Author Topic: Pixels and just looking to vent a little :)  (Read 1200 times)

Offline lrhorer

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Re: Pixels and just looking to vent a little :)
« Reply #15 on: January 01, 2017, »
There is no question the Falcon equipment has generally greater capabilities, but the question is, "Are those capabilities necessary?"  There is no general answer to the question.  It depends on each person's needs and budget.  There is also a time element.  Meeting the immediate needs may not allow one much room for expansion in the future.  That might seem to suggest one should always go the Falcon route, but it is simply not the case.  First of all, most of us have to live within a fairly strict budget, and spending more on each piece of equipment means buying less equipment.  There is also always a problem with the crystal ball.  One can spend more money on more capable equipment with an eye toward future expansion, only to find when the future arrives, something better has come along and one needs to spend even more to upgrade to the latest and greatest.  If money is no object, then to be sure go with the most capable platform, which in this case means Falcon.  For those of us who live in the real world, a little monetary planning will get us a better bang for the buck, and for myself, at least, that meant Lynx / Zeus for this passed year, and probably this coming year, as well.  For those of us with more extensive shows, Falcon - at least in part - may be a better choice, especially if buying everything new up-front.

I used a very important word in that last paragraph: planning.  In order to eliminate the frustrations you (and others) are having, I submit planning is the key.  There is a better word for it, and many here may not like it, but again, it is in my opinion absolutely essential.  The word is, "Engineering".  As a professional engineer, laying out the engineering for a project is second nature to me, and consequently I have suffered only one of your frustrations - pixel failures.  No amount of engineering can eliminate hardware failure, but keeping extra equipment on-hand will help lessen the blow.  Not only that, but honestly, pixel failures are far easier to fix than dumb string failures.  Most dumb strings are wired serially, and finding the failed element in a 50 or 75 node serial light string is a monumental PITA.  With a failed pixel, I don't even bother to troubleshoot.  I just replace the last working pixel and the first non-working pixel with a new pair of pixels.  At under $0.25 per pixel, it definitely is not worth my time to try to figure out which one is bad, and it takes no more effort to replace two pixels than one.

Honestly, by far the biggest frustration I have had this year is finding the time to get the hardware built.  Indeed, I am still working on it.   :(

My show includes 8 roof-mounted star-bursts (pixel based) and 48 candy canes (dumb light strips).  I only have 3 of the 8 starbursts finished, and I have not even started to wire out the candy canes.  I did have to spend a fair amount of time (and money!) re-working several of the hardware prototypes, including the megatree, to get things to work properly.  I am working on version 5 of the megatree right now, in fact, which will allow the tree to be assembled more easily next year.  One might suggest if I were a bit less picky - or perhaps a better engineer - I wouldn't have to make so many revisions or spend as much time working on the display, but there you have it.

I digress.  'Back to engineering the electronics.  One does not have to be a professional engineer to create these light displays, although without question it does help.  One should, however, have a solid basic understanding of the electrical parameters of the equipment and how to design the power and data topology of the show.  IMO, one MUST have a thorough understanding of Ohm's law and how to calculate voltage drop in the pixel strings and the lines that feed them.  One MUST account for the total power needed by each power segment and by each fused section of the show - and don't be stingy with either one.  One needs to be aware of the ampacity limits of each cable and take care not to exceed the ampacity of the wire in question... well, OK, not by much.  I think we all sometimes stretch the NEC codes when it comes to how much current we send down the wires, and we all pretty much blast all Bellcore specs right to Hell.  Just don't let the wires get hot to the touch.

Of course one must absolutely understand the addressing schemes, and I think this is one place a lot of us get into trouble.  I find it very easy myself to forget each pixel uses three DMX / Pixelnet channels when calculating my data realms.  I have to keep reminding myself 128 pixels use 384 channels.  It is extremely easy to accidentally overflow the current universe when planning for the display segments.  It is inevitable to do so if one has not done the proper design planning.

Finally, one really needs to understand a little bit about data transmission and the limits of 1-wire data transport vs. 2 wire.  The one issue I did encounter was trying to push the limits of pixel transmission a bit too far, but then it wasn't really frustrating when I had problems, because having engineered the displays, I knew I was pushing it, and was proceeding on hope, rather than expectations.  I also knew the fix.  My only regret is I had to spend more money to fix the issue, but c'est la vie.

