Introduction: TV Backlight -usb Powered-

Picture of TV Backlight -usb Powered-

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This project came about because I have a decent amount of LED projects around my house and my friend asked me if I could turn one of those into a light he could put behind his TV!  But he has his TV hung on the wall and didn't want to have any wires hanging down or anything that required being plugged in.  I took a look at his TV, and it, along with most new flat panels, have a couple USB sockets on the side.  And I thought PERFECT I can just use the 5 volt power out of the USB port!

This is a really simple project that looks great!  You can use the idea of this project for many different ideas and areas-- not just for behind the TV!

Step 1: Parts and Tools Needed

Picture of Parts and Tools Needed

To start off, grab the materials and the tools for the project.

Materials Needed:

USB cable (cannibalize it off of any old or broken electronics)

Container (any container that you like, choose one that fits your project!)


Wire Black/Red

Resistors (correct resistance for a 5-volt power supply and your LED's. If you are not sure check out the LED calculator)

LED's  (any color you desire)

Spray Paint  (whatever color or texture you want!)

Hot Glue

Tools Needed:

Soldering Iron

Wire cutters


Drill Bits

Hot Glue Gun



Step 2: Preparing and Painting

Picture of Preparing and Painting

Clean the container thoroughly so there is not any residue or pieces left in it.  I used a metal container that held Palmade hair product in it, and let me tell you it was not easy to get that cleaned out since Palmade repels water! 

Take your container, spray paint and some paper/cardboard outside to get ready to paint.  You can paint the inside of the container if you like but there is not really a point so just focus on the exterior of the container.  Lay out the container and the lid a foot or so apart so you can paint each piece individually.  I suggest painting two or more coats to make sure you have the container well covered.

Once the paint is dry we need to drill some holes for the LED's.  I used 3mm LED's so I grabbed a 3mm drill bit. If you are using 5mm LED's, or bigger then grab the appropriate drill bit for those sizes.  To get the LED's spaced out nicely on this curved surface can be a bit tricky. 

Here are two ideas to help you out

1) Grab a piece of paper (or blue painters tape) and wrap it around the container and mark where the paper overlaps.  Lay the paper down flat and you can measure out how to space apart the LEDs and mark them on the paper.

 2) Take that paper and fold it in half, then half again, and again.  Then you can use the crease marks as the evenly spaced points to mark)

Once the paper has the marks where you want the LED's on it, take the paper and wrap it back around the container and tape it in place.  Grab your drill and the drill bit that matches the size of you LED's.  Then drill in to each mark. Use very little pressure and go slow to keep the holes nice and clean. 

Now we need to drill one more hole for the USB cord to enter the container. You can drill that hole wherever you want the wire to exit the container.  When you have finished, give yourself a high-five because you are all ready to start the electronics part!

Step 3: Wiring Up the Electronics

Picture of Wiring Up the Electronics

To start off the soldering and wiring up of this project, I will tell you what I did and then you can adjust anything to what components you have!

The parts I used are 10 3mm Blue LED's, and for each LED to run off of 5 volts I used a 100 Ohm resistor for each LED.  So using 10 LED's and 10 Resistors, you are looking at a 200mA draw from the USB Source.  From what  I have read, a USB source has about a 500mA capacity, so we are well in our limit!

Here is a little technique that I have come up with in previous projects; take your LED and cut the Negative lead so it is about 1/2 inch long, and take your resistor and do the same to one of the leads (see picture below for example).  Now solder the short negative lead of the LED and the lead you cut on the resistor together.  Do not take too long to solder so close to the LED because you can overheat the LED and burn it out! 

Now you have a LED with a resistor attached! With this you are unstoppable--you can take over the world (or not)!

Repeat for all your LED's (in my case ten of them).

Next grab the LED's and bend the resistors up into a 45-90 degree angle (as seen in the pictures).  Put all the LED's into the holes drilled out in the container, so that they are placed into their final positions with the negative/resistor leads pointing up.  When the LED's are placed this way, the positive leads of the LED's should be all pointing towards the center.  Solder all the positive leads together. If they can't reach each other then use some wire to connect them.  I used some of the scraps from the cut-off leads we did earlier!

