Big, Bigger, Biggliest

How big is too big when you’re creating a holiday display? Well, that depends on your skill level and the amount of additional hands you have to help out. The more you dive down the proverbial rabbit hole, light shows become increasingly technical. If you’re not the tech type, starting small with basic technical equipment is the way to go. Get your feet wet with a smaller, simpler system before jumping in head first.

There are a lot of things to consider when you decide you want to create an epic holiday display. First and foremost, you should start with the concept of aesthetics. The principles of design can be hard to wrap your head around. Generally speaking, it is best to have a tidy display with very few overlapping areas. Less is more! Clean lines and a crisp, clean look are good design basics.

Of course, if you are a programmer, you can purposely overlap pieces so that you can creatively utilize space. At that point, one can select which layer of the display they want active (or rarely both layers,) which keeps you from creating a visually ‘noisy’ display. That being said, noisy displays also have their place in our industry. The Clark Griswolds of the world know what I’m talking about. 🙂

So now that you’ve decided to jump in headfirst, you’ve planned out a neat and tidy display that is sure to wow your audience, what’s next? Now you need to think about logistics. Animated shows are run by controllers, DMX interfaces, and, most importantly, electricity.

You must, must, must add up all the power being drawn in your display. You need that number to not only determine number of circuits, but also the quantity of light controllers, and the size of controller (15 or 30 amp,) that you require. Power (also known as wattage) needs to be calculated for each channel being connected to a controller.

Light controllers will only support a limited number of strings, though LED strings have seriously increased the number of lights a single controller is capable of handling. To determine the power draw of your strings, check the packaging and start a spreadsheet so that you keep those calculations nearby.

Are you using power supplies for RGB lighting? Your power supply is determined by the amperage required by the RGB pixels. Remember, power supply selection requires additional headroom. 20% is considered a good safety margin.

So, how many controllers do you need in your display? That all depends on the size of your installation. Anything you want to animate will require more than a single channel. If you want a row of bushes to chase, you will need to decide how many circuits/channels to divide that row of bushes into.

The right number?… it depends. You will need to consider the ‘resolution’ of your animation. A 3-channel chase will look much more ‘steppy’ than a 10-channel chase which will create a much smoother chase.

Pro tip: Make sure you set the addresses on your controllers before you set them in place. After you set that address, place a label on the enclosure (or use sharpie) for quick reference down the road.

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