Christmas Lights Hacked

GE Color Effects G35 Christmas LightsAfter working on my last hardware project, the Ara’Kus (a heavy metal opera) flickering/wireless lantern, I have moved on to hacking some Christmas lights.BJ Becker

I found that many people liked GE’s Color Effects G-35 lights. I happen upon this set of lights at Costco while shopping with my family. The price tag was ~$65 w/o tax. This seemed cheap for a string of 50 addressable rgb LEDs, but expensive for a set of Christmas lights. I didn’t buy them that day. Instead I sneaked over to Costco after work one day and picked them up under the radar.

I tried out the preset and found them less than desirable. Of course I needed to fix that. My plan was to be able to control the light via an Android app or web site or some such. I had the grand idea of allowing uses to write there own controller script (ECMAScript). I still think this is a good idea, but only after I have more stands that I could put in a 20×20 matrix ($570 w/tax in lights, ouch) or something. For now I am just going to use a simple web form to pick from a list of preset programs.

I found that sowbug’s G35Arduino library was a good place to start. I used the TiconXmas2012 example as a baseline. It was pretty easy to add new LightProgram classes to the ProgramRunner. I also modified ProgramRunner to provide the randomization of the LightPrograms and to allow a program to be specified via a byte provided from serial input. With this simple solution I could use an XBee module attached to an Arduino Fio to read remote serial communication. In other words I could put my Christmas lights outside and control them from my computer inside. With this wireless magic I was able to write a simple HTTP server that would relay the selected program (from a browser) to the XBee and ultimately to the Arduino Fio. I did this all on a breadboard. The power supply that comes with the G35 lights supplies 5V @ 3A. The Arduino Fio runs on 3.3V. I took the simple approach of using a fix linear voltage regulator with some filter caps. I tested the 3.3V supply with my DS1052E oscilloscope to find the most quiet filter configuration for the output. This involved a 0.1uF capacitor on the input and output and a 10uF electrolytic capacitor on the output as well. I replaced the data line going to the GE MCU with one going to a digital pin on the Arduino Fio (pin 13).

Here is a short demo of the lights on my workbench (it’s blurry, I know):

I’ll leave the reader to write there own version of this stuff. I suggest reading up on XBee series 2 communications as they apply to Arduino Fio. I also suggest checking out sowbug’s G35Arduino library. There are a bunch of libs out there that work very well so if you find one you like please let me know. If I have time and am motivated maybe I’ll clean up the code for all or some of the areas and post them. If you are interested in this please let me know.

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14 responses to Christmas Lights Hacked


  1. Jamie

    Cool! Where are they – on the front porch? I think people would buy these from you. ..

    • They are hooked on to the gutter over the garage. I’ll post a video of that soon.
      People won’t buy them from me because I took a consumer product and modified it. I don’t think GE would be too excited if people started selling there products if they were changed in anyway. There also many people out there that have done something very similar to what I have done here. That is why I was able to get it done so quickly.

  2. CEM -1

    Jeremy, this is really fun! Such possibilities!
    Lightening storms – lights mounted on dark backdrop for one.
    S

  3. What can I say, playing with led is always fun. I personally have a sort of passion for this kind of things and if throughout the year I make experiments with lamps and lanterns, this is the best time to break the patterns and, like you said, hack some Christmas lights 😀

  4. tave

    This is really cool, could you post your source for your webapp?

  5. GM

    Have you gone back to this? I bought a sting of GE35 lights with the plan of hacking 

    them by Chritmas. got busy and just put then up on the garage about the 20th. Then I thought I’d

    do red, white, and blue for the 4th……. I do now have an UNO and have been able to write a

    Sketch and fire relays on a 16 relay board. Can you point me a direction to get an wifi interface

    Understanding? I have massive industrial control experience but no programming until now

    Nor much of this type of interfacing…..

  6. Evalyn Bloomstrand

    Super Duper Cool Site Man!!!

  7. Faustina Severyn

    Do you have any video of that? I’d like to find out more details.

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