Your First Year of Animated Lighting

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Before you jump into the lake wearing lead overshoes, it's a good idea to know how deep the water is, right? Every now and then we conduct polls to find out what kinds of problems users encounter or just "stuff" in general. In 2020 we asked a few simple questions and in 2016 we were a bit more pointed. Often, users will include additional comments after taking the poll -- you can read them all in our "Surveys and Polls" forum:

  • 18 respondents said they had ZERO problems. That's roughly 1 in 6. It's not the greatest odds, but it's an encouraging figure! But a beginner should understand that "zero problems" is not the norm, even for experienced DIYers. Therefore, you should always expect that you will likely be tinkering with your display to either get it to run or keep it running. This is not a plug-n-play, set-it-and-forget-it hobby.
  • The kind of lights you decide to use makes a difference as to the scope of problems you're likely to have. Incandescent/mini-lights are still popular and generally are the least problematic, followed by strings or strips of LEDs and lastly, the smart pixels. One could say that pixels are about 350% more problematic than incandescents, and almost twice as problematic as strings/strips of LEDs. Incandescents and LED strings are normally directly powered by 120vac (just plug them in) while quite often, LED strip lighting and pixels require the use of DC power supplies of different voltages and current capacities, adding complexity to the issue. This is why most experienced DIYers would encourage beginners to start simple and grow into the more complicated lighting products after you've acquired some experience instead of starting out with pixels. You've been forewarned.
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  • Two issues that affect every user new and old are electrical power and weather, and 2016 was a tough year: more than 1/3 of respondents cited weather as an issue for them. Some struggled to keep their shows running at all because water caused GFCI breakers to trip. And while you can't prevent weather, you can prepare for it. This means doing everything in your power to keep connectors dry and elevated so they can't leak current and cause a GFCI to trip. We've included controller malfunctions here, too, because electrical power issues almost always cause controllers to go wacky. You may want to read the comments in the thread to find out more about any controller issues users encountered.
  • Computers, sequencing software and the connectivity between the computer(s) and controllers was an issue to some degree. Nearly 1 in 6 had connectivity problems, and with the increasing use of pixels (which normally requires high-speed networking connectivity), beginners should understand the importance of having decent skills in keeping things connected. Making good cables, keeping them from getting wet, good cabling organization in the yard, and using quality wire are highly encouraged. You'll need to have a good cable tester and a CAT5 crimper to fix cables that get stepped on or stretched too much, and certainly, you'll need to know your way around your computer and the sequencing software you use, too!
  • Outside influences such as vandalism and traffic were not significant issues -- and that's encouraging! That said, understand that it CAN happen to you. As a deterrent, some DIYers employ the use of one or more video surveillance cameras and post signage in their yards to that effect. Traffic problems are unpredictable but remember that the more promotion you do of your show, the more potential issues you'll encounter with it. There were few problems with neighbors, which is not always an universal situation. Being mindful of potential noise and neighborhood disruption caused by your display is a good thing to do. Keeping your neighbors informed and sometimes even involved in the overall display is a pretty good idea. Consider hosting a summer barbecue and show them what you're working on and what your plans are. Developing allies is always better than creating enemies!
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  • In early 2020, we asked users about setting up their shows -- and this info may be very helpful to new enthusiasts, too!
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