Homepage Music Credit: LightForm Productions, Santa Symphonies CD, "Christmas Time"

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I start testing all of the lights in September. Got to make sure that all 80,000 lights are working because there is no time to test each string as I'm putting them out. I try to start setting up the display the last weekend in October. So far, I've been unsuccessful. We always seem to get a 2-day soaking rain right before that weekend.  The ground is too soft for me to drive that heavy horizontal lift across the yard, so, I have to wait… Its always the first weekend in November when I get to start. By then, I’m already a week behind my target date for “lights on”, Thanksgiving weekend.  It has been the first weekend of December before lights on for the last 5 years. I’ll try again in 2012 for that elusive last weekend in October, but I’m not holding my breath!

In 2014, the display had about 80,000 LED lights.. That's 10,000 more lights than in the past. During set-up, I kept thinking that it was taking a little longer, and using more lights. I was perplexed because I was spacing them the same as I had in previous years. Then it dawned on me. The trees grew in girth. That's all it could be. It must have been massive growth because it added about 1,200 lights to each tree. If you laid the lights out on the ground, end-to-end, they would stretch out for 6 miles.That's roughly the distance from the entrance to my subdivision to the Eastern Bypass. I switched over from regular incandescent lights in 2007 to LED's. In 2006, I was pulling close to 200 amps for the display. Now, in 2012, I'm only drawing about 35 amps. I could literally run the entire display with four receptacles (plugs) if I didn't have to plugs on each of the 16 controllers. No, switching to LED's didn’t have anything to do with saving electricity or trying to be “green”. I just couldn’t resist the vivid colors. The reds, the blues and the greens are just fantastic!  The energy savings are just icing on the cake. When I was using the incandescent lights, my power bill usually increased about $75 a month.
With the LED's, the power bill increases about $15 a month. That's peanuts compared to the joy that it brings to so many ! Part of the reason the bill is so low is that the lights are not actually powered continuously. The controllers send the power in pulses which dramatically reduces the amount of electricity used.

The display is connected together with about a mile and a half of extension cords. I use to buy them, but now, I make my own. Making them myself is the easiest and the best. I don’t have to worry about a bunch of plugged together extension cords that are a potential source of a short. I hate it when the GFI's trip the breakers. When I make them myself, I can roll out a continuous, exact amount of wire. I label where it attaches and then re-use it in the same place each year thereafter.

Each color, each tree, each bush, each mini-tree and each column of lights on the roof has a string of lights that has to be connected back to a controller. Each controller has 16 channels (that’s just a fancy word for “plug”) in it. I have 11 controllers for a total of 176 channels. Each controller is then daisy chained together with Cat 5e cable, with the last connection being to my computer in “Christmas Central”.  Christmas Central is what I call the room where I do the programming of the music in the off-season.

The software I use is called Animation Director by Animated Lighting. The software allows me to bring any song I wish in and program it to do any number of different effects. Typically, the song I choose is brought into the software. The software will break the song up into any interval I desire. To get some good effects, I break the song up into .10-second increments. Every item in the display then has to be manually programmed, in each .10-second increment. That’s right, each of the 176 channels have to be programmed to produce what you’re seeing outside my house. A typical 3 minute song requires a minimum of about 100,000 programming steps and that’s only if I’ve achieved the desired effect. If its not doing what I want it to do, I have to change the effect and go from there. Its not uncommon for me to have 200,000 steps in each song. That’s why it takes about 6 hours for me to program about a minute of music.  Some songs take longer.  In the song, "Christmastime", that I'm using in 2010, there is a 17 second segment that took me 30 hours to program. 30 hours for 17 seconds of a song !  The crazy thing is that its really nothing that special, but, because of the chase effect i was trying to accomplish, it was tough to get done. You'd be surprised how much of a difference .10 seconds is from .20 seconds when dealing with a light being on or off. The eye is quicker than the ear. Its tedious, but it sure is a lot of fun !

After the programming is done, it’s merely a matter of saving the show to the computer, setting up the times for the starting and ending of the show and I’m off to the races!!

A low power transmitter broadcasts the music to the street on 94.1 FM.
The transmitter is the same kind that Realtors use to tell people about the homes have listed. You know the kind I'm talking about. You can pull up to the house and there is a sign that tells you to put your car radio on a certain channel to get information on that particular house. The transmitter only travels a few hundred feet before dieing out. Depending on weather conditions, it might go a little farther.

When the display isn’t running, I have some different software, by Zara Radio, that I use to play from my library of 1,050 Christmas songs. During the day, I play the great Christmas songs from artists like Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Eartha Kit, Doris Day, Peggy Lee and so many others that I enjoyed as a kid. Those are the greatest renditions of Christmas songs ever made! Nothing else compares in my book to those classics. When the display turns off for the night, the same software is programmed to play from my library of 600 “easy listening” Christmas songs. Various orchestras like Mantovani, 101 Strings and Jackie Gleason perform those. The intent is to give the neighbors something to listen to that will help them unwind after a long day and help them fall asleep with visions of Christmas memories past and those to come.

So, there you have it. That’s how I do it!  If you still have questions, feel free to drop me an email at thyno@tzchristmas.com .