If you’re planning to animate Christmas pixels to music, you might be wondering how to make a light show. This article will show you how to use free software to create a light show, control a single pixel, and animate a light show using your computer. 

Free Software to Animate Christmas Pixels to Music

When you’re looking for free software solutions for animating Christmas pixels to music, you’ll find a variety of options available. While most programs can help you set up a light show, it can be difficult to know what to choose. The program I use and I feel is the best option for the average user, is xLights. Regardless of your skill level, this freeware software is the solution for you. There are no programming skills required to create a beautiful light show.

Controlling a pixel in a light show

You can control Christmas lights with light show pixel controllers. Smart pixels are addressable RGB LED lights, and work with many different protocols.  The most popular, and one I use at Rusty Griswold’s Light Display is the WS2811 protocol. These pixels are easy to install and control, and have three strands of wire between each pixel. The three strands are power, ground, and data.  Available in both 5 volt or 12 volt, they are extremely affordable and easy to repair.

Pixels plug into a controller, which provides the instructions to each bulb on what color to show, what brightness, etc.  Different controllers have different capabilities. Some can control thousands of pixels, while others are limited to only 256. Popular brands include Pixlite, Renard, SanDevices, and Kulp Lights.  All come in varying capabilities as to how many pixels they can handle along with number of strings.  Each brand has a budget-friendly option also.

Animating a light show with a computer

The first step in animating your Christmas light display is to connect all of your lights together. Once you’ve done that, you can start programming the lights. To do this, you will need a controller box and software. Your controller box will control the Christmas lights, and the software will send commands to them. Before you get started, make sure you’ve got enough power for all of your lights. Be sure not to mix 5 volt and 12 volt pixels together on the same string.

If you’d like to create a light show on a smaller scale, you can use a Raspberry Pi. You can also use a home computer to create the animations, and a separate computer to run the show 24 hours a day. The Raspberry Pi is a good choice, as it runs on less power than a laptop or desktop computer. Then, you can save your animations as playback files. You can run Falcon Player on the Raspberry Pi to playback the animations. I have had great success in the past using Kulp Lights controllers with Raspberry Pi computers.

New to Pixels – Keep It Simple

If you’re new to animated light shows, you may want to keep the setup simple and manageable. Try using a scheduler like that of the xLights or Vixen software. As a rookie, you may want to avoid using an FPP (Fully programmable processor), which runs the show on a small microcomputer. This will help free up your computer’s resources for other applications, and help you learn.

After connecting all of your lights, you’ll need to connect the controller to your computer. If you’re using an Ethernet cable, you’ll need to connect the lights to your computer with the help of a network switch or hub. I strongly recommend maintaining a separate network from your home network.  This way you don’t have to worry about network saturation resulting in lights lagging, because of someone else in the house playing online games or watching videos at the same time.

There are many different resources on the internet to help you learn your way around building a light show.  The two best resources I have found are YouTube and a Facebook Group called Official xLights Support Group.  Don’t be discouraged and start small.  Whatever you don’t build this year, well, there is always next year!  Have fun!

Rusty Griswold Light Display Icon