Introduction: The Pianorgan Vintage Media Hub

About: A lowly geologist who likes to build stuff.
It is very difficult to install modern entertainment units in the "formal" living room without taking away some of its status. Men are generally blind to this and would, without hesitation, install a shiny black 50" TV on the wall along with some towering speakers and some sort of shelf to house the cable box, gaming console and a nest of wiring. Exposed wires are like kryptonite to my wife. I wanted to stream music and video into the this room all the while retaining the polished and relaxing atmosphere that it deserves (they were really onto something when they built those massive cabinets with vinyl record players and speakers built-in).

I had bought a miniature organ for 80$ at a flea market a few years back and wasn't able to get it working properly. It is a beautiful piece and I wanted to show it off, all the while turning it into something functional. The concept was to install a set of speakers and a small LCD projector in it; effectively transforming the old lady into a modern multimedia entertainment system. I initially envisioned installing some old computer components; however I quickly realized that space would be an issue, particularly since I wanted to preserve the keyboards for the look. It then occurred to me that my smartphone was more powerful and better connected than the computer I was considering for the transplantation. Those pocket computers have become true entertainment hubs, with practically unlimited access to content and connectivity to my home network. This setup also means that the Pianorgan gets an automatic upgrade each time I get a new phone.

Skip to the final step to see the Pianorgan Vintage Media Hub in action.

Step 1: STEP 1: Required Items and Tools

There are nearly an infinite number of potential housings for this type of setup, a quick browse of Craigslist or Etsy will surely inspire you. 
  1. Vintage piece of furniture: although the components are relatively small, don't underestimate the space needed for the all the pieces and the wiring. Height should also be considered because you will likely have to move it to the middle of the room get the right distance from your projection wall, and you probably don't want to be projecting on the bottom half of the wall. I chose the "Pianorgan I", I am assuming there is a Pianorgan II out there somewhere.
  2. Computer speakers. I had a 12 year old set that was yellowed from the years, yet still puts out enough. In terms of Db per $ these are hard to beat.
  3. Mini or Pico Projector. These are getting more powerful and cheaper all the time: for this reason, I would look for a sale on a relatively recent model. After some research I settled on the Dell M110 which provides a good ratio of lumens and resolution per $.
  4. Video adapter for your smart phone: most recent models have a connector sold separately which has HDMI out for 30-80$.
You will need some tools to dismantle the Pianorgan as well as your computer speakers. A set of tools for gentle teasing apart (a set of mini screwdrivers), and in many cases you will need to take a more primitive approach (hammer and chisel). Some connectors may be needed to get the speakers back in working configuration. I also used a hole saw and hand drill to make the holes for the projection and air-intake.

Step 2: STEP 1: Dismantling

First, make sure that anything you are working with is unplugged. Speakers have capacitors which can hold significant charge even after the unit is unplugged. Heed the warnings on the seals, if you are not sure what is dangerous, find someone who does. There is going to be shards of plastic flying everywhere, gloves and safety glasses are good idea.

I had to free the speaker components from their Pearl Jam era enclosures. These were not designed to be taken apart, you will inevitably get to a point where removing all the screws has not provided access to parts you need. There may be a more elegant way of doing this; but I have found that the best way to attack this, is to use needle-nose pliers and break off pieces of the plastic with a twisting motion (safety glasses!). Before breaking any piece, you should consider whether it may be useful down the road. I preserved the front frames which allowed me to mount the speakers more easily into the Pianorgan.

The case for the sub-woofer was particularly robust (glued particle board). Some of the screw holes were hidden under stickers... I eventually resorted to a hammer and chisel.

The more vintage your media housing is, the more likely you will be able to access the innards by unscrewing. In the case of the Pianorgan, there were 25 or so tiny screws holding it together. I took the lid, keyboards and fan off. The mounts for the reeds protruded downward into the area that were to house the speakers. They were glued into place, and were relatively easy to dislodge. I used a chisel to ensure they would break off at the right place followed by some torsion to pop them off.

Step 3: STEP 2: Speaker Installation

This step ended up being the most difficult part of the project. The wires joining the various components were either too short (circuit board to the subwoofer) or way too long. Thankfully I had taken great care to label the wires before cutting which made it much easier to splice together for the final build. I was able to slide the subwoofer into the hole the fan had been, and screw it into place. I spliced the power wire into the main power switch of the Pianorgan, as well as the volume knob. I carved a groove in the bottom of the Pianorgan to slide the volume circuit board into, and used epoxy to fuse an elongated bolt between the two knobs. I initially envisioned drilling two new holes on either end of the unit to install the right and left speakers. However access was difficult on the right side and I elected to preserve the look by installing the speakers in a grill in the front designed to let the sound out anyway. With the speakers so close together I am effectively cancelling out any stereo effect, but I am not much of an audiophile... 

Step 4: STEP 3: Projector Installation

For this step I need to plan a few holes for the projection and fresh air intake (the main intake fan is in the front of the projector). I decided to raise these holes off the base to enable me to tilt the projector if needed. I am planning on installing 2 mirrors to reflect the image to either shorten the throw distance by a few feet, or project onto the ceiling (think bath tub movie night). After settling on the positions for the holes I drilled some pilot holes to ensure they lined up properly, followed by a hole saw. I was initially hoping to preserve the button in the small keyboard on the left, they had a nice bounce to them. Unfortunately, they were held in place by the mechanism which gave the springy feel and took up all the space in the bottom half of the cabinet. The advantage of taking the keys out was that it provided ample ventilation for the projector, which produces some serious BTU.

Step 5: STEP 4: Stream the Media and Enjoy

Here is the final product. Notice how cleanly it fits in our formal living room: no wires, no big chunky speakers or glossy black sets. It takes just over a minute to set up and it produces a very bright and loud viewing experience. Check out the video below to see it in action. 

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