ChristmasCave Getting Started information

Hey there! Glad to hear you're interested in computer control of your lights.

There are many methods of controlling your lights with the computer. However the choices one has and all the information about this subject can become quite confusing.  Dasher is only a piece of software and it has to interact with a piece or pieces of hardware in order to control lights and/or other devices.  The hardware is what actually switches the AC voltage on and off and can be the part of the puzzle that is confusing.

You'll notice under the hardware pages on this site there is a chart comparing 4 different technologies.  These technologies are:

The serial technology uses a PC's serial port.

The parallel technology uses a PC's parallel port(s).

Digital I/O cards are boards you can place into your computer that have digital outputs on them.

X10 is a technology that uses your home's power lines in the walls to transfer control signals.  If you want to learn more about how X10 devices work go to  You'll see that in order to interface X10 devices to a computer you need another device (such as a CM11A, CP290, Lynx10, or the FireCracker/CM17A) to do this.  These devices connect to your computer's serial port.  Currently DasherX10 only supports the CM11A.  DasherFC supports the FireCracker (CM17A) device.

Typically you choose one of the 4 technologies to use to control your display.  That doesn't mean you can't use more than one at a time or switch technologies at some later date.  However a person usually starts with one and then adjusts as their display(s) change(s) and grow over time.  Currently any given version of Dasher only supports one type of interface.

Now we've defined the 4 technologies.  But all of the above still aren't a control box.  The above mentioned technologies are simply different types of interfaces between the computer and the control boxes.  The basic definition of a control box is something that takes a computer-controlled low voltage signal and uses it to turn high power line voltage (such as 110 or 220 VAC) on and off.

Now that we've come this far check out this link for a few pictures of how things can be connected together:  Setup Descriptions

Basically you start with a PC, add an interface technology, and then connect a control box to that.  Then your lights and/or other devices connect to the control boxes.

In order to get started I would first recommend these steps:

  1. Decide what you want to put on display.  Your house?  Perhaps you'd make something?
  2. Where will these be physically?  On the house?  Where on the house?  In the house?  In the yard?  On trees?  etc....
  3. Decide where you'd like to place your computer in relationship to the lights.  This will help you figure out how many extension cords and/or control cables you'll be needing as well as how long they need to be.
  4. Decide how many and what type of lights will be used.  This will help with voltage/current calculations as well as help you figure out how many switchable channels you'll need in your display.
  5. Will the display be animated?  If so, what type of animation?  Mechanical or "with light" (i.e. frames of animation).

Once all of the above is decided a lot of other questions will be answered automatically.

We know this can seem like a long process but the results are definitely worth the effort.

If you would like we can help step you through the process and answer your questions along the way.  If you've got a question, go ahead and ask it.

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