Introduction: Digital Fireplace

About: 1984's oldfashioned traveler • reader • geek • performer

Winter time asks for... evenings around the fireplace, with friends, a good book, a cat, a hot drink... oh, if you only had a fireplace! With this hack, it is possible for anyone with some construction skills and electricity! Read on, and in no time, you'll be snuggled up in front of your own near-lifelike stove.

Step 1: The Materials

Following are the objects you'll need to construct a fireplace just like mine. Feel free to swap out or improve what you dislike. Remember I made mine mostly from parts I got gifted, or could get for cheap. Lots of room for improvement!

  • Unbranded deco fireplace

  • IKEA BISSA black shoe cabinet

  • Thrifted Eizo FlexScan S1721 17 inch monitor

  • Black acrylic paint (monitor, touch ups)

  • Four pre-drilled aluminum L-hooks

  • Raspberry Pi, with optional black casing

  • MicroSD 10 speed card

  • DVI to HDMI cable

  • Mini-jack to mini-jack cable

  • Black outlet strip with on/off button

  • Brass kitchen cabinet handle

The deco fireplace

My hack started out with this electric fireplace. I got it gifted from a friend, and after seeing some fireplaces and stoves in reallife, I wanted to fit it in a nice housing. My fireplace measures approximately 40cm in width and 25 in depth. It is a metal box with a vacuformed hard plastic top, which you can see in the picture. Inside the box is a halogen lamp under a sort of metal hamster wheel. It's all powered by regular 220V euro cable that goes in any socket in the house. I describe this, so that if you get creative, you could try to make this yourself. But if you don't bother, try to find one at a thriftshop, or wait for a christmas sale. I saw other ones at thrift shops which only needed a dab of paint, or a new lamp.

Tip: try to see if you can replace the (halogen) lamp with a LED lamp. It will give less warmth, but will decrease your electricity bill!

The IKEA BISSA shoe rack

So, once you own a digital fireplace with said dimensions, it easily fits in this shoe cabinet. You can of course go for a different one, that fits your home better. I have looked at vintage night stands, thrifted kitchen cabinets, old stoves, and so. Stay creative and find someting that fits your style. Just make sure there is place for the monitor (if you wish for one) and for the electronics - the latter should be out of sight. For example, a drawer in a night stand does the trick perfectly.

As you might notice, I did not assemble this shoe rack the way it is supposed to. Read the next step of this Instructable to see how to get it just this way.

EIZO FlexScan S1721 17 inch monitor

Again, I thrifted this one from a student nearby. It only cost me 2 euros and that's cheap. EIZO is known for its true-colour monitors, and as a designer, I love that. You can of course go for a different brand of flatscreen. Just check that it is approximately as wide as your fireplace, and that it has a Vesa mount on the back. The latter makes it easy to screw it to the back plate. It saves you a lot of work on other solutions, like glueing it forever, or making a small ridge to have it stand on. If you're smart, you'll look for a black monitor, not a white one. Saves you the paint!

Regarding the connecting cable: buy the appropriate cable that fits both your monitor output, and the Pi. Check the angle of the connector. The connector on the monitor should be either facing down, up, or sideways, to provide a flush placement of the cable. The end of the cable should likewise fit the monitor; in a way that the cable preferably hangs from the bottom of the monitor, while the monitor is screwed flat to the back plate of your cabinet. I don't recommend wrapping your cable in impossible angles.

Tip: keep in mind that, with the monitor screwed to the back plate, you'll have no wiggle room for the cable. Attach it firmly before mounting the monitor!

The rest of the materials

...speak for themselves, I suppose. Get them at your local electronics shop or in case of the handle, home depot. If you're using a different cabinet, skip the handle.

Step 2: Cabinet Construction

Constructing this BISSA shoe cabinet is pretty straightforward, up till the top drawer.

Start with assembly as normal, and follow the IKEA guide.

  • Don't assemble the top back slat, as I did in the first photos. You'll need it elsewhere.
  • Don't assemble both drawers.
  • Don't assemble the top drawer hinges.

Construct the lower drawer, and attach a handle to its top. It makes it easy to open the drawer.

On top of the drawer, attach the two slats you should've used as back support. Fix them halfway the cabinet, horizontally in a row, so the electronic fireplace can easily rest on top of them. If your fireplace has an on/off switch on the bottom like mine, be sure it isn't in the way.

Use the panel from the top drawer to construct a back plate. You'll notice that it fits, but leaves a tiny gap. That's intended, since it used to be a drawer panel that should slide flush between the two sidepanels. Fix the drawer panel to the top of the back with the four L-hooks. This is sturdy enough to carry the monitor.

Drill the four holes for the monitor mount. I have aligned the monitor flush with the top of my cabinet, because so, it fits just above my electric fireplace. Also, in later assembling and disassembling, it is easy to hold it in the right place while you fasten the screws. Measure wisely!

