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Captain Picard's Enterprise viewscreen on a shoe-string project

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This page last updated on or about 3-21-05


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AUTHOR'S NOTE: Certain items like embedded web links and documented costs/prices for certain wares discussed below may be out-of-date by the time you read this. This is real world usage rather than a syrupy evangelistic exercise, so you'll find both good and bad things about home theaters or giant computer or TV displays here. Also keep in mind this is a venture into the unknown: an experiment. If it works it could make lots and lots of folks happy. If it doesn't, well, I'll have to spend a heck of a lot of money on a new monitor. Yikes!

Captain Picard's Enterprise viewscreen project log table of contents

3-21-05: My vision and work demands force a project suspension on me: but here's info for your own projector project

Due to all sorts of current constraints I'm forced to suspend this project for the time being. I simply don't have the spare time available to pursue this course. My eyestrain is too severe to brook any further delay in a remedy-- even if it's only a stop gap measure. And I'm getting further behind in my computer work every day. Plus, from the research I've done I feel that it'd be very unlikely I could surpass the do-it-yourself projector projects already in existence on the net. Especially given the current state of technologies available.

So what am I going to do for temporary eye relief? Well, I once again examined the commercial projector options and found them wanting. My eyes seem to be getting more sensitive to the refresh techniques on CRTs. So I guess I'm going with a LCD screen after all. For now.

Still, I must try to get maximum bang for the buck here. That means using a DVI connection for any LCD in order to get the best image possible. That entails adding a DVI equipped graphics card to my PC.

I've spent much of the past week bringing a Compaq Presario S4020WM up to speed to replace my overheating HP. The Compaq has an AGP slot, so that's where I'll park the card.

As I abhor games and really want nothing more than a card with ports for DVI, VGA, and TV (maybe one day I'll set up a PVR here), plus dual monitor support (which I might or might not use), I should be able to get by with a pretty low cost card.

So I ordered a connect3D ATI Radeon 7000 64 MB AGP 4x card from newegg.com for $35.31 including taxes and shipping. This baby is somewhat cheaper than the one with screen rotation I was considering earlier. Because now it seems I won't be needing rotation in the foreseeable future. And everything here must be done on a shoe string budget.

I learned something disturbing about the Compaq during all this: the company skimped on the power supply in it, apparently. It's entirely possible I might have to put a better power supply in it pretty soon to support this upgrade and others. Yikes!

The LCD display I'm expecting to go with at the moment is the Planar PL1910M 19 incher. Planar supposedly includes the cable required, plus has a darn nice warranty and quick replacement policy.

It may be a bit tricky timing the installation here. I don't like ordering the display until after the graphics card install has been successfully performed. But the DVI port on the card can't be tested until the LCD is here...and I'm definitely going to be tied up with other matters for several days to come...

But anyway, I don't want to leave aspiring projector builders hanging here. So I've compiled quite a few useful links regarding projector building in the references page linked below. Enjoy! And good luck!

Viewscreen project log contents
Project log external reference links

3-16-05: Major glare problem and possible fixes

Our first projector test resulted in abysmal failure.

We didn't have a group of bulbs of the planned power handy but we did have some capable of at least giving us a starting idea on the next problem to be solved.

And what is that problem? Glare. Terrible, total CRT screen washout glare. The glare's so bad the projector can't emit any image at all.

The design allows for up to six compact fluorescents. At the moment we only have five bulb sockets wired in and available.

We happened to have five 13 watt compact fluorescent bulbs laying around and so installed those. With all five bulbs working inside the highly reflective projector box there was almost enough concentrated light there for it to hurt when looking inside from the open CRT end.

But of course I know that amount of light will be greatly diluted by the time it reaches its end destination maybe ten or twelve feet away, and covering a greatly expanded region compared to the source.

It may be the weak wattage was one contributor to no projected image. But the glare on the CRT screen is awful. Peering in through the lens tube hole (with the lens tube removed) the CRT image isn't even legible to the naked eye through the glare.

Keep in mind a CRT is virtually the same as a TV picture tube: a thick, sealed glass jar, with the image we see actually existing on the inner side of the glass wall. The projector's glare exists on the outer side, and so can take precedence over the image on the inner.

