Light Bulbs For XLights Light Shows using WLED

Today on the hookup I’m going to show you how to use WLED with wifi RGBW light bulbs so they can be easily controlled not only with your phone, computer, or home automation platform, but also with xlights to be integrated into a holiday light show.

Three years ago I made this video about adding my custom firmware onto RGBW downlights that were meant to be used with the Tuya app, but it required opening them up, soldering wires onto tiny pads and using the Arduino IDE so I could understand why not everyone would feel comfortable doing it.  Then 2 years ago I made an updated video about using the Tuya convert process to flash that same firmware over the air without any soldering or even needing to open the lightbulb… ahh those were the glory days.

Fast forwared to 2021 and Tuya convert is basically dead because Tuya updated their software so that it couldn’t be exploited to install custom firmware, and even worse than that, they have largely moved away from using the ESP8266 chip altogether, meaning no custom firmware at all.

The good news is 2021 has also brought us a better way.  Instead of constantly fighting with tuya to make their bulbs do something they weren’t intended to do, there’s a company that sells bulbs for this exact purpose with tasmota and even WLED pre installed.  ATHOM Tech has a full lineup of lightbulbs with ESP8266 chips with 2 megabytes of flash memory that are for your custom firmaware, and as of WLED 12.0 you don’t need to use my janky code anymore to get your bulbs working with xlights.  Also, because you’ll be using WLED you can control those same bulbs with amazon echo, home assistant, and even the Phillips hue app if that’s your thing.  If you already have bulbs running my firmware or tasmota I’ll also show you how to get those working with WLED.

This video is going to focus on the upgrade process from different starting points, and then at the end I’ll show you how to set up WLED for your specific bulb and then how to use it with xlights.  You probably won’t need all of the instructions, so use the bookmarks to get to the upgrade path you need.

Starting with the easiest path: Buy ATHOM bulbs that have WLED pre-installed.  Done.

The second path is going from some bulb that already has Tasmota on it to WLED.

Start by powering up your bulb, if it already on your wifi then connect to the tasmota wifi access point to put in your wifi information.

Next, find the bulbs ip address on your router and open it up in your web browser.  Go to information and check the flash size of your ESP Chip.  If it’s 2 megabytes you’ll download the WLED 2mb version which supports future updates, but if you have the 1 megabyte version like many tuya bulbs you can only upgrade it once because there won’t be enough room left over in memory to do future over the air updates.

Either way to free up space to install wled, we need to go to the tasmota minimal firmware first, so download that, then go to firmware upgrade and select that tasmota minimal bin file and hit start upgrade.

While tasmota minimal is updating, we need to make the wled bin file you selected earlier, which is either the 1 megabyte or 2 megabyte version,  slightly smaller so it will fit into flash memory.  To this we’re going to create a .gz compressed file.  On windows the easiest way to do this is with 7zip, and on mac and linux you can do it right from the terminal.  On windows just right click on your wled bin file and select add to archive, then make sure the format is gzip and hit okay.  Now you should have a file in the same folder with the exact same filename, except for the .gz extension.

Next go back to your tasmota ip address and choose firmware upgrade, then select that .gz wled bin file and hit upload.

Your bulb will restart and a WLED access point will open up.  Connect to it using the password wled1234 and enter your wifi info again.  After that the WLED interface should be accessible from the same ip address that you were using with tasmota.  Go ahead and skip to the next section to see how you upgraded it later, and set up WLED for your specific bulb.

The other upgrade path is if you are coming from my previous E131 firmware using the Arduino IDE.  For this path we’re going to use another tool by WLED’s creator, the minimal HTTP updater.  The great part about this sketch is that it only uses the standard ESP8266 libraries, so you aren’t likely to run into any compiling errors.  All you do is open up the sketch, select the correct size flash memory for your specific bulb with enough space to do OTA upgrades, then find your bulb in the ports selection menu and hit upload.

As a general rule most Tuya bulbs will be 1megabyte of flash memory, which comes with the limitation of not being able to do over the air upgrades once you’ve installed WLED. If you get a message saying “no answer” that usually means that when you originally uploaded the firmware to your bulb you used a 512 kilobyte flash size which has no over the air update ability, and you’ll need to crack your bulb open to flash it manually or stay on your current firmware.

However, if all goes well you’ll see an access point pop up called “UpdateMe” and you can connect to it using the password “updater1”.  Then go to 192.168.4.1 and click on “select firmware”.  As I said, most tuya bulbs will need to use the 1 megabyte version of WLED which doesn’t support OTA updates, but the Athom bulbs have 2 megabytes.  After you download the correct size firmware you’ll need to compress it using the gzip format which as I explained earlier can be done with 7zip on windows or in terminal on a mac or linux.  Click on choose file at the top and select your wled bin.gz file and hit update firmware.  If all goes well you’ll see a screen that says update success rebooting and a WLED wifi access point will appear, connect to that access point and put in your wifi information and you’re all set.

