Backyard Theater

I became interested in a backyard theater while camping. There was a guy there who had just a white sheet, DVD player and a projector. It was awesome, they (him and his family) sat by the campfire and watched movies all night. It reminded me of the old drive-ins, just watching movies in the night air.

After getting home, I set out to build a system of my own. I had a few basic ideas and must-haves.

  • Cheap – Get used or make parts
  • Portable – In case I want to take it camping or a friends house
  • Bright – I want it easy to see, even in the moonlight of a full moon
  • Simple – Easy to setup/take down

After spending about 5 seconds looking at prices of new projectors, it was clear that Ebay was the way to go. There were some great deals that could be had on Ebay, but like anything else, you need to do your research. With projectors, there are so many specs on them that it can make your head spin. I’ll go over the major ones to look at:

  • Brighness / Color Light Output – Rated in lumens, this is the amount of light coming from the projector. The bigger the better, but get at least 2000, anything less will seem dark and not work very well with other light, such as moonlight.
  • Resolution – This is the number of pixels that can be displayed. The higher the better, but I recommend at least 1024×768.

I found a Epson 3LCD LCD Projector PowerLite 85 H295A but it was listed as Non-Working/Parts and didn’t have a bulb in it, so I checked Ebay again to find out how much bulbs were and since they we cheap, I bought the unit.  After installing the new bulb, the unit ran perfect.

Next thing on my list was to create a video source for it since I didn’t want to lug around my DVD player everywhere I went.  My solution for this was to load up XBMC on the RaspberryPi and run my videos from there.  The only issue was the projector had a PC VGA input, so I picked up a 1080p Hdmi Male Input to VGA +Audio Output Cable Converter Adapter on Amazon.

For audio I needed something loud, so I used an old pair of computer speakers that had a amp and subwoofer built in.  It worked out perfect, the HDMI adapter had a 3.5 mm plug that plugged right in.

Last, but not least, I needed a screen.  I found Ron-Loc Budget Blackout Lining at Joann Fabric.  This heavy cloth reflects light well and prevents light from going through.  If you’re on a budget, a white sheet works well too.

Overall, I spent less then $200 on the system for those hot summer nights to watch our favorite movies outside.

XBMC on Raspberry Pi

I have been playing around with the Raspberry Pi and XBMC a lot lately.  It has come a long was since it 1st came out.

I really like Openelec XBMC distro because it really does make the Raspberry Pi feel like an appliance since there is really almost no configuration necessary, it just works.  Most partitions are read-only, so if it crashes, you don’t have to worry.  But, that being said, it makes it a lot harder to tinker with.  I couldn’t get a GPIO remote to work and it was a pain to get other software installed on it.  It’s perfect if you have a USB remote sensor and you want to set it and forget it.

Raspbmc is another XBMC distro.  It is now on RC4 and its getting really good.  I like it a real lot.  Boot up times are not as good as Openelec, but since you boot it up once, then just let it go, it’s not a big deal.  It is based on Debian, so installing extra software is a breeze.  Also, since they have switched over to hardfp and other XBMC tweaks, it’s FAST!  Also, it comes with the lirc_rpi IR sensor kernel driver so getting a cheap ($1) remote sensor working was easy..

All in all, both distro’s are really coming along nice.  It’s impressive that the Raspberry Pi can do all that, or should I say it’s impressive with all the hard work that the developers did it get it to run on the Raspberry Pi.

Raspberry Pi

There is a new computer on the market called the Raspberry Pi.  I’ve been watching this project for quite some and am excited to see it finally being sold.  The Raspberry Pi was created by the not-for-profit Raspberry Pi Foundation in the UK.

The computer itself comes in 2 different versions, Model A for $25 and Model B for $35.  They are basically the same except Model B includes a NIC port and an extra USB port.

Specs:

  • Broadcom BCM2835. This contains an ARM1176JZFS, with floating point, running at 700Mhz, and a Videocore 4 GPU
  • 256 Mb RAM
  • SD Card Slot
  • USB Port
  • HDMI Port
  • Composite TV Port
  • 3.5 mm Jack (audio)
  • No Power Supply

They have entered into a manufacturing and distributing contract with Premier Farnell and RS Components.  In the US, that means you can get them from Newark and Allied Electronics respectively.  Currently, the Raspberry Pi is being sold without a case, but that may change in the future.

The GPU has H.264 hardware acceleration built in which will allow you to watch high-def movies on it by just hooking up a TV with the HDMI port.

The whole computer is around the size of a business card and runs Linux!  This makes it perfect for our projects around here.