The curvature of my CRT screen doesn't help matters here any either.

Time to revisit the original opaque projector design here!

In the original design the source image is presented through a flat glass plate. Plus flat glass seems less vulnerable to glare problems in general (we've got a flat screen TV that seems more glare-resistant than regular screens). So we rounded up a flat glass panel to put between the CRT screen and the projector.

The original design also forces an indirect path between the majority of light from its sources and the original image. At the moment our new projector does the opposite. Hmm.

The original projector also utilizes a very different sort of reflector surface than ours. Silvery as opposed to plain white. Hmmm.

So we've gathered up a flat glass plate and one much brighter compact fluorescent bulb for further tests. If needed we'll replace the white inside surfaces with aluminum foil reflecting surfaces.

I also figure on fabricating a new suspended reflecting surface which will shield the CRT screen from a direct view of the bulbs.

It'll likely be a few days before I can try the new ideas, due to other ongoing work here. I guess my first priority at the moment should be achieving the same functionality and performance as the original opaque projector design.

Viewscreen project log contents
Project log external reference links

3-15-05: A couple 'yay' votes on the rotation issue; plus an update on the prototype projector build

I emailed a reviewer of graphics cards at 'Guru of 3D: PC Hardware Reviews' with my question and they responded with an affirmative: they believe I'd get the rotation feature I want with the card I've chosen.

I emailed tech support at Pine Technologies directly about the question of if their XFX GeForce FX5500-256 MB card would rotate the screen on my CRT, and they responded with "yes", plus gave me the URL of the manual for their card to browse. Being as how I'm having problems lately persuing Adobe Acrobat pdf files on my HP, I haven't yet examined the manual file.

It appears I'll need to buy that card regardless of whether the projector works or not. Because it offers the rotation needed for the projector, plus a DVI connector I'd need for an LCD should the projector not work.

And yes, I'm coming back around to considering a LCD again, as lately I've noticed that my eyes seem sensitive to the refresh rate on CRTs now. Agh!

I've not ordered the card yet though because of the ongoing overhaul of the Compaq it would most likely be used in. I've added more RAM already and am now waiting for a OS recovery disk from HP to set the PC back to its original pristine software state (hopefully). I need to see how all that goes before committing myself to things like the card.

As I write this the projector is coming together. Or a prototype anyway. I sketched out some concepts, then got my dad in on the project, as he has a small personal woodworking shop and lots of experience with electrical wiring and fabrication-from-scratch in general.

We collaborated on the blueprints. Quite a few changes were made along the way, but the core concept remained the same.

Now the panels are cut, bulb sockets and main switch being installed.

Viewscreen project log contents
Project log external reference links

3-10-05: Further Picard viewscreen developments

I did more web research, plus emailed some queries out on the screen flip problem.

It appears possible that getting a Nvidia-equipped AGP graphics card would give me the rotation option I require. And there may be such cards available for $100 or less. Like the XFX GeForce FX5500-256 MB card by Pine Technologies. Some other nice features in this card include connectors for VGA, DVI, and S-video out, which could expand my options in other directions if the projector doesn't pan out. It might also support dual monitors simultaneously, but that's more iffy. And of course it may somewhat speed up the Compaq overall in daily operation. Though perhaps since I wouldn't be caught dead playing a video game it may be I could never tell any performance difference at all. Tsk, tsk (I don't play video games because I find them horribly boring). But as I do hope to eventually do some 3D object creation and rendering as well as heavy duty 2D graphics editing, it could help there.

Caveat: It's also still possible I'd require a LCD display for the rotation to work. Agh!

Am I about to buy the card? Well, there's still another feasibility test I need to do first in regards to the projector. Namely, do a partial mockup consisting of the core side incorporating the lens and several compact fluorescents, and several reflecting surfaces to see what emerges onto the receiving wall, upside down and all. I already have some bulb sockets. I need to cut a cardboard template for the core platform and then use its dimensions to make a wood version (using flourescents I don't expect sufficient heat to cause problems with using wood). All the reflecting sides can be pretty flimsy improvisations at this stage.

I also have a RAM upgrade to perform on the Compaq before doing anything else to it. I need to see if the RAM works before ordering anything else. And of course I'm not going to attempt adding anything to the HP because it's barely running as is.

