Starting in 2013 we added a few new elements to our show. The additional display elements we added were multi-purposed for us. The first purpose was innovation. We always want to improve our show by adding and changing. This gives us something to do throughout the year as well as keeps the show changing for our visitors. The second purpose was to vet out wireless control of our show using a specific technology.
We had a surplus of CAT-5 for the first couple of years so it was easy to hard-wire everything. Once we realized it wasn’t all about “what you have” and the amount of work that goes into wiring, setup, tear-down, and storage, we wanted to go wireless. When we started the options for wireless that had been used reliably were expensive. The two researched by Christmas On Quiet Hills were XBee based solutions courtesy of Dirknerkle and friends as well as the Lynx Express setup from the DLA crowd. Both of these options were prohibitively expensive. For example, to add XBee control to our controllers would have been around $80 for a transmitter and at least $30 per controller. CAT-5 was essentially free.Enter the RF1. Come 2013, Komby announced an arduino clone project using the Nordic nRF24L01 for wireless. We had previously looked into the nRF devices because of their low cost. The wireless transceivers are easily purchased for barely more than $1 in small quantities. We purchased a handful of these clones because the complete kit price was sitting right around $10 which includes the PCB, Bill of Materials, and transceiver. For the transmitter we used an arduino, with an ethernet shield, and a high powered nRF transceiver configured as a transmitter. Since we already have a stockpile of arduinos and ethernet shields, the only new purchases required was the high powered transceiver at about $10 and a small arduino shield to make it’s hookup easier.
Using 6 of the RF1s the first year, and the high powered transmitter our total investment using the new RF1s was right around $100 to go wireless. A similar configuration would have been around $250-300 if using XBees.
Since we committed to the new project and our new display elements relied on them Mat worked with Komby at times helping out with code and getting the controllers working with the GECE pixels since Christmas On Quiet Hills was relying on these controllers to work. You can see my contributions on GitHub.
Our goal is to have every controller that uses standard serial-based protocols to be wireless, in addition to the other wireless items already in use. The only things that won’t be using wireless are the high density pixels that are better suited using other protocols and controllers.
EnclosuresYet another great aspect of the RF1 is the size. In the case of pixels, the XBee solution is a non-starter since it doesn’t support any protocols and would require both the XBee as well as a controller board to actually talk to the pixels. In addition to the cost of the devices, these would then need to be put into enclosures. The RF1 with radio attached will slide into a 1″ piece of PVC. This makes them easy to maintain, cheap to protect, easy to hide, etc.
Because of this, we were able to easily attach the enclosures to the display elements in most cases for easy of setup, storage, and teardown. If I needed to make changes during show-season, I can easily remove them and re-program them as well. Next year we’ll have OTA programming for the RF1s so I can easily re-configure them without having to bring them in the house.
- Window Outline
- Garage Door Outline
- All serial-based protocol controllers (Mega Wreath, arches, garland, FireSticks, Mini Trees, Reindeer)
- Tune-To Sign & Pixels
- Mini Trees
- GWTS IR transmitter
What isn’t wireless?
- Mega Tree
- Roofline Pixels