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Discussion Starter #1
I have a question for those of you who are well versed in basic electronics (specifically, led lighting). First for some background: I have very limited experience with electronics and lighting. The extent of my experience with LEDs is limited to the 50-or-so 9v battery powered LED spotlights that I built. I fully acknowledge that the problem I'm having is more than likely "operator error". With that, I'm hoping someone on here can help troubleshoot my problem and educate me. So here it goes...

I purchased a CaveEyes Deluxe board from Cowlacious Designs. If you're not familiar with this product, it basically is a light controller that allows you to plug in up to 12 LED harnesses. Each harness would contain 8 led lights. The board will illuminate all of the lights (using a 6V to 24V DC wall wart) and 'randomly' blink the various LED lights. In my case, the purpose for the setup is to light various "eyes" that I've created in a simulation of the Haunted Mansion wallpaper effect. (I'll post pictures when it is finished, if anyone is interested).

The harnesses are built from Cat5e networking cable... each cable has 4 pairs of wires (each pair having one positive, one negative). Each of those wire pairs is supposed to power TWO leds wired in series. So for example....


POS WIRE ------- - LED + - LED + ----------- NEG WIRE


I've followed the instructions very carefully. The instructions for building the harnesses makes no mention of resistors... only to connect the leds and wires in this order. In my case what happens is the pair of LED BARELY lights up (so dim in fact, that at first I couldn't tell they were lighting at all!) I did discover that the harness DOES successfully fully illuminate a single LED. Actually, if I touch the negative harness wire to the positive lead of the first LED (completing the circuit prior to the second led) the first LED illuminates completely. So in essence, I'm able to use each harness to light 4 single LEDs, rather than 4 PAIRS of LEDs. The same LED pairs light up brilliantly when connected to 9v battery.

SO IN SUMMARY, I ONLY GET FULL ILLUMINATION IF I USE A SINGLE LED (not a pair, as it should be).

I'm using a 120VAC --> 9V DC 600mA (recommended) transformer (i also tried some other 9V DC and 12V DC that I had lying around).

Now I know the appropriate thing to do would be to consult the manufacturer for help. I have attempted with ZERO success. In addition, suspecting that my homemade harness was the problem, I placed an order from Cowlacious for one of their pre-assembled harnesses. I figured at least that way I could help rule out any problems with the board itself. Long story short, they quickly took my money and failed to ever send my harness. After several un-returned phone messages, I finally got in touch with the owner of the company. He admits that he has been too busy with his other job to fill my order (would have been nice to know before I ordered!) and promised to send it that week. A month later, it has still not been sent. After several more calls, he offered to refund my order on the unsent harness (still no refund processed!), and I'm still left with no good way to diagnose the problem I'm having with the board.

Needless to say, I probably will not be sending any more business that way... but I'm still stuck desperately trying to finish my project. I will note that (after six months of getting nowhere with this board) I did get permission to send the Cowlacious board back for a refund. However, at this point the entire project revolves around this controller.

So haunters... can you either 1) TELL ME WHAT I'M DOING WRONG HERE or 2) RECOMMEND A SUBSTITUTION FOR THIS CAVE EYES BOARD that will support roughly the same total number of leds (appx 96) for a reasonable price? In my case, I'd rather fix the problem than find a replacement (to avoid the hassle of trying to get my money back, as I'm already owed about $10 for the cancelled harness order and I don't have a lot of faith that I'll get my $65 back if I send the board back).

THANKS IN ADVANCE!
 

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I've only put together a few LED lighting rigs but they ALL had resistors. Granted I only know a little bit about why the resistor is important, everything that I've read says that they're absolutely necessary. You may want to try adding one to your set up. There are lots of resources like this one http://www.instructables.com/id/Choosing-The-Resistor-To-Use-With-LEDs/ where you can find out what resistor you need and Radio Shack sells them all.
Sorry that I don't know more :(
Best of luck!
 

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Okay N4niner206 (unusual name format), I'll try to help if I can.
First adding a resistor is unlikely to be helpful, you appear to be lacking in drive voltage (and hence current), so you have nothing spare to resist.

I'll look up a schematic for the cave eyes if I can find one. In the meantime if you have a voltmeter please check the input voltage from your wall wart while it is powering the board and a pair of dim leds. Also check the voltage from that pair of wires with and without the leds connected. Let me know what you find.