Viewscreen project log contents
Project log external reference links

3-8-05: Unbelieveably trivial deal-breaker encountered in the Picard viewscreen project

Well, I now know that the Compaq Presario S4020WM has an S3 Graphics ProSavageDDR, originally using driver version

The Compaq is a major candidate for my next workhorse platform after my present HP bites the dust due to insurmountable software and overheating problems. Just one sample problem: I've been unable to open multiple files at once on the HP for about a year now.

As I couldn't get screen rotation by any of the hot button combos suggested on the web with this config, I Googled for more info and found iRotate 1.01 from Entechtaiwan that seemed to claim it'd achieve screen rotation with virtually any PC graphics hardware I'd be likely to have. Of course there was also the caveat that this was really meant for pivoting displays. But I hoped it'd work with my hardware anyway.

I downloaded and installed iRotate. At installation it threw up a bunch more caveats that I'd need to have the very latest updates from my driver maker for it to work.

Nothing happened. From either the documented hot key combos or the pop up menu selections. But at least I still had a working display.

So I went to the driver source S3 graphics, downloaded and installed the latest driver version available there for my chipset. Prior to that though I downloaded and ran the chip checker S3 recommended to make certain I knew exactly what chips I had and used the proper driver. After all, I didn't want to kill my video.

I got one change for all my efforts. After enough futile attempts to rotate the screen I finally got a message on-screen from iRotate saying S3 didn't support rotation for this config.

I found quite a few entries on the web refuting this, but access to those features seemed restricted to programmers: no casual user triggering was allowed.

Most after-market video cards are pretty expensive. If I have to buy one just to flip my screen upside down for the projector then that'll likely kill the project.

I can't believe there's no free or low-cost utility available for this, as the function would be handy for lots of things besides my own Picard viewscreen project: business presentation versatility, impaired vision user flexibility, maybe some gaming tweaks (gamers seem to like using rotation for something, although I'm not sure what) and more. Heck, it should be built into Windows XP itself as an option! I've done enough programming in the past to know that there's likely a parameter setting or two at some low level in the OS or driver coding that could be changed to do this like toggling a switch. Unfortunately I don't have a couple years to learn yet another coding platform to do it myself. Agh!

I've asked my brother Scotty to look into it, but he's heavily involved in his own pet project at the moment and will barely acknowledge anything else relating to computers. It might be he could solve this in 30 minutes or less. Tsk, tsk.

So at the moment this particular version of the Picard viewscreen project appears to be dead in the water.

As I'm getting further and further backlogged on computer work due to my eye strain I can't put off implementing some sort of improvement or stop gap measure soon. So I may have no choice but buying the biggest decent conventional display I can find. Agh!

But on the brighter side, things could be worse: I could be completely blind.

Viewscreen project log contents
Project log external reference links

2-24-05: Junkstorming Captain Picard's Enterprise viewscreen

Well, I've so far avoided sinking a huge sum into a new display. Partly because I can ill afford it, and partly because I may also be staring at an imminent computer replacement too. Not to mention various other expenses related to family.

I found a few items in the Windows ME OS related to accessibility that are helping a little. Plus I'm still using the mirror arrangement described before. The proof-of-concept configuration has worked so well I've haven't changed it at all-- or done anything to rig up a more permanent version.

Alas, the mirror set up consumes 75% of an entire large office desk.

I've also tried to take more frequent breaks and end the day early too in order to reduce the eyestrain.

But I can tell I need to do more.

After going over all the available info I've decided I'd really need to get a big CRT rather than LCD, as Microsoft hasn't ironed out the kinks in the OS displaying stuff crisply on LCDs at smaller resolutions like they have CRTS. And by that I mean the bigger chunkier images and text I'd need on an LCD won't view as well as on a CRT. At present LCDs are best used at pretty high resolutions for PCs-- which translates to tiny little text I can no longer see.

There's also the reduced image quality on LCDs not using DVI connectors. And DVI basically being only in expensive new PCs at the moment, or costing as much as a low end PC in the form of an expansion card. Give me a break!

