In this article, I will be focusing on Light-O- Rama products, which is what I got started with. I initially chose the Light-O-Rama
solution because this hobby can be very
complex, and Light-O-Rama provides a
straightforward approach to synchronizing lights
that got me up and running in a short amount of
time. I will also show how Light-O-Rama is
compatible with different brands, allowing you to
mix in other products so your light show can
grow in scale and complexity.
Basic System Overview
From a system level, there are several components
that make up a Light-O-Rama setup. Figure 1 shows the
typical light system. The general concept of the light
display is that you have a PC at the heart of the system
that sends out signals to light controllers to turn channels
on and off so the lights blink on and off as programmed in
the sequence. Each channel is an individually controlled
element in the display.
The PC runs Light-O-Rama’s S3 software. The
computer runs scheduled shows; each show contains
sequences, and each sequence includes a song (.wav or
.mp3) and commands that are sent to the light controllers
to turn the light channels on and off based on timings.
The PC connects via an RS-485 converter (
USB-to-serial) to a network of Light-O-Rama controllers. The
controllers connect to the RS-485 converter using a CAT5
cable, and then can be daisy-chained to each other using
Light-O-Rama has a wide variety of light controllers.
The most common is the CTB16PC (shown with its case
open in Figure 2). These can be bought in kit form or fully
assembled, and there are commercial grade versions, as
well. The controller will plug into a power source and
provide power to individual channels. The CTB16PC has
16 channels represented by 16 AC plugs coming out the
bottom. Each of these plugs represents an individually
controlled channel in the display.
A string of lights plugged into the channel will be
turned on and off based on the programming in the
sequence. So, one channel may be the lights around a
window, another channel may control the lights on a
This solution requires large amounts of extension
cords (one per channel, plus for the controllers
themselves). Making your own extension cords is easy
using vampire plugs and SPT wire. This DIY method is
cheaper than store-bought versions and is a great way to
get custom length extension cords.
For audio, most people will connect an FM transmitter
or speakers to the audio out port of the PC. Many build
their own transmitters from kits; others purchase
transmitters online. The quality of transmitters varies
greatly, so this is an area you will want to do your
For the past few years, the EDM kit has been a
popular choice. People visiting the display will drive up,
tune their radio to a specified frequency, and listen to the
music while admiring your lights from the comfort of
their car. This method also has the advantage of not
blasting loud music which tends to disturb neighbors.
The downside is you may get dozens of cars parked in
front of your house, which will probably still annoy
December 2014 27
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■ FIGURE 2. Light-O-Rama CTB16PC light controller.
■ FIGURE 1. Typical