Vixen_SoftwareThe Computer and Software.

So what's so special about the computer ?  -  Nothing really, it runs Windows XP as an operating system and Vixen is the software to control the lights and music.  The software is free and user community of over 10,000 members exists at DoItYourSelfChristmas.com
The software is easy to programme, it is laid out as a grid with the channels down the side and the timeline across the top.  It looks complicated at first but there is a good help file and the user community are very helpful.  In simple terms if you want a channel on at a particular time in the sequence, you fill in the grid.
 

The Logic Interface.

The interface I've used to control my lights I found at DoItYourSelfChristmas.com a simple expandable controller.  There are many other interfaces that can be used from simple 8 channel ones to some very effective and clever dimming controllers, details of which can be found on the Do it yourself Christmas or Computer Christmas websites.  For a description of the controller I've used, The Grinch, so named because that was a popular film out at the time the controller was designed, visit the do it yourself Christmas forums website.Grinch_Controller

The interface is made up of some shift registers with 16 outputs on each chip.  The devices can drive the opto-isolators directly so I don't need any additional driver IC's.  The power for the IC's is derived from a plug top switch mode power supply producing the 5V.  The outputs from each of the shift registers is then fed to some 9 way 'D' connectors, and RJ45 connectors.  I have used eight or twelve way alarm cable to connect between the patch panel and the opto-isolators as this is cheaper then CAT5 networking cable.  All this is housed in a rain proof box.
 

Opto-isolators.

The opto-isolators as there name implies, isolate two circuits from each other optically.  The device acts as a switch usually using a low voltage to turn on and off a high voltage circuit.  In this case we are using 5 volts to control the opto-isolator and switching either mains voltage (230 volts) or 24 volts.  The opto-isolators were built onto strip board and housed in plastic boxes of various sizes depending on how many channels were being grouped together; 3 for the rope lights around the windows, 4 for the sets of mini trees, 2 boards with 8 on each for the conical tree etc.  The opto-isolators for the Merry Christmas & Happy New Year signs drive the rope lights directly as each of the rope lights only draw 70mA of current.  Most of the boards have got triac's on there outputs to drive higher current loads.  Some of them are for the LED lights which only draw 40mA of current and have IC bridge rectifiers on them to provide the DC output required.
 

The Power.

RCD's_TimersAll these lights have to be powered somehow, some of the lights are powered by 240 Volts others are low voltage, typically 20 or 24 volts.  Safety is very important especially with electricity outdoors.  So all the mains connections including the plug in transformers for the low voltage lights are made inside rain proof plastic boxes and all three power feeds to these boxes are protected by RCD's (Residual Current Devices).  You can't see them very easily in the picture as they are behind the timers, but rest assured, they're there, and tested!

 

 

 

Introduction

Computer Control,
     Opto-isolators & RCD's

LED Hoops

Opto-isolator Boxes

Moving Messages

Baked Beans & Bulbs