Did the cave eyes seem to be otherwise working correctly with single leds on each of the pairs that you connected ? If not check to see the wall wart you are using is a DC. It is very unlikely to be the cause but if they happen to have a series diode on the input to the board an AC wall wart might make it partially function. Just guessing now.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Thanks, Intellagirl.

I too am wondering if resistors are the issue. However, I used some of my leftover LED sets (extras left over from my spotlight build) that were all set up for 9V and had no luck. Yet, when I hook them up directly to a 9V battery, they light just fine. Though the difference COULD be a function of protecting the circuit board? Looking at the LED harnesses that the manufacturer built (on their website) I don't see any resistors. Also the instructions are fairly clear and make no mention (nor do the pictures) of any resistors. As the board is able to work with 6V - 24V, I was under the assumption that the circuit board itself is adjusting for the voltage requirements. I could be completely wrong as I'm definitely no electrician. My "understanding" could be completely off or even impossible...

If the resistor requirements are based on the 9V, then the LEDs I have set up for 9V battery should work with the 9V powered board, I would think? That's what has me baffled. If it is different, what would be the proper way to determine the resistors needed in this case? I thought the resistor used was determined as a factor of input voltage versus voltage drop across the LEDs. Is that correct? Thanks again for chiming in!
 

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Okay the schematic seems pretty simple. Although it may not be for exactly the broad you have as it shows a 6V supply.
This one shows for each led pair there is a single 470 resistor (bands should be Yellow, Violet, Brown, and silver or gold (last band is not important here).
Please verify.
This also shows a basic 1N4001 diode inline with the input. If you have a voltmeter, check from the barrel of your wall wart connector to the end of the diode with the band around it. If you don't have a multimeter, but have a Harbor Freight nearby, get the free meter coupon and go buy something like chip brushes or nitrile gloves.
Also posting a picture of your specific board would be helpful.
 

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You were posting as I was so I didn't see the mention of 9V leds before making the previous post.
I see a picture of the board on their website. I do not see resistors on the visible side of the board.
You mentioned in your last post using your leftover 9V diodes, if you have diodes intended for 9V use they will not likely function for this.
This board appears to have a voltage regulator on it to limit the voltage to 5 or 6 volts. LEDs typically work over a range of 2 to 4 volts.
If you place 2 diodes in series across a pair of wires with 5V on it, you will supply about 2.5V to each led, making them work but at something less that full brightness.
Good for cave eyes. If you want them to work (or survive) at 9V, you add a resistor somewhere.
If you used 9V leds for this you have found your problem.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thanks for all the help, BobbyA.

To clarify... I may have misspoke, but what I meant to say was that I had some leftover LEDs that had been wired up with the appropriate resistors to make them work with a 9V battery. I don't have the specifics with me right now (I'm going to be away from home on business for a few days) and will not have an opportunity to test the voltage with the multi-meter until I return home. I was figuring that maybe it was something obvious that I was doing wrong with the setup.

So am I understanding you correctly that the board itself will adjust for the voltage? I didn't specify, but the board I am using is the Cave Eyes Deluxe post-2010 (newest) model. The board (and led number on the board used for programming) light up normally as far as I can tell. Also, when I plug in a harness I built with only ONE LED (instead of two) for each strand, the lights do behave appropriately. It is only when I have a harness configured (per the instructions on their page) for more than 1 LED (2) wired in series, the light is very dim (does not project any light, but I can faintly see that the diod is actually flashing slightly when I look at it head-on). I wondered if I had something connected backwards or something (and I was maybe seeing the voltage being limited due to some reversal, if that makes sense?)

As for the wall wart... although I'm not at home to check with a multi-meter, I tried 3 different ones... the highest voltage I tested was 12V, and I did verify that they are all DC and all labeled to be within the acceptable voltage range. That doesn't necessarily imply, I suppose, that the board is accepting the appropriate voltage. Im so confused.

Thanks again for all of your help and insight!

(BTW the username N4niner206 is the tail number of the first airplane I soloed years ago... N49206... the format of spelling out niner just for fun :)
 

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From looking at the board picture, it appears they use a voltage regulator to drop whatever voltage coming to the board down to 5V or so, then pass that voltage to anything needing voltage. A linear regulator works by throwing away any excess voltage above the 5.5 or 6V it needs to keep the board running at 5V. So the processor, leds, etc all run on the 5V, and likely it also sends that 5 volts out to the eyes. If they sent the incoming voltage out to the eyes directly they would have problems not burning them out.
At least in other implementations of the cave eyes the driver chip is limited to providing 20ma to each of the diode pairs without causing the chip to overheat. Two 20ma leds in series is still only 20ma (10ma each).

