A Basic Light-O-Rama Setup for Holiday Light Displays

By Doug Lowe

The figure shows a basic setup for using a single, 16-channel ShowTime PC controller to control up to 16 separate strands of lights. Although you can design the circuitry to control light shows from scratch, the easiest way to build a light show is to buy an inexpensive lighting controller.

electronics-controller
A basic setup for a 16-channel ShowTime PC Light-O-Rama controller.

The following paragraphs describe each of the elements in this setup:

  • ShowTime PC controller: Usually located outside, close to where your lights are. It comes with a weatherproof enclosure so you can place it outside.

    Although it isn’t shown in the figure, the ShowTime PC controller requires a source of AC power. As a result, you should locate the controller near an electrical outlet.

    The controller has two electrical plugs; each provides power to half of the 16 light channels. If you plug both of these cords into the same electrical outlet, the total lighting capacity of the controller will be limited by the maximum amperage rating of the outlet you plug the cords into (typically 15 A). However, you can plug the two cords into separate outlets to double the lighting capacity of the controller to 30 A, provided that the two outlets you plug the controller into are located on separate electrical circuits.

  • Lights: Connected to the 16 power cords that hang from the bottom of the controller.
  • Computer: Runs the ShowTime software that controls the lights. You’ll want to place the computer in a secure location that isn’t exposed to weather.

    Unfortunately, Light-O-Rama’s software isn’t free. If you purchase one of Light-O-Rama’s starter kits, the software is included in the purchase price, but if you purchase a do-it-yourself kit and assemble the circuit board yourself, you’ll have to buy the software separately. (The cost is under $50.)

  • USB adapter: Required to connect the computer to the ShowTime PC controller.
  • Sound system: Plays or broadcasts the sound that is synchronized to the lights. The sound system connects to the computer’s headphone output and either amplifies it for speakers or broadcasts it so it can be heard on an FM radio.

    If you want to play the sound through speakers, you can use any amplifier that has an input jack and is powerful enough to play the sound at the volume you desire.

    If you want to broadcast the music so that people can listen to it on their car radios as they drive by your house, you can purchase a low-power FM broadcaster from many sources on the Internet. Light-O-Rama sells one for about $125.