There's other potential Gotchas! too-- but basically I couldn't bring myself to make the leap. There's GOT to be a better way!

Plus, I'm not so sure splurging on a bigger conventional display would solve my problem. Or solve it for long.

I really need Captain Picard's Enterprise viewscreen. My eyes are that bad, and my computer work that piled up.

The DIY overhead projector project detailed in an earlier post seems promising. But still more risky, difficult, and costly than I'd like. And even if everything went perfectly you'd still have to buy a new $40 bulb every few months. Yikes!

So the question is, can I possibly junkstorm my way to a solution? Maybe.

I spent some time going over my own version of the overhead projector thing, only using a CRT for the source image instead. But no-go.

The junkstormer in me has been nagging me about an old defunct opaque projector I used for airbrushing a few lifetimes ago. I think I bought it for around $125 at an art supply store. It was pretty cheaply constructed in my opinion, and I was never fully satisfied with it. It did blow up images from around a 9 inch diagonal window to eight feet tall or more-- but the image was dim, and as the device (or original image on the window?) got hot the projected image expanded or moved on you, so you had to sketch fast plus compensate on the fly. The projector case actually softened and deformed due to heat in the front of its interior floor, causing it to sink in around its pedestal feet there.

It seems to have been an Artograph AG100. It possessed a fairly impressive interior fan for cooling, and perhaps was supposed to use a couple 60 watt bulbs as opposed to the 100 watters I likely later used. I can't find the original box or other info to be more specific here.

I eventually disassembled it in prep for a complete overhaul to build a super-projector out of the thing, re-using only the core component of the lens. But real life intruded (and my need for such a contraption disappeared) and I never got around to it.

But I still have the pieces.

Junkstorming step one: Look for deal breakers or insurmountable obstacles in your brainstorm design.

I rounded up the pieces and took measurements. A diagonal of the original image aperture, then interior distances between the original image and the 45 degree angled mirror inside, then from the mirror to the lens.

I added together the distances for a total, then used the equal ratio or proportional method to roughly calculate what distance I'd need to get between a 17 inch monitor CRT (16 inch viewable image) and the lens, with no mirror between them, in order to suitably project my image.

Mirrors could be a problem here, due to their reversal of text. Reversal means the minimum number you can use is two in order to undo the reversal effect. And the presence and size of such mirrors can easily cause you insurmountable problems in the practicality and bulk department.

It appeared I'd need a bit more distance than the viewable original source, or 17 inches.

So the next step was a mock up test to gather more data, and look for more deal breakers.

I took the lens assembly (the lens is mounted inside a tube) and sat it atop a pile of paperback books and video tapes before my 17 inch CRT, roughly centered on the screen, and 17 inches away. I secured the lens from rolling out of position with an eraser and old desk lamp mount atop the books.

Now I backed away around 12 feet or so to around where I'd want the end image to be, and looked through the lens at that distance.

The good news was the text on screen was very legible, if a little fuzzy. Keep in mind at that focus distance only something like four or five text characters were visible at my position-- for that's all which would be projecting on the wall where I had my head parked. These characters were blown up pretty big by the lens, so it was something like the effect of me having my eyes only around two inches from the CRT peering intently at a single short word and making out the individual pixels as a slight fuzziness. Yay!

The bad news? The image was upside down. Oww!

I don't want to run a CRT upside down as a solution because their ventilation is designed for the opposite orientation (it's usually best not to work against a factory design). I also don't want to have to buy a LCD to use upside down (more expense (though a cheap 15 incher would likely do for this) plus the other LCD problems mentioned before). Yeah, I could use a fan on the CRT to help out but that's adding a whole other aspect to the project.

Other possibilities included adding another lens to the set up (but where to get it and how much would it cost?), or wearing special glasses to reverse the upside image (yikes! just brainstorming here), or...and then it hit me.

We're not talking a dumb TV here, but a programmable computer image. It should be relatively straightforward to simply have the computer itself flip the display upside down with no change in hardware orientation. Yay!

But I did a Google search and found that although people happen upon the screen flipping aspect by accident and as a glitch at times, plus pranksters use it in various joke utilities, this is otherwise not an easily accessed capability in most Windows PCs in existance at the moment. Rats!

