SanDevices Pixel Controller Learning Center
How pixels work and why you need a SanDevices E681 or E6801 controller.
RGB pixels represent the ultimate level of control in computerized lighting displays. Pixels allow the lighting display designer to have the ability to control each individual light element separately, both brightness and color. You are no longer limited to controlling entire strings of lights, instead you have the ability to set each and every LED on each and every string to the specific color and intensity you choose. This allows literally unlimited creativity in display design.
The typical RGB pixel string is, in appearance, similar in many ways to a standard string of LED lights, but there are several important differences:
Each light actually has 3 separate LEDs inside, red, green, and blue. They are very close together so that by mixing these 3 primary colors, virtually any color in the spectrum can be obtained.
Each LED element is larger, because each pixel contains a tiny circuit board with a small microcontroller. It’s that ‘chip’ in each pixel that allows each and every pixel to be controlled independently.
Pixel strings are wired with either 3 or 4 wires, depending on the type of control chips used, instead of just 2 wires.
Pixel strings don’t just plug “into the wall”, they have to be connected to a pixel controller.
That’s where the SanDevices Controller Products come in, they act as the bridge that allows the display software running on your PC to communicate with your pixels.
Though the technology involved is quite complex, putting together an RGB pixel system need not be. You need 4 basic pieces to make a complete pixel system:
1) A PC running lighting control software that is compatible with the E1.31 (sometimes called SACN) or Art-Net industry standards.
(see the lighting software tab for more information)
2) A pixel power supply, perhaps more than one depending on the number of pixels to be controlled and how they are arranged.
These power supplies will typically be either 5 or 12 volts DC to match the voltage of the pixels you are using, but there are 24 volt pixels availabel as well.
3) One or more pixel controllers. The controllers connect to the pixel power supply, your network, and the pixels themselves.
3 Wire Bullet Style Pixels
4 Wire LED Pixel Strip
Ray Wu Pigtail
Paul Zhang Pigtail
Obtaining Pixels and Power Supplies:
The controller is just one part of a pixel system. For a complete system you will also need at least one power supply and at least one string or strip of pixels.
Virtually all RGB pixels are manufactured in China. We are often asked why we don’t sell pixels. The answer is that we like to focus on what we do best. There are many good pixel vendors but one that we specifically recommend is Ray Wu. Here’s a link to his store on AliExpress: https://www.aliexpress.com/store/701799
He has a good selection, good pricing, and a good reputation. Also, if you are considering the SanDevices Pixel System One product, Ray can provide any of his pixels with the proper mating cables pre-attached so that they will plug directly into the PS1.
ALWAYS email Ray with your proposed order. Ask questions up front, rather than be surprised later. Ray will often come up with lower shipping costs than the Alibaba calculator quotes, so please make it a point to email him for a quote rather than just placing the order online.
You should keep in mind that we are talking about a mass-produced product, and if you order hundreds or even thousands of pixels, it’s probably not realistic to expect 100% working pixels. Although Ray is good about sending replacements for bad pixels, what you’ll get is individual pixels, it’ll be up to you to wire them in, in place of the bad ones.
There are the standard 12mm pixels that come on strings, there are pixels that come as flat strips, and there are large pixels in various shapes and sizes. Pixel style selection is usually based on what you’re planning to light. Strings are common for lighting trees, building mega-trees, hanging vertically for aq snowfall effect, etc. Strings are probably the most versatile form.
Pixel strips can be used for windows, gutters, rooflines, etc. The main restriction with pixel strips is the bend radius, they can’t make sharp corners. Pixel strips usually have 3 tri-color LEDs per pixel, so you will be lighting up 3 adjacent lights at a time. Strips are very bright, but also the light is directional.
Pixel voltage is another choice:
5 volt and 12 volt pixels are the most common. Pixel strips usually use 12 volts, but pixel strings can be 5 volts or 12 volts. Lower voltage pixels tend to be more power efficient, higher voltage pixels can often be made in longer strings. 50 pixels is a common limit for 5-volt pixel strings. Some 12-volt pixels can have strings as long as 128 pixels. It is usually possible to create much longer strings by connecting multiple strings together end to end, but this type of installation often needs special types of power wiring.
Pixel controller chip type is another selection to make:
You must choose pixels that use a control chip that your pixel controller supports. The SanDevices controllers are compatible with the following pixel control chips: 2801, 6803, TLS3001, 1804, 1806, 1809, native 1-wire DMX, and the GE ColorEffect pixels (sold at Costco and big-box stores). This list is not complete, SanDevices controllers will control virtually any smart pixel on the market and support for new pixel types is added regularly.
Some pixels use 3 wires, some use 4, it just depends on the control chip type.
Another important consideration when choosing pixels is the number of different intensity levels:
8-bits, or 256 dim levels, is the most common (2801, 180x)
5-bits are used for one of the older chips, the 6803. This gives only 32 dimming levels.
4-bits of intensity, or 16 dim levels, is what the GE ColorEffects pixels offer. They are not suitable for slow, gradual dimming.
12-bit dimming is the advantage of the TLS3001 pixels, for 4,096 dimming levels. Although you don’t need 4,096 intensity levels, there are some significant advantages to having 12-bit capability, particularly if you are creating a pixel matrix to display images or video.
Virtually all pixel vendors sell power supplies as well. Power supplies are commonly 12 volt, but 5 volt and 24 volt supplies are sometimes used. The voltage of the power supply must match the voltage of the pixels! Meanwell 350 watt power supplies, or generics, are often used and can power up to about 1,000 standard pixels.
SanDevices currently manufactures two controller products for RGB pixels, the E6804 and the E682. These controllers offer a rich set of features unrivaled in the industry. Features common to both controllers are:
• Industry’s first 12-bit pixel support with user-selectable gamma correction: (TLS3001 and CYT3005 pixels)
• Control of up to 16 separate pixel strings or strips (4 for the E6804)
• Any output can drive any number of pixels, over multiple universes, up to the full capacity of the controller.
• Control of up to 2,040 individual pixels using Unicast E1.31 or Art-Net, 1,190 pixels using Multicast E1.31
• Simplified wiring, each pixel string connector supplies data and power to pixels over a single cable
• Uses industry standard E1.31 and Art-Net protocols.
• Ethernet connection eliminates need for hardware “dongles” and special data wiring, just plug PC and controller(s) into your LAN
• Many pixel types supported including: LPD6803, LPD880x, WS2801, TM180x, TLS3001, CYT3005, DMS9813, GE ColorEffects, WS2811, 1903, 9813, WS2811, WS2812, and 1-wire native DMX pixels, – more supported pixel types than any other controller
• All configuration and status reporting is done using the built-in web server
• MANY Advanced configuration options included RGB color order, string length, pixel grouping, pixel type, reversed and zig-zagged strings, ‘null’ pixels, DMX addressing range, universe spanning, gamma correction, and more
• Simultaneously supports two different pixel voltages (single voltage for E6804)
• Simultaneously supports up to 4 different pixel types
• Built-in test patterns to aid in system setup and troubleshooting
• Firmware updates may be done remotely over the network, no need for special programming tools, ideal when updating already-installed controllers since there is no need for physical access to the controller
• Outputs can be configured to send standard DMX universes (may be used as a 12-universe E1.31 to DMX bridge)