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The Ultimate Tree FAQ

Here is a list of questions I've received over the years. If you have a question please send it to me.

 

How much power does the Ultimate tree use?

The Ultimate Tree is the ultimate “Green” Christmas display.  It generates all its light using LEDs.  LEDs are solid state semiconductors that are very efficient, wasting almost no power in the form of heat like a conventional light bulb.  In total there are 14,400 LEDs that make up the tree, with the equivalent light output of 550 one-hundred watt light bulbs (but without all the heat).  The entire tree runs on one standard 15-amp circuit and draws less power than your refrigerator.

What is the life of the LEDs?

The typical life of this type of LED is 100,000 hours.  If you consider that the Ultimate Tree is only running 5 hours per night, they should last approximately 20,000 nights, or 333 years worth of Christmas seasons.  In practice LEDs tend to lose some of their brightness over time.

What is a pixel?

A pixel is a group of LEDs that form one individual light source as seen by your eye.  Each pixel on our tree is made up of 19 individual LEDs all placed very close together.  There are 760 pixels on the tree (with 19 LEDs each).  So there are 14,440 LEDs that make up the tree.

How many colors can the pixels produce?

Each pixel has red, green and blue LEDs, much like a color television (except the pixels on a TV are much smaller).  By combining those three colors you can theoretically make any possible color.  In our case each color within the pixel (i.e. Red, Green, Blue) can be one of 256 values.  So the total number of possible colors is 256*256*256 or 16,772,216 colors.  In practice the human eye would have a hard time distinguishing between subtle color differences – especially when the tree is sooooo bright. 

How far can you see the Ultimate tree from?

The view is blocked by the neighborhood houses.  Otherwise, the LEDs are so bright that it could probably be seen from many miles.

Can you see it from Space?

No.  LEDs are quite directional in their light output.  The LEDs used in the tree have a 30 degree viewing angle.  So imagine a cone coming out from the tree.  You have to be within that cone to see the LEDs.  Now if you laid the tree on it’s back so it faced straight up you might have a better chance to see it from space.

How much does it weigh?

Although it’s never been weighed, we estimate it weighs about 600 pounds.

How do you anchor it?

An object with this much surface area could easily be picked up and blown a great distance.  The tree and its bracing were specifically engineered to withstand 70+ mph winds.  There are three concrete piers buried 4 feet in the ground and 4 steel braces behind the tree.

How do you put it up and take it down?

After a few years of experience we have perfected the installation and takedown by using a very large crane.  First, we assemble the entire tree on the ground.  Then the crane lifts the entire tree using a reinforced steel backbone.  It is bolted to the ground piers and the reinforcing braces are put in place.  It takes about an hour.

What’s inside the tree?

Each of the pixels is controlled individually by adjusting its brightness and color.  Inside each section of the tree are microprocessor-based driver boards that receive commands from a PC.  In total there are 90 microprocessors inside the tree parts controlling the 760 pixels.

How many computers run the show?

It takes a lot of computing horsepower and synchronization to run the show.  In total there are three Dell PCs that run the entire show.  There is one PC that is the master show director.  Its plays the music and directs the other two PCs.  There is a second PC dedicated just to the Ultimate Tree.  The third PC runs all the other lights on the house. 

Where does the music come from?

The music comes from a dedicated MP3 player that is synchronized to the master computer.  Each light change in the show is tightly synchronized to each song’s timing.

How does the radio work?

The radio is an FM transmitter and operates under the FCC’s regulations for license-free, very low power FM transmitters.  To comply it has to follow a set of strict set of rules and regulations intended to prevent interference to any commercial station.

The transmitter gets its music from the MP3 player and transmits on an empty frequency.  It is a high-quality, stereo signal for maximum enjoyment while sitting in your warm car.

How far will the FM transmitter go?

Because of the FCC’s power restrictions for license-free transmissions, the signal will not travel very far.  It does have a very clear signal in any area where you would be able to watch the show from.

How do you program the pictures and patterns?

Each song takes many hours to program.  The first step is to go through each song repeatedly and identify the times where light changes should take place.  These are called cues.  This often requires listening to a song dozens of time.  Eventually you have identified the cues - sometimes hundreds of places in a song where a lighting change should take place.  These cues are saved as times, accurate to 1/100th of a second.  Then for each cue a lighting pattern has to be programmed.  Then you watch the show, adjust the cue times if necessary, and revise the lighting patterns until you are satisfied.  (You are never completely happy because it can always be improved.)

Where do you get the pictures displayed on the tree?

Each show is made up of patterns and/or pictures.  The pictures were all drawn on the computer in a graphics editing program.  Some of the pictures are much larger than the tree can display and are scrolled.  Your brain is very good at reconstructing these partial images into a complete picture.

What do your neighbors think?

My neighbors are very good sports.  The tree does not run late into the night and traffic has not been a problem.

Can I buy one?

At one time the Ultimate Tree was envisioned to be a product, but it never materialized.  This is the only one in existence and there are no plans to build any more.