How to build your own Ambilight TV with Raspberry Pi and XBMC

I always wanted one of those colourful glowing large TV screens in my living room but I never felt like paying a fortune for it. So, why don’t do it on my own? I ordered two Raspberry Pis, which seemed like a perfect fit for a media center and a LED controller because of the built in SPI bus interface. After some research, I decided that using SMD LED strips with WS2801 chips would be the best match for a Raspberry Pi controller. Furthermore SMD strips are quite easy to mount, because of the adhesive tape on the back of the strip.

Demonstration

Hardware installation

We’ll setup the necessary hardware first.

Parts list

I’ve ordered following parts to complete the installation from boxtec.ch

1 x 5V LED Pixel Strip 5m (WS2801)
1 x AC adapter 5V/10A
4 x RGB LED Strip – Pigtail Connector 20cm (pair)
1 x Heat Shrink Kit
1 x Breadboard Jumper Wire m-m (65-cable pack)
1 x 1pin dual female jumper wire (300mm) 20pcs.
1 x 5.5 x 2.1mm DC Power Jack Adapter (f)
1 x 2pin dual female jumper wire (300mm) 5pcs.
2 x Raspberry Pi Model B
2 x 8GB SD memory cards
1 x 1A MicroUSB AC adapter

You’ll also need tools for soldering. Alternatively, you could use just one Raspberry Pi, which will act as the LED controller and the media center.

LED power consumption

Regarding the spec sheet, the 5 V LED strip consumes approx. 7.68 Watts per meter or 1.5 A. To calculate the total power consumption, we need to measure how many LEDs we can put on the TV’s back. I needed 3.8 m of the SMD LED strip for my 55 inch TV.

Power supply calculation

Total power consumption: 3.8 m LED strip x 1.5 A + 1.0 A Raspberry Pi Model B = 6.7 A / 33.5 W.

Fortunately, the Raspberry Pi requires also 5V, so you’ll be able to power up the strip and the Pi with the same 5V power supply. Just don’t forget to order a DC Power Jack Adapter for easy connectivity of the at least 7 A / 35 W – 5V power supply.

LED strip soldering

As a Software Developer, I’m not an expert in soldering but I tried to do my best. Cut the strip into 4 pieces that match your TV dimension. For easy replacing of a broken LED strip or moving the installation to another TV connect the stripes with pigtail connectors.

WS2801 LED strips have always four connectors. In my case with those pinouts:

  • 5V
  • GND
  • SD
  • CLK

Be careful, don’t twist those between the pigtails! There’s also an arrow on the strip, which marks input / output. Make sure you’re able to connect the strips from input to output with the pigtail connectors.

It’s easier to solder the connectors to the fine SMD if you put some soldering to each of the four joints in advance. Finish it up with a heat shrink, for more flexibility use non-adhesive heat shrink tubes.

LED mounting

Now, we’re coming to the fun part. It’s barely easy to mount the strips because we chose SMDs, just use the adhesive tape and you’ll be fine. It’s essential that you start mounting from the bottom right, seen from the back of the TV with the arrow on the strip pointing to the right. Later, you’ll connect from the GPIO from the RPI directly to this input of the strip. Then go ahead counter clockwise, connecting the output of the first strip to the input of the second strip and so on until you reach the bottom left. The output of the last strip is left empty, so the strips are not connected in a loop.

LED strip wiring

Wire the LED’s up as shown in the following diagram created by Philip Burgess. Please note, the diagram shown, is for the Rpi revision 1.0. This could slightly change with later revisions. Make sure the input +5V/GND connectors of the strip and the Raspberry Pi power connectors are directly connected to the DC Power Jack Adapter (DC Jack).

Connect WS2801 to Raspberry Pi Model B

 

 

There’s no need for the Pi’s micro USB port anymore. I’d suggest using Breadboard Jumper wires for proper connections to the Pi’s breakout board. Leave the output connectors of the LED strip as they are.

Prototyping: All wires connected to the Raspberry Pi.

Final outcome: Raspberry Pi in black enclosure and power supply wired up.

Software installation

So, the hardware is prepared. In this section I’ll show you how to setup two different applications on the Raspberry Pi to control the LEDs. You have to chose one of them, I’d recommend Hyperion for various reasons.

Hyperion

Hyperion is newer, features a JSON interface and is easier to setup than Boblight. It is also less resource hungry. Therefore we can easily run XBMC and hyperion on the same Raspberry without performance issues.