Once all of those are soldered together, the LED's should feel a bit more sturdy!  For the negative leads/resistors, I bent them up into a nice dome to get the ends to reach each other (see pictures for example).  The reason for creating this dome is one; looks. Two; you need to make sure the negative and positive leads do not touch!  Also I thought it would be kind of nice if the circuit looked interesting, too!  In my case I was using a metal container, so I had to make sure the leads were not touching the container.

Now that you have all the Positive leads together and all the Negative/Resistors soldered together, all you need to do is add some power to light them up! 

Grab you USB cable and strip back the plastic coating about a inch.  There should be multiple wires exposed. You can cut off all but the red and black wires (the red is positive and the black is negative).  If your USB cable looks different inside, check which wires are positive and negative before soldering anything. 

Strip back the plastic from the red and black wires about 1/4 inch exposing the metal underneath.  Slide the wire into the hole in the container that you drilled out earlier. Solder the negative to the negative and the positive to the positive.  Grab your hot glue gun and glue the wire in place from the inside of the container.

Step 4: Finish and ENJOY!

Picture of Finish and ENJOY!

That should do it!  You are all finished! Plug the USB cord into a USB socket and see the LED's light up in all their beauty!

I hope you had fun building this project!  I have attached a handful of pictures of the TV backlight in action. If you want to see anymore picture, let me know!  Also, I am open to any questions or suggestions that you have.

Thank you and enjoy what you have created!


suryapratap made it! (author)2015-07-14

thanks for easy and awesome Instructable. simply the best!!

mark.d.s.mason made it! (author)2014-11-12

Thanks for this instructable. This inspired me to attempt it as my first project, and it came out rather nicely ( though the ipad camera wasnt able to capture it that well). And the wife was certainly impressed, which was a bonus.

I used 7x 5mm LEDs with 20° radiation and 5000mcd. They were certainly bright enough, though in hindsight I think 10 LEDs would have worked better as shown by the other examples on here. I think my next attempt will incorporate 10 LEDs with possibly a 30° radiation.

mbristophiles1 (author)2014-03-08

wicked job love the effect.

lkilbride made it! (author)2014-02-23

is a really nice little project. I found 3mm LEDs against a flat wall (as
opposed to an alcove) wasn’t quite bright enough, so I tried again with 5mm
LEDs and was much happier with the result.

Zwuckel (author)2013-07-03


Are your chosen LED with 20° radiation? I want to try to copy the nice effect.


seligtobiason (author)Zwuckel2014-01-09

I am not sure if it was a 20 degree spread on the LED's but that does sound about right. Either way I think 20 degree would work good!

YT WKD (author)2013-12-22

just finished this project. was very easy and very fun. although i should of checked my tv had a usb port before i started haha. its now running through constent xbox 360 usb port

seligtobiason (author)YT WKD2014-01-09

That looks great! I am glad that you found it easy and fun, that was my goal!

envenum (author)2013-02-08

made this and it works great but not as bright as how yours is maybe because i used red leds? was gonna try another one with 5mm instead of 3mm but the calculater says i need 12ohm resisters how come the 3mm used 68ohm resisters then?

seligtobiason (author)envenum2013-02-19

the size of the LED shouldn't change what kind of resistor it needs, it is all about what voltage and ohms the LED needs. How are you figuring out the resistor needed?

ALF. (author)2012-11-29

Where do you get the leds?

seligtobiason (author)ALF.2013-02-07

There are many different places to get LED's, I found the cheapest way is to buy them off of ebay. Not always the best quality, but nice and cheap and good for the little projects.

EET1982 (author)2012-08-04

I finished your project. It was fun building it. As we discussed before I only have 1 USB port. So I got a small Radio Shack project box, switch and a 9v battery. Worked perfectly. Thanks again for a great project!

seligtobiason (author)EET19822012-08-10

That turned out great! Nice work, I am glad that you built one and enjoyed it!

