This can turn into an expensive hobby if you don't properly plan your controllers, lights, voltage, and prop selection ahead of time. With this in mind, I decided to attempt to design a tune-in sign using some old electronic parts I have collected over the years. I will document my journey here, hoping I'm successful. My goal is to complete my build for under $100 CDN.
Find an old laptop you are no longer using and ready to take to recycling. It's critical that the screen still works.
Total Cost so far = $0
Remove the screen from the laptop by taking out all visible screws. Don't worry about the wires as the control board you purchase in step 6 should come with them.
You should be left with just the screen. I still have the original wires attached, but they are not necessary.
The LCD screen on a laptop is quite flimsy. I have left the supporting bracket intact. It is the white bracket that runs along the outside of the monitor in this picture.
Zoom in on the sticker on the back of the panel. You need the Model #. Mine is B140RW03. We now need to acquire a control card for this model.
Go to Amazon, Ebay, AliExpress, or any other site that sells electronics. Search for "Control Board B140RW03", where you enter your model number instead of mine. A common control board is pictured above.
Total Cost so far = $33.75
Flip over the LCD panel and line up the black cable with the connector on the back of the panel.
Plug it in!
Measure the viewable area of the screen in centimetres. To create a virtual P5 (5mm) Matrix, multiply the numbers by 2. These will be your matrix strings and nodes in xLights and FPP. My panel measured 31 cm wide X 17.5 cm tall, therefore my matrix is 35 strings X 62 nodes per string.
Plug in the LCD control board into a Raspberry Pi pre-loaded with FPP. I'm using a Raspberry Pi 4 - 2GB. Plug the HDMI cable into the right HDMI out port on the Pi. Turn it on. Total cost so far = $83.75
Change the name and set a static IP address. (I'm assuming you know how to do this as building a virtual matrix is not a beginner prop.) Put the FPP software into "Bridge" mode.
Click "Input/Output Setup" then select "Channel Outputs" then the "Other" tab. Click the "Add" button. Select "VirtualMatrix" for output type. Enter the start channel for your matrix. This will differ for all users depending on how many other models you have setup in xLights. For me my start channel is 22441. Enter your width and height numbers you calculated in step 9. Leave everything else default, then click Save. You will need to reboot the FPP.
Click "Input/Output Setup" then select "Channel Inputs". Type "1" (without quotes) in Inputs Count and click the "Set" button. Enter in a description, and select E1.31 - Unicast. Type in your Start channel number. Go to Step #13b.
Multiply your height and width numbers. (35 X 62 = 2,170 pixels) Then multiply this number by 3. (2170 X 3 = 6,510 channels) Finally, divide this number by 512, and round up to calculate your total Universe count (6510/512 = 13). This is the number you enter in the "Count" field. Under the pound sign, refer to xLights to see what Universe number your matrix begins at. Put a checkmark in the "Active" box, click the Save button, and restart FPP.
Go into xLights, and in the Controller tab, add a new controller. Vendor = FPP, Model = Virtual Matrix, Protocol = E131, Start Universe = (your next sequential number for universe availability...for me its 45), Universe count = 13 (calculated in 13b), Channels per Universe = 512.
Click the "Models" tab and create a virtual matrix. # Strings = 35, Nodes/String = 62, Starting Location = Top Left.
Create an Animation sequence at 40 fps, and drop a quick effect on the Matrix model. Then, click the "Send to Lights" icon on the top toolbar, and test it out!
Come back soon as next steps are the Tune In Sign construction!