Click here for the audio version of our Opening Night New Stuff routine (James Bond theme). This version has my voice mixed in since no one is sitting here at the microphone waiting for someone to click on the link and do it live. Duh. A shorted version of this routine also plays nightly at 8:00 to start the Rock 'n Roll show. You can also find video shorts of the Opening Night routine below in the demonstrations for the different new lighting elements.
Solar Power on the Severns home - (Not new, but an update) Visit our solar site to see charts of usage and production from install to present. At our last "true-up date we had a $350 surplus. More LEDs in the display will continue to lower our electricity consumption. The extra $350 more than covers the Pease home Xmas Display consumption, so we can claim that our display is 100% solar powered. Dave is currently #632 on the waiting list for an all electric Tesla Roadster. That will chew up our surplus....
Streelight Strobes - We have added 25 strobe lights to the top of each streetlight. Video clip from our James Bond themed Opening Night routine.
100% Light-o-Rama controlled - Our first year for computerizing the display was 2002. Computer controlled Christmas Display were in their infancy and were pretty much home made. I purchased some software called Dasher from a site called The Christmas Cave. I then had to buy Digital Output cards from Cyber Research and 48 5v Solid State Relay (SSRs) and build my own light controllers. This gave us the capability of turning lights on and off, nothing more. Along came Light-o-Rama (LOR). I checked out the software and was amazed at it's capability compared to Dasher. With Dasher I had to build my own simulator out of LEDs so I could program songs in the off-season. LOR allowed you to draw your display on the computer! The latest release even lets you draw on top of a photo of your house (or anything else). The problem was that initially LOR controllers cost almost $500 for a 16 channel controller. So we slowly began the conversion in 2005 with 3 controllers. Fast forward to 2008. LOR now sells special kit controllers that can be purchased in the off season for under $200. We bought 7 controllers this year and built them up in the off- season (Kelsey soldered 6 of 7, and I did all the wiring and assembly) to bring our total number of controllers to 20. We can now issue the following commands to any of our 260 channels in the display: Intensity from 0-100%, shimmer, twinkle, fade up, fade down, and of course, On and Off. This demo video shows fade and twinkle. The other advantage of LOR is that it requires only one network cable that "daisy-chains" from controller to controller. This means significantly less wires. The downside is that if someone trips on the cable and disconnects it, everything downstream from the break goes out.....
Mini Trees around the Mega Tree - We now have 16 green LED Mini Trees surrounding our Mega Tree. Each tree has it's own channel and we can do fun things with their sequencing. See this video for Q's "technical" explanation of the frame materials.
Rock Candy Arches (Boinging Arches, Leaping Arches, Bouncing Arches, Jumping Arches....) - These arches, by whatever name you call them are the big hit of 2008. Matching sets of three arches are placed at the far left and far right of the display finishing at the street lights. The arches are made of "true-white" LEDs and are freakishly bright at full power. Each arch is hand wrapped and has eight distinct channels with a total over 1000 LEDs per arch. Check out the "boinging" arches as well as more antics with Q and 007 in this video.
Getting back to how bright these arches are, here's a little insight into the perils of off-season programming with the built-in LOR simulator: We have almost 50 different sequences to convert and reprogram every year including short things like elf jokes and food drive PSAs, so we can't do all of this after the display goes up. We need to be ready with sequences for testing so we can see them in real life and then make adjustments prior to Opening Night. I had many of the sequences done even before our LED's showed up from China in early August. Every sequence had new effects for the arches (which weren't built yet). Once we built the arches, we said "Wow! Those babies are bright!" But, we continued programming as we had been using the arches at full intensity. After we got the display partially up, along with one set of arches, we realized that the arches were overpowering everything else in the display. Crap. So after some testing, we determined that we shouldn't run the arches any higher than 50% power for jumping sequences (we still use full power for strobe/twinkle effects). This meant a total rewrite of all the arches sequences. There is no global command to change a fade in LOR from 100% - 0% to 50%- 0%. Each .25 second fade had to be manually replaced. We were able to use the copy/paste function to repeat certain things and copy one set of arches to the other, but it still was VERY tedious and added many hours to our sequencing time at the last minute. So.... the simulator is good for the first 80%, but you really need to see the display in real life for the final 20%.
LEDs - We have new LED's (in addition to the mini trees and arches) in the following locations:
The Street lights both red and true-white (to match the arches and strobes) The red and green lights on the Severns privet tree The blue tree at the right of the Severns garage The green trees on each side of the Severns living room The red tree in front of the Pease living room The blue tree to the left of the Pease garage The Christmas presents in Prancer's sleigh
Other LEDs from 2007:
The American flag The red tree at the Severns front door The rose bushes in front of the Severns living room The reindeer pond
Warm white vs. True white:
True white LEDs are White-White. Not blueish, just white. Warm white LEDs are yellowish and are an attempt to match white incandescent lights. Initially, we planned to use warm white (in fact the American flag was built with warm white LEDs in 2007). But after taking a look at the purity of the true white, and also thinking about how cool the arches would look in true white, we decided to go with true white. Eventually, we plan to convert the entire display to true white, but the time-frame is TBD due to both cost and labor hours (redesigning and building new icicles is a huge job). We got the 140 bulb strings in a bulk order from China for $11 ea, which was a good price, but not near the $1 per string price for incandescent bulbs at after Christmas sales.
Our other LED decision was the shape of the LEDs themselves. There are two main styles out there: M5 and 5mm concave. Our flag is made with M5 bulbs, which are of a similar shape to incandescent bulbs but with a faceted lens to diffract the light. We have decided to go with 5mm concave lights which have a short clear cylindrical lens with a countersink in the top. This makes the light visible from all directions and also give a "point of light" like incandescents. The decision clincher occurred during our scouting trip to Disneyland at Christmas last year. Disney uses 5mm concave LEDs on Sleeping Beauty's Castle.
Infrastructure - As part of the LOR conversion, we moved Mission Control from the right slot of the Severns garage (new home for the Tesla Roadster) to a new location. Now that we were constrained by LOR controllers with 16 channels each, and trying to minimize controller costs by not having controllers in locations where only a few channels were used, we had to completely redo all of our power runs and tear apart our existing harnesses from previous years. This added two days to the display set-up time, in addition to many off season days of pulling my hair out designing the new layout. It's like a puzzle trying to find the optimal location for controllers. Things to consider:
Max power on a controller or channel (high power channels like the birch trees can max out a controller well before the entire 16 channels are used)
Power runs to the different light elements
Trying to keep controllers out of sight
I was pretty happy with the final layout, but I still ended up with a few weird runs. For instance, the star over the Mega tree gets its power from a controller buried under the rocks at the base of the birch trees. This means that the power goes up into the rear tree (where the star hangs) and then jumps to the Pease magnolia tree and then jumps to a birch where it runs down the trunk to the controller. We already have two controllers at the mega tree, one for all 16 channels of the tree and one for the 16 mini- trees. The white twinkle lights for the mega tree also come from a different controller. It didn't make sense to add one more controller to the mega tree for two channels.
The music - There is one new song for 2008: The James Bond Theme which was part of our Opening Night routine and now plays night during our Rock n' Roll half-hour at 8:00 pm.
All other existing songs have been upgraded to take advantage of the new display features (where appropriate), including TSO's "Wizards in Winter", our most popular song.