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DIY programmable Christmas lights, components overview

This article is about the components needed for creating your own DIY programmable Christmas lights. If you already have some components like addressable LED strips you can use them or purchase additional ones to make your exterior even more beautiful and attractive. You should be careful and figure out if your selected components are compatible.


The main components to start your own DIY programmable Christmas lighting are:

  1. Addressable LED strip
  2. Pixel controller (Controller specifically designed for LED strips)
  3. Media content (or effects generator)
  4. Power supply

Summary about addressable LED

An addressable RGB LED strip is a long flexible strand of LEDs each of which can be individually set to a certain color (hence: addressable). By varying the level of red, green and blue (RGB) per LED many color combinations can be made. Usual LED strips consist from LED + IC chip. The chips between the LEDs listen to commands from a controller. This can be an Arduino or other micro-controller or a controller specifically designed for LED strips (aka pixel controller). If you don’t know which LED strip to select there is a tons of information in internet about different LED strips and it’s characteristics.

Let’s assume that you have already selected the best from your perspective LED strip.

Pixel controller

Let’s try to figure out how to light up the LED strip with the help of a pixel controller.

Why not just use an Arduino or Raspberry PI?

Arduino and RPI for Lighting

Arduino Mega has direct support for LED pixels and digital LED strips with drivers type: WS2811, TM1803, TM1804, TM1809, TM1812. The WS2812B uses a one-wire control interface with strict timing requirements (timing requirements so strict that it is typically impractical to have interrupt-based events running on the controlling micro-controller while it is updating the WS2812B LEDs). You could spend some time developing your own lighting firmware on OctoWS2811 library for Tensy device ( Arduino compatible ) if your want to create it from scratch.

Raspberry PI could work directly with WS2801/APA102, LPD8806, P9813 and with WS2811 and WS2812 pixels via Scanlime Fadecandy USB interface. But, LED strips on WS2801 chip is expensive, so Raspberry PI is not a best deal for that.

Let’s see which pixel controller is already available on the market.

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