Author Topic: Taking the Smart String Plunge  (Read 566 times)

Offline lrhorer

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Taking the Smart String Plunge
« on: December 18, 2015, »
OK, I'm starting my planning for next year, and I am seriously thinking about wading into the Smart String arena.  Right now all my strings are simple 1 channel DMX dimmer controlled lights.  I want to forge my way into some Smart Strings, starting with a Megatree.  I've been doing some reading, and here is what I think I know:

1.  The SSC takes a Pixelnet input and converts it to a data stream the string understands and injects power.

2.  To control a set of strings, one needs an Etherdongle with either a PC or a memory card, enough hubs to split the feed into as many strings as one is to control - one per port, one SSC per string, a power supply, and of course the strings.

3.  The SSC itself gets flashed in-situ by the control utility to have whatever set of addresses one likes.

4.  The Zeus controllers seem to be a combination of 8 / 16 SSCs integrated into the hub, so if one employs Zeus controllers, all one needs is the Etherdongle and the Zeus boards.  There is only one input and one output, both Pixelnet.

Have I got all that right?  Please let me know if I have anything wrong.  Now for my questions:

1.  I need a wireless setup for my first tree.  What is my best option?  Can the pixelnet info readily be transmitted wirelessly via some economical transceiver pair?  Would it be better to move the Etherdongle remote from the PC and transmit via WiFi?  Has anyone tried this?

2.  My planned tree is going to need 17 strings (yeah, I know).  It seems to me I should be able to hang a single SSC off the Pixelnet output to deliver the 17th feed.  Am I missing something?

3.  The 17th feed will be for the tree topper, and the termination of that string will be about 10' - 15' from the Zeus.  Would it be better to put the SSC near the Zeus or up at the top of the tree?

4.  What is the best way to terminate the strings into the Zeus?  The pigtail on the strings is just under 2' long, which isn't really quite long enough.  I can get plenty of 10' Ethernet cables cheap and cut them in half to give me 5' tails, but what's the best way to tie the 20 AWG pigtail from the string into the 24 AWG CAT5 cable?  I could always solder, of course, but I really hate butt splicing wires by soldering, and V-splicing not only looks like crap, but it tends to break and snag on things.

5.  What do most people use for an enclosure for the Etherdongle and for the Zeus 16?

6.  My current setup employs a Raspberry Pi 2 running Falcon Pi Player to drive a DMXking USB dongle feeding 4 Lynx Express dimmers and 2 six channel DMX DC Dimmers.  It would not be at all convenient to drive the DMX equipment from the Pixelnet setup.  (For one thing, I don't believe the Zeus has a DMX output.  I would have to get an active hub.)  The Pi is being controlled over WiFi over a USB / WiFi adapter, so the Ethernet port is available.  Can I continue to control the DMX universe via the DMXking and use E1.31 for the RGB universe?
« Last Edit: December 18, 2015, by lrhorer »

Offline tbone321

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Re: Taking the Smart String Plunge
« Reply #1 on: December 18, 2015, »
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OK, I'm starting my planning for next year, and I am seriously thinking about wading into the Smart String arena.  Right now all my strings are simple 1 channel DMX dimmer controlled lights.  I want to forge my way into some Smart Strings, starting with a Megatree.  I've been doing some reading, and here is what I think I know:

1.  The SSC takes a Pixelnet input and converts it to a data stream the string understands and injects power.

This is correct.

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2.  To control a set of strings, one needs an Etherdongle with either a PC or a memory card, enough hubs to split the feed into as many strings as one is to control - one per port, one SSC per string, a power supply, and of course the strings.

In order to use the EDT, you need something to send it data such as a PC, the memory card would be for the Conductor but I believe that device is now a thing of the past.  As for the hubs, you also need to take into account how many channels you are using.  Each hub is locked into one PixelNet universe so if your channel count exceeds 4096 channels (assuming of course that you are starting at the first channel of the universe) you will need another hub for the carryover into the next universe. 

