Build a Monster 32 by 16 Feet LED Matrix Wall for Low Cost – PART 1

Audio VU Meter function of Jinx. The 32 x 16 foot matrix covers all of the back of the stage.

Did you ever want to build a huge LED matrix wall but didn’t know where to start.  Well I have designed and built a massive 32 feet wide by 16 feet tall LED matrix wall and I’m going to tell you how it is done on the inexpensive side.  It can do animated graphics, show video, mix video with graphics and show static images.  This LED matrix wall cost a hundred times less than one you would buy commercially and works just as well with a few tweaks here and there.  Commercial panels cost a small fortune just for a 2 foot by 2 foot panel.  With this home built DIY LED matrix panel, you save thousands of dollars and the results are really unbelievable.  I love the tech we have available to us today.

A lot of the technology used to build this massive wall came from the current Christmas light show technology but I adapted it to be used as a LED matrix wall.  The parts used in building the wall are all stock and not modified in any way.  Just standard supplies that any Christmas light show DIYer might use,… just in a different way.  There is no compromise on speed either.  This LED matrix wall can do 40 frames per second on all video and animations.  That is pretty amazing considering all that is going on in the background.

The LEDs used in building the matrix is a type of LED called a RGB bullet pixel using a WS2812 chipset. Each LED has a small chip in it that reads the data, sets the color of the LED and passes the data to the next LED down the line.  These are commonly used in Christmas lighting displays but we are using them for a different purpose.  Most of these bullet LEDs come in a string of 50, prewired with power and data connectors on both ends.  This means they can be plugged end to end.  They are also really inexpensive! We will get into all of the details later about the LEDs but just wanted you to know what we are working with.

Showing a video in Jinx of flickering candles. The room was hazed for the lighting so the matrix also looks a little hazy due to the photo taken from the back of the auditorium.

The Matrix I built and detailed here has 10,800 LEDs.  It is arranged in a 144 column by 75 rows matrix.  That sounds pretty low-res but it is plenty to show a video or do really fantastic animations or even mixed.  You can’t show really tiny text but it really works great with all other text sizes.  The actual mounting boards are 4 x 8 feet black coroplast (plastic cardboard basically) and there are 16 of them.  This allows us to make a matrix 32 feet wide by 16 feet tall with the LEDs being a tad over 2 inches apart horizontally and vertically.  It’s just like artwork… It won’t look good at just a few feet away but once you step back about 20 feet or more, it comes to life.

The software that does all of the work is called Jinx, a free LED matrix software package.  I find this software to be an amazing piece of work and allows you to do so many things with this LED Matrix, you won’t know where to start.  It can display a video (size conversion on the fly), show static images (converts size on the fly), do graphic animations and text and a ton more.  It does all of this blazingly fast with low cpu usage.  It is truly an amazing piece of software.

Just because I built this to be 32 feet by 16 feet, you don’t have to stick to that.  You can take the same design I am going to give you here and pack it into a tighter design like say.. a 16 by 8 display with only an inch spacing between the LEDS or even tighter.   You can build with less LEDs if you like.  Just requires some figuring out LED count numbers and channels for the new amount of LEDs.  I will tell you how to do that later.

Using the flying words objects in Jinx. The words start out small and grow large fast then disappear. These words are triggered by audio frequencies. Really cool.

I originally built this for my church as a full backdrop behind the band and stage for around $2500.00.  We use it during the worship music and then display the series logo on it during the message. We have a large music program every year and this was built for that. It is then  used as a backdrop for services.  You can build and use it for any purpose you like but just remember that this is very large.  It could probably be made more portable if you need it to be but for me, my purpose was a fixed installation.  It is somewhat modular but can be made even more modular for your purposes with a slight bit of more work.  For portability though, I think the smaller you make this, the better.  For permanent installations, go big!

Okay, now you know what it is all about, lets get into the details.

Parts You Will Need

Over 10,800 WS2812 Bullet Pixels
About $1500 to $1800 from China.
About $2550 from Amazon.
Get a few extra strings of 50 if you can to use to replace bad pixels when they happen.  Some will quit on you.
MAKE SURE TO GET THEM ALL FROM THE SAME PLACE!  All pixel manufacturers products seem to differ in brightness and responsiveness.  You want them all to act the same exact way. Stick with one vendor if you can.  I mixed in 800 from another vendor/manufacturer and part of one panel dims out before the rest of the matrix so beware.  I had to make some adjustments.
I got 10,000 from one vendor on dhgate.com for about $1350.00.  They are excellent.  You need 800 more so try to find a vendor that can supply like 11,000 or so at a low price.  The nice thing about dhgate is most vendors will ship by DHL (often for free) so you get your stuff pretty quickly.  Also look for site and seller coupons on the dhgate.com website and save even more.

You can get them from Amazon but it will cost you quite a bit more.  For say 11,000 LEDs (with 4 extra strings for replacement), it would cost you about $2550.00.  They come in lots of 500 pixels for about $116.00.  You can keep a watch.  Sometimes they have some with lower prices.  It’s your choice.  Just make sure you get them all from the same place.  Sometimes its better to order and have stuff shipped from here in the U.S.A. from like Amazon even though basically, they all come from China.

