08 October 2013

How To Question: Pixel Arches

Today's question comes from Phill who asks:

After reading, and watching several videos on your site, I would like to test an RGB Pixel setup (100 lights per string, using your tinypix controllers). I am using LOR S3 Advanced software, and would like you to verify what I will need (to make sure I don't miss anything).

Currently, I am just using the inexpensive Light-o-Rama USB485 dongle, at 500K (network speed), and it works great - will that work, or do I need to use one of your dongles, and if so which one - Ultimately, I will be using this for 12 arches (50 pixels each).

I know I need a 100 light pixel string, 1-tinypix, programming cable, and power supply - for the testing of the single string, I will just use one I have on hand). other then the possible dongle, is there anything else I will need???
So let's break down this issue - Phill would like to make pixel arches and he has indicated that he needs 12 of them at 50 pixels each.  My first question would be - what type of RGB pixel is being used here?  My guess is pixel strip given that the number is 50 pixels and pixel strip commonly comes in 16' lengths that contain 50 pixels (150 DMX channels), so we'll go with that given that pixel strip is a reasonable choice for pixel arches.
The next question I'd have is - what type of interface is going to be used here to get the sequencing data to the pixel controller?  50 pixels * 3 DMX channels (Red, Green, Blue) * 12  = 1,800 DMX channels - so that's a fair number of pixels and is comprised of 3 DMX universes (actually 4 because you would likely put 3 arches of 150 pixels each, within a single DMX universe of 512 channels.)  So, I think an RS-485 interface is out of the question here - the customer is going to need to go E1.31 for output of that much data.
So, to answer Phills question about LOR - yes, you'd need at a minimum LOR S3 advanced to get enough output and E1.31 support.  Phill would run the LOR network separately of the DMX network, so Phill's LOR settings really don't matter here since they don't impact the DMX E1.31 network.
Phill mentions needing a "100 light pixel string" which isn't correct based on my assessment that he has chosen RGB pixel strip, so maybe he is referring to 8mm pixel nodes?  If that is the case, usually 8mm pixel nodes would be a bad choice for this design - they don't mount well, you have to get them pointed in the right direction and they have less light output than the 5050 RGB chips in RGB strip - so we are going to just forget the 100 light pixel string reference and again assume he needs RGB pixel strip.
Phill also mentions needing a TinyPix -  I can't say if that is the case because I know nothing about the distances involved.  A centralized controller is great, something like the SanDevices E68x or the J1Sys controllers but they do have limits on distances you can place elements from the controller - yea, you can use null/ghost pixels to span longer distances but I'm not sure if we are talking 2 acres or a 5,000 sq/ft yard.  In the 2 acre, now a distributed pixel controller like the TinyPix really makes sense, if you have them all very close to each other, a centralized controller makes sense.  Now please note that the TinyPix is RS-485 based and thus would require "dongles" for output of each DMX universe as where the centralized controllers would require an Ethernet feed from the show computer.
So, to completely answer a question such as those posed by Phill, we need to know other relevant data such as:
  • The physical design and layout of the display elements (arches)
  • Any additional pixels/DMX channels used in the display
  • The method the user will choose to sequence the display (software)
  • The budget range for this project
  • The skill level of the customer (plug-n-play or DIY)



  1. I currently have a DMX e1.31 ( j1sys E3 ECG-D4) which supports 4 universes. If I purchase another ECG-D4 board and assign it a unique IP address which is different than my first board; Will I be able to set it up in Light-o-rama for an additional 4 universes giving me a total of 8?

    1. Yes - that is correct, you can create additional universes by just adding them to LOR and assigning them different IP addresses. That said, I would wonder why you'd have so many RS-485 universes unless you have a lot of distributed elements.

  2. I want to try and get into a pixel-based display as simply (meaning avoiding soldering) and inexpesively as I can, and there's so many directions to go, it's easy to get confused. So, my query is: if I were to purchase:

    1 Smart / Pixel 8mm RGB LED /12mm Base Waterproof Node - 5v 2811 (String of 50)
    1 ActiDongle™ - Active DMX Dongle (Enttec™ Pro Compatible)
    1 TinyPix™ - Pixel Controller / DMX to SPI Smart Pixel Decoder
    1 Appropriate power source (5v, model?)

    Would I then, after hooking these all together (USB to Actidongle, Actidongle and power to the TinyPix, TinyPix to the string of smart nodes), be able to see the string in my LOR S3 Advanced (with the appropriate network settings), and sequence it just like a CCR?

  3. I often see customers that don't want to solder but want to move into pixels and I explain that this usually isn't possible. I cover this in an article - Cheap Isn't Free When It Comes to RGB (http://blog.holidaycoro.com/2013/03/no-free-rides-cheap-isnt-free-when-it.html). The basic jist is that - pixels and RGB require custom solutions in many cases (covering eaves, pixel trees, etc) meaning that pixel density, lengths, wiring, power and other factors come into place and there isn't anything you can pull "off the shelf" and have it work correctly for your display. So, you'll need to learn to solder - and I don't think you'll find it a hard process.

    We normally don't like to start with a list of hardware and then say it "will work" because we have no idea if it will work. It is always better to start with the specific project, then work back through the lights, then to the controller, the interface, the software and so on.

    So, start with this: http://www.holidaycoro.com/rgb and then look around our blog for lots of ideas - there is still 12 more months until next Christmas to get all this going!

  4. I may have missed something but have allways felt there are no stupid Questions!
    once I have set the address on my board (Holiday Coro 27 channel board) I will set up the channels accordingly in my LOR Program. Can I then plug in my CAT 5 cable from my LOR controler or do I still need to run it through my Holiday coro Dongle? I am powering my board seperately from a 12v power supply!


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