John’s 2011 RGB Megatree


Click to Enlarge

While last year’s triangle tree worked out fairly well, it was definitely a last-minute design.  12 feet tall and containing 16 x 42 node strings, it was fun to watch for the last couple weeks in December.

But there’s always room for improvement.

This time, we decided to start earlier in the year, in order to end up with something extra special.

During October’s indoor tree demo, we confirmed that 48 full strings of light added about 100 pounds of weight.  At that trim height, the wiring represents a substantial load & leverage force.  So based on Walter & Jackie Monkhouse’s detailed plans I build a rebar-reinforced concrete base weighing 120 pounds.  This was fitted with sturdy eyebolts as designed, then securely  anchored in the ground with a quartet of 3/4″ concrete stakes 36″ long.

On top of the base I added a two-part pole assembly based on 10′ sections of 2″ and 1.5″ rigid EMT conduit.  From the friendly folks at I procured a 24″ star frame, a megatree hook set and a pully head.  From Lowes I bought, then installed, a geared winch on the pole.  This way the main tree assembly could move up and down for repairs, testing and potential bad weather.

Then, because of the recent 102 mph windstorm not far from our home, I added three external guy wires made of 3/16″ wire rope (rated at 800 pounds minimum breaking strength).  These attached to the top of the 2″ pipe, then anchored in the ground with more 36″ stakes, heavy turnbuckles and a handful of shackles.

The entire post assembly (20′ of pipe, less 2′ of overlap, plus about 2.5′ of star) was assembled on the ground, then tilted into place and anchored securely.

Using a 10′ A-frame ladder, I attached three StellaGreen strings to each of the hook head’s 16 angle brackets.  At this time, the pully head was resting at the top of the 2″ pipe section.  Had I used 1.5″ and 1.0″ pipe for the entire assembly, the hook head would have moved freely to the ground.  However, the sturdiness of the thicker pipe is reassurring.

Once the foundation was set and stable, the hook head was cranked up to full working height.

Finally, I built a base ring from 60′ of 1/2″ PCV pipe, joined together with simple sleeve fittings.  The string spacing at the base of the tree is about 15″ on center, and it’s a nice balance.  Our StellaGreen strings contain 85 RGB nodes on 10 cm (3.93700787 inch) spacing, plus an 2.5 meter pigtail at the beginning for convenient connection to a controller.  Thus, the strings offer more or less 28′ of light to work with.  In this installation, I didn’t want our home or the neighbor’s home to be damaged if the tree somehow tipped over.  So the tree is a bit shorter than it could be, per Mr. Pythagoras and some catenary sagging.  There’s about 3′ of node string at the base of the tree, arranged in a neat inverted sunburst pattern.

The tree is driven by a trio of E16-II Ethernet controllers.  Total power draw is around 800 watts peak.  85 nodes per string x 3 channels per node x 48 strings equals 4,080 nodes and 12,240 total control channels.  With a 44 Hz refresh rate across the entire system, color fades are as smooth as silk.

Neighbors say that at night, when they enter the neighborhood from 1/4 mile away, the top section of the tree peeks through the other houses like an iridescent spaceship.


Hoping to post some video clips in a day or so.  Click any of these photos above to enlarge.


Touring E16-II Chassis

This one can be considered RoadieProof.

XLR-4 outputs for each string.  Neutrik PowerCon for AC in & through (great for daisy chaining, as each chassis only draws about 400 watts at peak power).  Neutrik EtherCon for data input.  Durable polycarbonate enclosure.  International power supply for worldwide operation.

Will also ship with an optional ‘truss kit’ for easy and safe flying.

Coming soon to a tour near you.


E16-II Photos

Here’s photos of the new StellaBlack E16-II controller.  It’s designed to drive up to 16 strings of 85 nodes (1,360 RGB dots) from either Art-Net II or E1.31 ethernet input.  The demo megatree we filmed a few weeks ago was based on three of these controllers fully loaded.

The internal power supply (~300 watts) is UL listed, properly vented and power factor corrected.  It autoswitches between 90-265v AC, 50-60 Hz, so worldwide operation is no problem.

The system has no problem at all refreshing all 16 strings at 44 frames per second.

Note the waterproof cable entry glands, durable chassis and shielded power supply breathing holes.

The internal web interface provides easy configuration of each string, plus generates test patterns for system debugging.

We’re proud to call this a ‘plug & play’ system.  It’s proven very stable, durable and trouble-free.  The node pigtails (shown here terminated with waterproof circular connectors) can also be fitted with Neutrik HD-series 4-pin ends.  These are waterproof, very durable, gold plated and designed for installations which frequently change, such as for touring environments.

Click any photo to enlarge.

If you’re interested, contact us for a precisely-tailored complete system quote.

Halloween 2011

Thanks to Mountain View Staging for the power & data cable, LED uplights and other infrastructure bits.

Six StellaGreen strings driven by last year’s E16-I controllers.  Assorted pneumatic odds and ends.

We have such a fun neighborhood.  The Haunted Creature Crate worried many kids, and more then a few of their parents. 🙂

The box is actually a genuine shipping crate which came to New York City from Europe, packed full of crystal chandelier.  It somehow ended up empty in Utah much later, and I grabbed it from a seller on craigslist.


How to Build an RGB MegaTree


23' RGB Megatree, in blue and white.

Happy Friday!

Fall is finally here.  Love this season.

A lighting designer here in town was considering a giant Christmas tree as part of a December production.  So very late last night, we hauled some gear over to his rehearsal space and set up a demo system.

The twenty three foot tall tree (it could be more, but we ran out of flying space) is based 48 StellaGreen RGB strings and 3 of our new E16-II node controllers.

Complete control over the tree requires 24 universes of DMX data.  That’s more than twelve thousand control channels. However, since we left ‘practical’ behind several years ago, this is not a problem at all. Frame rate is 44 Hz.

More details about the green strings and controller will be posted very shortly.  For now, though, here’s some stills and video from the evening:

Note: I wish I’d remembered to take a photo with a person standing next to tree, just to give some sense of scale.  This tree is enormous.  And beautiful.  For rev2, the base will be bigger and the strings held with more tension.  In theory, the result will look a bit less like the famous Sorting Hat.


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E16-2 Test Rig

This handy board (16 StellaGreen strings, each 85 nodes long) will be used to test each and every E16-2 controller shipped out this season.  Shown are 4,080 control channels, and about 48.0 amps DC at full power.  44 Hz refresh rate is fully supported.

E16-2 is available with E1.31 (streaming ACN) or Art-Net 2 firmware.


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.

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