Falcon F16V3 Pixel Controller
This is the brain of the system and runs about $200.  It converts the DMX messages from the PC (running Jinx Matrix Software) into SPI format… the format most smart LED strips/strings speak.  It is fast and can do 40 frames per second.  It has 16 channels and we use all of them to make sure our matrix runs as fast as possible.

Controller box
This is up to you but you should put the controller in something to protect it.  I have been running this matrix for a while and the controller never gets hot so as long as you put some ventilation holes, you shouldn’t need a fan.  You can get this box at the link I provided or get you own.  It doesn’t matter.  Just protect your controller.

Jinx LED Matrix Software
FREE.   This software talks to the LED controller using E1.31 Ethernet DMX messaging.  That sounds complicated but it’s something you doopen n’t even have to mess with.  All of that is handled behind the scenes.  Jinx allows you to put up videos, images and animated graphics up on your LED Matrix.  You can even trigger animation by sound.  It automatically resizes images and videos on the fly so no special editing of images or video os required.  Video just needs to be in .avi format.
It is for PC only and you need one free open network output out of your pc to connect to the controller with a regular network cable.  You can also use a usb to 1gb network adapter.  I use one of these on my laptop when testing the matrix since my laptop has no network connectors.

16 5 volt 60 amp Power Supplies
About $22 a piece.  These power supplies have been very reliable for me and supply more than enough power.  I have this project designed to where each power supply will be utilized about 2/3rds of it’s capacity so we are not stressing the power supplies.  That means we use 16 power supplies, one per 4 by 8 sheet panel.  With this design, each panel can pull about 40 amps of power at 5 volts at full power draw (LEDS turned on to all white).  Quality control is sometimes bad so you might get one that was bent or smashed but since it is Amazon, it is easy to send back for replacement or just order an extra or two at this price.  Most places are charging 30 to 50 dollars for these same power supplies.  Also, these always come set for 220 volt so you always have to slide the voltage selector switch to 110 for the USA.  It’s on the side.

Extra 3 pin connectors 
These are used to add connections from the controller to the light strings and other connections you may want to make.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

250 feet 12-2 Electrical Wire
You can pick a roll of this up in just about any larger hardware store.

16 4’x8′ coroplast panels BLACK
You can order online but cheaper to get through local print shop.  This is basically corrugated plastic.  Just like cardboard, just a plastic equivalent.   They come in 4′ x 8′ sheets and most colors are about $20.00 or less per sheet.  For some reason though, black always cost higher.  I ordered mine through a local print shop and it was not more expensive so it’s up to you.  You can even or white or other color and paint it black.  Just a bit more work.  You could even leave it white if you wanted to.  Not sure how that will affect the reflected colors but it could be worth playing with.  I have the link above set to some coroplast on Home Depots website so you can see exactly what we are talking about.

Common and Special Tools you may need

Drill stand – One small piece of equipment that may help you when drilling holes for the bullet pixels into the coroplast, you may want a neat little device that turns your drill into a drill press.  You don’t need it if you are drilling one panel at a time but if you are doing them all at once, I recommend using this.  Amazon has them and it really came in handy when drilling to keep the drill completely vertical…

Any Drill – Electric or Battery
You may want to use a regular electric drill because you are going to be drilling a lot of holes.  You may get aggravated to have to keep stopping and charging batteries unless you have a lot of batteries for your drill.

12mm Drill Bits
You will need to drill 12 millimeter holes and lots of them.   You can use the spade type drill bits or regular drill bits as long as they are 12mm.

Soldering Iron and rosin core solder
I used one of the big Weller gun soldering iron types because they heat up as soon as you pull the trigger and are a higher wattage suitable for soldering to larger wire sizes like 12-2 house wiring.  Smaller soldering irons may have trouble heating up the 12-2 wire quick enough and may just frustrate you.

Auto Wire Strippers
Do yourself a favor and use a really good pair of auto wire strippers.  You will be stripping the insulation off of a lot of wire and your hands will thank you for it.  Just search for them on google.  Most larger hardware stores also carry them also.  You just put the wire to be stripped in it, squeeze your hand together and boom… your down to the bare wire.

Diagonal Wire/Side Cutters
you will use these a lot for cutting wires to length, cutting off excess wire, LEDs, etc…

Electrical Tape
Buy a few rolls.  You can’t have too much of this stuff.

Phillip Screw Drivers
Electric or manual… whatever you prefer.

Flat Blade Jewelers Screwdriver
This is to attach wires to the connectors on the controller.  I don’t remember if the controller came with one or not but have one on hand just in case.

Saw – electric or other type of hand saw
Used for cutting small wooden supports (furring strips) to mount the panels.

Voltage Meter
Used for checking voltages in various places when needed.  Any old or new voltage meter will work.

Clamps
Use for holding the sheets together while drilling if you want to drill the 16 sheets of coroplast all at the same time.

Two 8 foot Folding Tables
These aid in the assembly of panels.  It is easier to lay the panels on the tables to pop in the many bullet LEDs into mthe holes drilled.

4 Saw Horses
Used to put the panels on when drilling the holes.  You could do it on the tables but make sure you don’t drill through the table when drilling the panels.

Work Gloves
You will need these when popping in the LEDs into the Coroplast.  You will be doing 10,800 LEDs so your fingers will get sore without gloves.  Believe me.

Okay. That gives you all of the details of what it is,  what you need and where to get it.  Now let’s get started into building the panels.

Click here for Part 2