A Portable Projection System for Theater and Digital Presentation

I was confronted with the problem of coming up with a digital video projection system for an array of different uses in a rural North Dakota church. Potential uses included theater use for playing primarily DVD's but also VHS tapes, as well as digital presentations such as Powerpoint. Most applications would occur in space that would be darkened with shades, but not completely dark, so that in my mind eliminated many of the projectors designed primarily for home theater use in a completely darkened room. Instead, I thought that a standard 800 x 600 XGA projector might be more suitable in this situation. The church sanctuary aria has about 10 rows of pews in a semi-circle, so a screen area about 4' x 8' or about 100 inches diagonal would be adequate, and could be readily seen from any point in the church. Furthermore there was an open area on the wall at the front that would be suitable for projecting this size.

The Projector

I found a closeout InFocus XGA IN24 at Best Buy. I like this projector in this particular situation for a number of reasons. First, it is quite bright, rated at 1700 lumens. Second, it is quite compact, weighing in at about 6 pounds. Third, it is very simple to use, and anyone who has run a slide projector should be able to learn everything they need to know in less than 5 minutes. While the native resolution is 4:3, is has a menu adjustment for 16:9 for use with wide screen DVD's Fourth, overall, the Web reviews on this projector are quite good, and I particularly noted that the projector is quite sturdy, as in bulletproof, which is important in a situation whereby a number of different people might at some point be operating it. Fifth, the Best Buy in-store closeout price of $359 on this new unit was right, especially given that Web prices are running about $600 and used, refurbished units are running about $450 on line. Apparently the closeout on these is occurring on IN24, that came out in March of 2006, is being replaced by the similar IN24+. The beauty of this is that in a worst case scenario, say the projector is accidentally damaged or broken, the loss here would be modest.

The Sound System and DVD Player

The projector and sound system are to be portable, that is, moved into the space only when being used. This means that the sound system would need to fit on a cart. Also at Best Buy I found s $100 Theater in a Box under the Best Buy house brand "Insignia" that included a 5.1 sound system consisting of five cube speakers plus a smaller subwoofer, 200 rated total watts, plus a DVD player and AM/FM radio. In the experiments we ran with this we were amazed that this system seemed to quite easily fill a larger space with clear clean sound with no significant distortion. In a permanent setup, I would have gone with larger speakers, but for a portable system, this setup is quite slick. Again, it is simple to operate, and anyone who can run the projector should be able to run the sound system and DVD player with little effort.

This DVD player sound system I purchased, cosmetically is a little different from a similar $100 one Best Buy is currently showing as available on their Website. (Update:it has just recently showed up on-line as the NS-H2001) I’m not sure whether the one I got for the system (from the Minot, ND Best Buy) is a slightly newer or slightly older model from the Website version  In the local (Lexington, KY) Best Buy, they carry neither the ND version nor the Website version, but have yet another, third, Insignia  version ($129) with a built-in VHS tape player

 The Roll-Around Cart

The roll-around cart might be the most ingenious part of the project. The cart is actually a knockdown kitchen island I found at Wal-Mart ($90). This was a good solution for a number of reasons First, it is 35 inches, or countertop high, which means the projector placed on top has some height. Second, it has a very large top, with a section that folds down like a drop leaf table so there is space for a laptop, VCR, or whatever you happen to be running with the projector, in addition to the sound amplifier and DVD player. The cart is on four casters, and is finished wood or wood veneer all four sides. The front has a long narrow drawer, suitable for remotes, cords, manuals and DVD's. The doors below open to a larger area with a shelf where the projector, sound system amplifier and speakers, subwoofer, extension cords etc can be stored when not in use.

Equipment costs

Infocus IN24 Projector (Best Buy Closeout)                                       $359

Insignia (Best Buy) 5.1 Sound System with DVD                               $100

Roll around cart (kitchen Island Wal-Mart                                         $ 90

Extension Cords                                                                                  $ 22

Total Equipment Cost                                                                          $571

Screen Construction details

The Stretched-Panel (Fellowship Area) Screen:

I built two screens, the first a stretched-panel screen for use in the fellowship area with eight foot ceilings. The space allowed a 98 inch diagonal screen 16:9 eactly 4 ft high an 85.33 inches wide. Construction details are given in the accompanying figure and photo of the screen in place.

The parts list for this screen and approximate cost was

Stretched-panel parts list and cost



1 x 3 lumber (three 8 ft lengths)


Scrap 1/4 inch plywood


50 3/4 inch screws


Chain links


Drapery blackout cloth 3 yards










I actually found closeout drapery blackout cloth at Wal-Mart for $1 a yard and was able to use stock hardware I had on hand i my scrap bin so my out-of pocket cost for this screen was considerably less than this. The big home improvement stores now stock 1 x 3 lumber, which is sufficiently sturdy to stretch the cloth but still creates a lightweight screen that can be supported only at the top with simply two hooks mounted in wall studs. The 1 x 3 design here weighs substantially less than my earlier project screens using stock 1 x 4 lumber.