Anyway, if one wishes to reduce one's frustration level, then one should go hit the books to learn a little basic electronics if necessary, and then come here to ask questions before planning next year's show.  Then the only frustrations will be having the displays droop or even fall down when they weren't properly mounted, and explaining to the wife why one is spending so much money on all these lights.  With the former, one or more of us here can no doubt help.  For the latter, you're on your own.    ;D
« Last Edit: January 01, 2017, by lrhorer »

Offline taybrynn

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Re: Pixels and just looking to vent a little :)
« Reply #16 on: January 02, 2017, »
I would second the thanks to RJ for all he taught me and making this stuff simple enough for me to even approach it, let alone thrive with it. 

I am a firm believer that so much of what RJ did (and designed into smart strings) ... is STILL, often a good best practice many would be wise to follow, even if they don't have to.

Sure, things like the Falcon and injection open up a lot of new possibilities ... more for less $$ potentially ... but also creates some new pitfalls for the newbies to fall into ...

I have converted a lot of things into Falcon and its working great ... however, I'm also keeping some DLA around and trying not to push the limits any more than I have to, in the name of reliability, simplicity (to install, manage, maintain) ... and enjoying the show more than having it consume me with tech support issues to resolve.
Scott - Castle Rock, Colorado   [ 2 homes, 100% RGB in 2016; since 2008; over 32k channels of E1.31 ]
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Offline mmciver

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Re: Pixels and just looking to vent a little :)
« Reply #17 on: January 04, 2017, »

I really didn't expect the falcon vs. DLA discussion to fire up.
I am running the FPP to run my show and love it!  I have had no problems, other than my lack of documentation and poor memory from year to year:), but compared to LSP scheduler it has been a dream.  It just works.
Having said that I have not delved into the land of Falcon hardware other than wanting to look at the signal amplifier from falcon.  Also the DLA hardware has all the features that I am looking for at this point.

Let me be clear, I love my DMX Dongles, Etherdongle, Expresses, and wireless.  RJ is truly a great help in the DIY market and I feel a strong loyalty to him.  I have upwards of 14 or 15 Express boxes and love them.  I haven't even looked at the Minleon version due to the fact that I like the wireless capabilities of the DLA version.  RJ has done a phenomenal job.  Thank you, thank you, thank you RJ!

I started into pixels about 3 or 4 years ago, the time flies as you get older :)
I built 3 etherdongles, 2 work and I still have to figure out why the third one does not.  I have 2 Smart hubs, one in production and one on the bench for test.  They both seem to work fine for me other than an occasional fried fuse due to stupidity on my part!

But the whole pixel thing has been very frustrating from the start.  My first batch of pixels seemed to have about a 50% failure rate:(  That was enough for me to put them away for a year.

Then I built a Merry Christmas sign with rectangle pixels, I built some candles out of coro that have the rectangle pixels, and I still want to build some candy canes with rectangle pixels.  If I use an SSC moded to V3 with test firmware on it, I seem to have gotten past the bad pixel issues.

I also built 5 RGB arches using tubing and pixel strips that are 30 pixels per meter.  Those seem to test well.

How that I am trying again to get things working for sequencing I am running into other problems.  Flicker in some cases, but according to the documentation I should be way below the max number of pixels per string, so voltage drop should not be an issues, but......

So most of my frustration at this point is limited to the SSC's and the Zeus hubs.  I have had multiple frustrations getting either to work and work consistently.

It looks like I might need to flash them with Falcon firmware and based on the discussion here it looks like I might need to download some new software to set the start channels properly.

Is that the consensus?  I am not bashing the DLA hardware, I really like it, but I would like to have some pixel elements in next years show.

Like most of you i have motivation to work on it this time of year and with the display still up, I can do some testing to make sure things are mostly ready for next year.

I have been part of this group for probably 4 or 5 years.  I started out with D-light controllers and have flashed all of them to DMX which was a fun chore!

I am fairly capable, but not an EE. But this pixel thing is kicking my butt!

I hope RJ finds the time to resurface and help us amateurs, but in the meantime I have a boatload of hardware that I really want to get working.

I will try the suggestions of this great group, I will ask for help and know that I will get great help from all of you, but this pixel thing is not for the weak of heart!

I hope everyone had a great show this year and had at least one child come up to you and thank you for the lights.  That is what drives me from year to year!

Happy New Year!

650000 lights!
160 Channels - 2010 numbers
RGB elements
Combo Mega Tree
Never enough lights!