings, and .156″ 4-conductor Molex headers for each output.

* 1 male high-current power connector plus a pair of crimp pins. You provide suitably heavy wire (10 gauge at least) for connecting to your 5V power supply. This matches the female connector on the ‘bottom’ board.

* 16 1′ pigtails which connect to the Molex headers and have 4 pin circular waterproof connectors for direct connection to node strings or node extension cables.

* A wiring guide showing you what needs to be connected to where.

However, this package does not include a waterproof housings or the 5V 50A power supply that are normally supplied.  We can of course design a fully turn key package if that’s what you need.

We thought that some of our more technically inclined customers will appreciate this kit set approach and will be easily able to handle the required wiring and setup.

We’ll confirm proper operation of each individual system in our workshop before it ships. And you’ll get a 30 day, no-questions-asked money back guarantee if you’re not completely delighted.



RGB Nodes and Controllers for Ricky Martin Tour

Engineering Solutions was pleased to provide ~8,000 RGB nodes and 12 E16 controllers (plus an appropriate stack of spare parts) to Ricky Martin’s 2011 tour.  We worked closely with Illinois-based Upstaging, who provided the larger lighting rig, and ShowFX in Los Angeles, who fabricated the scenic pieces on which the nodes were installed.

John travelled to LA to assist with patching and configuring the nodes and controllers.  On tour, the nodes would be controlled by a Hippo Critter pixel mapping engine, so a demo Hippo was set up in the shop for testing.  The lighting network was designed so that the Hippo sent data over a dedicated fiberoptic cable to the stage, where it was converted back to copper to feed the 12 E16s.  Somewhere between 36 and 44 universes of DMX are used to drive all the nodes.  The remainder of the lighting rig was controlled with other equipment, and on an isolated network.

The E16’s web-based configuration tool made it very easy to assign each node string to its proper address, based on the paperwork generated by the Bryan, the Hippo programmer.

As an interesting side-note, an Art-Net testing suite called ‘DMX Workshop’ has been published by Artistic License.  Free to use, it contains utilities for sending and receiving Art-Net data on any channel of any universe.  At one point during system testing, the entire pixel map was acting rough and choppy.  The frame rate was slow (way, way less than our regular 44 Hz throughput) and it didn’t look good at all.

So to test whether the problem was related to the Hippo, the E16s, or something in the middle, we disconnected the Hippo, plugged in a Windows laptop, and ran a ‘bandwidth test’ utility against the E16s.

We were able to totally load up the network by enabling universes 1 – 44.  Then we sent an ‘r g b’ walking pattern to the entire system.  That is, each node of each string was in red, then green, then blue.  The test started at a 1 Hz refresh rate.

At this speed, we couldn’t see any delay between nodes or strings.  All of the set pieces were changing color in exact synchrony.  This proved that the issue laid neither with the E16s nor the network switch.

Just for fun, we sped up the chase to 44 Hz and set it to ‘strobe’ (black white black repeating).

The many thousand RGB LEDs chased in unison with our throbbing eyeballs.

This high-speed test was promptly discontinued.

After a quick phone call to Hippo tech support, the jitter problem was traced to an errant setting in the software.

Most of the photos below were taken at the scenery shop.  However, the one of the top left was snapped during production rehearsals in Puerto Rico at the end of March.  Click any photo to enlarge.



Starting at 0:35, this video clip shows the nodes displaying content.  There’s other interesting looks at 5:00 and later.


Stay tuned for an upcoming post describing the ‘Tour Hardened’ E16 Controller and node string system we’ll be offering in a month or so.  We’ve added features specifically designed to make the system strong and road-worthy.  Bless their hearts, roadies can be rough on gear.  You’ll see that we’ve eliminated every potential ‘pinch point’ in the new hardware release.

If you haven’t already done so, enter your name and email address in the top right corner of this page.  You’ll be first on your block to hear about new products, firmware updates and more.

RGB Node Delivery Dates, E16 Production Photos and More.

What an amazing few weeks.

The only real way to describe interest in this project is ‘humbling.’  We’ve seen orders and inquiries pour in from around the globe.  Here’s a public ‘thank you’ for your interest and your trust.

I’ve included in this post several odds, ends & items of interest.

1.  Comment Spam

All comments on this site are held for moderation, unless something you’ve written has been previously approved.  A few days ago, this gem turned up in the queue:

My partner and I harmonise with all your data and can hungrily look forward to the following updates. Simply expressing thanks will never merely end up being enough, for the exceptional readability within your writing. I will straightaway seize your rss to keep up-to-date with all messages. Great work and much success with your business endeavors!