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3.  The SSC itself gets flashed in-situ by the control utility to have whatever set of addresses one likes.

I don't know what you mean by in-situ but with standard firmware, the SSC config is set by the utility on the bench with the jumper on the SSC set to program mode.

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4.  The Zeus controllers seem to be a combination of 8 / 16 SSCs integrated into the hub, so if one employs Zeus controllers, all one needs is the Etherdongle and the Zeus boards.  There is only one input and one output, both Pixelnet.

For a megatree, this is what the Zeus was designed for. 

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1.  I need a wireless setup for my first tree.  What is my best option?  Can the pixelnet info readily be transmitted wirelessly via some economical transceiver pair?  Would it be better to move the Etherdongle remote from the PC and transmit via WiFi?  Has anyone tried this?

Sending this much data over wireless in usually not a very good idea.  Since you use FPP and the PI now, you would be better off just getting another PI and running FPP in multisync mode, making the PI at the megatree the slave.  Then you could use WIFI to link to the remote PI and since it is only sync packets being transferred, traffic is minimal.

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2.  My planned tree is going to need 17 strings (yeah, I know).  It seems to me I should be able to hang a single SSC off the Pixelnet output to deliver the 17th feed.  Am I missing something?

First of all, if you were to connect the SSC directly to the PixelNet output, where is the power that the SSC both needs and sends to the strings going to come from.  Another issue is wiring compatibility.  The Pixelnet output is transmitting 4 universes of data, each one on a separate pair.  The SSC expects and is wired for PixelNet on one pair and the other three pairs are combined for power input.  If you were to plug a SSC into the PixelNet output, while the first pair would be ok, you would be shorting out the other three pairs which could damage the EDT.  You could use a 4 port hub between the Zeus PixelNet output and the SSC.  While this would require you to use the first PixelNet universe for your control, it would prevent the shorting out of the other three pairs and supply power to the SSC.

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3.  The 17th feed will be for the tree topper, and the termination of that string will be about 10' - 15' from the Zeus.  Would it be better to put the SSC near the Zeus or up at the top of the tree?

If you are sing an SSC to drive the star, then you would want it close to the star.

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4.  What is the best way to terminate the strings into the Zeus?  The pigtail on the strings is just under 2' long, which isn't really quite long enough.  I can get plenty of 10' Ethernet cables cheap and cut them in half to give me 5' tails, but what's the best way to tie the 20 AWG pigtail from the string into the 24 AWG CAT5 cable?  I could always solder, of course, but I really hate butt splicing wires by soldering, and V-splicing not only looks like crap, but it tends to break and snag on things.

Soldering is the best way as it avoids corrosion at the splice.

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5.  What do most people use for an enclosure for the Etherdongle and for the Zeus 16?

Many are using marine battery boxes.  They keep the water out yet breath to prevent excess condensation on the equipment.

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6.  My current setup employs a Raspberry Pi 2 running Falcon Pi Player to drive a DMXking USB dongle feeding 4 Lynx Express dimmers and 2 six channel DMX DC Dimmers.  It would not be at all convenient to drive the DMX equipment from the Pixelnet setup.  (For one thing, I don't believe the Zeus has a DMX output.  I would have to get an active hub.)  The Pi is being controlled over WiFi over a USB / WiFi adapter, so the Ethernet port is available.  Can I continue to control the DMX universe via the DMXking and use E1.31 for the RGB universe?

The ETD is an E1.31 device so there is no reason that the PI cannot drive it from its Ethernet port.  Just enable E1.31 output and define the universes that the EDT will be using.  The EDT is a multicast only device.  If you use the method that I suggested, then there would need to be no changes to the existing PI at all.  You would just define them on the second PI and plug the EDT directly into the PI's Ethernet port.  You really don't even need a PI 2, a PI B+ would more than do the trick and for the price, how could you go wrong.
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Offline lrhorer

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Re: Taking the Smart String Plunge
« Reply #2 on: December 18, 2015, »
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In order to use the EDT, you need something to send it data such as a PC, the memory card would be for the Conductor but I believe that device is now a thing of the past.
Ah, OK.  Well, no biggie.  I was intending on using a PC (Raspberry Pi 2) in any case.

