This last 2010 Christmas, I was reading about lights and decorations. I stumbled on some articles about hacking Santa's Best Craft GE-35 lights that are each RGB LED and individually addressable.
Darco hacked the details of the bus timing for the controller and remote control (string lights) and was my original inspiration to dig deeper into these lights.
Scott Harris used an Arduino for his project. I like the Arduino platform and would consider using it.
I found these 36-LED GE-35 yard decorations from Santa's Best at Sears for $24 on clearance. Oddly, mine are 36-LED as shown on the box, instead of 50-LED count. Either way, I bought several sets and removed the lights from the yard sculpture frame.
The controller box uses security triangle screws, which are a pain to remove.
I used a grinder to modify an old hex wrench into the security triangle bit necessary to open the controller.
I couldn't find these bits anywhere, so I decide to make my own. It works well!
If you try this, use goggles and protection since sparks fly everywhere.
The yard sculptures appear to have the same controller board assembly and 8051-based micro controller as the string lights., except it's missing the RF controller (epoxy blob).
Most people seem to give up on trying to read or modify the 8051 compatible CPU. Instead, most are using PIC or AVR (Arduino).
The RGB LED Assembly
Each LED node in the yard sculpture appears to be the same as the light string.
However, the yard decoration is using white wire instead of green, which would look better on my white rain gutter. This lens is also flatter, like a squat oval shape instead of longer like the lens on the string lights.
I used my Celestron Digital Microscope (#44302) to take some close-ups of the LED Assembly. You can see the +5V, DataIn, GND on the left, and +5V, DataOut, GND on the right:
Here is a close-up of the RGB LED itself. You can see the 3 LED elements (Red, Green, Blue) in the LED housing. I'm not sure what brand it is.
Several people are hacking these lights into fantastic creative projects. I plan to develop my own light show platform using a geometric sculpture and custom controller using an Atmel AVR microcontroller. I'll post more details as that project evolves.
Hopefully this information serves to help others to hack these great lights!