Big Screen Home Theater - on the BEDROOM CEILING - DIY for $200
Watch movies flat on your back
Many readers may already have home theater setups. But here's something unique - a big-screen home theater on the ceiling right over your bed, several feet wide. Perfect for insomniacs, convalescents, or just for watching your favorite TV shows and movies in ultimate comfort.
The best news is that you can put this system together for very little money.
How it Works
The heart of our system is an LED pico projector, sometimes called a pocket projector, which can project a picture onto any light-colored wall (or ceiling, in this case.) This type of video projector is very small and inexpensive, and most important, has both a very long lamp life and cool running temperatures. Most video projectors contain hot lamps, and are not designed to be mounted pointing upward. Incorrectly mounting a traditional projector could result in expensive heat-related damage. Our pico projector, illuminated by modern LED lamps, won't have this problem.
Pico projectors do have a flaw, which is a lower level of illumination than other types of video projectors. Fortunately, this is not a serious flaw for our application, as bedroom TV watching can easily take place in a darkened room. In fact, modest illumination is ideal for late-night watching, as it will not light up the room or disturb your spouse, who may be trying to sleep.
Many Pico projectors are not high resolution, but several are, if your budget allows. You should look at both modestly priced projectors and larger and higher quality LED projectors. One of the first decisions you'll need to address is whether you want to make yourself a high-resolution, full-fledged theater system, or if you're happy enough just watching a big screen but standard resolution video picture from your bed.
First of all, you need to have a white bedroom ceiling, that's relatively flat. Using screen paint on your ceiling to improve light gain is an optional step.
Next, you'll need a way to mount the projector to your bed's headboard or the wall. Some ideas on doing that are in the next section.
And finally, you'll need a video source, and a way to present sound.
Your source could be a small computer, which can be used to play DVDs through, or to access streaming content like NetFlix. It could also be a cable or TV tuner, or a set-top box like Roku, Boxee, or Google TV. It could be a DVD player. It could even be a tiny iPod.
For sound, you'll have to decide if headphone sound is enough (through your computer's headphone jack, for example) or if you'd like to have a nice speaker system. The answer depends on whether you will be presenting to an audience - the population of your bed - or just to yourself. Any old stereo system with speakers could be put to use for this task. Place it close enough to your sleeping position that you can plug in headphones to silence the speakers when necessary.
Mounting Your Projector
As there are numerous projector designs and bedroom layouts to be found, these suggestions will be somewhat general. You may find a better solution for yourself.
There are three ways to mount your pocket projector for ceiling projection. You can mount to the bed's headboard; you can mount to the wall; or you can use a mini-tripod to place the projector on a table, floor or other flat surface.
The bracket in the photo is homemade from metallic grid. Specifically, I used a material called "expanded metal" that I found at my local Home Depot store. It's perfect for my task, as it won't interfere with the ventilation holes on my projector. Expanded metal is very strong and tough, but bendable and workable with pliers and wire cutters.
I just cut a small piece and bent into an "S" shape. Next I cut away some of the grid to make room for the wiring that plugs into the projector, and firmly attached the projector to the mount using a screw into the tripod mounting hole on the unit.
You can see in the photo how easily it hangs from the headboard on my bed. This same bracket could just as easily be mounted to a wall using screws.
Another option for wall mounting is a security camera mount, and there are some examples in the products section further down the page.
Some beds have shelf-type headboards, with a flat top. You could use a mini-tripod with your pico-projector in this instance. Likewise, the mini-tripod could be placed on your nightstand or even on the floor near your bed.
Mini-tripods are tiny and inexpensive, usually a few inches high, and normally sold for use with cameras.
Tips for Best Results
You should decide on and purchase your projector first, and experiment with placement before deciding on a mounting solution, as you will have a better idea what will work after doing this. If you buy a security camera mount, or a mini-tripod, make sure the head (designed for a camera, not a projector) can swivel your projector far enough to project an image straight up at the angle you need.
