Total Control Lighting FAQ


Total Control Lighting

Pixels (P9813 chip)

Q: What chip do Total Control Lighting pixels use?
A: 9813. We use the 9813 which is more expensive but the best functioning IC we’ve ever found.
Other ICs require that all the pixel values be computed, stored into memory, and then sequentially sent to all the lights. Our TCL IC allows each pixel’s values to be computed on the fly and directly sent down the strand. This allows the TCL lights to be addressed with no controller via USB, large arrays to be addressed from an Arduino, and most impressively, installations like the one at the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Francisco to run 3,000 pixels serially from a single $45 Beagle Bone controller at 30 frames per second, flawlessly.

We also have a line of pixels that uses the WS2812 chip, for projects that will be amazingly beautiful for smaller budgets.

Q: How is TCL different from other pixels I could buy?
A: TCL uses the 9813 chip. It has four wires, including one for clock, making its performance extremely reliable, even if you’re neighbors with a tesla coil.
The 4-pin TCL connectors are weatherproof and made specifically for us.
Our patented moulding has been designed for the most creative and demanding uses that our customers can come up with. Multiple detents allow for secure installation in a variety of hole sizes. Square-based pixels have wings for zip ties.
Because TCL pixels are made only for us, they can be customized to your specs with a special order (see below for details).

Q: What are the specs for Total Control Lighting?
wavelength: red = 630 nm, green = 525 nm, blue = 460 nm
power consumption: 0-60 mA per pixel
brightness: red = 3000 mcd, green = 5000 mcd, blue = 900 mcd
IP 65
frame rate: up to 30 fps
color depth:

Q: How do I wire my 4-pin connectors?
A: for connectors (4-pin male/female, Power-T Connector):
green = data
yellow = clock
red = +5V
blue = ground
female supplies signal, male receives signal
for older version jumper wires:
green = clock
white = data
red = +5V
blue = ground
our new version of jumper wires is clearly labeled
for 4-core lead wire:
just be consistent from one end to the other
for 2-core power (e.g. barrel connectors):
red = positive
white = negative
center is positive always

Q: I’m interested in placing a special order for pixels. How does this work?
A: You’re in very good company. Marco Cochrane for Truth is Beauty, Mauricio Bustos for Sea Grass, the DiscoFish, and many other epically beautiful projects have needed custom pixels to meet their unique requirements. This is always our pleasure. Remaining pixels from some of our customers’ orders are available as Special Order pixels in our catalog.
Lead time:
The lead time for a special order of TCL pixels is typically 4 – 6 weeks. Please be aware that by July, custom orders aren’t possible for Burning Man projects.
Pixels are priced at $2/pixel, the same as the base rate for our stock pixels. For custom orders, the quantity discount isn’t available. A setup fee of $250 may be applied to special orders for fewer than 50 strands of 50 pixels.
Customizable specs:
jumper wire length (11cm is standard)
jumper wire color (white is standard)
weatherproof (IP65) / fragile (no PVC mould) / waterproof pixels (at a slightly higher cost). (IP65 is standard)
diffuse pixel head / water clear pixel head (diffuse is standard)
translucent / opaque white moulding (translucent is standard)
50% deposit is required upon placing the order. The remaining 50% is due when the order is shipped.
special order pixels can’t be returned
Please call us at 510-547-5878 if you have any questions about placing a special order

Q: Can I use TCL outdoors?
A: Yes. While the pixels aren’t completely weatherproof without special order, people have been very happy with their outdoor projects. Connectors are weatherproof (IP65); don’t forget to check for the o-ring.


Q: How far can I extend the distance with TCL pixels?
A: Between pixels, up to 2 meters is recommended. That being said, we’ve separated pixels by as much as 20 feet without problems. Out of the controllers seems to be further; we’ve successfully run projects with more than 50 feet between the controller and the first pixel. The largest installation so far with a spacing of 2 feet between each pixel has exceeded a mile between the first and last pixel. Of course, power needs to be regularly inserted every 100 pixels.

Q: What’s the minimum resolution recommended for live screen capture?
A: One, but it’s boring. The software divides the pixel array among the corresponding fields of the live screen capture and averages them, so the more motion, the better, even with fewer pixels. (This is quite surprising). And of course, the more pixels, the better.

Q: What size hole / drill bit is best to use?
A: A 7/16” or 9/16” drill bit works best for bullets.
If you’re using Keebler Cubes, it’s best to use the 9/16” drill bit and the 2nd detent on the pixel moulding.
If you’d like to use washers to keep the pixels in place on flexible surfaces (e.g. leather), the washer’s dimensions should be …

Q: Can you run strands of pixels in parallel from one controller?
A: Yes. Two, three, or four strands coming off one controller (or one port on the Pro) should be OK. Otherwise, if you go crazy, echo can be introduced and the signal can bounce around a bit.


Q: Can I control the pixels wirelessly?
A: Yes. The Pro Controller runs off ethernet, so just put the ethernet on a wifi router that you can source from an electronics store.
Alternatively, use our TCL Mini Controller, which is a very sleek RF receiver with a remote control pad.

Q: What are my options for live input?
A: The Pro Controller can take any image or video on your computer screen and send it to TCL pixels in real time. For example, you can use our free software to capture the window of a music visualizer or flash animation (made with whatever application you have) and transfer it to your pixels live.
Arduino-based input can also be transferred to the pixels live. For example, you can write an Arduino program to assign functions to the knobs, switches, and potentiometers on the Developer’s Shield and control the pixels interactively.

Q: How do I use DMX with Total Control Lighting?
A: The Elite Controller is a fully functioning DMX controller. Simply choose the DMX option in the software.
The Pro Controller can be purchased as a fully functional DMX controller, controlling up to 8 universes, for the same price. Just let us know when you’re placing your order that you’d like to have the DMX version of the controller.
If you have your own controller, TCL lights can listen and respond to a DMX signal with a DMX to TCL converter, an off-catalog item for $50.

Q: Can I use your controllers with non-TCL pixels?
A: With our updated software, you can use the Elite and Pro Controllers to also run pixels that have the WS2801, WS2811, or WS2812 chip.

Q: How do I switch between programs on the Pro Controller?
A: Trick question. The Pro Controller recognizes only one program on the SD card. It’s designed for live operation via ethernet and stored programs on the SD card is not its focus. The Elite Controller can switch between 16 programs on one SD card using the Mode button.

Q: What operating systems can TCL software work with?
A: Windows or a Windows emulator on a Mac. We apologize for the inconvenience – we love Mac users and hate the Windows system. TCL software works with Windows 8; we haven’t encountered yet a Windows OS that’s too old for the software.

Q: Do your controllers work in Europe/Australia/New Zealand…?
A: Yes. Some of the biggest projects that have been made with TCL pixels have been done across the pond.


Q: How do I power TCL pixels?
A: TCL pixels run on regulated DC 5V – 7V. Your options are to use a:
5vDC regulated AC Adapter (e.g. a 2A or 4A 5V regulated AC adapter)
6V in combined batteries (e.g. a 4 x D, 4 x C, or 4 AA battery cage)
6V rechargeable single battery (e.g. a sealed lead acid 6V battery)
variable voltage power supply (e.g. our 30A Variable Voltage power supply. Make sure that you set it to deliver no more than 7V)
a DC 12v power supply (like a lithium or car battery) combined with our DC to DC converter to step it down to 5V.
Whichever power supply you use, power must be inserted every 100 pixels with either a dedicated new power supply or branched power from a larger power supply. Please see our guide Power Supplies for Total Control Lighting for more details.