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As for the hubs, you also need to take into account how many channels you are using.  Each hub is locked into one PixelNet universe so if your channel count exceeds 4096 channels (assuming of course that you are starting at the first channel of the universe) you will need another hub for the carryover into the next universe.
Ah, right.  The Zeus, too?

For me, the point is moot at the moment.  I'm probably looking at 1275 channels starting at address 97, but it is certainly something to keep in mind.

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I don't know what you mean by in-situ but with standard firmware, the SSC config is set by the utility on the bench with the jumper on the SSC set to program mode.
By "in-situ", I mean wherever the SSC is sitting connected to a hub.  So one needs to use a PIC programmer directly connected to the SSC (or in my case, the Zeus), or does the utility run on a host connected to whatever is transmitting Pixelnet (in this case, the Etherdongle)?

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Sending this much data over wireless in usually not a very good idea.
Tell me about it.  I'm a network engineer, and I avoid wireless as much as humanly possible.  That said, I'm using wireless transcievers on all four Lynx Expresses, because I have  to unless I want to run multiple conduits under my walkways and direvway.  It works very well.  I was more or less hoping the Lynx Transciever could handle PixelNet.

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Since you use FPP and the PI now, you would be better off just getting another PI and running FPP in multisync mode, making the PI at the megatree the slave.  Then you could use WIFI to link to the remote PI and since it is only sync packets being transferred, traffic is minimal.
Well, that's an idea - possibly a really good one.  I only see two problems:

1.  As I add more and more RGB devices, it means buying another PI and another dongle (Ether or USB) for each area.  That's going to add up some.

2.  The biggie.  The 4 remote areas in my yard are all much further away from the wireless router than they are from the main house router, through several walls.  Just to get the existing Pi to work, I had to buy high gain external antennas, and the existing Pi is much closer (right at the house wall) than the remote areas.  Maybe I can buy an outdoor WiFi access point, but those aren't exactly cheap, either.  Hmm.

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First of all, if you were to connect the SSC directly to the PixelNet output, where is the power that the SSC both needs and sends to the strings going to come from.  Another issue is wiring compatibility.  The Pixelnet output is transmitting 4 universes of data, each one on a separate pair.  The SSC expects and is wired for PixelNet on one pair and the other three pairs are combined for power input.  If you were to plug a SSC into the PixelNet output, while the first pair would be ok, you would be shorting out the other three pairs which could damage the EDT.  You could use a 4 port hub between the Zeus PixelNet output and the SSC.  While this would require you to use the first PixelNet universe for your control, it would prevent the shorting out of the other three pairs and supply power to the SSC.
So the short answer is, "I'm missing something"?   :)

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The ETD is an E1.31 device so there is no reason that the PI cannot drive it from its Ethernet port.
Unless of course the Ethernet port is busy with the outdoor AP I just bought.  <sigh>

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You really don't even need a PI 2, a PI B+ would more than do the trick and for the price, how could you go wrong.
You ask that of an engineer?  We can inflate the cost of project using only baking soda and vinegar into the stratosphere.   >.d9

Seroiusly, thanks for the very thorough and clear explanations.

Offline CaptainMurdoch

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Re: Taking the Smart String Plunge
« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2015, »
You can use the SSC for the tree topper by making a special cable for it allow you to inject the PixelNet signal from the Zeus out on one pair and (fused) 12v power on the other 6 lines.  I considered doing the same thing at one point for my tree.

Offline lrhorer

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Re: Taking the Smart String Plunge
« Reply #4 on: December 31, 2015, »
Thanks.  I'll consider it.