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.