Lighting Effects: Drive-In Theater

I've wanted to make a fully-functional drive-in since practically forever, and now I can finally build one thanks to the Hunterdon Drive-In. Incidentally, I will not be using a small LCD display to simulate the screen, as is so often done; I will actually project the image onto a properly modeled screen. This is possible thanks to the prevalence of really cheap little projection units. The one I chose is close to the bottom of the barrel in terms of image quality and brightness; however, given the final image will be smaller than a credit card, quality is irrelevant and, at that size, brightness isn't a concern, either. The major challenge will be one of optics: hiding the projector in such a way that it can project the image through a model projection booth with a focal range of inches instead of feet.

While the projector I purchased might be more appropriate for kids, it's surprisingly sophisticated: it accepts standard audio/video signals as well as HDMI; it has USB and micro-USB ports for streaming content; and it has two image card slots to display photos and videos captured on cameras. Plus it will run on batteries or a wall wart. That's an awful lot of tech to cram into a "toy" smaller than your fist that costs less than $35!

Paired with the projector is a super-cheap compact DVD player. The surprising thing about this $25 unit is that, short of Blu-Ray, it'll play just about anything you put in it, including NTSC and PAL discs coded for any region (it's a true region-free player). Which means my drive-in will be able to present some pretty esoteric entertainment! Foreign films, anyone?

I assembled a proof-of-concept unit in an afternoon. It works, but the image is a lot smaller than I'd prefer. Thing is, I don't have any control over image size, so it is what it is. Below left is the projection unit, on top of which is attached a base plate. Below right, the lens consisted of two elements, so I split them up and mounted one above and one blow, with first-surface mirrors to push the image through the (future) model projection booth. Bottom is the top-side view with an image projected on a temporary cardstock screen.

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