What does RGB Pixel Lighting mean? I’m sure there are many better resources here first light, but I’ll share what I’ve personally used.
Smart and Dumb RGB Pixel Lighting
Most of the lights I use can control each bulb – I can set the color and the intensity of one bulb, and the bulb after it can be completely different. These are typically referred to as “Smart” strings.
However, there are also lights available where the entire strand can change color, but all of the bulbs in that strand are the same color. These are called “Dumb” strings.
I used these very early in our Christmas display journey but didn’t keep these for long. These used to be much cheaper than the smart strings, but not sure now. If I was going to recommend anything, I’d recommend getting all smart strings – so then you’ll have less variation in wiring for your display. That’s a bigger deal than you think!
I’d personally stick smart strings (vs dumb strings) because:
- There will be variability in the wiring between smart and dumb strings (something else to mess up).
- If you choose to “upgrade” your elements and reuse the lights from something you’ve built, smart strings will give you the most versatility.
- I don’t believe the cost of smart strings is so significantly different (though I may be proven wrong here).
- If you want an element to be all one color, that can easily be done in programming, but you would have the option to change it if you fancy that later.
They’re not bulbs, they’re pixels:
So, if you hear the word pixel, it’s the same as an RGB bulb. But much easier to say.
12V or 5V?
You will see options for both 12V LEDs and 5V LEDs. I purposely chose 12V due to the need for longer-length cables (since my yard is quite large). You need to make a choice early in the game, then DO NOT CHANGE. Your goal is to keep the variability of the types of LEDs, Power Supplies, settings, etc. to a minimum. I’m happy with the 12V decision but you can read further whether you want to choose differently.
TM1804IC 1-chip Pixels
These were some of the original smart strings I used. These were run off older-style controller boards, but can also be run on the new Falcon boards (which is all I use now).
I still have these lights, but I do tend to use these for ground elements, primarily since they’re older and may have a greater chance of going out. I say that, but I don’t see any more of these going out vs. my newer strands, strange.
If you’ve purchased any of my elements or lights, you can verify which “vintage” you have by looking at the actual bulb. On one side, there is a large chip with 8 leads and on the other side, there’s no chip.
I keep spares of these bulbs since these are no longer available. However, they work just fine and you cannot tell much of a difference between these and the newer bulbs when they are lit up.
WS2811 2-chip Pixels
The majority of our elements are using this later version. Ray Wu had improved the quality of the pixel epoxy from the original design, so these aren’t as significantly impacted by UV exposure. There are also other advantages to this design, but I don’t have those details nor do I care. I know that these are what I’d buy again if I need new pixels.
If you go out to Ray Wu’s website, search on WS2811 12V pixels. You’ll see many different options (larger wire gauge, wire colors above or all black, different sizes, etc.) and all should be reasonable.
If you’re going to buy more than one strand (and you need to if you’re going to deal with China shipping), make sure to send a message to Ray to get a custom quote. It’s cheaper EVERY TIME if you do this. Just do it.
Shockingly, this 2-chip design uses 2 chips. Crazy, right? You’ll see a large chip similar to the 1-chip pixels, but on the other side, there is a smaller chip.
One chip, Two chip, Red chip, Blue chip… why do I care?
The biggest deal is that all colors are not the same. So, when you try to connect these bulbs to your controller, functions for “Green” aren’t the same. This is an EXCELLENT way to screw up the wiring (not that I’ve done that… 100 times…).
To remind me of these wiring differences, I put the following table together:
This will become quite helpful when you begin connecting the bulbs to your controllers or to other connectors (to make things easier to plug and unplug). RGB Pixel Lighting.