Sadly, it also contained links to an Internet get-rich-quick scheme, which I’ve thoughtfully deleted.

Moving on…

One of our customers sent a link to this YouTube clip.  He’s got a T3 bridge and string of RGB nodes connected to a Light-O-Rama iDMX-1000 controller:

E16 Production

The E16 Ethernet Controller went through 21 different PCB revisions before the final design was approved.  Of those 19, we ran actual circuit boards for 3 or 4.  And for each those designs, 3-4 board sets were populated and tested.

For these short runs, this was all done by hand.  Looking back on the process, it’s probably fair to estimate 3 hours per board for applying solder paste, loading components, cooking the board, then testing.

Yesterday mrpackethead snapped a few quick pictures at the factory where the E16s are now being produced.  The assembly robots (sadly, because of the factory schedule, we apparently were stuck with the slow one) churn out a panel of 3 logic boards every 4.5 minutes).


Field Installations

If you’ve already purchased nodes or controllers, we’d love to see your end results.  Feel free to add a comment to the bottom of this page with a short description, plus links to your own site, video clips or still images.  Some time in the future, we’ll condense the relevant replies into a new article.

Node & Controller Availability

In an attempt to wind down the bulk of production, shipping and tech support before December begins, we’re strongly urging that all node and controller orders be placed by Saturday, November 6.  Request a quote here, visit the online store here.

This gives us time to place our requests with the factory for more bits and pieces, should we run out of local stock.  Having played the ‘Pay FedEx a Fortune to Deliver Heavy Heavy Boxes Around the Globe at Lightning Speed’ game before, and having then been presented with the freight bill…

Note that November 6 isn’t by any means a hard deadline.  We’ll do our best to fill any order that comes in.  But life will be easier and much less expensive – for all parties – if we’re given time to work.

In Summary…

  • T3 Controller works with Light-O-Rama’s iDMX interface
  • Robots, even the slow ones, are blindingly fast
  • Send in your project photos and links
  • Order soon for best delivery



P.S. To receive automatic email updates when content is added to this site, just enter your name and email address in the top right corner of this page.  You’ll be first on your block to hear the news.

Open Source Bits

DMX Controller for RGB NodesOkay.

Here they are.  Finally.  Field-tested, known good goodies.

Open Source T3 Controller Schematic [pdf]

Gerber Files (zipped)

Eagle Files (Authored in Eagle 5.10 Professional)

T3 Parts List (text file)

Design Notes:

  • Processor is a PIC 18F2610.  It has many pin-compatible brethren.
  • Top of the schematic contains a neat RS-485 receive section which is both optically and galvanically isolated from the rest of the world.  This conforms neatly to the official USITT spec, and this particular corner of the schematic has been field-proven by many hundreds of our other customers, over several years.
  • There’s a single LED for power, plus a second LED for status / user feedback.
  • This PIC contains EUSART and SPI peripherals on (conveniently) separate pins.  To drive 4 different string outputs, we use a flock of ‘AND’ gates to select and route the data to its proper destination.
  • Expected power source is 5V DC via a switching supply, rated at 3A per 42 nodes driven.  A fully loaded card requires about 12A.
  • There’s no polarity protection included on this board.  Caveat emptor!
  • Most parts are SMD.  Chips are SOIC, discretes are 0805.  Easy easy to hand solder.

I have 7 remaining bare PCBs based on this design.  An additional 15 are en route to mrpackethead (.nz) for distribution.  $10 each or 5 / $45.  If you want some, email ‘john AT’ with the subject ‘Open Source PCB’

I do not plan to re-run these boards once current supply is depleted.

Source code is coming soon.  Check back!

July 4th Fun

In January we pulled down the light frames from the windows, the balcony and the grand archway.  The controllers and cable were all put away, but we left the nodes on the raingutters and upper roofline.

Wednesday morning I pulled out the controllers (last year’s Rev1 Art-Net bridge), extension cables and power supplies.  After about an hour of shuffling back and forth, I applied power.

Gratifyingly, the entire rig sparked right up.  I was pleased to see that 6 months of outdoor exposure hadn’t affected the nodes in any measurable way.

RGB Nodes & Controllers: Now Available for Pre-Order

We’re thrilled to announce that 8-bit DMX-driven RGB nodes and controllers are now available for pre-order.

Click here for more detail.


(Note also that mrpackethead is working on some amazing demo videos to post this weekend.  You’ll see video, graphics & text on a grid of nodes, plus a bunch of other neat effects.)

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