Instructables

How to Make a Raspberry Pi Media Panel (fka Digital Photo Frame)

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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

Update:

Several people have asked me about an integrated product/service like this that is off-the-shelf. I've been working on one for more than a year, and we'll be launching very soon. If you're interested in learning more, you can add your email address here: https://www.fireside.co/

 
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Step 1: Select the right LCD Screen

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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.
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andyjagoe (author) 6 months ago

Several people have asked me about an integrated product/service like this that is off-the-shelf. I've been working on one for more than a year, and we'll be launching very soon. If you're interested in learning more, you can add your email address here: https://www.fireside.co/

This is a very cool idea. I supposed I could use a screen from a old laptop, does not hurt to give it a try. I imagine that it is possible to integrate wireless speaker. There is so much to play with this. Thumbs up, very good!!

andyjagoe (author)  luis.berroa.1653 days ago
Hi Luis. Thanks for the comment and glad you're enjoying!

Yes, you can use an old laptop screen--but you need to make sure you can get an LCD controller board that can drive it. Also, sound is definitely possible. It used to be that you needed to take it off the HDMI channel for best results (some LCD controller have this built in) since RPi didn't handle separate audio solutions well...but I understand this has been getting better. You might be able to take it off the 3.5mm jack. You just have to be careful with sync issues.

bigbutbald6 days ago

Hey! Thanks for the intractable. It's great. My question is if there's anyway to adjust or tweak this, so that it would draw from a dynamic set of pictures, like a twitter hashtag, or Facebook album, or something like that?

andyjagoe (author)  bigbutbald3 days ago
Thanks for your note and question. I know there are some apps you can add to XBMC to do some of these things, but I've never found any that I especially liked. It's one of the reasons I started working on Fireside, which is launching on Oct 28: http://blog.fireside.co/why-we-created-fireside/

Thank you for a great Instructable! I have one problem--wireless access with Raspbmc. I think I've tried every solution on the web with no success. Can you help?

Are you using OpenElec all i did was go into settings you should be able to find all the WiFi settings there assuming you have a wifi dongle plugged in.

Also if i'm getting this wrong try plugging the WiFi dongle into the Rpi directly, instead of a USB hub.

andyjagoe (author)  john.scott.7140412 days ago

Hi John. Thanks for the comment and glad you enjoyed it! Can you be more specific with the problem you're having with wireless in Raspbmc? To get consistent and stable wireless support with the Edimax under Raspbian, it's important to do the following system tweaks which are not configured by default (see below). Not sure if these are in Raspbmc or not...but it's worth taking a look.

#Add 'wireless-power off' to /etc/network/interfaces so wifi operates properly
# Disable power saving in realtek 8192cu
# add 'options 8192cu rtw_power_mgnt=0 rtw_enusbss=1 rtw_ips_mode=1' to /etc/modprobe.d/8192cu.conf

Thanks, Andy! I'm a real noobie here but I'll give this a try.

Also, my issue is that Raspbmc will scan for wireless, see my network but will not connect for some reason.

andyjagoe (author)  john.scott.7140412 days ago

Ok...my suggestions will probably not help in that case. This change is just to prevent situations where your wireless will lock up or stop working.

You may want to try loading Raspbian on another SD card and see if you can boot it up and find your wireless network. This would be a good datapoint for you to know exactly where the problem is. I've found Raspbmc to sometimes be a bit more bleeding edge than Raspbian...you could also try the OpenElec distribution which is an XBMC oriented distribution for RPi but also maybe a bit more stable. Simply boot up and then from the command line type 'startx' to go into the gui. You can then use the WiFi setup tool on the desktop to look for and add networks.

zsole213 days ago

Hi Andy,

Thank you for this great instructable! It was easy to follow, without much experience on DIY projects.

There are two points that somewhat bothered me, but from the comments, others had it too: having two power bricks, and the on-off switch (or lack thereof). With some research and experimenting, I was able to overcome those:

For the power brick, I managed to setup a step-down converter from the 12V LCD line (e.g. http://www.dx.com/p/dc-7-24v-to-dc-5v-voltage-step-down-transformer-module-144860).

For the switch, I found the solution at http://www.raspberrypi.org/forums/viewtopic.php?p=355975. A simple pushbutton can be wired in instead of the jumper, and the second link under 'EDIT' is particularly useful. To make it work under raspbmc, GPIO access needs to be enabled, an easy to follow guide can be found at http://www.raspberrypi.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=35&t=62438 (and if someone needs cooling, this is a good starting point, too).

I hope this helps others who wants to follow this excellent guide.

andyjagoe (author)  zsole213 days ago
Hi Zsole2,

What a great addition to the instructable! Thanks for sharing.

