Friday Fun: How to build a personal theater with PVC

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I have a nearly irrational love of PVC piping. PVC is incredibly versatile stuff: strong, durable, flexible, resistant to breaking down. True, it does break down over time, but that timeframe is roughly 140 years, longer than our operational lifetimes.

Over the years I’ve made instructions for how to build camera stabilizers, strawberry towers, and stop motion photography setups. Today, let’s build a personal theater.

A personal theater is something I saw last year, a trend in China in which people were cutting holes in cardboard boxes and mounting tablets in them, then placing those cardboard boxes over their heads and shoulders to create a personal theater-like environment. You simply lay down on a flat surface and watch, hands-free, in your own theater.

I tried out the original version and didn’t like it for a couple reasons:

  • The cardboard enclosure feels claustrophobic, not like the openness of a theater
  • The cardboard enclosure gets really warm, which is not ideal during the summer
  • The cardboard version also has no way to hold onto the tablet, so if you sneeze or move suddenly, you get a tablet in the face

How do we solve for these design problems? PVC!

I adapted the PVC frame from the stop motion rig, shortening the frame to be just slightly larger than my tablet. To mount the tablet without causing any harm to the surface, I grabbed two large, heavy rubber bands and stretched them over the corner joints:

PVC Personal Theater

With headphones, just slot the tablet into the rubber bands. They’ll hold it suspended and provide enough surface friction to keep it in place.

PVC Personal Theater

The one design consideration is focal length. If you wear glasses for distance, experiment with the distance the tablet needs to be away from your eyes so you can focus correctly either with or without corrective lenses. If you get this wrong, you’ll earn an eyestrain-induced headache. Measure first, then cut the length of PVC for the legs of the frame to that length plus an inch/two centimeters. (depending on the weight of your tablet, it may sit an inch lower in the frame.)

With this personal theater design, air flow is not a problem, nor is claustrophobia. The only downside with this design is if you need the room-darkening effects of the cardboard box and turning off the lights isn’t an option. If so, grab a sheet of velour cloth or other light-blocking cloth (an old light-blocking curtain would be a great choice) and drape it over the frame once you’re inside it.


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One response to “Friday Fun: How to build a personal theater with PVC”

  1. Very nice, Chris! I agree that a cardboard box isn’t sufficient.

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