December 28th, 2013

Three More Nights

As Christmas has past and the season comes to a close, so does our light display. The final evening for 2013 will be Monday, December 30. The lights will run until 10:30, and tear down begins on Tuesday. Thanks to all who stopped by this season — we hope to see you in 2014, too! Videos will be posted within a week, too.

December 16th, 2013

Another snowy night

It’s another snowy night here in Saint John at KampLights.  Here’s an Instagram clip of our lights this evening.  If you haven’t already, do follow us on Facebook.  We’re using the hashtag #KampLights on all of our favorite social media outlets.  Official video should be posted the week of Christmas, hopefully not long after.

December 6th, 2013

We’re up and running!

As of Sunday, we are up and running for the 2013 Christmas season! After a little rough beginning, our entire display is now fully functional and ready to share the Christmas season with you. New this year is our pixel lights, featured on our porch columns. They are able to show off 16.7 million colors and do some fun effects! porch_pixels As of today, only three songs are in rotation (Silver Bells, Hallelujah Chorus and This is Christmas); however, a few more will be added within the next week.

We look forward to seeing you and your family sometime this Christmas season. And as always, the lights run M-Th from 5-10:30pm and on Fr-Sat from 5-11pm. 90.7 is the radio frequency again this year.

Merry Christmas!

–Luke, on behalf of the Kamps and everyone involved with KampLights

May 16th, 2013

Summer happenings

As always, the off-season is a time for planning, testing and new ideas. This year, we’re adding our new pixel lights! Each light is individually controllable, allowing for cool effects that standard light strings are unable to accomplish. These lights were set to debut last Christmas, but technological problems didn’t allow that to happen. However, they’re now working and you should look for them in our show this Christmas.

For those a little more tech savvy, here’s an in depth look at how they work:

What we have here are RGB LED lights, controlled via DMX. This means that each bulb has a Red, a Green, and a Blue (RGB) LED inside of them, allowing for color mixing of 16.7 million (theoretical) colors. And, we’re running them over DMX, a lighting communication standard protocol (or language).  If that made absolute sense, continue.  If not, prepared to be overwhelmed by technology!

Pixel Lights

Our RGB pixels. Two wires carry power and two wires carry data. And yes, that is a microprocessor in each bulb.

Unlike the rest of our setup, these pixels need individual control at each bulb. Your standard mini light strand (normal Christmas lights) has one connector at the end of the string — allowing for control of the entire strand all at once. When we animated them with our Light-O-Rama equipment, we can turn the strand on, off, fade or do some other fancy effects. But, this effect is applied consistently to the entire string of 100 or 50 lights. The Light-O-Rama (LOR) hardware receives these commands from a central computer, and deploys them through our controllers — which, in turn, make the lights blink and flash. The beauty of this system lies in the communication, though. LOR uses RS485, another communication protocol, to transfer data from the computer to the controllers. But within this environment, the computer send basic commands, and the controllers interpret and execute the commands. I say “interpret” because they send a command such as “fade for two seconds” and the controllers know that they must fade the lights for two seconds. When you enter into the DMX protocol (used by our pixels), things immediately change. Instead of the computer telling a controller (or DMX light fixture of some sorts) to “fade for two seconds”, the computer literally sends 120 commands (at about 60 commands/second) to the device.  This is because DMX is an open standard used on thousands of different devices, not a simple LOR network.  These might look like this: Command 1: 100%; Command 2: 99%; Command 3: 98% — all the way to zero. And right there you notice the difference between the two protocols — the LOR RS485 protocol sends 1 command; DMX sends 120!

Confusing, eh? So to recap: we use BOTH protocols independently — the LOR software sends commands through one cable to our controllers using the Light-O-Rama RS485 protocol. Then, on another cable, we’re sending DMX commands to our pixels. All of this is controlled through the Light-O-Rama software.

Returning back to our previous discussion on the two protocols. Why not use the LOR protocol all the time? Well, Light-O-Rama is a small company out of New York that developed its software and hardware to behave using this protocol. (The didn’t invent it!). DMX is an industry standard that is used for virtually every concert and production around the country (and world, for that). It’s well known, widely used, and “reliable”. (Reliable in the sense that .05 seconds later, another command will fill it’s place if the original command is lost, but not reliable in the sense that the computer/console has no clue that the data was lost. )

Let me add to the discussion a few more factors that are relevant to this discussion on pixels, DMX and lighting. First, our pixels run on DMX, NOT the Light-O-Rama protocol. They were developed and manufactured by outside parties. However, the LOR software is able to control DMX without a problem. Our light controllers, and other LOR products, DO indeed run on the LOR protocol/network, and therefore work seamlessly with the software.

The final thing I’m going to add is information about transmission and networks. The Light-O-Rama network and the RS485 protocol allow for about 4-5000 channels to be controlled simultaneously on one network (Note: our display uses 48 total!).

A typical DMX light fixture used at concerts and other events.  They typically use about 20 DMX channels.

A typical DMX light fixture used at concerts and other events. They typically use about 10-30 DMX channels.

DMX, however, only allows for exactly 512 channels of control per network (or in DMX terms, a universe.) Once you exceed the limit, you start loosing commands and things begin to mess up. It’s similar to a hose — you literally can only push a certain amount of water through. If you want more to go through, you’d have to make it go faster. But without a pump, your limited because of hose size. Unless, you get a fire hose…

So here you can see another difference — LOR sends fewer commands, but can handle a lot more data than DMX can. However, it’s a proprietary protocol and is not widely used. DMX, though, sends more commands and handles less data, but is used everywhere.

