Using Light-O-Rama to create holiday light shows

If you want to have a holiday light show that will back up traffic and make people of all ages smile, then you might be interested in Light-O-Rama.

Holiday light display
Credit: Anthony92931

If you want to have a holiday light show that will back up traffic and make people of all ages smile (except Grinches and Scrooges), then you might be interested in Light-O-Rama. It’s been used by contestants in the Great Light Fight and was running behind the scenes of the first viral video of Christmas lights to Wizards in Winter. Incidentally, it took the electrical engineer who set up that light show about two months and 16,000 lights; for each minute of the song, it took him about one hour to sequence 88 Light-O-Rama channels. One LOR hardware controller generally has 16 channels.

Light-O-Rama controllers

For an oversimplified overview, the Light-O-Rama (LOR) software package includes a suite of programs; the Sequence Editor is where you create or modify sequences which are your programmed songs; the LOR Visualizer is where you load a photo of your home and then lay out your lights and props, color of lights, as well as hook up the circuits. It is suggested to think in terms of 4 X 4 for designing and assigning lights to each channel. The Simple Show Builder is the fastest way to add sequences in order to create shows, but it is less flexible than the Show Editor or the Schedule Editor; the Control Panel runs in your system tray for quick access to shows; the Verifier and Hardware Utility basically provide troubleshooting for controllers or configurations. The software suite also has ServoDog, Pixel Editor, SuperStar Sequencer and Diagnostics.

The LOR hardware is what actually controls your lights, but the software is telling it what to do. Some people opt to use a LOR controller that is connected to their computer via a Cat 5 LAN cable; if you live in a cold climate and don’t want to leave a window or door cracked in December, then there is also a model that comes with a built-in MP3 Director Show Player so no connection to a PC is required to control the LOR network. Multiple LOR controllers can be daisy-chained. Some people opt to let LOR software control DMX devices for robotic lighting or theatrical effects.

The max current on any channel is 8 amps with a total maximum of 30 amps for a 16-channel controller. There is a math equation to come up with how many amps a string of lights will use, but a string of a 100 incandescent mini-lights, for example, uses .33 amps per string. A string of 70 LED mini-lights only uses .03. In other words, you can use a ton of lights per channel. The LOR Wiki explained, “Imagine being able to control more than 8,000 lights with a single 16 channel, 30-amp controller. The catch is that you can't turn them all on at once. So long as you don't break two rules, you can have as many lights as you want. (Again, within the rules.) Rule 1 - NEVER exceed 8 amps per channel. Rule 2 - NEVER exceed the rating on the board.”

To save money on a controller, eBay and Craigslist might be your friends. People who are comfortable with circuit boards, soldering and working with electricity might consider building their own controllers as it is considerably less expensive.

Light-O-Rama circuit board davef3138

Also to save money, some people opt to use tomato cages wrapped in Christmas lights to represent four, or more, mini trees. Depending upon where you live, good luck finding tomato cages around Halloween. Your light show is only limited by your imagination…and your pocketbook. Speaking of a budget, you’ll need dozens of extension cords so set money aside because it could end up costing hundreds.

I’ve watched many holiday light shows over the years on YouTube and wondered if their neighbors hated them. Unless the whole neighborhood is cool...

Otherwise, if you don’t want to upset your neighbors then you can opt for a low-power FM transmitter; it should be FCC-okayed so it would be legal with no fines for broadcasting. Using an FM transmitter will allow people to hear the music via their radio from the warmth of their cars while watching the lights dance.

Find an unused station – better yet one that has nothing near it for a couple channels. Audacity, a free, open-source program to adjust the music, will be your friend. If some songs have static when being broadcasted, Light-O-Rama recommends using Audacity for “normalization.” If your lights look great in the software, but are out of sync with the music in real life, then you use Audacity to dial back the quality of your MP3s to 128Kbps.

Sure you can buy sequences from professionals or off eBay, but it’s rather expensive and can it be modified? If so, was it programmed to fit your holiday display layout? For example, if you use lots of floodlights or spotlights but the programmed song features many mega-trees, then it’s likely your floodlights would be flashing like strobe lights…and vice versa if it has slowly changing spotlights and you have none then those channels would look weird trying to fit them on mini-trees for a fast song.

I highly recommend checking out the many free sequences posted by really cool people. Sure you will have to modify it to fit your display, but you would have to do so at any rate unless your setup is an exact match for a programmed sequence you purchase. Below are a couple screen captures of programmed songs in Sequence Editor.

Sequence Editor 3
Sequence Editor 2

Of course you can program from scratch, but it is immensely time-consuming – like you have-no-idea-how-long-it-takes. One forum suggested six months to program a three-minute song, while Never Enough Lights guy averages three hours for every 15 seconds of a song…that’s after listening to same song 100 times before starting.

Tomorrow I’ll relate my experience with Light-O-Rama; it’s mostly in the form of “how not to do” a light show, as a mere month is not enough time, but if you are tech-savvy then you still could do it so long as you go full throttle.

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