Music Controlled Christmas Lights

Written by barb nefer
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Music Controlled Christmas Lights
(Photo: Disney World)

Since 2005, when they first gained wide recognition, music controlled Christmas lights have become very popular. Once they required a lot of time to program, but now automated versions are making them easier for the average homeowner to use as part of their Christmas decorations. Even Disney World has joined the trend, presenting the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney Hollywood Studio each year.


In 2005, a YouTube video was posted showing a house with Christmas lights flashing in sync to the Trans Siberian Orchestra's song, "Wizards of Winter." The video was spread via e-mail and appeared on many websites, bringing attention to using music-controlled Christmas lights as a unique and eye-catching way to decorate. According to Snopes, the display was created by Carson Williams, an electrical engineer who lived in Mason, Ohio. He had actually done his first display in 2004, and the expanded 2005 version included 25,000 lights that took two months to program. The overall cost of the display was £6,500.


Once the idea of dancing Christmas lights hit the Internet, they became a phenomenon. Miller Light Beer featured Carson's display in a commercial, and traffic jams were occurring regularly in front of his home. A traffic accident occurred in December, 2005, causing him to discontinue the display at his house. However, beginning in 2006, Disney Hollywood Studio began using music controlled lights as a part of its annual Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights display, and other homeowners began to create their own displays. By 2007, preprogrammed commercial versions were available.


Music controlled Christmas lights consist of a light display that is synchronised to a musical track. The display is computer controlled, and the music may be played on speakers or broadcast on a short-range FM radio station. Various sections of the lights flash on and off in coordination with the music, and the displays often include multiple songs, each with its own choreographed show.


The first music-controlled Christmas lights were programmed manually, and some enthusiasts still continue to do their own programming. However, this is time-consuming, often taking weeks or months and requires special equipment, such as miniature solid state relays and technical knowledge to carry out the programming that coordinates the sound and lights. Many people simply prefer to purchase preprogrammed musical Christmas light displays at retail.


If you are planning to use music-controlled Christmas lights, you must plan whether you will program them yourself or purchase a pre-made display. You must also decide whether you will need to use a transmitter to play the music on a short-range FM station in order to prevent disturbance to your neighbours. You may wish to limit your display to certain hours as another way of being courteous to your neighbours.

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