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What are the technical details?

The show runs on 8 separate lighting controllers, each of which is it's own computer. All of these boxes are hooked together via twisted pair cable, and talk to each other via RS485.

You may have heard of other lighting control systems like DMX or X10. The system I use is superior to both. DMX - which is used in theaters and movie production - is prohibitively expensive, and X10 is too slow.  The  hardware I use gives me one one-hundredth of a second timing - meaning I can change the state of a light 100 times/second if needed. Compare this to X10, where you can only change a light every 2 seconds (approximately) . 

The display does use some X10, but not for the lights that are synchronized to the music.  X10 is used to turn on the static portions of the display - wire-frame deer, inflatables, cut-out flood lights, etc.

Inside is a Pentium based PC that runs specialized software to talk to all the controllers. The PC sends commands out the RS-485 interface, and listens for any data coming back from the controllers.

Each controller has up to 16 'channels'. A channel is the smallest amount of lights that can be independently controlled at one time. For instance, the large wreath on the house uses 5 channels 1 each for red,green,white,blue and 1 for the strobes. The large tree on the right side uses 34 channels - it has 8 'slices' each of which has 4 colors (8 * 4 = 32) + 1 channel for the strobe lights, and another for the star at the top.

The PC inside addresses all these channels individually, and tells them what they should be doing (on/off/take 2 seconds to fade from off to full bright, twinkle between 60% and 100% bright, etc...), and most importantly WHEN.

In order to get the lights to go along to the music, each song of the show is broken down into cues. During this time I decide what lights should be off, which should be on, and what they should be doing (twinkle,fade,etc). This is called sequencing.  On average each minute of music is broken down into between 70-100 'cues'. A cue is a spot in the song where the lights need to change somehow. The software helps me with this by putting everything on a grid -- the channels running down the left side, and the cues running along the top.  Assuming that a song on average has 80 cues per minute, is on average 3 minutes long, and that there are 128 channels in the display,  you end up with a grid that has nearly 31,000 squares (or what I call 'scenes') in it. With a show that's 30 minutes long, that's more than a quarter million scenes that need to be worked out!

 
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