Back to our pixel discussion. These RGB pixels are individually controllable. So, that would be one channel of control for each color for each bulb. So, 3 channels/bulb (3 leds – RGB) and 150 channels per string of 50. Let’s say you want 1000 pixels in your display. That’s 3000 channels, and almost 6 DMX networks! If you put that on the LOR network, you’d be fine. However, these aren’t made by Light-O-Rama. And with DMX, you would need one network for every 3 strands of pixel lights! Mind you, these aren’t wireless and need to be cabled back to the computer (or light console — if you talking concert setting). As you start adding on pixels, you need lots and lots of cables, and lots of ways to connect them to your computer.

So, enter E1.31, sACN or DMX over Ethernet — whatever you want to call it. E1.31 or sACN (streaming Architecture Control Network) or DMX over Ethernet is a fancy way to say that we’re going to take all these DMX commands, put them over the “internet” and speed them up. (Or we’re adding 10 firehoses!) As you bump up your channel count, data speeds become an issue. You can only push so much through one cable (512 channels in DMX). Here, we’re putting the DMX commands on a network (the exact same thing your home internet uses) and transferring them that way. Your home local arean network is EXTREMELY fast — and would be capable of transferring well over 16 MILLION channels of data at once (compared to 512 or 4-5000) You can see why this might be an efficient form of “data travel”, especially as soon as you get into the thousands of pixels (video screen?! Laptop screen?) Why not use this everywhere, you ask? Well, it’s a relatively “new” way to think of transferring data between light fixtures (as compared to your laptops and desktops) and it is a lot more complex then things used to be.  Also, most DMX fixtures are wired to accept straight DMX; not DMX over a network.  Previously, we’d plug a cable from the computer right to the light fixture (or light controller, in our case) and things would work.  Now, we’re changing the way we “send” the data from the computer, and we’d also need to change the way fixtures receive data.   It’s all the same data — DMX — we’re just sending it a different, faster manner.   And that requires upgraded technology on the end of the light fixture, which is what we are starting to see as some light fixtures (much like the moving head pictured above) are able to accept Art-Net II, a DMX transmission protocol, over a local area network (UDP/IP network — the same your computers use).

A CAT5 cable, used for data transmission throughout our display.

A CAT5 cable, used for data transmission throughout our display.

While this sounds great; it’s really nothing new — our  computers have been doing it for years.  This time, we’re just sending DMX data instead of internet/file data.   But as you can see, the discussion quickly moves to transmitting data — and how fast you can send it.  And speed is key, especially as soon as you start synchronizing it with music.   So, having the proper transmission medium for your light type becomes quite important.  While all this technicality is not required for a simple computerized display, adding a lot of data to the networks require the use of alternative and faster technologies.

And while we’re at it — take a look at the monitor you’re staring at right now.  It probably has a few million pixels in it — but the data is transferred over an HDMI or VGA cable.  And those are regular cables, much like our CAT5 or DMX cable; however, they use a different protocol for sending data…and can send gigabytes at a time.  And welcome to the world of technology — phone lines, speaker cables, USB cables, HDMI cables, internet cables — they all are sending data (and some, power) but at different rates and in different protocols, or languages.

But back to where we started.  So, these new pixel lights run on DMX.  While you would be able to control them with traditional DMX means (out of a lighting console, Light Jockey or other DMX software), connection becomes an issue.  The controller we use is a special one that has a web server combined with a DMX light controller, meaning it is able to accept the E1.31 protocol (very similar to the moving heads previously mentioned that accept Art-Net II) and connect directly to a network router.  (It accepts the files over the network, translates into DMX).  This way, we can send the DMX data directly from our computer, over the network, to this controller — without having any special converter/dongle to change the data type.  It’s all done through our Local Area Network (LAN) connection.  We’re able to get rid of DMX cables and all that jazz by integrating a web/network controller with a DMX controller.

There you have it!  Our pixel strands and their technology explained. Thoroughly.  For more information on this topic, read on about UDP/IP networks, sACN, E1.31 and DMX.  Combine them all and you have a fancy technology that makes these little pixel strands light up!

December 29th, 2012

2012 Videos (and 3 more nights!)

The first of the 2012 videos is here! Here is Silver Bells by Relient K. Expect more videos and pictures in the next week.

Also, only 3 more nights to see the lights! The last night they will run is December 31st until 2am.

December 24th, 2012

Visiting Information

Merry Christmas! We hope you and your family enjoys a blessed holiday.
As we’re experiencing higher than normal traffic volumes, please follow the instructions on viewing our lights. If you still plan on seeing the lights this year, please enter our street from Magnolia Ave. If coming from 85th Ave, continue to the end and make two right turns onto our street. This will keep traffic flowing (from west to east) and ensure a better viewing experience for all! Thanks and Merry Christmas!

December 23rd, 2012

Extended Hours!

Merry Christmas! Because of the nearing holidays, our display will run until 2am on Sunday, December 23rd. For Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the lights will run until midnight.

We hope you have enjoyed the lights so far this season! Our final night for the lights this year will be News Years’ Eve, where our lights will run until 2am.  Weather permitting, the lights will be removed New Years’ Day. This week we’ve added our new wreath! Come check out the 1,000 light addition!

We wish you a Merry Christmas as you and your family celebrate Christ’s birth this Tuesday.  Have a blessed holiday!  –The Kamps.