It might be necessary to write a custom routine or buy a third party graphics card which offers the function. Like maybe Nvidia, according to my sources.

Or maybe my brother Scotty could whip up something...

So anyway at the moment none of these seem like definite show-stoppers. So let's examine some other requirements.

I must have a pretty hefty light pump involved in order to add all the extra light required to project the image 12 feet or so in distance, over and above a fairly normal office lighting level, PLUS expand that image maybe six or seven times over its source size at the same time. But I also need to minimize power consumption, heat production, and the costs and schedule of bulb replacement.

I read somewhere that those regular market projectors with $300 bulbs a regular PC user would have to replace every few months use halogens.

But those projectors are for relatively rich folks who want something tiny to easily carry around, plus can display in a large conference room or small auditorium.

Don't get me wrong. I MUST have a plenty bright projector. Otherwise it'll be inadequate for my vision problems. But I don't plan on having to tote it around on planes or in cars or luggage, or use it in a room much bigger than a small office. It's weight and size are almost unimportant relative to commercial projectors. And from what I've been able to determine so far it looks like it might not require as much total desk space as the dual mirror and CRT set up I'm presently using! It will be pretty big though. Probably around 17 inches on every side, with my 17 inch CRT screen forming the rear end of the box and my lens and multiple light bulb socket bottoms protruding out the other. Yeah, in theory I could make the lens end like a funnel and reduce overall size that way, but in reality I'll need those out-of-the-way corners to contain my light sources and maybe some ventilation provisions.

It's been literally years since I did something like this. So I'm awfully rusty, and prone to more mistakes than I would have made back when such improvisation was an every day thing for me.

I'm thinking to make the box of thin wood panels and angle brackets. But I'm open to changing the strategy based on what junk I come across at WebFLUX Central, and what handy low cost items I run across at the local Wal-mart and/or Lowes or Home Depot.

The interior at minimum must be strongly light-reflecting white. I'm hoping to maybe set up an array or two of AC light bulb sockets in the box, into which I can screw the most powerful compact fluorescents available at the local Wal-mart.

Commercial projectors seem to often possess around 150 to 200 watts of halogen lighting. My old cheap opaque projector I think only used a couple 100 watt incandescents at most, and the resulting image was still somewhat dim. I remember having to use it in dark rooms to best effect.

Hmmm. The wattage stat doesn't seem to be providing a good guide to lighting power here, so let's try lumens.

Commercial projectors seem to offer around 450 to 2000 lumens of light intensity. So what lumens might I get from some compact fluorescents?

Some Googled sources tell me that a 100 watt incandescent bulb produces around 1600-1750 lumens; and you'd need a CFL of at least 29 watts to match it.

I'm going to assume here that commercial projectors backed with all their hundreds of engineers and quality control managers and millions of dollars in R&D investment get pretty close to 100% efficiency in utilizing all their blub lumens in a final image. Not 100%, but maybe 90-96% surely?

Me, with my shoe-string budget and junk parts will probably be lucky to get 60-80% efficiency in my setup. So let's adjust the factory lumens to show how many lumens I'd really better shoot for here to make up for my small efficiency. To match the commercial 2000 lumens I may need to cough up 2800 lumens.

2800 lumens may be equivalent to around two 100 watt incandescent bulbs. Or at least two CFL bulbs of 29 watts or more. Hmm. This still sounds a bit on the dim side to me. Unless I never did use more than 60 or 75 watt bulbs in my old opaque projector? I just can't know for sure.

But I definitely want this sucker to be bright. Bright enough so I don't have to run my normal office lights dim to see the wall display. So I figure on probably using four such bulbs-- and hopefully possess sufficient expansion potential in the box to add up to four more if need be. Wow!

Yep, we're talking serious projection power here.

Yeah, I know. I'll try it first with just two bulbs in case I'm underestimating their light intensity here. But I'm pretty sure I'll need at least three and likely four.

Using CFLs should limit the heat generated. But I still feel the need for caution here: if the critically important lens or CRT get too hot they could have their own problems. The face of the CRT will be butted up to the box to essentially form its rear wall. So all the CRT but its front face will still have its normal factory ventilation going. But glass is an excellent conductor of heat, so the CRT could get warmer than usual from a hot projector box sitting on its face.