Thanks for explaining the name. I got the niner, but didn't visualize the whole number as an alphanumeric otherwise I would likely have recognized a tail number.
All the other directions I took it didn't fit. As you may have noticed, I'm a curious person. lol
I know pilots are big on nostalgia, a fellow I used to work with took great pride in the fact the guy who signed off his license, had his own license signed of by one of the Wright Bros (I forget which).

Best regards,
Bobby
 

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N4niner206, will you be at the next AZ Haunters meeting? I'd be happy to take a look at the board and your harnesses to see if I can make anything out. The fact that one LED lights well, but two don't, implies that the board's putting too low of a voltage out on the Cat5, but why is a bit of a mystery. If this is for Haunted Mansion wallpaper eyes, are you trying to use superbright white LEDs? Those generally have a significantly higher voltage drop than the regular LEDs this board appears to be intended for, which could be your problem. Other than that, it's hard to say at this point; it could be a manufacturing error on the board using too high a resistor value, or a faulty regulator, or a faulty gating transistor, or any number of other little failures. If the board turns out not to be salvageable, you could probably work something out with an Arduino and some transistors that would do the job.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Well guys/gals, I think you may have helped me figure out the problem! While I am not home right now and will not be able to test the theory for a bit (will report back when I can) I think you guys each contributed to finding the problem. I beleive that, as CDW questioned, my LEDs (being WHITE leds) operate at 3 - 3.5V each. I didn't think this would be a problem, since i was running 9V into the board. In fact, I thought I SHOULD be able to run 3 LEDs in series off the 9V. But as BobbyA pointed out, apparently the board drops the supply voltage (in the case of the CaveEyes board, anywhere from 6V to 24V) down to 5V. This is a detail I did not know (and not being very electronic savvy) would not have been able to figure out on my own. THANK YOU!

This explains why Carl over at Cowlacious Designs only sells certain colors of LEDs. Those colors (red, green, yellow etc) operate at a lower voltage in the 2-2.5V range, which the board supports. Now knowing that the board actually drops the incoming voltage down to 5V, I can see that the voltage is not adequate to operate 2 white LEDs... a realization that was triggered when CDW questioned whether I was using superbright LEDs.

GO TEAMWORK! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! Again, I won't be able to test it right away... but I'm pretty sure we have found the problem. I've placed an order for some yellow leds that are in the right voltage range, so when I return home and get the LEDs, I will build a new harness with them to test them out!

Now in regards to Carl at Cowlacious... I'm not trying to put him or his products down. From what I can tell, the board is awesome... I haven't found anything out there that would fit my needs nearly as well. I have talked to Carl a couple of times... first asking specifically about my problem. In my experience he seems like a nice person, but didn't seem to want to take the time to help me with my issues. The most I got from him was "Well if the LED number is lighting and following the program, then the board should be fine. I don't know what is causing the problem" but no effort was made to really help me troubleshoot.

The things that really bothered me about the whole experience is that

1) I ordered the board in early December... I had some time off and wanted to work on this project. He didn't even send the board for three weeks, and there was ZERO communication about any delays. The website showed that they had boards in stock and ready to ship, and estimated delivery well before the Christmas holiday. I attempted communication numerous times to inquire, but my phone calls ane emails were never returned. When I finally reached him on the phone, he appologized and said it was his fault and that he had been busy. He shipped the item out that week, but made no offer to expedite or overnight the shipping, which I thought would have been appropriate given the situation, especially around the holidays. This delayed my project.

2) When i called and emailed regarding my issues with the board/leds, my messages were NEVER returned. Not once.

3) Several months later, as a last ditch effort to troubleshoot, I ordered one of his pre-assembled LED harnesses. This was in June. Three weeks later, no harness. I inquire via the website... no response. I call and leave messages inquiring... no response. I finally get him on the phone and he appologizes (says he has been busy with a new job) and promises to have it sent out that week. Three weeks later, still no harness. I call and leave messages again... no response. I get him on the phone once again, and he admits that he has still not sent the cable out and asks if I still want it. I told him I was giving up on him and would like to cancel the order at this point. He agrees to that, but I have YET to see my paypal payment refunded ($10).

