The goal of this project was to create a low cost Raspberry Pi Media Panel–a nice looking screen that could stand in the living room or attach to the refrigerator with the primary purpose of streaming personal photo and video content full time, but also be able to do some other cool things when needed…like show the weather, play a movie, play music, or receive AirPlay content.
Read this blog post if you want to learn more about what a media panel is and why you might want one.
Success criteria were:
-Low cost: a full blown computing device and screen for between $100 and $200 all in
-Attractive: meaning my wife finds it aesthetically acceptable for the living room
-Light: no more than a few pounds
-Thin: no more than an inch thick, including frame
-Quick: can be built in a few hours or less
-Simple: requiring mainly assembly, versus construction or manufacturing
Several people have asked me about an integrated product/service like this that is off-the-shelf. I’ve been working on one for almost two years, and just launched it on Kickstarter. It’s called Fireside, and we think of it as a SmartFrame. It auto-organizes, scores and ranks your photos and videos so it can be smart about constantly updating playlists so you always see fresh relevant content. Read all about it here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/897743693/fireside
Step 1: Select the right LCD Screen
There is a lot to picking the right LCD screen…so much that I wrote a completely separate blog post on how to select the right LCD screen for your media panel. If you want the full details and/or are thinking of doing something different, read that post.
To keep things short and simple, I recommend using a 15″ or 17″ screen similar to the screens used in the MacBook or MacBook Pro. You can, of course, also use a screen from an old laptop you already own, but you need to make sure you can find an LCD controller board that can operate it.
We bought our screens from Laptopscreen.com, and the exact models we chose were the LG & Philips LP154WP1-TLA1 and the LG & Philips LP171WU3-TLA2. They were about $75 each brand new. Both screens were matte finish, though the next time I think we’ll opt for glossy.
Don’t worry so much about the numbers after the dash…they don’t have a large impact on the screen. The critical numbers that determine whether an LCD Controller will support your panel and how to program it are the LP154WP1 and LP171WU3.
If you have questions, or are thinking about getting a different screen, read this blog post first.
Step 2: Order an LCD Controller Board
You’ll also need to buy an HDMI A to DVI 24+1 cable, since the controller board has DVI and VGA input but no direct HDMI. We used this one from amazon.
If you want to have audio, you need a device that can take the audio track off HDMI and deliver it via 3.5mm analog. You can find these on Amazon for between $30 and $99, depending on options. We’ve used this $43 product from J-Tech Digital with the X-mini II speaker via 3.5mm jack and had a good experience.
Unfortunately, there is a problem with the 3.5mm analog out on the Raspberry Pi board itself, and if you try to use it you will get a lot of popping and background noise. Similarly, if you try to add a USB sound card and take audio off via software, you’ll find relatively poor performance and audio/video delay and syncing issues in our experience. Currently, the only reliable way is to take audio off HDMI.
Step 3: Order a Frame
Once your LCD screen arrives, it’s time to get out the tape measure and get the exact dimensions so you can order a frame for it. American Frame provides nice looking and low cost cut-to-order metal frames to your exact specification. Unfortunately, they do not cut metric sizes. Since LCD panels are made to metric specifications, you will have to calculate the size using 16ths of an inch as best you can. If you can’t get a perfect match, round up to make sure the panel will fit inside the frame.
I recommend the Radius Colorcast line since the slightly larger rabbet depth fits the depth of the LCD panel a little better and the rounded bevel makes a slightly more attractive package. The Standard line works fine too if you want something simpler. Colors worth checking out include Black, Bright White, Right Red and Natural Steel. The frames you see in the photos of this tutorial are all Natural Steel.
Make sure you order the standard white mounting board and that you remove the matting and the acrylic that are automatically added to the order. You don’t need them. Total cost should be around $10-15 plus shipping, which will take up to about a week depending on where you’re located.
Step 4: Magnetic Mount vs Stand vs Hanging
Now you need to decide where you want to put your frame so you can get the correct mounting hardware. If you’re going to hang it, your frame will ship with everything you need.
If you want to mount it on the refrigerator, we recommend getting four extremely strong magnets. We used MMR-A-X8 Neodymium mounting magnets from K&J Magnetics for about $5 each. In retrospect, this may have been overkill, but the good news is there is no chance that our Media Panel is going to accidentally come off the refrigerator. To attach the magnets to the frame, you will need a 2″ x 1/2″ mending brace (sold at Ace Hardware or similar) and four 1/6″ wide x 1/2″ long machine nuts and bolts.
If you want to stand your Media Panel on a desk or a table, the $5 Easel Mate by Albin Products is a great solution. Do not order directly from Albin like we did. Albin is the designer of the Easel Mate and wholesales it. Unfortunately, the Easel Mate they sell on their web site is the wood screw version, and will not work for our metal frame. Many picture frame stores seem to carry the Easel Mate, and we ended up buying it at University Art in Palo Alto. A quick Google search will turn up many other suppliers you can order from online.
For more detail: How to Make a Raspberry Pi Media Panel (fka Digital Photo Frame)