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Turn an old monitor into a wall display with a Raspberry Pi

Have an old monitor and a Raspberry Pi lying around? Put them both to great use with this DIY wall-mounted display.

Taylor Martin/CNET

So you have an unused Raspberry Pi lying around and you don't know what to do with it. You're not alone, even if there are hundreds of projects at the ready.

You can turn it into a Minecraft machine, a music streamer for your living room, an Alexa speaker and many other things. But one of the coolest (and simplest) things you can do with your Raspberry Pi is turn it into a wall display that shows the weather, time and date, your calendar and the most recent entries from your favorite RSS feed.

Here is how to turn a Raspberry Pi into a wall display.

Editors' note, Aug. 14, 2018: Originally published July 2, 2017, this article has since been updated to include new DAKboard features and an open-source alternative to DAKboard, MagicMirror.

What you will need

rpi-dakboard-1
Taylor Martin/CNET

Which Raspberry Pi model you use doesn't matter too much, but certain models will make your life easier.

For instance, a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B has a higher power requirement (2.5A) and, thus, necessitates a specific power brick. It will definitely still work, but a Raspberry Pi 2 Model B only requires 1.8A, and the Raspberry Pi Zero W requires 1.2A. These two models will work with modern, slim USB chargers, which often supply up to 2.4A. However, if you opt for the Raspberry Pi 2, you will also need to run an Ethernet cable to the board or opt for a WAN adapter.

The ideal board for the job is the Raspberry Pi Zero W, because it's extremely small and lightweight and it has Wi-Fi built in. Best of all, it's an affordable $10 (from about £9.30 or AU$14.96) for the board. To set up and connect the Raspberry Pi, you will need a short HDMI cable and a microSD card of at least 8GB.

Aside from the Raspberry Pi, you will only need a few other things to have this up and running in minutes.

The most important thing you need is an old monitor -- preferably a slim model with HDMI. Some computer monitors will work better than others. Specifically, those that have the connection ports facing downward instead of straight out from the back work much better.

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You will also need an extension cable with at least two plugs at the end. Take note of whether your monitor's power supply needs a two- or three-pronged plug and buy the appropriate extension cord.

Finally, you will need supplies to mount the Raspberry Pi, the monitor's power supply, all the cables and the female end of the extension cord on the back of the monitor. I used two-sided mounting tape. And I used duct tape to keep the excess cord attached as tightly to the back of the monitor as possible.

The easiest way to hang the monitor with everything attached to the back is picture-hanging wire.

Connect all the hardware

rpi-dakboard-back
Taylor Martin/CNET

Start by removing the back cover and the stand from the monitor.

Typically, there isn't enough room to install a Raspberry Pi inside the original backplate -- unless you're using a Pi Zero W. Even then, the excess cords and the power supply for the monitor won't fit. The monitor will sit closer to the wall without the back cover, so it's best to discard it.

Connect the Raspberry Pi to the HDMI port on the monitor and -- without plugging in the extension cord -- connect the power cables to both the Raspberry Pi and the monitor. Use this to figure out the best layout of all the parts to keep everything as slim as possible.

Once you have a chosen layout, begin fastening the parts to the rear of the monitor.

As for the picture-hanging wire, there were no decent places to connect on the Dell monitor I used, so I drilled one hole on either side of the rear bezel that held the back cover on. This is where you might have to get creative, since no two monitors are the same.

Install Raspbian on the Raspberry Pi

Surprisingly, this project doesn't require any special code for the Raspberry Pi. In fact, it will be running on Raspbian OS, a Linux distribution specifically for the Raspberry Pi.

Follow our guides to install Raspbian on the Raspberry Pi either with or without NOOBS.

After you've installed Raspbian OS, boot the Raspberry Pi and connect it to your wireless network.

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Configure DAKboard

DAKboard is the web interface used to display all the information on the monitor. It can be set up from the Raspberry Pi or from a computer, phone or tablet.

