Regarding the HinksPix PRO – 2022 Edition

I started my pixels / xLights journey in late September of 2021. The HinksPix PRO was one of the few pixel controllers I could obtain late in the season, and it was available “ready to run”. As I was a newbie in a hurry, this sounded perfect for my needs. Since then, I’ve encountered several other people who bought HinksPix controllers for similar reasons.

Fortunately, the HinksPix PRO turned out to be a good choice. It is built well, and while it has a few quirks, so do all the rest. I have now obtained and run a few other kinds of controllers, so I do have some comparison points (see below). If I needed another controller in a hurry, I would certainly consider buying more.

That said, there are a few tricks to get the most out of these controllers with the least effort. Here are a few survival tips from a guy who runs over 80,000 pixels with them.

Ignore the Official Configuration Advice

HolidayCoro has an extensive collection of videos about the HinksPix PRO. If you are going to be an xLights user, ignore them! The controller’s designers envisioned a world where the controller was the center of the world, so it has design tabs in the web UI, etc. But, aside from the troubleshooting videos, everything in there is much more complicated than it needs to be. Just add the controller to xLights, attach props with the visualizer, and upload the configuration. Magic, all the hard work is done for you.

The absolute worst is the configuration of any smart receivers. If you watch their videos and try it, it will seem horribly frustrating. Fear not, it will all be clear and simple if you just watch this video instead:

If you don’t watch this video, at least do set your controller on “Universe Per String” to avoid serious troubles with the 16-port smart receivers…

Update The Firmware!

The HinksPix PRO was redesigned for 2022 to use a different main CPU chip; the new chip clocks at a higher frequency and required firmware changes. Due to time pressure (and heart surgery), firmware validation was not complete at the time some of these boards shipped. This is not a trivial matter, if you have a HinksPix you will need to update your firmware or bad things are likely to happen:

  • Firmware pre 114, new #929 and old #925 boards: Upload of the input mapping from some newer versions of xLights does not work. This is a showstopper.
  • Firmware pre 113, new #929 boards: Smart receivers do not get configured. This is a showstopper if you have smart receivers.
  • Firmware pre 117, new #929 boards: DMX signal timing is incorrect, and does not work with all DMX devices. This can be a showstopper if you have any DMX pars or the like.
  • Firmware pre 117, all boards: DMX channels are off by one in DDP mode. This may not matter, as few use DDP.

To update the firmware:

  • Get the image from http://joehinkle.com/firmware/.
  • Unzip the file onto an SD card.
  • Put the SD card into the controller.
  • Reset controller and wait for it to do its thing. This will erase the SD card, so if you have more than one controller you will need to put the files on the SD card again.

Do not update firmware over the internet because:

  • At time of writing, the internet server is not serving the latest firmware, but firmware with severe bugs as listed above.
  • After updating over internet, the controllers tend to hang on the firmware check step, which is a nuisance to clear up.


Other Advice

If you have a 32- or 48-port configuration, get an inspection mirror. On the plus side, HinksPix configurations have a lot of ports in a compact form factor. The downside? Some of the fuses are tucked in under another board, so if you want to see them easily you would want a mirror. If you have concerns about a prop you just built, do yourself a favor and test it on a port that is wired to the top board…

If you want to use long range differential boards from other vendors, see my post about mounting connectors on the enclosure and fixing the pinout at the same time.

If you have the smart receivers, the signal drivers in those are not as strong as the main controller ports… keep some data amplifiers handy…

Controller Comparison

Comparing controllers to each other is a dangerous business, almost certain to hurt someone’s feelings. But I don’t have feelings. If you don’t like what I said about your favorite controller, maybe they should improve that controller.

HinksPix PRO

Pros:

  • Great ready-to-run configurations, lots of pixels and ports
  • Good availability, good support, even in the busy season
  • Easy to use
  • Flexible configurations with 0, 16, 32, or 48 pixel ports and 0, 4, 8, or 12 long range
  • Built-in 2-port network switch so you can daisy chain without additional hardware

Cons:

  • Long range ports not on enclosure, and pinout not compatible with the rest
  • Slow to boot and reconfigure
  • Less popular in the community
  • Hard to change fuses on the bottom board

Falcon (F16v4)

Pros:

  • Community favorite
  • Easy to use
  • Supports lots of pixels and reasonably flexible expansion configurations
  • Nifty jumpers to support LoR and DMX pinouts for serial port

Cons:

  • Hard to obtain, never in stock and sell out quickly
  • Ready-to-run configuration should have more power supplies in it (350W for 16 ports is quite skimpy), needs a better network connector (and one for the second network port), and it would be nice to have the differential ports on the enclosure. Augmented the “paint pen” port labels with numbered zip ties,

WB1616

Pros:

  • Inexpensive given the port count (16+4 long range)
  • Good availability
  • Easy to use, quick to configure
  • Tight form factor makes it possible to drop into a wide variety of enclosures
  • At the price and size, really makes one question the merits of 16-port smart receivers

Cons:

  • Not available ready to run
  • No second network port
  • No expansion (just go get another controller)

Kulp K16A-B, K32A-B

Pros:

  • Easy to use, quick to configure
  • Supports reasonable pixel and port counts
  • Not expandable, but available in sufficiently varied configurations
  • Good availability for most board configurations

Cons:

  • Not available ready to run
  • Weak data signal drivers make it sometimes necessary to put data amps right on the controller ports
  • No second network port

Kulp K40D-PB

This is long-range differential controller only. I put this controller inside a Priemium Cube setup, with 1 port going to receivers in each of 2 small cubes, and 2 ports going to double receivers in each of two large cubes. Ran them just fine. At only 10 jacks, it has a few less ports than the competitive F48 or long-range only Hinks, but it is available, quite compact and inexpensive, and definitely worth considering on those grounds.

Experience Lights Pi Hats

These are great for inputs. The two output strings seem to work fine, but a configuration with two output strings is hard to take seriously given the price of a Pi these days.

AlphaPix Flex

I use one of these that came ready to run a megatree. It does the job, but doesn’t clear the pixels when not receiving data and doesn’t support smart receivers or as many pixels per port as the HinksPix PRO, so my opinion is that the Hinks is worth the extra few dollars over the AlphaPix.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s