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Christmas Gift Guide
Smart Home

How to set up Christmas lights in 10 minutes

Hint: Use a holiday light projector, like laser lights.

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Laser lights projected on a house.

GIF by Sharon Profis/CNET

You don't need to spend time putting up string after string of Christmas lights to get a festive home for the holidays. Instead, get projection lights. They're cheap, they can cover your entire house with pretty lights and they require just 10 minutes to set up.

Projection holiday lights -- like the Star Shower Motion Laser Light -- beam colorful lights or images onto your house so that it looks completely festive, without all the work. All you do is spike the light into the ground and plug it into an extension cord that is manufactured for outdoor use. There are a few things to consider before purchasing a laser light, though.

So many choices!

Which light projector you choose mainly depends on how you want your house decorated. Many lights project just red and green balls of light, but some project patterns.

Other lights come with a selection of festive images to choose from and some even play music. More advanced units project animated movies.

Here are some lights with various options:

How much do they cost?

The more options a light has, the more expensive it is. Basic red and green projectors or those with just one image run around $10 to $50. Lights with customizable images or fancier light displays cost $100 to $300. (If you're not in the US, search for "Christmas projector lights outdoor" on Amazon or eBay. We found similar low-cost ones for around £25 or AU$50.)

Sound like too much? You can make your own basic projector with this how-to.

Features (swivel, anyone?)

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A basic festive light projector.

Alina Bradford/CNET

Projectors don't have a bunch of features. The most inexpensive come with just a light unit and a stake.

The more you spend, the fancier the projectors get. Some of them come with a swivel head, for example, so you can adjust where the projections are pointed on your house. This really isn't necessary if you don't mind pulling up the light's stake, turning it and sticking it back into the ground.

If you might want to move the light party inside, look for projectors that come with a stake base for the outdoors and an indoor base. Also, look for a projector that comes with a light sensor. These projectors shut themselves off when the sun rises and turn back on when it gets dark so there's less work for you.

Light type

Another feature is light type. Some projectors have LED lights, while others have lasers. The main difference is clarity. For example, if you pick a light that projects snowflakes, a laser light will project a clear image of a snowflake, while an LED snowflake would be softer and slightly out of focus.

How many do you need?

Most homes will just need one projector for each side of the house they want to light up, but there are some factors that may require you to purchase more.

First, check how much square footage the projection covers. Then, determine how many square feet on your home's exterior you want to cover with light. For example, if you just want to light the garage door, there's no need to buy a bigger unit designed to cover the entire front of a house. If you can't find one that covers as many feet as you need, you may want to spring for two units.

Second, remember that with many laser units, the farther back you put the unit, the wider the light display is. If you have a large house and a super small front yard, you may not have enough room to set the unit away from your house.

For example, the Star Shower Motion Laser Light covers 206 square feet when placed 10 feet away from a house. If the front of your house is 3,296 square feet, though, you would need to place the light 40 feet away from your house. If your yard isn't that wide from the house to the street, or you have trees or bushes that would block the projector when placed that far away, then you'll need more than one unit.