Maybe you've seen the videos on the Internet or on the local or national news. Perhaps you were driving home one day and saw one in person. Whatever the reason, you've now decided that you want to do your own Christmas, Halloween or other holiday display.
Congratulations. However, before you get started in this hobby (or business* ) I want to take a moment to let you know some of what you are getting into. There are some people who think that this hobby is as 'simple' as plugging everything in and turning it on. While one could argue this is true, the reality is many hours/days/weeks/months go into the planning, procurement, design, programming, installation and testing of a display that is synchronized to music.
Here is a quick example of what you need to plan for. In this example suppose you have a 'typical' one story home (for your area). Just some of the things you need to figure out are:
- Where on the house am I going to put lights?
- Am I going to put lights in the yard? If so, where?
- Will I decorate any trees/bushes that may be in the yard?
- How much electrical power do I have available to use?
- How will I connect everything to the controller(s)?
- What about the music. How will people hear it?
- Am I going to run this from my computer, or from a LOR director?
- If it's from a computer, how will I get from the computer to the first controller?
Again, that's just some of the questions you will have to answer.
Once those questions are answered, you will then have to start tackling the costs of this hobby. As of the time this article was written, Synchronized Christmas sells a residential starter kit for $399.95. Unless you have soldering skills, this is the least amount of money you can reasonably expect to spend. Each part of the Stater Kit is a requirement for running the Light-O-Rama platform.
There are those who will see the $399 number as a minimal expenditure, while others will see it as a large sum of money. How you see the number is going to depend on your current financial status.
Let's now get into the technical aspect of this hobby. Some people see the RJ45 connectors on the controllers as assume they can connect the controller to their network card or their home router. This is not the case. Light-O-Rama runs on the RS485 protocol, which is not the same as Ethernet, which runs your home networking equipment.
Some people new to the hobby think that the lights will just blink, chase or fade with the music without any input from the owner. This is false as well. Every effect you see in a display controlled by Light-O-Rama was programmed by someone who said, "At this exact moment in the song, I want these lights to do this specific thing." Yes, the software does have an "Instant Sequence" functionality, but that requires quite a bit of setup work as well. It's not something that you just turn on, tell it how many channels you are going to run, and get a sequence. When you first get started with Light-O-Rama, it may take you several hours just to program one minute of music on a 'simple' 16 channel setup.
Once you've figured that out, you are ready to begin the design of your display. You can find an article here (PDF) that talks about ways to determine what you might do for your first display.
Questions about the hardware or software?
- Software - The Light-O-Rama system runs from software on your computer. If you are considering using LOR, you should first download the demo version of the software, and see what you think of it. Anything you create in the demo version can be used when you purchase the software.
- Hardware - Once you get the hardware, you are going to have to hook it up. Take a look here for how things are usually connected together.
Any questions you have about Light-O-Rama you can find here, or on the Light-O-Rama Support site.
* I will use "Hobby" in this article. However, the same would apply regardless of who you are doing a display for, yourself or a client.