Merry Christmas 42 Freeway readers!!! This week we visited Dan, his wife Kim and a house full of kids at their amazing Deptford Dazzling Lights holiday show! Dan gave Mark from 42Freeway the full “insiders” tour, and we share it with readers in an article AND video!
Deptford Dazzling Lights is an amazing computer synchronized light display on Dan and Kim’s house and property. A multi-song repeating show with a classic video game theme!
They are located at 105 Branchwood Drive in Deptford NJ.
The house is fully covered in lights that dance and move to the synchronized music, and the yard is loaded with related props to carry the Holiday theme across the large property.
Visitors remain in their cars, and tune their radios to 89.1 to listen to the show music, and get the full experience of the synchronized light show!
The whole inspiration for Deptford Dazzling Lights? ABC Television’s Great Christmas Light Fight television show!
And as I write this up I realize.. ugh I should’ve gotten a photo of the whole family!
Video at End of Post
I am a computer guy during the day (and well, even at night), and I really wanted to see what makes this display tick and Dan agreed to show me how he puts it all together.
So there is a relatively long, in-depth video at the end of this post where Dan shows us the ins and outs of his display. Not everyone will watch the whole thing, but there are MANY who want to understand more about how these displays come together, and maybe it will inspire other readers to start their own!
I know I have been inspired and have plans for something on a lesser scale… and maybe a little unique use case. Our house backs up to the woods and it gets pretty dark in the back yard, so I would love to add some awesome decorative lighting to accent the back of the house. Hoping to wow family, friends and neighbors for the parties that I think we are going to have, and never do. Ha! Well I’ll post an update later in the year.
So absolutely the video shows off some of the amazing sequences that Dan has put together (at the start and end of the video), but the core of video is really an in-depth look at the inspiration… and perspiration that goes into this display.
The bits of actual light show in the 42Freeway video are only a minute or so.. and the full show loop is 5 or 6 minutes I believe. To get the full experience, you have to go visit them in Deptford!
So it’s clear that Dan is a smart and talented guy. This takes a true combination of engineer, artist, and programmer to pull this all together.
While everyone will focusing on “oh this must take him forever to set this up in his yard”, my brain is thinking about all of the detailed synchronized programming he has to do to make this work so beautifully.
Well anyway, check out the video at the bottom and read along with this post.
And who knows, maybe one day we’ll see Dan and family on ABC’s “Great Christmas Light Fight” Show!
Oh a couple things right up front…
Facebook Page. Go likey.
Charity Donations! Dan and family pay for all of the lights, controllers, computers… and electric bill… out of their own pockets, and they are happy with that! But they do accept donations which they provide back to charities, typically for military families. On the Venmo payment service they are @Deptford. Yes, seriously.. the Deptford Dazzling Light Display is @Deptford on Venmo!
The house is located at 105 Branchwood Drive in Deptford NJ, just one block in from County House Rd. They are a block or two from Washington Towhship with Sawyer’s Creek, The Nik Nak store, and Washington Way Apartments VERY close. And even Gloucester Township’s Sports Complex and Lakeland area can’t be more than a 1/2 mile away.
The Heritage Woods neighborhood where Dan and family live is absolutely beautiful. Mr 42Freeway lives a few blocks away across County House Road and we frequently walk or ride past Dan’s home.
The house sits just a half block in from County House Road, and this can cause traffic to back up. Cars in front of the house, if you are parked and have a opportunity to “close the gap” in front of you, please do so safely.
An extra twist is for 2020 there is a bridge on County House at Bull Run Creek that is under construction, and there is no shoulder. Try not to block the main roadway!
There are a variety of lighting systems, and Dan is using one that gives full “Pixel” control. He can individually control every single light in millions of colors, and using software he can synchronize it to music and program complex light sequences!
Dan even puts videos and images on a Christmas tree setup, and 3 video windows on his house!
I am going to say this multiple times, if you are really interested in this and want to learn (an overview), just watch the 25 mins of Dan explaining everything. He even sent me a short clip of the editing software!
So the Falcon Controllers are what distributes the signals out to the lights.
Now the lights are typically grouped in strings or strips. As we mentioned, they can be controlled individually… but the data has to get to them.
And the problem amplifies when you consider lights are all over his house and property.