Just go to dakboard.com and create an account. Then begin configuring the layout to your liking. There are five different screen configurations to choose from:

  • Top/Bottom
  • Left/Right
  • Mobile/Tablet
  • Big Calendar
  • Big Time

Next, you must configure DAKboard to suit your needs. For instance, start by choosing your time zone, selecting either an analog or a digital clock. Select a date-and-time format.

For background options, you can choose between a host of different sources, such as Instagram, Apple Photos, Google Photos, Dropbox, OneDrive, Bing, Flickr, etc. After that, you can connect up to two ICAL calendars for free, select between Yahoo and AccuWeather for the forecast source, add a single RSS feed for rotating headlines, and connect Todoist, Wunderlist or Microsoft To-Do as a task manager to display and add a custom message to the DAKboard.

By upgrading to DAKboard Premium, which starts at $4.95 per month (no specific info about international pricing and availability), you can unlock the ability to add additional calendars, set a Vimeo, YouTube video or website as the background, select Dark Sky as the weather source, add thermostat integration, get stock quotes and add additional RSS feeds to your display.

Save your changes when you're satisfied with the DAKboard layout.

Set up the Raspberry Pi to boot to DAKboard

rpi-dakboard
Taylor Martin/CNET

The idea is that, when powered on, the Raspberry Pi will automatically boot to your DAKboard. If you want to hang the monitor vertically instead of horizontally, you will also need to rotate the display.

First, power on the Raspberry Pi, open Terminal and type in sudo raspi-config. Once in the configuration tool:

  • Go to Boot Options > Desktop Autologin Desktop GUI and press Enter.
  • Go to Interfacing Options > SSH > Yes and press Enter.
  • Go to Localisation Options and set your correct time zone and keyboard layout.

When asked if you want to reboot the Raspberry Pi, select No.

While still in Terminal, type sudo apt-get install unclutter and press Enter. This will hide the cursor when not in use.

Next, you will want to edit the config.txt file to rotate the screen 90 degrees. In Terminal, type sudo nano /boot/config.txt and press Enter. This opens the config file in the nano text editor. Add these lines to the end of the file (without the bullet points):

  • # Display orientation. Landscape = 0, Portrait = 1
  • display_rotate=1
  • #Use 24 bit colors
  • framebuffer_depth=24

To save the changes, press Ctrl + O, then press Enter. To exit nano, press Ctrl + X.

Finally, to force the screen to stay on and automatically boot with dakboard.com loaded in Chromium, type sudo nano ~/.config/lxsession/LXDE-pi/autostart and press Enter. Inside nano, add these four lines (without the bullet points):

Press Ctrl + O and Enter to save the changes, and press Ctrl + X to exit nano. Type sudo reboot and press Enter to restart the Raspberry Pi.

Run DAKboard

Once the Raspberry Pi has fully rebooted, use a connected mouse and keyboard to log in to DAKboard. Click Login and enter your credentials. Your DAKboard should load with your previously configured settings. If you want to change anything, click the settings cog in the upper right corner of the display (move the cursor to make it appear).

Hang the monitor on the wall and you'll have yourself a digital clock and calendar, the week's forecast, important headlines and beautiful pictures on display all day.

If you would prefer the monitor to turn on and off at different times to save power, DAKboard includes instructions on how to set that up with a script.

A DAKboard alternative

DAKboard is a great way to set up a Raspberry Pi display in a hurry. It's easy and user-friendly and it looks great. However, it has its limitations and encourages users to upgrade to Premium to unlock the best features.

That's why MagicMirror is a fantastic alternative for those willing to get their hands dirty and spend a little more time and effort setting it up. MagicMirror is open-source and entirely free. It's also installed with a single command and you can install modules for clock, calendar, weather, news, alerts and tons of third-party modules that include smart home integrations. You can even make your own modules if you're so inclined.

Now that you've got your Raspberry Pi display made, maybe you can build a gallery wall around it.

Or consider these 9 easy ways to upgrade your kitchen for cheap.