Best high-tech holiday light shows of 2012

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For most of us, the holidays are a time to relax with family. For the more awesome among us, however, the holidays are a time to break out miles of electrical wiring, string up tens of thousands of lights, jump on one's PC, and spend weeks programming a light show—pulsing to the beat of the hippest pop song of the year, of course.

PCWorld salutes the people who went all-out this holiday season, slaving over LEDs and Light-O-Rama controller boxes for hundreds of hours. Here are some of the most awesome holiday light shows of 2012.

Oppa Gangnam style

NVIDIA engineer John Storms is the model of dedication to the holiday spirit. He specifically purchased an isolated house with no neighbors across the street just so he could create light shows of eye-popping intensity. And Storms even paid professionals to put up lights more than 15 feet off the ground.

Software from Light-O-Rama choreographs the lights, which are energy-efficient LEDs that only cost $15 to run for the entirety of November and December. Storms' selection of ear-pleasing tunes—along with the more dubiously ear-pleasing "Gangnam Style"—are transmitted via a small FM transmitter, allowing people driving by to listen to the music inside their cars without annoying the neighbors.

Perhaps more impressively, Storms made a point of spreading the holiday cheer in the form of a companion YouTube video that gives a behind-the-scenes look at his amazing light show—just in case you want to rig up a memorable display of your own.

Dubstep Christmas 2012

Besides "Gangnam Style," what other musical sensation of 2012 would work great as the soundtrack for a holiday lights display? If you answered dubstep, you’re correct! (Sorry, friends of ringing sleigh bells. Epic bass drops just go better with flashing lights.)

The Cadger family in Meridian, Idaho brings us a Christmas lights show set to parts of Bangarang and Cinema, two Skillrex songs, with a display featuring around 35,000 lights and 80 different Light-O-Rama channels. In fact, the video above is just a small slice of the presentation; the complete Cadger light show clocks in at a whopping 12 minutes and 19 seconds. The entire extravaganza was planned, programmed and prepared by a 17-year-old and his dad, repeating a tradition the Cadger clan has performed for years.

Your game in lights

Carefully syncing up tens of thousands of lights to a song is impressive, but turning those same lights into an interactive video game that you can play on the side of your house is simply astounding.

From the family behind the interactive Angry Birds and Guitar Hero… sorry, Christmas Hero holiday light shows comes this interactive maze game that you play with a homebrew controller (though we’d call it more of a reflex game than a proper maze). The player controls the red arrow on the garage door, and the music is broadcast via an FM transmitter so that you can listen to the game while you play it in your car. This nifty game comes complete with a high scores display, but watch out—everyone in the neighborhood will know if you crash.

The creator didn't share stats for this year's creation, but last year's Angry Birds setup consisted of two computers, 10 Light-O-Rama 16-channel controllers, and more than 20,000 light bulbs, all for less than a single cent of electricity per game.

Solar-powered Christmas lights

If you’re craving something a bit more traditional this holiday season, check out this light show synced to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s rockin’ rendition of “Christmas Sarajevo.”

The Yoshida family in Waikele, Hawaii starts working on its Christmas lights display in July every year. The 2012 show, seen above, contains more than 20,000 lights and over a mile of electrical wiring, and it's all completely powered by a photovoltaic system that captures more than enough energy from sunlight during the day to power the display all night. (It is located Hawaii, after all.)

Like every other kick-ass light show mentioned here, the music is broadcast via FM radio so neighbors don’t have to listen to it every night. The Yoshida family looks out for its community in more ways than that, though: It also accepts donations that are passed along to buy holiday gifts for children of struggling families.

Oppa Gangnam Style, part deux

What, more Gangnam Style? Yes. This is what happens when a song becomes the most-watched YouTube video of all time in a matter of months.

Kym Illman’s version contains 41,000 light bulbs, 2,000 different light channels, and nearly 1.25 miles of cable. The display took 200 hours to set up, plus another 90 hours to program the lights to sync with the music. The Australian is no night-show novice, with Illman’s past efforts raising more than $90,000 in donations for charity.

Unfortunately, the playful display was shut down after just three nights when visitors turned up in crowds 10 times larger than expected, creating both a safety hazard and a major annoyance for Illman’s neighbors. Next year, he plans to light up a commercial area that can handle larger crowd capacities.

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