EET1982 (author)2012-07-31

Hi how are you? I am in the process of duplicating your awesome back lighting. Unfortunately when my t.v. is turned off I get 0v from the USB port. I only get the 5v when the t.v. is on. Was your t.v. just wired differently or did you have to do something different to get it to work. Thank you in advance for your help.

seligtobiason (author)EET19822012-08-02

I see your dilemma, I have three USB plugs on the side of my TV and two out of the three are constant 5V... so I didn't do anything fancy to rewire it to get it to be on when the TV was off.

My suggestion would be to use a power supply instead of using the USB for power OR get a adapter for the USB to plug into the wall such as the adapter that comes with iphones etc...

Sorry I couldn't be more help, and please let me know if you have anymore questions!

EET1982 (author)seligtobiason2012-08-02

Thank you for the reply. I think I'll hook it up to a nine volt battey. I'll play around with the leds and resistors to see how bright I can get without blowing them. Again thank you for the reply. I love this instructable. Great job!

edwin994 (author)2012-06-30

Oh My!!!!!!!
this is damn nice....nice man^^

frameup (author)2012-06-22

this is great !!

sir do u think its a good idea to put switch ?

seligtobiason (author)frameup2012-06-28

Yes! I actually ended up adding a switch... much easier to turn off and on.

PugOfChunk (author)2012-02-15

Hey this is an amazing idea and im gonna do it for my Gameroom during the summer. Quick question there a way to power it through the wall outlet? causeeee i dont have many computers or usb outlets :( and i want to me able to wire it easier

Thanks in advance and sorry if i sound stupid haha (Im new to LED's and electrical projects)

RobWar (author)PugOfChunk2012-05-26

You can get hold of usb plug sockets, I work in a hotel and people are always leaving them.. just go to reception and say you left one ages ago and they'll probably give you one

TattooMickey (author)PugOfChunk2012-02-16

I have finished a project like this one a couple years ago when Phillips first came out with the idea for the back of their TV's. My TV at the time didn't have USB on it, so I used an old phone charger that plugs into the wall...

Just cut the end off it that would attach to the phone and use it as above. Most phone charges are around 5- 5.5V and work perfectly for LED setups!

GO for it!

PugOfChunk (author)TattooMickey2012-02-18

Yea! i was thinking of using a iphone charger than converts usb to the outlet! just put some resistors and ill be good! Thanks a bunch ill post pics soon

rhobere (author)2012-02-03

I've been planning to a do a project similar to this for a while and I have one piece of advice that could improve the appearance. If you use a pair of wire cutters, you can actually cut the dome of the LED's off. Since this is the part of the "bulb" that focuses the light, removing it will allow a much more even splay of light. It would look a little more "washed" with color rather than just having spotlights coming out of the back.

seligtobiason (author)rhobere2012-02-06

Thank you for your advice, but for this project I actually wanted the star-burst look. If you take a look at my other instructables I have a couple other ways to disperse the light too.

khazgoroth (author)2012-01-17

it would be awesome if the leds blinked syncronised with sound ! :D

swarnavo.datta (author)2012-01-02

This was the first instructable i tried and it WORKED!!! my tv is looking great with the backlight...thanks a hell lot for it!!!

Awesome! Glad you like it, and happy you made it!

scooter2013 (author)2011-12-29

How about 5mm leds with 200ma resistors? Can it be done or will it fail?

Well, what you should do is go to a LED calculator and plug in all the info to get your result! Unfortunately I can not tell you if that would work since it is the more what the LED is requiring in voltage, and not the size that determines what resistor is needed. Example: my Blue LEDs require 3.3 volts at 20 Ohms, so I would use a 100 Ohm 1/4 watt resistor.

Here is the link to the LED calculator

Moofish (author)2011-11-21

I think this a very cool project to undertake. Great idea and it's very simple to do. Well done seligtobiason!