  1. Install a media center distribution for the Pi. I recommend Raspbmc for beginners, it’s easier to install and less locked down.
  2. Boot up Raspbmc and remote login with your host computer. You’ll find the IP in XBMC under Settings -> System Info. If you’re on Windows, use putty for the ssh connection.

    Prepare hyperion installation
  3. Install hyperion, it will also be added to your autostart.
  4. Now we create the hyperion config file which includes for example the LED position informations. It’s a very readable JSON format. The configuration can initially be generated by a Java tool called “HyperCon”. Have a look at the instructions page. Download HyperCon to your Host computer where Java must be installed. If you followed the LED installation instructions above, the following settings should give you reasonable results for a start. Please adjust the LED counts and the 1st LED offset for your setup on the “Hardware” tab. We want the LED offset to line up with the LED closest to the initial input, which is connected to the Rpi GPIO. Then click “Create Hyperion Configuration” and save the json file to your Desktop. Don’t rename the file.
  5. Let’s copy “hyperion.config.json” to the “pi” user home directory on the Raspbmc. You can easily copy the file by using the shared folder “raspbmc”. Make sure you put it in the folder pi/hyperion. Alternatively you could use SCP for copying the file.
  6. Back on the Raspbmc ssh shell, copy the configuration file to the place where it will actually be picked up by hyperion at boot.
  7. We’re nearly finished. Hyperion grabs the color information directly from XBMC over an interface running on port 9090. We configured this in HyperCon, tab “External”. By default, this remote interface is disabled. In XBMC goto Settings -> Services -> Remote Control and activate both options. Reboot the system.
  8. We’re finished, play a movie or display some pictures and the LEDs should light up. The LED are disabled in the menu, you could easily change this setting in /etc/hyperion.config.json, look for “xbmcVideoChecker”.
  9. If you’d like to use the LED as mood lights simply install following excellent app and point it to the Raspberry Pi with port 19444: Hyperion for Android. For non Android users, there’s also a web app available.

 

Boblight

I’d recommend using ArchLinux as distribution for the Raspberry Pi, it boots in less than 10s to the command line.

  1. Go to http://archlinuxarm.org/platforms/armv6/raspberry-pi and follow the instructions.
  2. Boot up the Pi and remote login: ssh root@raspberryip password is root.
  3. Create a new directory and switch:
  4. We’ll install a resource optimised version of boblight for archlinux.

    This will install all required packages for the boblight installation.
  5. Let’s checkout the optimised boblight source.
  6. Next commands will actually install boblight.

    Now, configure ld.

    Lets configure Boblight as a deamon so it will autostart after Archlinux was booted.

    Register the script as a deamon.

    Boblight should now be installed and running in the background. For more details, have a look overhere: https://github.com/werkkrew/boblight-archarm#installing
  7. Now generate the boblight config file. Switch to the boblight checkout directory create on step 3 and make the config script executable.

    Then execute the script

    The script will ask you for the exact LED count mounted on each side of your TV. Use the default values for all other inputs. Wait till the script is ready, then copy everything between “——- Light section starts here ——” and  “——- Light section ends here ——” into a text file on your host machine (Not on your Pi). Write down the total LED count.
  8. Download this preconfigured  config file: SPI-WS2801-basic and open it with a texteditor on your host machine. Add your generated light section simply to the end of the file. Multiply your total LED count by 3 (RGB channels) and replace “369” with your result in the file. Then select all and copy.
  9. Create the actual boblight config file with

    on your Pi and paste the content of your modified config file on the host machine into it, this will take some time to complete.
  10. Lets test the LED config.

    Check the output for errors.
  11. We’re getting closer, try firing the LEDs up. boblight-constant BB55AA  All LEDs should light purple.

boblight-dispmanx installation

So, we’ve managed getting boblight to control our LEDs. Now, we’ll see how to setup another tool for sending captured screen color information right to our boblight deamon, it’s called boblight-rpi. Perform the following steps on the Raspberry Pi, that will be running the media center. A media center for example XBMC, running on this Pi will act as the video input source. Everything played on XBMC will be captured by boblight-dispmanx and sent to boblight.

