Using Raspberry Pi for holiday light shows

You might consider using your upcoming long weekend to set up a Raspberry Pi to control lights, music, and even to act as an FM transmitter for a holiday light show.

How to use Raspberry Pi for holiday Christmas light shows
Credit: Jared Smith

Depending upon your line of work, you might be looking at a long holiday weekend. If you like to tinker with code and hardware, and also like holiday light shows, then instead of purchasing some pre-made kit, you might consider LightShow Pi.

It will “synchronize the lights to music using your Raspberry Pi as the central controller (i.e. no external computer necessary). LightShow Pi automates the entire creation of a light show using the frequency spectrum of the music that is playing!”

An example of what LightShow Pi can do can be seen in Chris Usey's compilation video.

If you want even more, then the LightShow Pi community has come up with add-ons. Some examples include the ability to use SMS to change the volume and letting people within hearing range vote for the next song in the show. There’s a LightShowPi Wiki and, with the holidays approaching, there are a few new projects showing up on LightShow Pi Google+ community.

You might also consider the type of light show covered in Raspberry Pi Projects For Dummies. The code for the “Light Fantastic Light Show” is provided; it “consists of eight sequences that you can use to turn on the LEDs and a way of generating a random color.”

Hacking Christmas lights is nothing new, nor is syncing those lights to midi audio or mp3s. Yet if you have a Windows computer and about $90 in parts, “Within a few hours, you too can build your own light display for the holidays/new year!”

Osprey22 on Instructables has the material list and a how-to for a nifty project that uses a Raspberry Pi to drive eight AC outlets connected to Christmas tree lights. Yet another tutorial can help you take control of your Pi using a Mac, PC, iPad, or Android. Anderson Silva on OpenSource also shows how to create your own musical light show with Raspberry Pi. On GitHub, Tony DiCola posted an Arduino library for LED strips and pixels using LPD8806.

Also on GitHub, there’s BiblioPixel, a pure Python 2 library for programming light animations. “It provides an easy to use, cross-platform, and completely output agnostic framework that greatly eases designing and programming animations for a wide variety of displays.” AllPixel LED controller board was recommended for “easy hardware interfacing.” Maniacal Labs showed off a Christmas tree light show using PixelWeb, AllPixel and BiblioPixel.

Imperial College Robotics Society, a “student-led university club aiming to increase robotics interest at Imperial College London and across the UK,” can help you do even more with your Pi. They reportedly “designed a program that turns the Pi into an FM radio transmitter.” There are a couple PiFM tutorials on Instructables that can help you turn your Raspberry Pi into an FM transmitter.

Here’s Todd Giles' LightShow Pi test from last year, using PiFM – as in using a Raspberry Pi to control the lights and the music and even as an FM transmitter.

If you have a long weekend, then you could get the kids involved. If you are not inclined to tinker with hardware as well as code, there are all kinds of options if you want to do a holiday light show. Once “mastered,” you could apply the light show to any holiday or other occasion.

Tomorrow I’ll show you another way to go about it via Light-O-Rama.

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