Best,

Andy
skinner.tim23 days ago

This could be my solution I've been looking for, I work as a video artist, mainly showing projected work in non-commercial galleries. Someone is going to purchase my work but I need to appropriate it for a household setting, so it can hang on the wall just like a painting. Anyway I've been trying to work with digital photo frames, firstly getting the right MP4 with the right codecs is a nightmare, and the quality is poor (plastic imports from China). Would it be possible not to stream a video through the internet but just play via a usb?

andyjagoe (author)  skinner.tim23 days ago
Hi Tim. Thanks for your comment. If you use XBMC as the Instructable suggests, the default is to play locally and a USB stick was what I used when I built it. You still might have to deal with codecs though, since XBMC handles some better than others.

Something else that could interest you is my new company Fireside, which has its roots in this very instructable (and is launching soon). Fireside is like Sonos for video/pictures, providing a visual ambience ecosystem for the home. It also has apps for adding content and does all the transcoding / conversions for you.

Thanks Andy

Codecs are a real pain, most common for me are MP4 - ACC, H.264 or .Mov - Linear PCM, H.264, my vids are created on FCE and then Quicktime conversion. I've trialled XBMC on my Mac it is running my videos fine, this might change when XBMC is on the Raspberry Pi.

Signed up to Fireside, as there are more and more digital video artists anything to help us sell our work to the general public is always welcome, ideally we want a device that can play one single MP4orMov that is secured within (one piece, one frame) and can hang on the wall, no different to a painting, ideally battery powered.

Anyway thanks again.

Doing it!
My UK pricing so far.

R-Pi (B+) - £27.44
Edimax Wifi - £8.28
USB Hub (recently released R-Pi one) - £10.11
Black Pi case - £2.46
Mains for Pi - £2.88
2m cable HDMI - DVI - £1.84
LCD Controller Board (HDMI+DVI+VGA+AUDIO LCD Controller Board for LP154WX4 1280x800 DIY M.NT68676.2A) - £23.00
LG 17" LP154WX4 Screen (2nd hand) - £16.14

Total £92.15 ($149.18)

The items left to source are slightly more expensive here in the UK, a LCD power adapter is about £11 ($18). Framing will be about £20 ($32), though cross that bridge later on, and could always fashion one myself.

The audio HDMI to HDMI converter - found this one over here similar price ($31.50),

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/like/171362162017?limghlpsr=true&hlpv=2&ops=true&viphx=1&hlpht=true&lpid=108&device=c&adtype=pla&crdt=0&ff3=1&ff11=ICEP3.0.0-L&ff12=67&ff13=80&ff14=108&ff19=0

Leaving the framing out my main spend should be around the £120 ($195), which is pretty good.

andyjagoe (author)  skinner.tim23 days ago

Great! Note that you'll need a microSD card (B+ is microSD vs B is regular SD card) and USB flash stick as well. Using the B+, I've been able to run all the USB components directly connected to the Raspberry Pi vs using the USB hub. The B+ fixed a lot of the problems that made the USB hub the preferred solution for the B. So you probably can drop the USB hub (saves space too).

Most of the parts have arrived (annoyingly the HDMI cable not until Mon).

Yep found out I needed a microSD, I actually have an 8GB micro card which I was using in my camera, is it possible to reformat an old one or do you have to use a new one?

Was wondering with the RaspberryPi instead of having the whole media centre, I just need to play one video, is there a simple player akin to Quicktime you could recommend.

andyjagoe (author)  skinner.tim20 days ago

Yes, you can reformat an old one. Just be sure it's not to old because it needs to be fast enough to run the OS. Take a look here for more details on SD cards: http://elinux.org/RPi_SD_cards

There's a command line video player called omxplayer you can easily use, and you could loop it using a shell script. This is the de facto video player on the Raspberry Pi, and is actually what XBMC uses under the hood anyway. There might be some other ways to get hardware accelerated video going (I've been able to successfully compile gstreamer 1.0, which most other solutions are dependent on), but this is a much more difficult and less mature route to go than using omxplayer.

Got the raspberry pi running but being a noob struggling to get omxplayer running on Raspbian, so going to put that aside for one moment, and place on my card the Raspbmc (XBMC) on the card instead, my only at the moment is just to get a video playing.

There are a couple of foreseeable problems - the login point, so when the customer has it on her wall she will have to log in, plugging in a keyboard etc, this could get annoying, also at the other end switching the thing off, can't just flip the switch. This is where the digital photo frames have the advantage. The ability to switch on and off at will, touch screen is a possible future way to go, it's just that login point, wonder if there is a way round that.

Was wondering have you used aluminium frame moulding for health and
safety reasons or would you be able to use a wooden surround? how hot does it get?

andyjagoe (author)  skinner.tim23 days ago

I used aluminum because it allowed the thinnest possible frame. I think you'd be fine if you choose wood. I haven't measured the heat, but for this application it shouldn't get so hot that it's a concern.

