Animated Displays in the UK

Musical, animated light shows, such as ours are popular in the USA (See the links section for more fantastic displays in the USA), but in the UK the cost of lights and the higher mains voltage adds a great deal of complexity to such displays.

In the UK, due to the higher mains voltage, we cannot simply place sockets, plugs and extension leads outdoor without proper waterproof connectors, such connectors are often expensive and hence are not a viable option for large amounts of lights. Waterproof boxes are a far cheaper option, but often have limited space and you often still need to extend cables (with waterproof connectors) in order to reach your waterproof box!

The majority of available outdoor Christmas lights in the UK are low voltage so are much easier and safer for use outside, however these often come with a in-built 'flasher unit' which often makes using them in an animated display difficult, especially if they don't have a 'static' mode or don't have a 'memory' function to remember the mode when powered off. The other problem with low voltage lights is that often the transformer (and capacitors in the 'flasher unit') introduce a delay when switching on and off, making use in an animated display difficult.

The cost of lights is another prohibitive factor in the UK, animated lights need lots of separate sets of lights, one animated arch will need 6 sets or so just to animate in one colour!

Some people in the UK get around these problems by either making their own light strings, or using 110v Christmas lights from the USA and using industrial 240v-110v transformers.

Our display uses a combination of 240v mains and low voltage lights, mostly purchased here in the UK, although we have made the RGB lights and strobes as nothing suitable was available readymade.

Controllers

In order to animate the lights, each light string is connected to a controller, this is basically a large RELAY (Triac) board which can be controlled via the computer (usually RS485). These operate in a similar way to DMX which is used for stage show lighting etc.

Our display uses our own controllers (available from our website syncrolight.co.uk)

Our own DC Controller cards

Our Show Selector

Many displays in the USA run continually, but we wanted shows to be started on demand via push buttons. We have therefore built our own 'Show Selector' which displays a list of song titles on an LCD and allows shows to be started interactively on demand. We do also run an 'idle' sequence with just a few lights when no main show is running, which helps reduce electricity consumption.

Our Android App

We have also added an Android app which allows shows to be started via a smart phone. This connects to our Wi-Fi network (so can only be used in close proximity to our display), displays a list of available tracks and allows shows to be started.

Our Software

The shows are controlled using our own software which we developed specially to support our Show Selector and the functionality we required.

Controllers, lights and software that we use are now available from our Syncrolight website