  1. Install the newest version of OpenELEC (XBMC distribution) on your Pi: http://wiki.openelec.tv/index.php/Installing_OpenELEC_on_Raspberry_Pi#tab=Linux
  2. SSH to the OpenELEC Pi:

    Checkout the source code

    Set execution permissions to the precompiled boblight-dispmanx binary.
  3. We have to configure the tool to actually send the captured screenshots of the TV screen to your Pi Boblight server. Create an autostart script:

    Paste following sample config into the file.

    Don’t forget to replace the {placeholder} with the IP of your boblight running Pi or set it to “localhost” if you went for one Raspberry Pi. Then save the script and make it executable with
  4. We’re done, just restart the system
  5. Check the setup with a RGB test video. If you think the colours are to pale, try a higher value for the “-o saturation” parameter. When the lights are to slow, try setting “-o speed” to 90. If you don’t like the LED’s in the XBMC menu, just remove the “-b” parameter.

Conclusion

This is a really educational project, which will give insight into a lot of interesting technical areas reaching from compiling in the Linux shell to soldering and calculating LEDs power consumption.

For now, you’re bound to XBMC as media source for ambient light your environment. If you want to go a step further and use every HDMI input signal as media source, have a look at this how to: How to build an Ambilight for every HDMI input source

If you have any question, feel free to ask in the comments section. Enjoy your ambilight!

133 thoughts on “How to build your own Ambilight TV with Raspberry Pi and XBMC

  1. Hello, I followed your Boblight tutorial word for word, I have now done it 3 times, everything seem to go well till I get to the point where I test the LED, when I (boblight-constant BB55AA) I get :

    Connecting to boblightd
    Connection to boblightd opened
    ERROR: 127.0.0.1:19333 Connection closed
    Connecting to boblightd
    Connection to boblightd opened
    ERROR: 127.0.0.1:19333 Connection closed
    Connecting to boblightd
    Connection to boblightd opened
    ERROR: SO_ERROR 127.0.0.1:19333 Broken pipe

    I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong if you could help me it would be great thanks

  2. Thank you for putting together this ‘How To’, it inspired me to build my own abilight! After a 3 days I’m about 90% there but at a loss. I have 102 LEDs around my TV, but only 1-50 are controlled 51-102 are simply ‘on’ and in a rainbow patern. I’ve checked and double checked my hyperion.config and everything looks okay. Any suggestions as to where to look?

  3. Awesome guides, just a quick question, if I wanted to run boblight on my pi as a stand alone ambilight server, and use a different device for kodi for example a PC… can I set up PC to send video info to boblight over network to the pi running boblight server. (don’t want to use hyperion at the moment)

    1. Yes it is. Boblight features client server communication. Just point the kodi boblight client to the boblight server:port.
      Thanks and regards Christian

  4. Hello Christian,

    very nice Tutorial!

    But i am quite a Noob in Raspberry Pi.

    Could you please explain how i can access the Raspberry Pi for Programming?
    (I have Win7 and 8 64bit, a MacBook Pro with OSX, and some Android Devices.)
    Is it possible to connect to the Raspberry Pi only via Network?
    Or must i use an HDMI Device?

    I like to have this for my 50″ Samsung PS50C7700 Plasma TV.
    I have connected an Satellite Receiver and sometimes i stream Movies from my FritzBox 7490 DSL Router Modem.
    What would you recommend me to build to get Ambilight with Sat-Receiver and maybe the Streaming via DSL Modem? (if thats not working via Modem, i can connect an USB HDD with the movies to the TV or the Sat-Receiver)
    Thanks in advance,

    best Regards from Germany,

    Mario

    1. Hi Mario,

      I’d recommend that you also to follow this guide: . This will get you ambilight for your sat receiver’s HDMI input. There are plenty of tutorials about rpi. I work most of the times with a ssh connection to the rpi.

      Regards Christian

  5. Hey Christian! I was wondering if you knew how I could hook up this set up with every HDMI on a 120″ projector screen

  6. This is incredible, I don’t think I have the technical aptitude to pull it off myself but I felt compelled to comment. If you ever started a kickstarter for something like this I would definitely donate whatever amount snagged me a consumer version. Anyways, good work man.

  7. Brilliant article, I was putting this together independently and then came across this article when looking for help on it.

    I’m just getting the components together to do this and I’m quite new to the electronics side of things. I’ve got a 5m LED strip (WS2801) with 32 LEDs per metre. There was no spec that came with the strip and I’ve contacted the provider, but no joy so far. You mention your strip uses 1.5 A per metre and looking at the shop you bought yours from it also appears to be 32 LEDs per metre. Would this be a safe assumption to go with? I know that assumption is the mother of a mistakes so….

