The Ghetto Projector

So I finally have myself my own theater in a basement. All of this was accomplished for less then $100 (what can I say, I’m cheap). I know some of you may ask how is that possible, so let me explain. For starters I have been a casual observer of the DIY projector builders movement for many years now. My primary source of information has come from the LumenLab user forums (http://www.lumenlab.com/forums/). My problem was that every time I priced out many of the totally kick ass builds shown on LL it ended up being several hundred dollars (usually in the $300 to $600 range). I also feared pissing money away by breaking something. So all of this interest got me thinking would it be possible to build this entire projector for less then $100?? That way if I break it I could easily replace what was broken and move on.

Now for those of you who are new to DIY projector building the concept is pretty simple, you just need the following:

1. a light source

2. fresnal lenses (for directionally pointing light

3. a video source (in the DIY world this is a stripped LCD screen)

4. a throw lens

5. a screen (optional)

Now with the components I just listed and a lot of reading at LL I figured I could get 3 of the 4 required parts in one preassembled unit. That being a standard overhead projector just like the one your teachers would have used back in school. So with that I kept my eyes peeled for deals and steals, eBay was just too overpriced for my needs. I did however get good advise to check out my local university SWAP (or Surplus with a Purpose) program which collects, processes, and redistributes surplus property generated by UW-Madison and state agencies in an effort to refund those institutions. They also have a mission about the value of recycling, so I guess I am doing my part 😉 So anyways for months I watched the listings at http://www.bussvc.wisc.edu/swap/ for projectors and then I scored. I bought 4 projectors for $5 each. The shape of each projector varied a little, but all of them were well within the requirements I needed for a projector.

Now the only thing I really needed was a video source. In the DIY projector world the best thing to use here is an LCD projector that has the LCD and controller board stripped from the case. My first experiment was to use a 15″ LCD 720p TV, but there were a few problems with it. First it was above what I wanted to spend on the projector. Second my first strip attempt actually ruined the projector and I had to get it “replaced”. Third (an ultimately the biggest issue) was that the LCD was greater in surface area then the field of view on the overhead causing clipped images. Once I got the replacement I decided against stripping it until a later project. It was about 2 weeks later (and without any projector) that I found a total steal at buy.com for a Sonic Impact Portable Video iPod Player w/ 7″ LCD. These things used to go for about $200, but due to a firmware change in the iPod they stopped working with iPods so buy.com had then for 39.99 with free shipping. The reason this worked perfectly for me is that it had composite video inputs.

Once I got the Sonic Impact Player I had to take off the casing from the screen and remove the backlight. The entire strip process took about 30 minutes (just cause I didn’t want to F’ it up). Additionally I made a screen to hang on the wall out of blackout cloth and 2′ x 4′. The screen is over 7′ long and over 4′ tall. The screen and materials cost about $30. My only real issue is that I ran out of materials for the edging and have yet to go and pick more up. So without further ado here is my Ghetto Projector:

This is the LCD on a cutout frame sitting in it’s normal position on the overhead projector

Here is a picture of the LCD turned on at the menu screen with the overhead on as well.

Here is a picture of the screen, with all of the basement lights on, on the same menu screen as the last picture. To get an idea of the size the window that is partially covered is 2 feet wide.

This has been a fun project. Now begins the time to tweak the overall quality. I am happy with the cost and it wasn’t even that labor intensive.

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