Wally_Z (author)2011-10-18

I've seen people put RGB LED's on the back of their TV's and have it change color depending on the colors displayed on the TV. How would I do this? Or if someone could provide a link I would be grateful.

jibbyjammin (author)2011-10-17


Aaqib1 (author)2011-09-28

Amazing Project. I made one and for my 46" Samsung D8000 3D Smart TV and the end result was fantastic. I used 10000mcd ultrabright LEDs which I bought off of eBay. Delivery time was 2.5 days.They arrived Quick!

bch1 (author)2011-09-25

Im looking forward to do this instructable! it looks simple enough so that i cant mess anything up too badly ...
i have a question though... how does the LED calculator work? i dont know the diode forward voltage or diode forward current... can you help me out?

seligtobiason (author)bch12011-09-26

Well you should really check the specs of the LED, but if you don't have any, there are some very general rules to go by with LED's. On the LED Calculator click on the little "?" next to the "diode forward voltage" and "diode forward current (mA)" and it will give you a little reference to work off of.

Let me know if you need anything else!

pcurrell (author)2011-09-16

Love the instructable... def has me inspired to do my first one... I'm planning on using some 90mm storm water pipe with end caps... prob a couple of $$ at most! (and not conductive)... going to use warm white leds 24000mcd

JesseJames92x (author)2011-09-10

well I gave it go, using 8 LEDs. I couldn't tell you the last time I soldered anything, but I only burned out 4 of them! LOL As a complete amateur pretty proud that at least works! Thanks for the post, it was fun. I'll definitely be trying again once I've fine tuned my skills.


- James

souptech (author)2011-09-05

New to this and would just like to know what about circuit protection? Hope that doesn't seem like a dumb question, just thinking about any damage to the device that I may plug it into if something goes wrong:) Thanks in advance.

seligtobiason (author)souptech2011-09-06

Well, I am sure there are many ways to add circuit protection, the way I can think of is simply adding a fuse to the circuit. I do believe that the USB port already has protection on it. But to make sure take a look at the specs of whatever USB port you are plugging it into! Sorry I don't have a more specific answer, hope that helps.

mizzle88 (author)2011-08-30

First off, great instructable. I was just wondering how people are hanging them behind the tv. I was thinking of just using velcro, is that what others did?

seligtobiason (author)mizzle882011-09-01

You can really use whatever you want as long as it supports the weight of the container. Velcro would work great for this, I used "Poster Tak", its a blue sticky goo that keeps things in place, but doesn't leave any marks when removed. I bought it at Micheal's arts and crafts store. But I am sure any office supply store would have it also. Hope that helps!

madbirdone10 (author)2011-08-27

Hey there! Tremendous and really easy to make Project....

I've used 10 leds, and a value of 300 ohm resistors.. I guess I could get more light without all the things around the TV.. ;)

It`s my first instructable done, and I got to say that I love it, now I can´t watch tv without it..!

Thanks man!

So glad you like it. Looks great, thanks for sharing your pictures!

jtony2009 (author)2011-08-25

Wow dude, this is the FIRST instructable I have actually done, and let me tell you that you have inspired me to work with LED's -- and not just from usb but from other power sources. Its quite fun to see everything we can do with them.

Great project. My 55 inch tv looks even "awesomer" now. :P THANKS!

seligtobiason (author)jtony20092011-09-01

That's awesome! So glad you have fallen for the love of LED's! They are a great addition to any and all projects!

Jeremyherr (author)2011-08-24

I love your instructable and I was wanting to remake the same thing. The only problem that I am having is all the LED's I buy are not even close to how bright your LED's are. Every where I go it says use LED's with the color of your choice but no specifications on how bright cause the standard ones I buy don't even light up my wall... Could you please help?

seligtobiason (author)Jeremyherr2011-09-01

Thank you! And I am sorry that you are having some issues finding some bright LED's, I buy mine from ebay mostly. I believe these LED's are 12,000mcd, I hope that helps!

ShawnM (author)2011-08-27

Hey I want to do this but my tv doesnt have a USB port can you use another type of cable for this?

About This Instructable




Bio: Well, I feel like I am a pretty regular guy... I work in the Entertainment industry, right now am working for Lucas Animation on a ... More »
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