  8. hi Christian is there any way you put a guide for the new kodi osmc for raspberry because now I have changed to this operating system hyperion and leds no longer work many thanks

  9. Thanks for the guide, came in very handy.
    I had some left over WS2811 12V led strip and used it with an arduino nano. 34 chips, 102 LEDS. Running off an external hard drive 12v supply, max current is 1.6A.

    A few notes, Your hyperion install instructions are incorrect for latest kodi, there is no -N option for wget, installed via instructions on hyperion page at github.

    Hypercon needs the effects directory changed to /storage/hyperion/effects instead of /opt..

    currently running at 115200 baud for stability, may try faster later.

    Thanks again.

  10. Thank you for the thorough guide, but unfortunately I have some problem between the RPi and the XBMC, the frame information is not transmitted.
    I run XBMC on a media centre (Pivos Xios XS if it matters) and hyperion on a RPi. I can control hyperion with the android app without any problem, so the wiring is fine. I also downloaded the hyperion add-on for the media center and set the ip of the RPi in its config. On the hyperion side I enabled XBMC checker with the ip of the media center and set everything else as well.
    When I start a movie the LEDs go from “idle white” to blank, if I stop the playback they go back to “idle white” state. So there is some link between the media player and hyperion but the picture data is either not sent or processed correctly. If the RPi is not running (turned off) I get a connection fail error message from the hyperion add-on, but if the RPi is up, there is no such notification, so I think the add-on can connect to the hyperion server on the Pi.
    Here is my hyperion config: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/4083023/hyperion.config.json
    Do you have any clue for this issue, or did anyone else meet such a behavior? Thanks

  11. I have set up the LEDs and have the software running on XBMC on the Pi. The LEDs however are lighting up at the main menu. They also seem to be extremely bright during the movies. I want to have them as more of an accent lighting when say there’s a super blue sky or fire. Not when there are dark scenes. Under the process tab I have messed with the settings (Thres., Gamma, etc.) but they do not seem to help. Any advice or help would be appreciated.

    1. You have to make those adjustments in the hyperion.config.json. Make sure that you reboot hyperion after every change otherwise the changes don’t have any effect. I think you have to decrease the hsv value gain but it’s hard to tell without seeing the real output.
      For a good overview, what all those settings mean. Check the Hyperion wiki: https://github.com/tvdzwan/hyperion/wiki/configuration
      It will take some playing around, but it’s worth in the end.

      1. To reboot Hyperion, do I just restart the Pi? I am not sure how to go about this process. Many thanks for the help again!

        1. It depends on the distro you’re using but for openelec:
          killall hyperiond
          LD_LIBRARY_PATH=/storage/hyperion/bin /storage/hyperion/bin/hyperiond /storage/.config/hyperion.config.json

      2. trying to get my Raspberry Pi to work with and the lighting completely lost you have any guides I can go by that you can email me step by step possibly let me know please been at it for weeks can’t seem to get it going if you have a guide would really help me if you can email me one step by step please let me know and thank you

  12. Hi Chris, I am having trouble with my lights. There are a few random lights on (white) and they do not respond to the pi. Why would only a few ones in seemingly random places be on?

      1. Hi Chris,
        Just wanted to respond for anyone else who may be experiencing my issues with a Raspberry PI B+ and WS2801 LED strips with only one or a few lights on but not responding to the RPI. I was having issues with the spidev in /dev/ and SPI bus as Chris had mentioned above and corrected it using this site

        I had to:
        -> sudo modprobe spi_bcm2708
        -> sudo raspi-config
        -> Go to “Advanced Options”
        -> Go to “A5 SPI” option
        -> Click on yes when asked if you wanted to load the SPI kernel by default
        -> sudo shutdown -r now

        after a reboot everything was working to much of my disbelief after many hours of troubleshooting 😛

  13. Hi!
    This tutorial is great!
    it works perfect for me.
    I also added a feature that the Rainbow Swirl starts, as soon as my Mobile Phone conntects to my Wifi. And turns off as soon as it disconnects.
    For instructions visit my blog 😉

    This is really a great idea in the winter, where it’s dark when you go to work and dark, when you arrive back home from work.

