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Cheapest solution that I can find for lighting effects.

posted Nov 19, 2012 18:26:37 by JoshuaHarris
This will get you a super basic DMX lighting solution for about $70.00 if you need to buy everything.

I have done some work with holiday lighting displays in the past using some really basic DMX stuff from I figured it was worth a shot to try it out since some people here reported success with other FTDI chipsets working. I managed to get it going with hardly any effort. The best part about this solution for a first timer, is that they have quite a few video tutorials on how to wire things like power supplies and controllers. Even if you have a very basic level of experience, the videos should be able to walk you through everything.

Here is what you would need:
PC Based DMX Module Address Programmer/Software
(You need this to program the DMX controllers, but it can ALSO be used as a dongle to let your computer output DMX commands)

Power Supply - Waterproof 12v / 3.75 amps / 45 Watts
(You could use any 12v power supply, but these are cheap, come with wiring documentation, and can drive 5-6 of the flood lights we will be using)

RGB Flood Light
(Now this is where the options come in. You could buy a DMX controller for $8.00 and whatever RGB light solution you want, like strip lights or spots or whatever, but since we are keeping this as cheap and simple as possible, this flood light kit is the way to go! This kit comes with everything you need except the flood light housing, Which can be purchased for under $10 at just about any hardware/home improvement/tool store.)

You will also need some basic soldering supplies, and an extra cat5 cable to wire everything up. I deviated from this a bit since I had some hardware on hand, but if you follow their video instructions for wiring up the light and the power inserter, you should be good! You can also follow the video tutorials to set up the DMX Module Address Programmer Software,and it will load all your drivers and everything you need.

The only hiccup with this in the DMX control file in Artemis seems to spit out the DMX signal one channel higher than it displays in the file. For example;
<setvalue index="4" value="0" change="0"/>
<!-- red value of first light box -->
<setvalue index="5" value="0" change="0"/>
<!-- green value of first light box -->
<setvalue index="6" value="200" change="0"/>
<!-- blue value of first light box -->
Actually spits out as channels 5,6,7. Not a deal breaker, but you have to compensate for it, and it can cause trouble in the 1,2,3 range sometimes with the offset, so I set my DMX controller address for the flood light to be channels 5,6,7 and I changes all the DMX commands in the XML file to be index 4,5,6. (I'll send anyone the edited file if they want it.)

A cool bonus with this set up is that it will allow you to add 4-5 more flood lights, for about $30 bucks each, since you only need one USB dongle, and the power supply can drive 5-6 lights worth of lighting. Two of these flood lights will light up the side of a house, so 4-5 in a room will be pretty effective. You could also then tweak the DMX addressing, and make different lights trigger off of different codes, to give you dedicated shield status lighting for example. Also, extra lights just get daisy chained in. One electrical plug, the USB dongle, and everything else chains together with cat5, which carried both control signals and the power. This is also a VERY portable solution for those that don't have a dedicated bridge location yet. It's quite literally a hand held work light and a small power strip.

Here is a quick video I took with my iphone last night to show it working, I'll upload some better pictures soon.
[Last edited Nov 19, 2012 20:04:00]
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53 replies
Caleb said Nov 19, 2012 19:57:22
Awesome! Thanks for posting this. I actually might do this in the future.
deathbygiraffe said Nov 24, 2012 18:08:15
AWESOME post, Mr. Harris. Not really understanding anything about DMX lighting, I have a (probably ridiculous) question: When you say "super basic", what (if anything) is lacking as compared to the ENTTEC/SlimPAR solution Thom suggests?
MarkBell said Nov 25, 2012 12:42:19
This is amazing. I totally ordered a controller and Flood Light Kit. Hopefully it'll be here by the end of the week :)
JoshuaHarris said Nov 27, 2012 16:29:14
Sorry if my comments were confusing. I don't see anything missing that any other solution could do so far. My "super basic" part is that this is all done over cat5 cable instead of DMX cable, so it won't control standard DMX stuff without some hodge-podging. You could wire in a DMX connector, since the protocol is all there, but I can't confirm if this will work or not. It will do anything that Artemis is using right now, and quite a bit more, but you wouldn't be able to plug in a bunch of DMX ready gear without some rewiring. I went this way, since all of my DMX experience is with programmable Christmas light displays that commonly use this "DMX over cat 5" wiring standard.
MarkBell said Dec 02, 2012 11:51:38
So the stuff got here yesterday and I can't seem to get Artemis to use the lights. I've got the dmx controller offset by one address like you suggested, I can get the lights to turn on through the holidaycoro communication program, they just don't do anything when I run the game. Was there any driver trickery you had to do to make it work? Does it need to show up as a ftdi cable specially or something? The cable is showing up in the device manager as a generic usb-serial convertor, and also as com2 as a serial device. Any thoughts?
[Last edited Dec 02, 2012 11:54:07]
MarkBell said Dec 02, 2012 12:52:54
Apparently I spoke too soon. After rebooting this morning, it worked just fine. Maybe it needed to think about it overnight. :P Also, my addresses line up like yours - 4-6 in Artemis, 5-7 in the controller. Totally getting more lights now - Red alert can flash away, maybe a separate one for damage flashing, who knows? :D Thanks for this, this is awesome!
[Last edited Dec 02, 2012 12:53:54]
deathbygiraffe said Dec 12, 2012 15:15:25
just ordered from holidaycoro. Thanks for all the tips.
deathbygiraffe said Dec 26, 2012 23:53:49
Thank you so much, @JoshuaHarris for the post, links, instructions - et al. I built it today and it works! To everyone that stumbles across this post and thinks "nah, I'd never be able to do this": I did it. That means you DEFINITELY can too. It just takes a little patience.
MarkBell said Dec 27, 2012 14:54:06
Another interesting "feature" is that if you use a terminator plug with a "traffic light" built in, it increments the effective address by +1. Very repeatable, just something to keep in mind. (I programmed the controller to 5-7 and controlled those channels appropriately, inserted the traffic light terminator and had to move to 6-8 to control the lights.) I don't know if this affects multiple controllers or what, I've got another on order to see what happens. Standard resistor terminators don't seem to have the same feature.

