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:
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.)
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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:
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:
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.