So the controllers take messages from the single small computer (more on that) and directs the data signals through individual cables, to receivers which then lead to groups of lights (a strip or string).
Dan showed me a few types of controllers/receivers… the one in the image above is one of two main controllers which splits the signals into 12 separate cable channels. The first of these main controllers sits right at the entrance to his home.
There is a second type of box to bring things together. A receiver takes in one cable from the controller, and can have up to 4 receivers within the box which effectively splits the signals into 4 different cables which leads to a group of lights. So that main controller of 12 output lines, can have another receiver on each which splits into 4 light “groups”. Effectively 48 individual sets of lights.
So to be clear… each pixel is individually controlled. So when I say groups (strings, strips) its multiple lights… say a 16 ft string of lights, all individually controllable.
In the video we feature this type of receiver with the two nutcrackers and wreath which are positioned on their fence.
There is a third board/box… which is also a receiver that takes signals from main controller and splits out into 4 channels, and that is the F48. Dan and the lighting community are very excited about this receiver because it is able to work across longer distances than previous hardware.
Dan uses two F48 receivers at his garage to send signals off to his large side yard.
And that is about as deep as I can go. with this.. I am in over my head already, ha! Watch the video to learn more! Dan, let me know what I got wrong in this write-up. ha!
Dan estimates that over 80% of the characters and props were made by him and the family!
The video game theme is carried throughout, and most of the props are highlighted by the pixel lights which Dan of course has synchronized to the music!
The Dazzling Lights display also has multiple characters who “talk”! Dan and the family crew created multiple frames of mouth movement with the lights, and using the xLight software can give the appearance of talking!
Matrix Displays – Video and Images
The combination of controllable lights and computer software allows Dan to create full image and video representations with the lights!
This is very similar to signage found at sports arenas like Wells Fargo and Citizens Bank Park!
Dan has installed on three upstairs windows, rectangular “matrix” displays of lights that he controls.
On the left side of the property is a larger Christmas tree with a higher density of lights, that is used to also show images! Across a Christmas Tree!
Garage; Controllers, FM Transmitter and a Raspberry Pi
The garage side wall has become a key hub for the display, as it feeds data and power to all of the props in the side yard.
This is where Dan has the newer F48 Differential controllers installed.
The computer that drives this all is a small one board Raspberry Pi. It’s a name that most people haven’t heard of, but they are inexpensive “all-in-one” boards used for a variety of interesting projects.
Dan actually designs the light display on his full home computer, and is able to send the sequences to the Raspberry Pi.
Now the thing that everyone asks about “how do you broadcast to the radio”?
Well I hope I get this right… but it seems to be the easiest part of the process.
There is a purchased small FM transmitter that simply connects to the Raspberry Pi’s audio out.
The entire show is programmed and controlled by xLights software. It’s amazing to me that this is a free open source application… as it really is a professional tool that does amazing things.
xLights seems to use a common timeline pattern found in most video editing software.
In this case, the timeline is based off the audio music, and an audio wave is presented to help identify the different points of the song.
Oh wait, a step back.
With xLights, users can recreate their home, yard and light displays, so that they can be controlled.
The goal is a “What you see, is what you get” implementation, so that changes in the software appear exactly the same way in the massive outdoor display.
So on that timeline below the audio waves, Dan can setup up rows of different lights and at different times trigger events.
Say if at the start of “Santa Claus is coming to Town” he wants to show Santa in the window matrix displays, he can use the audio wave to help pinpoint that location in the song (and of course listen along), go down the rows of light groups he has created… and drag in the Santa clip.
Now as the timeline sequence plays back, Santa will appear at the exact right moment!
Oh oh! How could I forget! When I say you can recreate your light display in the software… it means you can literally create a 3D representation of your home and property, and see it run on your computer screen as you work out the little details!
Oh and those little details are a HUGE undertaking. Consider that at any single second there could be dozens of groups of lights turning on and off, changing colors… and the Dan designed sequence has to control all of it!
Alrighty then… without further ado, I offer up the epic Deptford Dazzling Lights inside look at how Dan and family make all of this work!
Thank you Dan for your time, the insiders look at your setup, and for introducing me to your wonderful family.
Your wife Kim is a Saint. 🙂
Deptford Dazzling Lights
105 Branchwood Drive