Okay, this is a long one…
In early Fall 2009, I developed the desire to set up Christmas lights like the various music and light synchronized houses do that are popular around the Web. At that time, Light-O-Rama was charging about $50 per channel (think of a channel as being able to uniquely turn on and off any particular set of lights in your display – and most synchronized displays have 32-128 channels). I figured I would want about 48 channels which would be $2400! I found a really informative site called DIY Light Animation where the founder(?), RJ, has been developing various systems that are acquired through collective purchasing by the community members which gets the price down to around $5 per channel – which would mean more like $240 for what I wanted to do. This was much more reasonable.
I put an order in at DIYLightAnimation and the electronics supply they use (Mouser). For me to get started, I needed a USB DMX Dongle (the part that interfaces with the computer), 3 Lynx Express (LE) kits (these units provide switched power to the individual light channels), a bunch of Ethernet cable (I have tons), some weather-tight enclosures for the Lynx Express kits (had to order these separately and never got around to it until Fall 2011 but luckily got a compatible box), a spool of 2-conductor electric cord wire with plugs, and lots of time. Unfortunately, some of the electronic parts were backordered and it took several months to fix my order.
I never got around to beginning to set up the kit for Christmas 2010, and I got busy with a 3D printer project at work through Thanksgiving 2011. Around Christmas time, I finally began putting everything together. The dongle went together pretty well with about 100 soldering points I had to make. I then took two nights to do about 1000 soldering points along with a few hundred components for the LE boards. Then, I ran into a problem with the fact that some of the parts that were shipped 2 years previously were incorrectly sized and two of the components were shipped in quantities for only one LE board. The parts are now hopefully on their way so I can do the last ~400 solder points and begin testing the light display system.
Good or bad, I’ve now noticed that the price has now come down for these kits from Light-O-Rama such that a starter kit of 16 channels is about $300 which extrapolates to a real start up cost of approximately $20 per channel. On the good side, I still saved a lot of money; however, the systems are getting within reach of a lot of people now such that I would not be surprised if many have these things next year.