I think he builds a quality product, but has allowed himself to become distracted to the point where the customer service has been HORRIBLE. A little communication would have changed the entire experience, but it is obvious to me that this is not currently a priority. And I would have understood so much more if he had only communicated these issues from the beginning, and returned my calls and emails, rather than blowing it off. The whole experience has put my project over 6 months behind schedule.

I hope he can turn it around, because it looks like he has some neat products. But my experience has been different than what I had read in the past, and I've been very dissapointed.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
CDW, I WISH I was going to make it out to Rob's for the August meet. Unfortunately, I'll still be out of town. I really miss going to the AZHaunters meets, but I find myself out of town over the weekend most of the time. Im sad to say I haven't been to a meet in probably close to two years. The company I work for had a lot of furloughs so my relative seniority dropped quite a bit and I was no longer able to get my weekends off. Things have turned around a little, so from now on I'm hoping I'll be able to plan my schedule to allow me to make the meets. Thanks for your offer of help - I'm really looking forward to getting back. What a great group!
 

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Glad to hear! If you still want to use the white LEDs for the actual eyes, you might try building a separate power harness for the LEDs that's plugged into the higher-voltage source, and then use the Cat5 from the board as a controller to switch that power on and off. Alternatively, you might be able to modify the board to support a higher voltage output, but that's less certain and more complicated. Anyway, good luck! I've always liked those wallpaper eyes, and I'd love to see how it turns out.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
UPDATE:

Sorry it took a while to get this posted... was out of town for work for a few days immediately followed by a much-needed getaway to the mountains with the misses. I just returned and wanted to post a followup to my original issues.

1) GREAT NEWS - apparently the voltage of the LEDs was the issues. As many of you know, the various colors of LEDs operate at different forward voltages. In my case, I was trying to use WHITE LEDs. Well, as as discovered thanks to the help of YOU guys, the Cave Eyes board regulates the voltage down to 5V, regardless of the supply voltage (if greater than 5V DC). The problem was that TWO WHITE LED's requires more than 5V!! After receiving some yellow LEDs (which operate in the 2.2-2.5V range per LED) I was able to wire a pair up and VOILA! IT WORKS! PROBLEM SOLVED!!! One point to underscore... this board will only illuminate the stated maximum number of LEDS (96 total) in certain colors, due to this voltage 'issue'.

2) A second bit regarding Cowlacious Designs. Numerous other haunters have had GREAT experiences with Carl (the owner). While my experiences were not what I would categorize as "great", he does seem like a nice guy who just has a lot of other things on his plate right now. As I stated from the beginning, I believe his products to be of good quality. As suspected, the issue was on my end... not the product. However, I felt that this issue could have easily been explained in advance with a couple of sentences in the instruction manual (perhaps specifying voltage ranges or colors of leds that are compatible). In any case, my biggest problem with Cowlacious was that there was never ANY communication about my order, despite repeated attempts and messages left by myself. I need to tell you that following another contact by myself, the $10 for the order that went unfulfilled HAS BEEN REFUNDED, so I'm square with Cowlacious. I want to share this because again... I can now say that I have no problems with their ethics or product quality... just had a poor customer experience. I wouldn't NOT recommend their products... I would just recommend that if you do order, contact Carl first and get a guaranteed delivery date ahead of time, and follow up. Don't let your entire project be derailed for months, as mine was. I hope my two experiences were a temporary and isolated problem that they will fix. I hate to see a company (catering to the halloween community) that previously had good reviews, fall by the wayside.

THANKS FOR THE HELP EVERYONE!
 

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Glad it worked out. Sorry about my earlier reply, I missed the part in the first message about how you'd tried to contact Carl.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
Glad it worked out. Sorry about my earlier reply, I missed the part in the first message about how you'd tried to contact Carl.
No problem, Jeff. Im glad you chimed in, as I have seen others in the past also say that Carl has been helpful with their issues. Its important to know that, as hopefully my experience with the company was a temporary/unusual occcurance.
 

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Im going through the same thing with cowlicious now. Order for 2 fading eye boards placed 5 weeks ago, no response to email or to phone call/voicemail. The thing is I'd really like to order one of the CE delux boards and harnesses to use for backlighting on 22 pairs of eyes i have on the garage door windows. Im afraid to place an order since cowlicious now seems to be a sideline, at best.

Is there an alternative for the cave eyes boards from another supplier? I've googled but wasn't able to find anything comparable.
 
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