Therefore I figure to rig the projector box to consist of five panels which for the most part do NOT butt right up against one another, where the floor and roof and walls are concerned. Instead I'll leave a healthy ventilation gap between walls and the horizontal surfaces so air can enter at the bottom and flow out the top readily. To minimize light intensity loss the top and bottom panels will be oversized for the overall geometry, meaning their edges will protrude further out than the vertical wall edges would imply.

If all this produces too much heat for my small office I may add a cheap window air conditioning unit to compensate. Yeah, this is more expense, but it helps all the computer equipment last longer plus maybe will contribute to personal comfort to help me work longer hours (Agh!). And such units aren't nearly as costly as they used to be.

I've already relocated my office quarters to the side of WebFLUX Central which stays cooler in the summers than my previous spot, due to my overheating HP PC and my need to escape the kid roundup which was taking place in my old office location: kids from toddler to teen size would gather there around the computers, making it pretty difficult to get much work done. So maybe the cooler quarters will make an air conditioner unnecessary.

I may also build the box large enough so a thin sleeve could telescope in or out at the back a bit for adjustments to the distance between the lens and the CRT screen. Even without the sleeve there'll be adjustment capacity in moving the lens tube in or out a couple inches in the front, as was typical on the original opaque projector. But I suspect this much more ambitious use might require a greater range of tweaking potential. I'll likely wait to see what happens without a sleeve before making one. But adjusting the measurements of the box from the start considering the possibility of a sliding inner sleeve mating with the CRT would make everything likely work together better in the end.

If this contraption works as I hope I maybe could reset my PC monitor to the higher resolutions I previously maintained, and get back the virtual desktop space I've lost the last year or more. Heck, I may even be able to go beyond that setting to higher ones still! Yay! Because my final image may be as large as six feet high by six feet across, on a wall some ten to fourteen feet away from me.

So right now the only obstacle to building something is getting hold of a suitable display flipper utility program.

However, keep in mind the lttle fact that no matter how well things look in the beginning, something bad could come along anywhere along the way to make the entire project unworkable as-is. For instance, it's entirely possible I'd find the final image fine except for excessive fuzziness. Enough fuzziness so that it didn't solve my display problem for computer use. Agh! Something like that might take weeks or months of daily use to determine, too.

Fortunately I might still have further tweaks to try, such as a better lens and/or better display source. Or better screen surface on which to cast the image (at present I plan to use a simple wall painted white). And if worst came to worst, I could relatively easily convert the projector to the super opaque projector I meant to build long ago-- only it could turn out to be a combination super opaque projector and light table. Both items I could find useful in my artwork tasks today.

And let's not forget that even if the image fails to be of PC-work functionality, it might still be plenty good enough to present TV and DVD imagery, run through something like a media center PC. So you might still end up with a Picard viewscreen for watching TV shows and films on.

Viewscreen project log contents
Project log external reference links

1-6-04: Overheating HP-to-other-platform plans and acquiring a bigger display

To my personal anguish it appears most wise to act completely the opposite of what I usually do, and seek to err on the side of spending too much money rather than too little, in this matter of a new monitor.

According to late-breaking scientific reports computer use actually increases the risk of eye problems like I've been diagnosed with. Plus I can feel the strain in ways I never felt so strongly before. A better display might relieve such strain and help me stay off my expensive medicine-- therefor paying for itself after a while.

Too, if I cannot find a solution for this I'd simply have to abandon computing and the web: it's that serious. And banning computers and the web from my life would be like facing a nuclear winter for me personally. If I was rich maybe I could replace those elements more easily. But as it is, I can't imagine such a life.

So I went over all my research again-- plus did more-- and decided to go with a 20 inch LCD rather than a 19. I just hope that's big enough to get me by until other options come within my reach. I'll probably still have to use the mirrors even with the new display.

It looks like I'm now after a Viewsonic VX2000 20 incher, and the vendor chosen may be monitoroutlet.com.

The price was around $760 with free shipping at last check. Among the best prices available on the web for this display. And this vendor gets pretty high marks from the sources I've checked.

I've also figured out my transition strategy off the overheating HP over the coming months:

First connect the new display via VGA to the HP.

