Build a Backyard Theater

Construct a high-def front projector for hundreds less than store-bought models

by Nik Schulz/L-Dopa.com

You could build a no-frills model with a basic enclosure for around $500. We added a few extra parts to make ours yard-friendly. Click the photo for a detailed view.Nik Schulz/L-Dopa.com

Want some real home theater bragging rights? Instead of buying a projector capable of casting a 14-foot image at 1080p (progressive) resolution-the highest high-definition there is-build one yourself. After all, the front projector´s innards are simple: an LCD lit by a superbright lamp, and a few lenses to magnify and sharpen the image. Retail models start at around $800 and use proprietary $400 lamps that burn out every few years. But cheaper lamps work equally well, and none of the other parts are very expensive. Why not put one together yourself?

That´s the logic that led Grayson Sigler to found Lumenlab three years ago. The company makes and sells kits for DIY
projectors with $50 metal-halide lamps that last up to 10 times as long as those
in commercial models. And Lumenlab´s forums are the hub of an 11,000-member community that trades tips and tricks, answers newbie questions, and posts photos of their beloved builds.

The tradeoff is that Lumenlab projectors are quite a bit larger than store- bought models, which use small LCD screens (the DIY version relies on a disassembled 15-inch computer monitor). Then there´s the considerable elbow grease. Stripping an LCD is delicate work, and you have to carefully construct your own case so the optics line up just right. But the finished box can be mounted anywhere and easily upgraded. Below is a breakdown of how PopSci photographer John Carnett built the one shown here. For an in-depth photo how-to, click here.

Build Your Own Projector
****Cost:
$1,027
Time: 25
Hours
Easy | | | | |
Hard

  1. Order the Mega Kit from lumenlab.com, which includes everything except the enclosure and the LCD.
  2. Consult Lumenlab´s forums for a list
    of the best 15-inch LCD panels for the project. Find deals at froogle.com.
  3. Build a case, or browse the forums to find others who will make one for you.
  4. Strip the housing and backlight from the LCD, taking care not to rip any cables.
  5. Position your lenses in the case to
    create the correct focal length for the projected image.
  6. Add fans, and wire up the electronics.
  7. Attach a video source, such as a DVD player or computer, and hit â€play.â€

Click here for the in-depth photo how-to.