My first gaming cockpit was an Obutto Ozone with three 24 inch LCD's, and I had started looking for ways to remove the screen bezels.
I considered using three large LCD TV's, but the cost involved on getting a decent LCD TV back then made that idea fade pretty quickly.
Looking through the many home cockpit builds online I saw that the ones with large projection surfaces looked the goods. Most were large roomsize cockpits of airliners, but there were a few fighter pits around.
I decided to build the cockpit first, but using projectors for the outside visuals were always in the back of my mind.
Because of the limited space I had in my spare room, I had no choice but to use short throw projectors, with a front projection surface.
I settled on the BenQ 1080ST, which is a short throw, 1080p projector and at the time one of the only short throws that wasn't ridiculously priced. Short throw means it has a wider lens, so the projector can be much closer to the surface its projecting on.
The first one I purchased new, back in 2012, for around $1200 AUD. Ouch.
I sold it to my wife as a home theater purchase, so it was set up in the livingroom as a large scale home theater while the cockpit was being built.
Eventually it moved into the spare room and I was using it for DCS, thrown directly onto the wall.
You can see that setup in this first video I recorded for youtube a few years ago!
I searched online to buy a curved surface and found only one that seemed to meet my needs, and was available to purchase as a kit.
It was priced well over $1000, which was pretty steep but if it was any good I was willing to pay.
It had a fancy plastic surface, but the reviews I found online were 'mixed'. I sent a few emails asking about the product, and I never recieved a response.
I then decided to try the company out and purchased a Thrustmaster Warthog Joystick extension from them online. They provided absolutely no communication even after my purchase, and nearly a month later it arrived. I was bitterly dissapointed with what i recieved, a 3D printed adapter with an alumium pipe tac screwed on. I could have made something of much better quality for 1/10th of the cost in my garage.
So I made the decision to design and build my own. I visited many home theatre forums, and saw that people were using sheets of MDF as pretty decent looking flat home cinema screens. I figured I could do the same thing but curved.
I decided to build a surface that was modular, in 90 degree sections that I could bolt together.
I did this for a couple of reasons, the first being so I could start with only two projectors and a 180 degree section whilst adding a third later on, and secondly so it was small enough to disassemble and move in and out of the room.
I measured out the footprint of the cockpit, as well as the size of the room, and planned out the largest screen I could fit in the space I had available.
Once I had a rough design, I made sure that one projector was able to cover one section of screen.
I did no complicated calculations whilst checking the throw diagrams of the projector, I literally marked out where it would be, turned on my projector and held it upside down over my head to make sure it would cover the surface.
The height of the screen surface is 1.2 meters. This size was also determined by using the same method, holding the projecter on top of my head estimating how much surface I could cover with the projectors in the small room I had.
Top down view of the screen setup. The grey section is the outline of the cockpits footprint.
The three blue curves are the sections of screen.
It has a 1.2 meter (3'11") internal radius, so a meters (7'9") internal diameter.
The ribs are 90mm wide, so all up it is nealy 2.6 meters (8'5") wide.
The room is only 2.8 meters (9'1") wide.
The design is pretty simple, a timber frame made of with a 3mm MDF surface, that is painted and bolted together. The most difficult part was cutting the curved ribs. I did this by hand, out of large sheets of MDF. Nothing fancy here, i marked and measured it by hand, and drew the curve by putting a nail in the center of my arc, then running some string with a pencil out to get a nice, even, curved line that was the inner radius. This was then cut with a jigsaw. All the ribs were then screwed together, then tidied up with a belt sander so all were curved exactly the same. Two curved ribs for each 90 degree section, three beams holding them 1.2 meters apart, then the skin on the curve. I originally had two curves and moved it into the room.
The second projector, also a BenQ 1080ST+ was purchased in around 2018. As it was a discontinued model, I found it second hand for around $600. It is a plus model, so the lam is actaully a bt bright
The third projector, purchased in 2019, was also found second hand for $300 AUD.