As needed or desired, replace the HP with the laptop, while adding a desktop keyboard (it already has a desktop optical mouse). This may allow me to utilize both the laptop LCD display and 20 inch display simultaneously. I also have a USB ZIP drive I can add to the laptop. This would put me into Windows XP on my primary machine. The laptop's already protected by anti-virus ware too. Boosting the laptop's RAM to 512 MB might speed it up, while finding a low cost PCMCIA DVI card would improve my display still further.

Further down the road possibly replace the laptop with a true desktop machine possessing a DVI connector, Windows XP, and a minimum of 512 MB RAM. By that time it might be sufficiently economical to add some TV viewing and PVR functionality to the mix too. Such stuff would come in handy to boost my personal productivity and recreational options in various ways. For instance, I could set it and forget it for recording the terribly rare TV shows I like to watch on my own schedule, while ridding myself of most of the commercials.

Another long term possibility would be actually constructing my own display projector. Preferably one which could be folded up to the ceiling when not in use. And maybe made use of much less costly bulb arrangements too. For instance, it seems to me a do-it-yourselfer could make use of various old-fashioned laser arrangements to get the light intensity required using much longer-lived and less costly bulbs than current projectors do. And maybe produce less heat too. Keep in mind commercial projectors are made for portability and general compactness. Throw those two priorities out the window for a home or office projector and lots of new possibilities spring forth. Old lasers used a long tube with elliptical ends, with a powerful light source being reflected perfectly into a collection mechanism which then expelled it out one end. It strikes me a similar arrangement could be concocted for a display. And today we have stuff like fiber optics the old guys didn't, for even more flexibility here.

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12-27-04: Smoke and mirrors for the vision impaired; the best deals in big displays; Mozilla update

Recall I had to move my HP from the office because of overheating problems.

Now it's my eyes that simply can't take it anymore. My 17 inch CRT monitor is no longer cutting it, especially in my newer HP quarters, where the deskspace is much more cramped than the one I had before.

After flailing about over a few weeks I came up with a stop gap measure: reducing the display res to 720x576, web browser text size to 150%, and viewing the display through two different mirrors rather than directly. The mirrors allow me to multiply the effective distance between my screen and my eyes-- a parameter which badly needed adjusting due to its contribution to eye strain. Two mirrors are required because of the reversal effect only one would have. The reduced display resolution makes the text larger and helps compensate for the mirror's effect of making the display overall look smaller (due to the total distance to the original image).

My present mirror set up is very crude, using junk available from the bowels of WebFLUX Central (basically a proof of concept trial). An old small bathroom medicine cabinet serves as one, while a larger naked mirror glass serves as the other. The cabinet sits atop a couple thick college workbooks, with a few paperback novels adjusting its vertical standing angle from the front. The larger unframed mirror is held in place by four fire bricks from our unused furnace. Both mirrors are angled at roughly 60 degrees from the wall behind my desk. I look directly into the largest one, while the cabinet mirror sets immediately to my left, with the CRT sitting in front of it. The CRT itself is facing the same direction it would if it was sitting before me-- only the cabinet mirror is facing it rather than I.

This arrangement sets my effective visual distance from my display screen at around four or five feet(!).

Note that the intervening distance and light loss in the mirrors also dims the final image some. I compensated for that by adding some 80 additional watts of fluorescent lighting to the HP's new location.

Yes, this is far from perfect. But in those cases where the print remains too small (like save file windows) I can always glance to my left for a direct distance of maybe 2.5 feet to see it better-- and this occasional distance change helps my eyes too.

This new set up is actually working pretty well at the moment. But I'm uncertain how it'll do in long drawn out work sessions (over the holidays family duties prevent such things). Plus it consumes tons of deskspace real estate I can ill afford-- not to mention limiting my virtual desktop size too. There's also the added maintenance requirements of keeping the mirrors clean, etc.

Of course, the ideal solution for someone like me would likely be a display projector of some sort where I could have an entire wall be my display maybe twelve feet away. I looked into it.

