Megatree: Materials & Costs

So, what do you need to build a large digitally color controlled LED outdoor Christmas tree display? (Commonly called a “megatree” by people in the Christmas display community.) And how much will it cost?

First, you need strings of color controlled RGB LED lights, wires to connect them, and a few power supplies. I bought 16 strands that have 50 lights each, with 6″ spacing (PixaBulb w/ Strawberry lens) from http://www.diyledexpress.com. (I also got a 17th strand as a spare, and am using it as my tree topping star right now). This cost me $650 (including extra connection wires & two 12 volt power supplies).

Then you’ll need a light controller. I bought a Falcon 16V3 from https://www.pixelcontroller.com for $210, and a CableGuard CG-1500 outdoor enclosure to protect it from the elements. (This enclosure holds the controller board, but is not large enough for the two power supplies, which I have under a better ventilated anti-rain plastic storage box)

Then you’ll need a lot of mounting hardware (lag eyes, quick connect links, etc) and wire ropes (small cables, cable thimbles & crimp connectors) plus zipties, lots and lots of zipties. I used stainless steel hardware from e-rigging.com except for the galvanized wire rope that I bought at Harbor Freight (shipping a 500′ spool of stainless 3mm cable was prohibitively expensive). Including miscellaneous pieces of wood I used for my mounting ring and star tree-topper, a few extension cords, tent pegs and a 100′ run of Ethernet cable, all of this hardware cost me around $245.

I’m not including the cost of all the tools needed, plus a laptop to sequence and control the show.

So all in, for a “mid-sized” megatree (20′ tall, 16′ diameter at the base) you are looking at a little over a thousand dollars (plus a hundred hours of work). On the plus side, this cost can be amortized over multiple years, so it’s cheaper than multiple years of fireworks. Plus, with some creative work, you could re-purpose the lights for Halloween, weddings, parties, etc…

 

A more specific list of mounting hardware:

4x 1/2″ x 6″ Stainless Steel Lag Eye Bolts – Mounted in my tree. Completely overkill for supporting my relatively lightweight megatree, but may be re-purposed in the future for heavier loads. Holds up 4 support cables that allow me to raise/lower my top support ring.
20x 3/16″ Stainless Quick Links – for connecting and disconnecting the four support cables and top ends of the light strands to the top ring. I bought a 50 pack from a Chinese seller on ebay, as stainless steel quick links were quite expensive otherwise.
40x 1/8″ Light Duty Stainless Steel Wire Rope Thimble – Used at the top and bottom of each light strand, plus for the cables that lift the top ring.

40x 1/8″ Zinc Plated Copper Sleeve – Crimp connectors that hold the cable in place around the thimble. (Buy the proper crimping tool for these.)

16x 3/16″ x 1″ Stainless Steel Lag Eye Bolt – For connecting the top of the light strands to the top ring.
4x Eye bolts, washers & nuts to mount in the top ring for the support cables to connect to. (forgot the exact size, bought them at Lowes)
4x 4″ Stainless Steel Flag Pole Cleats – My jury-rigged solution for holding the four cables that support the top ring. I’m sure you could come up with a better solution.
16x 9″ tent pegs (bought at Walmart) for staking down the ends of the light strands.
8 packages 100′ 3mm galvanized wire rope from Harbor Freight (16 26′ light strands, 4 50′ support cables, leaving several 20′ seconds left over…) I seriously considered buying a 500′ spool of 1/8″ stainless cable from e-rigging.com, but the added shipping cost made it prohibitively expensive. I’m willing to pay double for stainless, but not quadruple to get it shipped to me. Plus I figure the LED light strands will probably fail before the 3mm wire rope rusts through….
800-900 black zipties from harbor freight (to hold the lights to the light strand cables.
Misc deck screws to hold the top support ring together (made of 2×4’s) and mount the flag pole cleats and cable guard enclosure to the tree.

3 thoughts on “Megatree: Materials & Costs

  1. Pingback: Megatree Ball Topper | Jay's Technical Talk

  2. Hello. I just got into the full time hobby of Christmas lights. I have always wanted to do a pixel mega tree. I have zero experience with the controllers and pixels. But wanting to learn. I loved your shopping list and on what to buy. Since this was from 2017. Any updates or things you would change. I want to learn so that I can build a 20’ mega tree by next year. To be honest is there any controller that just plays random designs and colors? I am not wanting to do a show yet. But something that looks good for now. Any help would be great. Thanks so much.

    • I’m still using the same lights/controller (I added a “ball” to the top of the tree and the light strands go down the ball before forming the tree).

      These pixels use a signalling standard called WS2811. You can buy inexpensive controllers to do simple effects such as these:
      https://amzn.to/2JHyND1
      https://amzn.to/2VHR05U

      Most of these little “toy” controllers can only power a small number of bulbs…but they can control a larger number as long as you inject extra power in the line.

      They have three wires coming out (+voltage, signal, and ground). You can add extra + voltage and ground from stand alone power supplies and just patch the signal wire through. It does require that you know how to solder wires together (or wire-nut them I guess……) unless you are careful to buy only controllers/pixels that have matching connectors.

      You can also buy WS2811 pixels in many different form factors, such as pixels, bulbs or strips:
      https://amzn.to/3qCtuFU
      https://amzn.to/3mQa5Pm
      https://amzn.to/3mUBWxO

      Pay attention to the voltage. For small setups, a 5v system is fine, but for anything large or with long runs, you want to use 12v pixels.

      If you want to get “something” going by this Christmas, you are probably going to have to order from a US supplier. I’d say get a small controller, possibly one that comes with a matched strip of pixels just to play with, plus perhaps a 2nd set of lights so you can try and connect them together and get some experience with that.

      But for a bigger “show” you will probably want to go with a more full feature controller such as the F16V3 and order your lights in bulk from China to save on money.

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