  14. hi guys got everything working except for 1 little thing every time I play a video it will stop after 30 seconds or its the same with radio and music etc any ideas thanks

  15. Hi !
    Thank you for this great tutorial. I’m actually having trouble with my leds. I have ws2801, and it seems that I have random flickering on the ten first less. The pattern at the start is OK, but once the grabber has started, I’ve got those problems.
    And if I connect the Ethernet cable, or a second USB device, it get a lot worse : Flickering I’m all colors very quickly !
    I don’t understand, the ground is correct, and I use two 5V 2A phone charger for the RPI and the led strip (2A should be enough, I limited the whitelevels to 0,3 I’m the config file).
    Could somebody help me ? Thanks

  16. Hello, Cristian, PLEASE!!! can you add in article more detailed photo of LED connection point behind the TV mount. How you connect left and right strips in the middle of TV and connect there wire from RPi
    Thank you very much!

  17. HI,

    I think I did everything right but I have just the end LED lit (white) and no other indication of any response to either the test all red setting, video playback or the Android App.

    I’m using RaspBMC and Hyperion. Is it possible that insufficient current would give this symptom?

    What else can I check?

    Thanks.

    Is there any way to check the software install

    1. Hi Jim, it seems like your LED don’t get a proper signal from the SPI bus. Did you connect GND?. Please have a look at the comments section. I posted some advice for error analysis lately.

  18. Pingback: Anonymous
  19. this is perfect for how i want to start my project but i was wondering where the 65 breadboard connectors come into play or have i accidentally skipped that part?

    also do you have a better picture of the back of the TV to point out the First LED?

  20. Hi, Cool guide, I only have one problem with it, where you have put the power into the raspberry pie doesn’t put to use any of the pi’s security mesures, the best place to have welded it would have been just behind the original power socket.
    But I’m going to give your version a try to see how it plays out !

    1. Hi Thomas, Thanks. What do you mean exactly with security measures? Do you mean the voltage protection (power fuse)? As long as you go with a 5V power supply there shouldn’t be any problem with that but be aware not to use more than 5V, otherwise it will burn the Rpi. Alternatively, you can power up with the (secured) micro USB port, but don’t forget to ground the GPIO pin!
      Regards Chris

      1. Hi Chris,

        I finally finished my setup but wanted to do some checks before i mount it back on the wall. My concerns to start is that there isn’t enough Amps, i have a 5v 3a (a guess) supply which I have just plugged into the micro USB. So first what did you mean when you said to Thomas to ground the GPIO pin? But secondly after using your method it seems I would need 6a in total. Is it best then not to use the micro usb port?
        Finally should i be able to use the Hyperion Android app with just my LED’s connected as a test?

        Thanks again for your help

  21. Hi, guys! Nice article! Read it and think to make something like this =) Can you help me? But I haven’t Raspberry Pi – a have Cubieboard and STM32F4 Discovery.
    I’ll be very appreciated =) Ansver me please on rozmathplus@gmail.com

  22. Aha ! I fixed it. I had to connect the Ground on the Pi to the power supply even though I am not using it for the power on the Pi. Once I did that it seems to behave properly ! Hope this helps anyone else out there.

  23. No luck with the re-solder (even though I am pretty proud of my soldering this time around so this project IS being helpful).
    One other potential clue on what is going wrong is that the first bulb in the sequence is always blinking rapidly. (This is true on different strands of the LED bulbs so I don’t think it is a problem with an individual bulb).
    I am using the original Raspberry Pi rather than the model B in the pictures but it appears that the pins for MOSI and SCLK should be the same as in your photo.
    And it does seem to react to the Hyperion-remote commands, it just seems random on what it does.
    Another potential clue is that I haven’t cut the length of LED to the specific lengths yet. I am hesitant to cut before I know what I am doing, but could part of the problem be that I have the whole roll of lights still even though I just have the 39×22 settings in the hyperion config ? I wouldn’t think this would make a difference but I am just trying to rule out anything obvious.
    Thanks for all the assistance you have given me and others up til this point and let me know if you have an idea for me to try next.
    Thanks,
    Dave

  24. They don’t all have the same color. I am suspecting my poor soldering quality. When I run the command I get the first few lights of blue, aqua, green, aqua, purple, blue, blue. It is odd. And if I change the command to do blue instead then it is other random colors. Hopefully it is due to my soldering and not a bad strip of the LED lights. I’ll keep you posted.

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