How to control LED strips (WS2812) with Chamsys MagicQ

This blog is an elaboration of my YouTube video which has been fairly well received since I uploaded it.

I’ll be going into more detail into what’s theoretically possible in terms of maximum outputs and total length in this blog, as well as outlining a few hiccups I had along the way.

On the whole, it’s pretty impressive what you can do with LED tape and perspex as we’ve created a number of 2D and 3D infinity elements. You can give 2d shapes a new sense of depth and the possibilities are endless.

6 months ago, I had no idea about anything light related. The term DMX was often used by the external lighting crew and the whole concept seemed pretty complicated. I can assure you that once a few fundamentals click, such as understanding electricity and DMX universes, you’ll be confident in creating your own installations. All it takes is a few dedicated hours on YouTube,

Building on what I’d learned, we created a new stage for Trippy Visions for our March tour in Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. We’ve unofficially named it the ‘Octowarp’ but it’s still open for discussion. It does look like something out of Star Wars though.

The video explains the how-to part of the process pretty well. Before you start though, I suggest watching the following videos

This should give you a good foundation on which to start playing around with the software. I’ve chosen the Chamsys MagicQ (download) software as it’s free and supports up to 64 universes. To my knowledge, Chamsys are one of the leaders in this field, supplying stadium level lighting consoles. When operating LEDs for a show, I tend to opt for the PC Wing or Mini Wing.

Many reputable stage equipment hire companies will have Chamsys equipment in stock. I tend to hire from SBSAV when doing events in Manchester, Leeds of Liverpool. If you can’t find a lighting company near you via Google, you can always use the MagicQ owners group website.

Once you have the knowledge and the software, you’ll want to look at getting some hardware in to start tinkering around. You’ll need the following:

 

What’s theoretically possible?

So with Chamsys, as mentioned earlier you can use up to 64 universes. Each output on the DMX controller is a universe, so the 4 channel controller (4CH) outputs 4 universes and the 16 channel controller (16CH) outputs 16 universes. I’ve tested this with 2 x 16 channel controllers and all worked perfectly so in theory, you could use 4 x 16 channel controllers. 

The 4CH allows up to 680 control pixels per channel whereas the 16CH is only 340. With the LED tape, each individual LED needs 3 control pixels, one each for red, blue and green. That equates to 680/3 = 226 pixels for 4CH and 340/3 = 113 pixels for the 16CH.

Dependent on the tape you choose, either 30 leds/metre or 60 leds/metre, you can then work out how much length you can get from each output (aka programmable universe). Here are some examples

4CH

226 pixels at 30 leds/metre = 226 / 30 = 7.53m per output (I haven’t seen the tape in lengths longer than 5m though)

226 pixels at 90 leds/metre = 226 / 90 = 2.51m per output

16CH

113 pixels at 30 leds/metre = 113 / 30 = 3.76m per output’

113 pixels at 90 leds/metre = 113 / 90 = 1.25m per output

So they’re some examples of the length of tape you can have for each output. All you do next is multiple by the number of outputs and you’ll have a figure of the total length of LED tape you can control per controllers. Let’s do this with the 30 leds/metre tape

4CH – 4 x 7.5m = 30m total

16CH – 16 x 3.7m = 59.2m total

Now that we have that figure and as Chamsys supports up to 64 universes, we can work out the theoretical total length of tape we could control from one PC.

16CH – 4 individual controllers x 59.2m total = 236.8m total – That’s a lot…

Powering your controllers

First of all, be careful when playing around with wires/electricity. I’d still class myself as a novice and I’ve both fused my house and created sparks and given myself a rather nasty shock from an exposed wire. Always turn off the power when wiring. I’ve only used the wire connections as seen in the video, but in the future, I’ll be using some fork crimp connectors to connect the power supplies to the controllers.

To work out how much power you’ll need, look a the description on the listing for the LED tape. The listing I visited had the following

30leds/m—-9watt/meter

60leds/m—-18watt/meter

74leds/m—-22.2watt/meter

96leds/m—-28.8watt/meter

144leds/m—-43.2watt/meter

Your power supply also needs to be 5V. The new WS2815 led tape, for example, has an input voltage of 12V.

Let’s take my triangle infinity stage to work out what power is required.

So the stage consists of 11 x 3m runs for the triangles (30 leds/m = 27 watt per triangle) and 6 x 1m runs for the pyramids (60 leds/m = 18 watt per pyramid).

(9 x 27 watt = 243 watt) + (6 x 18 watt = 108) = 351 total watt

For this, I used 2 x 200W power supplies. I’ve heard you shouldn’t really exceed 80% of the power supplies capacity though, so up the wattage if necessary. I increased it to 2 x 300w power supplies for our latest stage.

 

Extending your cables

To extend your LED cables, purchase some 3 core wire and some 2 conductor splicing connectors. Simply strip the wire, and connect. Your LED tape should come with both a male and female connector on each end. Strip one and then connect this to the 3 core wire using the splicing connectors.

 

Using multiple controllers

In order to controller multiple controllers, you will need an ethernet network switcher and as many ethernet cables as you have controllers. Setting up additional controllers is simple, just change the IP address to say 2.9.200.2 and then 2.9.200.3 etc. Plug them all into the ethernet switcher and then change the output universes for example (16CH)

Controller 2 – output 1 = universe 17

Controller 2 – output 2 = universe 18

Controller 3 – output 1 = universe 33

Controller 3 – output 2 = universe 34

 

Problems I’ve faced

I’ve spent a lot of time playing around with all this equipment and I have faced a few consistent problems.

  1. Output pins getting fried on the controllers: I’m not sure why this is, whether there’s a surge of power to the controllers but I’m on my 3rd controller now. The first two have had over 10 of the pins fried on each. This normally happened if I turned off the power without disconnecting all the tape from the controller first. On the 3rd controller, I’ve used it for a few shows and one of the outputs no longer works. This is annoying when you’ve got 16 lots of LED tape for your stage, meaning I’ve had to use another controller as a back up for the one output that doesn’t work. Make sure to unplug all the LED tape from the controller before powering down.
  2. Splicing connectors coming loose: make sure to strip the wires clean and shove them as far into the splicing connector as possible. Another alternative to this is soldering, but I haven’t got onto that yet.
  3. LED tape becoming unstuck: for my the stages we’ve created, we normally apply to LED tape to some sort of wood/MDF material. Using the sticky side of the LED tape doesn’t create a long lasting finish, and the tape had regularly came apart from its position. Use either double sided tape or superglue to attach LED tape to another material.
  4. Power drop on certain colours: whenever the full stage is on either white/magenta, there is a noticeable power drop, with hints of yellow when white and pink when magenta. Try using higher watt power supplies.

I believe that’s everything! If you have any problems, don’t hesitate to leave a comment on the YouTube video and I’ll quick to respond. Other than that, share with me your creations!