If you want the largest screen size possible, look for a way to place the projector as far as possible from the ceiling. You could even place it on the floor (if you have twin beds, place it between them.) Another consideration - to avoid excessive "keystoning" (distortion of the square shape of the screen), you also want to project as straight as possible. This means placing the projector as close to the heads of the viewers as possible (that is, not way off to the side of the bed, but as near to the center of it as possible.)
Note that if you want the absolute best image, you can paint your ceiling with special reflective screen paint that has a higher light gain than plain house paint. In my opinion this is not absolutely necessary for nighttime (darkened room) viewing, but you will get a brighter screen if you take this extra step. I have provided a link to screen paint products further down the page.
If your projector has a lens cap, be sure to cover the lens when not in use, or at least count on cleaning the lens on a regular basis. Pointing straight up, it will collect a lot of dust as time passes.
Other Uses for Your Bedroom Theatre
I have a small security camera plugged into an input of my projector (these cost just a few dollars - see products at the bottom of the page.) The security camera points out the window at my driveway.
Since my projector is on my headboard within easy reach, I can reach over and flip it on if I hear a noise outside. This is a very fast way for me to get peace of mind and go back to sleep.
With a little more wiring effort, the camera could also be used as a baby monitor for monitoring a nursery, or any other room in your house.
In fact, since the LED light source in your projector is so energy efficient and reliable, you could leave your nursery camera and mini-projector on all night, so that all you need to do is open your eyes and look upward to see that everything's all right.
Connecting Your System
First of all, be sure you can connect everything the way you wish to. Decide first what your video source is. If it's a computer, make sure the projector you buy has a compatible input. For example, if your computer has a VGA output, get a projector with a VGA input. A cable box or a set-top box like a Roku will have an HDMI output, which your projector is not likely to accept. But these boxes typically also have a composite video output, which most projectors will take. Likewise, DVD players have composite video outputs. As long as one of the outputs from your video source matches one of the inputs on your projector, your system will work.
The audio part of the system is handled in a similar way. The simplest and least expensive solution is to source video from a computer. Then you can simply plug in headphones to listen to sound.
From a set-top box or cable/TV tuner, you should use a small stereo system and speakers. Personally, I use an old one I found at a garage sale for $5, but using an inexpensive amplifier/speaker setup designed for computer use (with an appropriate RCA to 1/8" phone jack adapter) should work fine, too. Use a standard RCA-type stereo cable between the box or tuner output and one the stereo's inputs. Then place the speakers on opposite sides of the bed.
Enjoy the show!
Products for your Bedroom Ceiling Home Theater - Pico Projectors
We haven't tried all the projectors, mounting solutions, or all combinations of products together. So shop carefully. Look at prices, but also consider brightness (measured in lumens), number and type of input connectors, picture resolution, contrast, and aspect ratio. 640 x 480 resolution is basic television. High-definition TV is 720 x 1280, or 1080 x 1920. Generally, better resolution, brightness and contrast means a more expensive projector, so that's the choice you'll need to make.
If you want to keep the project simple and inexpensive, just go with a basic 640 x 480 pico projector. It will be easiest to set up and get connected. Resolution isn't so important if you're going to be sleepy anyway.
High-Definition LED Projectors
These projectors will give you a very serious system. One that will probably keep you awake all night. Note that you don't really need more than a few hundred lumens of brightness, at the very most, for nighttime viewing. For daytime viewing, or viewing with lights on, use a grey screen paint (improves contrast) and a brighter projector, 2,000 lumens or better.
Below are some mini-tripods and security camera mounts. Take a close look at these, and at your projector, too, to make sure your projector can aim upward and display properly.
Small Speaker Systems
Simple and cheap (designed for computers) amplifier-speaker systems that you can use with your new Bedroom Ceiling Home Theater.
Set Top Boxes
Set top boxes are an easy way to get high-definition movies and TV shows into any room of your house, without paying expensive cable TV fees. most of these feature multiple channels of free content.
Optional. Get some extra brightness out of your ceiling screen by using this special paint. Yes, it's expensive.
Optional. Make your bedroom ceiling TV more useful by connecting a security camera to watch your driveway, or your kids.