The Controllers

The pixel lights that I use in my show require a special way of communication in order to function. This protocol is called E.131 and is very similar to how lighting works for rock concerts and broadway musicals. In order to get the information from the show computer to the lights themselves and in the right format, you need a controller.

There are dozens of Christmas light controllers available online. I am using the Wemos D1 board running the ESPixelStick software. These boards are Arduino compatible, have Wi-Fi built in, are extremely cheap, and are able to control a very large number of lights. After considerable research, I came to the conclusion that they provided the best performance for the price.

Other popular models include the E682, AlphaPix, PixLite, and Falcon F16 line of boards. These are popular because they are pre-assembled and are easy to work with. They are very powerful and allow you to control a lot of lights from a single central location.

These boards do have some considerable drawbacks however. They are very expensive, use lots of additional cabling, and require a centralized location for the controller. With the smaller Wemos boards, I can put a controller right next to each element that I want to control which cuts down on the additional wiring. Each controller can power 400 or more pixels, although I have not tested exactly how high they can go.

The best part about these controllers is their cost. They can be purchased for less than $3 each with shipping included. The larger boards I mentioned previously cost hundreds of dollars and do the exact same thing. Many of them don't have Wi-Fi either.