The drapery blackout cloth is not totally opaque, but the wall behind this screen is a textured wall painted with semi-gloss enamel. I suspect that wall will tend to reflect back any light that passes through the screen, and overall it should work very well. I didn’t get a change to actually try this screen with the projector after it was installed

As is apparent from the photo I had to clear a light switch on the right as well as a furnace register in the upper left. But that left me with the exact space I needed for a 48 inch high 16:9 screen and dictated the 85.33 inch width. With only the chain links and hooks holding the screen at the top, the screen wanted to move away from the wall at the lower right corner. But a quick way of resolving that problem was to hot glue a short strip of Velcro to the back side of the screen and to the wall beside the light switch, and the screen now hangs true and tight against the wall, exactly clearing the plate cover for the light switch.

The real beauty of this design is that it visually “goes away” when not in use. It is mounted on a side wall, and many people who have been in the space do not even realize it has been added.

The “Banner” (Sanctuary) Screen:

The idea here was to design a screen that would not look like a screen but rather like a big banner, when not in use. This screen is in a very visible location on a white wall on one side at the front of the church. The ceiling is high, and the width of the wall is 8 feet, so I thought a conventional 4:3 shape might work better than a 16:9, although the screen in use could easily accommodate either 16: 9 or the traditional 4:3 format.

The initial plan was to use plumbing pipe, either metal or larger (1 ½ inch or 2 inch) plastic pipe at the top and bottom. But in my basement I found a couple of 8 ft long spring-loaded brass poles that had once probably been used as a 70s room divider. With the ends trimmed to the 90 inch width I needed, these looked almost exactly like the brass pipes normally seen at the top and bottom of banners, except, of course, much larger. A quick trip to the hardware store netted me four copper caps to trim up the cut ends.

The tricky part about building a screen like this is that it is the weight of the bottom pipe that stretches the screen, and the pipes need to be heavy enough so they don’t sag in the middle, which could cause the screen to sag in the center. THe problem is that there is nothing to stretch the screen at the sides.

The parts list and an estimated cost (buying new pipe, flat sheet from Target) for this screen is:

Banner screen parts list and cost

250 ct Queen flat sheet


Pipes (2)


10 ft gold chain






The stock sheet hem is opened and gets used at the top, and the sheet cut from its 102 inch length to accommodate a 2 ½ inch hem at the bottom leaving the overall length (height) at approximately 72 inches.

Interestingly, the banners the church had been using before in this space were approximately 6 foot long, so the screen is the same height as the other banners.

Light Control

The sanctuary has six stained glass panels at either side that let in considerable light during the day and the fellowship area has three large windows each with twin vertical panes. Some simple means of easily controlling light in both spaces was needed. On measurement we discovered that the sanctuary panels were approximately 60 inches tall and 22 inches wide. Interestingly, each panel of the fellowship area windows was only slightly wider than that but a little shorter. We quickly thought it might be possible to use the same panels to control light in either space. We easily found elegant black cloth 60 inches wide in Wal-Mart’s $1 a yards closeout bin, so six yards of that was in order. Then we needed spring tension rods that could be adjusted between 22 and 24 inches wide so that they could be used in either set of windows. We ended up cutting the 6 panels each to a 30 inch width, making a small hem at the top of each to hold the spring tension rod. That means that each panel has a bit of fullness and drapes well.

These pop-in panels do an amazing job of light control in either of the spaces. They can be popped in place to remove ambient light in 2 minutes, and turn the area theater-dark. We were lucky not only to find the fabric, but also that the same panels work in both spaces without having to climb ladders to install. The photo shows me and a typical stained glass window. The total cost here was simply the cost of the spring tension rods (under $3 each or $18) and the fabric (in our case $6 for six yards, with some left over.


If the past weeks I have had more opportunity to use the equipment, screens and blackout panels to show an actual movie (appropriately, “Luther”. The photo below shows the projector and sanctuary screen with the overlying banner removed. The slight unevenness or sag in the photo is not apparent at all once the movie starts. I continue to be amazed at how well the InFocus IN24 projector works in this situation and that the Insignia 5.1 sound system can play to quite loud volumes as well. In a larger sanctuary space this equipment might need to be upsized a little.


This same basic approach could be used in other places, including smaller churches, fellowship and gathering halls, as well as to provide portable movies and gaming as a simple and effective solution for youth groups.


David L. Debertin