Love this setup, definitely getting more :)
[Last edited Dec 27, 2012 14:54:59]
deathbygiraffe said Dec 27, 2012 16:36:28
@Mark - did you use the Utilitech light housing they suggested.. 0320778? How did it work out for you? I used the older version (156853) because I had it laying new in box in my basement (biggest difference I could find on the web was that the "old" one didn't have tempered glass - and the dimensions are supposed to be the same), but the board Holidaycoro supplied didn't fit. You might be able to see in the pic that I had to kludge it.

I'm thinking about buying a second one, and will need to buy the Utilitech light, and I'm just curious if I'll have to make it fit again (I'd go about it completely differently if I was planning ahead)
MarkBell said Dec 27, 2012 16:43:42
Nope, I just grabbed a cheap 500w halogen housing from old Homey D' :) (actually grabbed a 250w housing first, turns out it's really small) It wasn't quite the same size, so I had to shave down the board a bit myself. I'll take a pic when I get home, but I basically had to cut down the board on one side down to the base of the wire cutouts to keep it from smashing the glass. Works just fine otherwise. So, yeah, any 500W housing should do the trick, albeit with a bit of coro shaving.
JoshuaHarris said Dec 27, 2012 20:21:03
If you have a Harbor Freight nearby, they have some that are perfect for $9.00 right now.

And as a bonus, you can use the power cord that you take out of the housing to wire up your power inserter!
Chalta said Jan 07, 2013 07:45:33
The catch with holidaycoro's stuff (I believe it's all just imported from Ray Wu's AliExpress store and repackaged with documentation and some accessories), is that it is only available in the US.

For those outside of the US, it's possible to get that controller "direct", but you'll have to figure out a way to program the DMX start address of each module if you're using more than one controller.

There aren't many options for programming the start address, as the holidaycoro programmer cable/software isn't shipped outside of the US: one can spend $50 on a DMX address programmer, and get a separate DMX converter.

Or figure out a way to hack up a holiday coro FTDI usb->485->DMX->RJ45 cable (use this as a starting point) and then reverse engineer the necessary DMX addressing software, while sacrificing true compatibility with the DMX standard. There was an apparently successful group effort on the AusChristmas forum* to reverse engineer a software interface, but it seems David Moore slapped a price tag on it, put it up on holidaycoro and buggered off with the code.

Very open to other ideas.

For those outside of the US:
I'm pretty sure these are really close to the LED modules used in the holidaycoro floodlight kit (in groups of 20 rather than 10, but they can be cut). These are fairly close too, but they have a metal case.

And this is the power supply. Though the picture shows a different model number than the description, holidaycoro clearly uses NV1245C, though any 12v power supply would work - just watch the loading.

The adapters and cables can be found at

*Search Google for "Can you help reverse-engineer the $6 DMX controller programmer?" this forum butchers the link as it encodes the comma in the URL.

[Last edited Jan 07, 2013 17:27:32]
MarkBell said Jan 07, 2013 13:11:28
On HolidayCoro's contact page, it states that they only ship to the US, but you can use ReShip or Bongous to send it elsewhere. The software is just downloaded after that directly from the web page. So, if that's the route you want to go, the software is available after purchase.

The cable is actually just the FTDI USB-RS485 cable with a rj45 connector on the end. You could wire it into a DMX connector instead and it would work with pretty much any dmx setup. The game uses the D2XX driver for the FTDI chip. So, if you had DMX gear that didn't need the address programmed, then you could use this cable instead of the Enttec Open DMX converter, and it's a fair bit cheaper.

You'll really need the USB-RS485 converter instead of the USB-RS232 converter - very different voltages and packet speeds.

Alternately, you could use this controller - it takes either rj45 or XLR-3 connectors and you set the channels (program the address) manually with some switches on the side (min order 5). Or this one, no minimum order and less expensive, although I don't know what connector type you need (or bare wire?). Or this one. No need for software - just match the address in your DMXcommands.xml to what you've set the controller's switches, and Red Alert away. There are options.

Those lights are absolutely the ones I got in my floodlight kit, nice that they're available elsewhere too! (Cool site btw, I think I might pick up one of those DMX splitters to widen my network.)
MarkBell said Jan 10, 2013 17:36:43
Also, meant to post this a few days back. I had to shave down the plastic piece to fit into this housing, but considering it's ~$8 at home depot, I'll take it. The wires just got tucked up in the top and I called it a day.

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