You can download a Vesa 10 template, or take a piece of paper and punch through the four holes with a sharp tool. You can also smear something greasy and colourful (lipstick, shoe polish?) on the four holes of your monitor and lay it flat on the back plate. The stains tell you where the holes should come. You can, if you own a decent copier, photocopy the back of your monitor, and you'll have a paper template.

We're about to assemble the monitor. But first: the next step!

Step 3: Wiring

Attach the cables, before you screw the monitor to its back plate. You won't be able to do it later!

  • I learned that a separate DVI connector is too big to make the twist between the monitor and the audio speakers of the Eizo monitor. This can be different in your case. Experiment and fit it snug before you attach it all.
  • I also learned that DVI to a Pi doesn't result in having the Pi stream sound to the monitor. I needed to use a separate minijack cable between the Pi and the monitor. Check if you do, too.

Next, the lazy part: drop all the electronics in the lower bin of the cabinet.

I use a black outlet strip inside the cabinet, so only one cable comes out at the back. The RaspBerry Pi and the monitor are plugged in at the strip. The Pi sits on an adapter with a switch, so I can turn it on and off without having to plug the micro-USB in and out every time.

Now, close the lid, and... everything's out of sight!

Time to boot up the 'berry!

Step 4: RaspBerry Pi Configuration

The road I took
  • Mount your micro SD-card in your computer.
  • Wipe and flash it. I did so with balenaEtcher.
  • Load it with a bootable image of RaspBian.
  • Boot the Pi with the fresh install, go through the setup.
    To keep it easy, just make your user 'pi' and set all to default.
  • Set the wallpaper to black, the desktop bar to the bottom or top, wherever it disturbs you the least.
    To keep the spirit, make the interface black with dark red or orange. Remove as much as clutter as you can.
  • Head to Youtube, and find yourself a decent fireplace video.
  • Download the fireplace video via a downloader service.
    I'm afraid I'm not allowed to link to those services here, so be creative.
  • Copy the video (never mind the resolution) as MPEG or AVI to your SD-card.
    Be sure to put it in an easy path in your pi home directory.
    This is because the user pi needs to have the rights to open and play the video.
  • Boot your Pi again and in your user profile, via the command line editor, set it up to execute a script at boot.
  • Create this boot script in the user directory, and set it to:
    - make VLC start the video.
    Here is a lot of help on what to enter in the script.

    For example, with my 3:4 monitor, I ...
  • zoom the video about 130%, so it fills up the complete height of the monitor
  • set it to overflow on both sides (too bad)
  • vertically align it to the top
  • have it display fullscreen

Test your script by booting the Pi a few times. You might need to adjust the script a bit.

If you don't hear sound, check the sound output in Raspbian.

The alternative routes

  • Use PiPresents, which says to be awesome for booting up straight to video time after time.
    I didn't try it, but feel free!
  • Boot VLC directly from the command line, before the desktop is loaded
    To do this, you need to set the boot method of the Pi to 'command line' before your next boot.
    Also, you need to load the appropriate video drivers, maybe sound, and probably some other ones, before VLC will run. As you might conclude: I didn't try this.
    Seeing the desktop for a split second and having the video pop up fullscreen shortly after.

Step 5: Conclusion and Recommendations

  • Use a decent SD-card. I used an old one, which was prone to fail in another device. Bad idea. It boots up only half of the time. I have not tested if speed (lower than class 10) does anything to the Pi, but I know now that a dodgy card that has erroneous blocks, kills your wish for booting it first-time right.
  • The fireplace gives no significant warmth, except for the warmth from the halogen lamp. Replace it with a LED lamp and you won't have that either. So don't build this fireplace to heat up your home. It just won't.
  • You can leave the fireplace on, even if you leave home.
  • You don't need to fill up logs, or time it so it's out before you get to bed.
  • If you can't stand repetitive sounds, don't install the audio cable, or don't turn sound on. The fireplace noises from the video can get on your nerves after some time.
  • You can swap the video for videos of a chicken rotisserie, or, if you get funky, of a fish tank.
    Especially the chicken rotisserie was an instant hit for my cat, as you see in the second picture.
  • You can extend the fireplace by sticking black foil to the inside of the BISSA cabinet. In my case, it still has unused, open drill holes for the hinges, which are visible. I coloured them black with a Sharpie, but it is still ugly.
  • You can shut down the Pi with a USB input device, like a cheap mouse. You can even script it to power off at right-click or so. If that doesn't block any features you wish to use on the Pi, do it.
  • You cannot boot up the Pi via WoL. Maybe newer versions can.
  • You can reach the Pi via WiFi and do things to it. I haven't found a use yet. Since you boot it up every time, using it as server for something won't do.

Faux-Real Contest

Participated in the
Faux-Real Contest