The bottomline on projectors? Super-expensive to buy and maintain. Easily thousands upfront, and having to replace bulbs every few months at $hundreds a pop(!) And besides all this projector placement would be highly inconvenient for most folks' office-space. Hence, the reason such projectors are still used mainly for corporate presentations in large conference rooms or even auditoriums.

Of course there's ways to junkstorm your way to such projector power, as outlined in 'Tom's Hardware Guide PCs & HowTo Supersize Your TV for $300 Build Your Own XGA Projector - Giant Wall Display'. But it'd be easy for a simple mistake or bad part to make the project's 'cash money' cost zoom to several times the $300 budget suggested in the how-to. And you'd have a possibly even bigger projector placement problem with the junkstormed unit than the store-bought one (basically a means to fold the whole thing up to the ceiling when not in use would be handy: but that's a whole project in itself).

Building the thing might be fun, if you had the time to spare. And could afford risking a total loss of your $300 minimal budget if things didn't work out. But I have neither to spare. So my research turned to a different direction.

Big CRTs are the cheapest they've ever been in history. Unfortunately CRT images can pose many Gotchas for eye problem sufferers like me. By comparison LCDs are supposed to be much better for the eyes. But they cost much more per display inch too. And having eye problems means you need every display inch you can get. LCDs are flat panels too, which means they take up a fraction the deskspace of a comparable CRT.

As I write this 17 inch LCDs are the sweet spot in cost-effectiveness. Unfortunately I need at least a 19 incher. I base this on the present 17 inch Apple LCD attached to the G4, plus what's happening with my 17 inch CRT and the mirrors.

Mac users might ask why don't I just switch to the G4 from the HP. I wish I could! But the truth of the matter is I'd lose functionality and capability in almost every aspect of my life by doing so. I tried my darnedest to make do with a late model Mac via my iMac when I had it, and simply couldn't. Things that are free and commonly available for Windows are not for Macs. Plus Apple horribly screwed up the interface for OS X. And OS X is buggy as can be (as you'd expect of an infant GUI like X). Today anyone who prefers the original Mac interface but wants maximum modern power and functionality too must use Windows. Recall that Windows is basically a clone of the original Mac GUI-- while OS X is *%#@!$^&& (the gibberish represents wild cursing).

Plus even where a modern Mac can do something, you must pay dearly for it in cash. Significant sums over and above what the same thing would cost for a PC. So I'm personally way too poor (and ambitious) to use a Mac as my main or only computer. Even if I wanted to use that *%#@!$^&& OS X.

And Apple hardware quality seems to have gone down as their prices went up. Our G4 flat panel has a burned out backlight at this very moment, which makes the bottom half of the screen dimmer and harder to see.

So Macs simply are not an option here.

I even examined the possibility of using a combo HDTV-monitor for a replacement, in order to kill 1+ birds with one stone. But it turned out that option had even more caveats than the projectors at the moment. I also considered using two 17 inch LCDs simultaneously rather than one 19 incher (this would require adding a card too). But that didn't appear very cost-effective, despite what some PC magazines expressed to the contrary.

So it appears a 19 inch LCD is in my future. According to the latest reviews I've been able to sample, the best choice would be a $600-$700 Viewsonic VP912b, with the second best perhaps a $600+ Dell Ultrasharp 1905fp. And third best $400 Planar PL 1910M-bk. The main differences between all these are the number of positioning adjustment options and USB ports available onboard. Note adjustments could be pretty important vision-wise.

Of course to get absolutely the best display possible on LCDs you need to use a DVI connection. And DVIs are basically available at the end of 2004 only on the more expensive PCs-- usually ultra expensive Windows XP Media Center Editions.

Of course my over-heating HP may not be long for this world anyway, so a new PC may be unavoidable too. But after perusing my choices (and seeing the Media Centers still hold significant Gotchas! even if their price doesn't matter) I've concluded I'll get just a display sporting both DVI and VGA connectors soon, and a DVI equipped PC sometime later (when I have maybe no choice in the matter due to a dead HP).

As usual, the displays rated best buys are almost impossible to find at the normal outlets-- and so much tougher to locate bargain deals in as well. But I'm on the prowl...

I wish Mozilla would remember your text display size preferences like IE does. But at least I did find a keyword shortcut for on-the-fly adjustments (Control-plus or Control-minus).

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