These instructions are not complete? WTFudge

andyjagoe (author)  IKnowPatrick25 days ago

Hi IKnowPatrick, A lot of people have used this Instructable over a long period of time and I've never heard that comment. But, that's what the comment section is for. What do you not understand?

JasonR21 month ago

I'm new to Raspberry Pi...I like the concept and am wondering something. Once the frame is built and operating...displaying pictures in a slideshow format. I know I can add pictures via USB or remotely. So the question...if I remotely add the pictures to the source folder while the slideshow is running, will the pictures automatically display in the slideshow or will I need to restart the slideshow?

I would think that they would just appear as the source folder now has more content it would go from picture to picture, first file to last file.

andyjagoe (author)  JasonR21 month ago
Hi JasonR2,

If you're using XBMC for your slideshow (as this instructable details), I'm not sure the exact behavior and it could possibly depend on how you've started your playlist playing (there are multiple ways). I would install XBMC on your Mac or Windows machine first and test the behavior--it should be the same.

BTW, my new project Fireside is a new hardware/software solution that intelligently automates all of this. We're launching soon, so add your email on the site above if you'd like to learn more.

Best

Andy
hlords1 month ago

I love this. Will make one for my fridge. Can's wait to buy the laptop screen. I think I will buy from http://www.laptopscreenonline.com. They seem to be the cheapest in the UK.

andyjagoe (author)  hlords1 month ago
Thanks for the comment hlords. Glad you like it! If you liked this, keep tabs on http://www.fireside.co...we'll be announcing something very interesting there soon!
soonerlater2 months ago

Andyjagoe,

Top notch, blue chip, Instructable. Muy excelante. Thanks.

SL

princejosuah4 months ago

I may not be totally in the topic, but it would be nice to do it with the TV, to have the pictures display randomly when in standby. Just an idea though, I'm almost a noob in this, and don't know if it is doable...

PrinceJosuah,

Any installation of XBMC (on any OS: Windows, Linux, Android....) running on any hardware (Raspberry Pi, Intel NUC, old recycled computer....) can run the "Slideshow Screensaver." Whatever that XBMC uses for display (a homemade LCD panel like in this Instructable, on a TV....) is where the slideshow will be presented. There are many options (timing, randomness, transitions, sources....). You just have to jump in the water and paddle around. It might not be super intuitive and obvious at first, but it'll be easy enough and the XBMC community is very supportive. There will always be someone ready to lend a hand.

jagguli3 months ago
brettsalyer5 months ago

How would I do that? Over USB that is? Would a replacement tablet screen be better? Or Laptop touch screens?

andyjagoe (author)  brettsalyer5 months ago
The touch screen (whether tablet or laptop) will have a separate data interface for touch input. You'll need to make sure the Raspberry PI can recognize it and use it as a touch interface. The level of difficulty of what you're describing is certanly higher than just getting an lcd panel to work. Some providers will sell all in one kits. Google NJYTouch (same provider I recommend in the instructable) and see if they offer anything.

I have seen kits for the rpi for touchscreen, though only 7 inch. I want a 12 inch. I found a laptop screen (touch) that I could use. I found a controller board from njytouch and it was listed as supporting hdmi, dvi, vga, audio LCD/LED lvds. I'm hoping those 2 things are all I need to get it going. is there any way to make sure my pi will support it? or is it just trial and error?

andyjagoe (author)  brettsalyer5 months ago

You first need to check with NJYTouch (or on the controller board listing in eBay) that your exact LCD model number is supported by the board. For example, this number might be something like LP156WF4-SLBA. Then when you buy it from NJYTouch, they need to program your LCD controller so it will support your screen (they do this for free when you buy your controller). However, none of this addressed the touchscreen issue. The touch screen needs drivers and will need to be configured for your device. Using it in X-Windows will be different than if you want to use it with a standalone XBMC, etc. You might be able to get a kit from NJYTouch that also supports touch. I'd talk to them and explore that if you're serious about touch.

Will do, thanks for your help!

brettsalyer5 months ago

Touch screen panels would work just as good, right? And do you think it would be bad to use a smaller screen, such as a 7-10 inch?

andyjagoe (author)  brettsalyer5 months ago
Hi Brett. Yes, smaller/touchscreen should be fine. The most important part is being able to find an LCD controller board that can convert HDMI to LVDS so the Pi can send video to the screen. Also, with a touchscreen, you will need to carry touch input from the screen back to the Pi over something like USB.
har_it8 months ago

I find this project very interesting and would like to work on it soon. I was wondering can i buy an led monitor instead of buying a lcd screen + controller board? I would like to get rid of its factory frame and frame it just like you did.

Does the monitor include a contoller board inside or would i have buy one separately? Your advise would be appreciated.

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