By Erik J. Martin
Admit it: Last December or a past holiday season you drove by a nearby home festooned with fantastic props and glowing with colorful LEDs synced to popular Christmas tunes and turned a little green with envy. You asked yourself, “How the heck did that homeowner pull off those Hollywood-style special-effects and attract all those gapers, and how can I do that?”
In the past, many of these elaborate front yard displays required sophisticated equipment and technology that can cost thousands of dollars and practically require an engineering degree to program and sequence. That can still be true, depending on the products/brands you choose and the degree to which you want to thoroughly impress passers-by.
Fortunately, in recent years products have hit the marketplace to simplify matters and lower the price tag for everyday homeowners seeking to create at least a basic outdoor holiday music-and-light show display.
“In general, the digital revolution, the rise of the Internet of things, and the growing popularity of RGB and addressable LED lights have led to innovations on all fronts. This often translates into extraordinary features at a low cost. You’re definitely seeing this with smart lights and the ability to use them in combination with music,” notes Andrea Tellatin, CEO of Twinkly, the Milan, Italy-headquartered makers of app-controlled smart decorative LED lights.
Ignacio Rosenberg, director of Business Development for Lightswitch Inc., agrees.
“There are things today’s lights can accomplish that no traditional Christmas string light could ever do,” he says. Rosenberg cites Philips Hue and Lifx as popular brands that each have lighting products like bulbs and LED strips that can integrate to your music, while Nanoleaf makes flat light panel shapes that can be hung from your windows and built into patterns – including the shape of a Christmas tree – all meant to pulse in unison with the rhythmic beats of a holiday tune.
The simplest way to mesh music and Christmas lights together is to purchase outdoor-rated smart bulbs or LED strips that either have a remote control capability or can be controlled via a smartphone app like Light DJ. The microphone or app can sync your lights with holiday music you can play through a weather-resistant smart speaker such as a JBL Link 20 or Sonos Roam. DGO Electric’s 96-foot RGB LED string light set (sold on Amazon) has a built-in mic, while Twinkly makes a USB mic dongle that works with a connected app and Synchrony employs an LED controller to detect the beats per minute of your songs, enabling their lights to dance in unison with the music.
Mr. Christmas accomplishes this goal in another way: with a power control box you stake into the ground and plug your traditional Christmas light strands into. The box and its built-in mic automatically sync the lights to pre-loaded holiday songs that play directly from the product.
Or, you could create the illusion of Christmas lights matched to sound by using an outdoor projector product.
“Projection technology can transform virtually any space into an instant attention-grabbing holiday scene,” explains Remi Del Mar, senior product manager for Epson America, Inc. “Epson offers an extensive range of 3LCD projection solutions that can help you project a winter wonderland onto your own home, fence, or sidewalk.”
If you want to go the super-deluxe route, you can purchase a kit and accessories from Light-O-Rama, which makes complex synchronized light controllers, motion detectors, animation servos, and other devices that work together to create stunning outdoor displays, but be prepared to pay a lot more money.
The experts recommend researching products carefully to ensure compatibility with your hardware and app or software.
“More or less, all products can usually be integrated with respect to their simpler functions, such as on, off, and brightness level. But some particularly advanced ecosystems, like Twinkly’s, allow more complex things such as integrated scenes, grouping, and native synchronization with music,” Tellatin says.
Music-and-light show products have increased and evolved significantly in just the past five years, so shop around online and in stores to find the newest solutions for your holiday display needs and save money.