Light Show Advice and Sourcing LEDs

Sorry in advance for a long post here. Looking for advice on getting into the light show hobby on a budget with the realistic expectation that I won’t be creating a professional show that will end up on TV, etc. Instead I’d like to focus on the fun of building the elements (teaching my kids along the way) and keeping it relatively inexpensive.

I’m looking to dip my feet into the holiday light show game. But it’s an EXPENSIVE hobby to get into. So I’ll be looking to start small and add more over the years, as I’ll never be able to justify thousands of dollars for an upfront investment to the wife. Instead, I’ll be looking more to iterate over the years trying to stay under ~$300-ish per year (some wiggle room in the budget, but lower is better).

Using WLED on some esp8266/esp32 boards will definitely help save on costs. I’m not looking to go pro and invest in Falcon (or other large scale boards) at the moment. I do enjoy building things myself, so I don’t mind taking time to make props and take advantage of common materials I may already have instead of buying pre-fab elements. I figure the candy canes I built last year will be my first elements:

Candy Cane Lights - Projects - WLED

Where is everyone buying LEDs these days? It seems like lately AliExpress isn’t much cheaper than Amazon for many of the things I’m looking for. It seems like it’ll be pretty quick/easy to max out my budget on LEDs, as many common light show props use quite a lot of LEDs. I believe last year I spent about $150 on 5x100 WS2811 12v pixel strings from Amazon, in add to some WS2812 LED strips (I think about $30 each) used on the candy canes. Obviously, LEDs aren’t the only things needed though. I also needed extra wire for power injection, waterproof pigtails, etc.

To save costs, I repurposed an old PC power supply rather than purchasing new ones specifically for the LEDs. This worked out great, since it can feed both 12v and 5v power as needed.

I guess in general, I’m looking for any other tips on saving costs along the way (especially for LEDs, since they seem to be the most expensive elements) and/or suggestions for cheap DIY projects that could make nice additions to a hobby-level light show. I’ve been looking through projects here on the WLED community and have definitely seen many creative ideas that would be a nice fit.

Last topic… Does anyone have experience using several/many WLED-controlled devices in something like xLights? Do the wifi-based boards have issues keeping up or running the show effects, etc? I have strong wifi and plenty of bandwidth (with a separate wifi ssid for light show elements).

Thanks in advance for any advice you may have.

Usually people trust BTF lighting LED products. I would say from Amazon Alitove brand is not bad too. Regarding hardware you can use GitHub - srg74/WLED-wemos-shield: Wemos D1 Mini (ESP8266) or Wemos ESP32 D1 Mini (ESP32) based universal shield for WLED firmware or Quindor products like digUno.
Regarding xLights, there is videos on Youtube and some mention on Discord that they have used such a software. Visit WLED Discord for more discussion about topics.

Thanks for the info. I have used both of those brands in the past. So far I haven’t had any issues with quality from them.

I have used some Wemos D1 Minis, but mostly I have been getting the bare esp8266 modules and working with that. It’s less convenient for flashing, etc, but I figure once it’s setup and in place, it should rarely need to be messed with.

Has anyone tried many WLED controllers with xLights? I’ve tried it with 2 and haven’t noticed any issues. Curious to find out if using lots of wifi controllers would eventually slow things down, drop frames, etc.

In case of a lot of wi-if traffic and you not sure everything will be reliable there is a Ethernet boards available too.