The BenQ 1080ST
The completed frame. The hardest part was cutting the curved top and bottom section. I did this by hand, out of large sheets of MDF. I marked it out using string and a pencil to make nice, even, curved line. I cut this out with a jigsaw. All the ribs were then screwed together, then smoothed out with a belt sander so all were shaped exactly the same.
Here is a single section of the screen with its 3 mm MDF skin glued on.
Two sections of the screen bolted together.
And thw two sections raised up on legs. Three legs raise the entire thing 50 cm off the ground, making my eye level when seated in the cockpit at the centre of the surface.
I researched a few popular screen paints. You can purchase some, commonly referred to as 'screen goo' however they cost an absolute fortune, some over $200AUD a liter, and the reviews i read online are 'mixed.'
I came across a paint mix known as 'Black Widow' which is used by lots of people who set up home theaters. Its a light-medium flat Grey mix. I used the Australian Version (obviously) but the link above with show you what to use in the EU and US.
My mix was;
(960ml) of "Dulux Wash&Wear 1L +Plus Kitchen & Bathroom Vivid White Low Sheen Paint” tinted to 'PN2G5 Milton Moon' (this is a DULUX color) from Bunnings.
(240ml) of “Auto-Air Aluminum Base Fine” (code: 4101) paint from Airbrush Megastore:
I am absolutely not an audiophile or projector specialist, but to my normal human eyeballs the difference was definitely an improvement to a plain white painted surface. The contrast and color was improved, and it just looked better. The mix above was enough to do the two coats on each of the three 90 degree sections, so all up it covered 5.65 meters with a little bit left over if i ever need to touch it up
A first coat of normal white house paint to seal the entire thing and highlight any imperfections.
The rear of the surface was also painted to make it look a little more professional, and to seal it and prevent dust build up. The legs were done in left over 'Hammer Grey' I had from making the side consoles.
Here is the two sections in the sim room for the first time, bolted up and positioned. They are still normal white, i didnt paint the 'Black Widow' mis until i had everything bolted together for the last time.
The paint used to mix the 'Black Widow'
Here is the two screens bolted up to make the 180 degree surface. I definately notices the image had much better contrast on the darker grey 'Black Widow' mix than with plain low sheen white house paint
This photo was taken after i added the third section to the cockpit to make it 270 degrees wide. The difference in the 'Black Widow' and plain white is obvious
The third section moving into the sim room for a 270 degree curve
Immersive Display PRO, by Fly Elise-ng.
The main reason I chose to use Immersive Display PRO is because they offer a trial version that will fully work with no time limit- the only thing is it will have a large 'trail version' watermark across your full screen.
The software to warp the image was one of the largest expenses of this project. Once I used it for a few months and saw what it was capable of, I purchased an Ultimate USB Dongle license for $765AUD (remember in AU you will need to add 10% GST at checkout).
There are cheaper versions available, some at half that price, however they are PC locked and limited to three projectors. I decided on the Ultimate versions, only because I update PC hardware a lot and didn't want to have to pay again in the future.
Please note that this is not a extensive tutorial on how to blend and warp using the software- but I do cover that in the video below!
Here is the first time i tried warping the image. One projector is showing a grid, and you can move all the points of the grid points around to match your curve.
Both projectors warped and belnded. The image is a built in image so you can check perspective is correct, but you can upload any image you want.
Another built in image warped, checking perspective and colour correction.
DCS firing up for the first time. The trial version gives you full use of the software, albeit with a huge watermark.
Blended. The difference in brightness of the projectors is obvious here, because one of them is a newer 1080ST+ model. I fixed this later by tweaking the brightness setting onboard the projector.
In flight. In case you missed it- this is the unregistered version.
Check out the first video I recorded on building the screen.
Here is the second video I recorded when I upgraded to three projectors and 270 degrees of screen surface. A little bit of info on warping and blending using Immersive Display PRO.
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