Once you’re on WLED 12.0 or higher if you have the 2megabyte version you can still upgrade to future versions of WLED, or go back to tasmota, but the path for doing that is different for each way that you got to WLED.  If you upgraded using the Tasmota to WLED method then you can go back to tasmota minimal by uploading a gziped tasmota minimal bin through the WLED interface, and then refreshing your page. Tasmota will still have your wifi credentials stored, so it will just work, but if you didn’t come from tasmota and try this method you’re going to brick your bulb because it tasmota minimal doesn’t know your wifi information and doesn’t have the access point enabled.  If you came from my firmware using the Arduino IDE method you’ll use the same method using Aircookie’s minimal ESP8266 updater to do any future upgrades.

One last time, if you’re on 1 megabyte of flash memory like most Tuya bulbs, you won’t be able to over the air update once you have WLED installed because there isn’t enough room in the flash memory to upload a new firmware.

Assuming you are up and running in WLED you still need to configure it to work with your bulb so go to LED preferences.  Set your number of LEDs to 1, turn off the brightness limiter and then in the dropdown select PWM RGBWC.  Next you’ll put in the pins that correspond to each color for your bulb.  If you are using a Tuya bulb you can probably find that information on Blakadder’s database, but if you’re using the Athom bulbs they post that info right on the bulbs purchase page.

A notable limitation of WLED right now is that even though you can put in both the warm white and cool white LED pins, there’s no functionality for changing color temperature, so the white slider will only use the first pin in the series.  That means if you want your bulb to be warm white, you should put the warm white pin in the first spot, and if you want cool white you should put that pin in the first spot.  Color temperature control is on the roadmap but not implemented yet.  Hit save and your bulb should be ready to go and will be automatically detected in home assistant, or you can use the sync interfaces to set it up with amazon echo or Phillips hue.

Last thing, if you want to use this bulb in xlights for a holiday light show you’ll go to sync interfaces and put in the universe that you want to use your lights with.  I recommend putting each light in a separate universe for easier programming, but if you don’t want to do that you can also specify the start channel.

Next in xlights you’ll add a new ethernet controller and put in the ip address of your new bulb.  Make sure you set the same universe that you put into your wled settings and put in 4 for the number of channels per universe.

Next in the layout tab, put in a single line, then change the number of pixels to 1.  Then in appearance change your pixel size to around 200, pixel style to blended circle, transparency to 70, and black transparency to 100.

Last, you’ll need to decide how you want to handle the color white with your RGBW bulb.  You can have white be handled by the white channel only, you can have white be a super bright combination of the white LEDs and all the RGB leds, or you can output white using only the RGB LEDs.  Based on where your bulbs are located and if you want the white color to match the rest of your lights, all of these options are viable.

Starting with white channel only.   In xlights for your model you’ll select 4 channel RGBW and in WLED you’ll go back to the sync interfaces menu and change your DMX Mode to multi RGBW.

If you want your white channel to be a combination of white and RGB LEDs you probably won’t need to change anything, your model will be set to 3 channel RGB and WLED will do the calculations to turn on the white LEDs.

Last if you want your bulb to only use the RGB LEDs so the white color will match your pixels you’ll use the 3 channel RGB for your xlights model and then in WLED you need to go to LED preferences and down at the very bottom there is a dropdown that says “auto calculate white channel from RGB” and you will select None.

This video isn’t sponsored by Athom bulbs, I just recently heard about their compatibility with WLED from one of my subscribers named Dale Scott, and I’m super excited about what they’re doing.  Here’s a super quick comparison of their bulbs and color performance compared to the Lohas bulbs that I was previously using.

Athom is for sale on AliExpress and my link in the description is an affiliate link, so if you appreciate this video using that link will give me a small portion of the sale at no cost to you.  Thank you so much to my patrons over at patreon for your continued support of my channel, and if you’re interested in supporting my channel please check out the links in the description.  If you enjoyed this video please hit the thumbs up button and consider subscribing and as always, thanks for watching the hookup.

Athom Bulbs 15W (Tasmota): https://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/_AaRxrm
Athom Bulbs 7W (WLED): https://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/_AturLC
Tasmota Releases (to download tasmota minimal): http://ota.tasmota.com/tasmota/release/
WLED 12.0 Download: https://github.com/Aircoookie/WLED/releases/tag/v0.12.0
7-Zip for Windows: https://www.7-zip.org/
Aircoookie's ESP8266 Minimal Updater: https://github.com/Aircoookie/ESP8266MinimalHTTPUpdater

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