Microsoft has finally released their Surface Hub devices in 84-inch and 55-inch models. If the respective $22,000 and $9,000 price tags are a little too much for you, don’t fret. You can build something similar for sub $1,000. I recently converted an Ikea coffee table I have into a touchscreen coffee table with similar functionality. Understand, for less than a $1,000 you don’t get an enterprise grade collaboration tool. But I’m not planning on having any board meetings in the man cave anytime soon.
About eight years ago I had purchased an Ikea coffee table and built an N-scale train layout in it. It had controls for running the train and switching tracks. Over the past 5 years I’ve only used it about 10 times. I decided it was time for an upgrade. I’ve always loved the idea of touchscreen coffee tables but didn’t have $3K-$4K to shell out on a large enough touchscreen. Then I discovered IR touch frames and my prayers were answered. For from $150 – $250 you can get a frame that lies on any screen and creates a working touchscreen. The frame uses built in IR transmitters and receivers to create a field that can track where you touch. It has a USB plugin back to the computer. The frames are very lightweight and are from 1/4” – ½” high. You simply mount it onto your screen, plug in the USB and presto instant touch screen!
I purchased a frame from AliExpress. If you search stateside for the same frames you will find them for 2-3 times the price. As near as I can tell the frames are exactly the same. They are just rebranded in the states and sold for a higher price. When selecting your frame play close attention to the size and number of touch points. For the size make sure that the external dimensions of the frame will fit onto your screen. Also make sure that the frame will fit your table. I recommend you get the maximum number of touch points you can afford or your system will accept. If you have company over everyone is going to want to touch it and it sucks when they can’t all do it at once.
For the screen, I chose to use a flatscreen TV. A similar sized LCD monitor would have been far more expensive and I was trying to keep costs down. My main requirements were that be a 1080i display and have an HDMI input. Neither of those is hard to meet. I found a closeout deal and BestBuy and it worked well.
I had an old desktop lying around and decided to initially use that. The biggest thing with the computer was I wanted to use Windows 10 in touch screen mode. I took Microsoft up on its free Windows 10 upgrade offer and ditched my old Windows 7. I had to upgrade my old graphics card as well to get one with an HDMI output. Eventually, I ended up purchasing a new computer and case from MicroCenter. Even there I kept the price for the system around $300.
The table I had was old Ikea model (Vinninga) coffee table with a slide out drawer and glass top. It was the perfect shape for this project. Unfortunately, Ikea no longer makes this tableL. They do make something similar though. The LIATORP table comes in white or grey and has a glass top and slide out drawer. Or you can always make your own http://www.ana-white.com/2010/12/moms-train-table.
Modifying the table is the only part of this project that required any serious work. One of my objectives was to have a system that could withstand use by my 7 & 9 year old sons. That meant that the fragile screen of the TV would need to be protected from direct access. That’s where the flexibility of the IR touch frame shines. The frame does not have to be directly on top of the display to work. So put a piece of Plexiglas on top of the TV and put the frame on top of that. The Plexiglas is ¼” thick, which so far has been sufficient to withstand kid use. The work came in trying to get the whole assembly flush with the top of the table.
My original plan was to use the glass that originally came with table but that would have required the IR touch frame to sit on top of the glass. That would have made the table less usable as a table. So, I built a wood frame around the touch frame, plexiglass and TV sandwich that would keep it all flush. What I ended up with was a flush table edge and a ¼” drop where the screen is. It works well. There are thinner IR touch frames that would have made the drop less noticeable but those are more expensive. I didn’t think the more pleasing aesthetic was worth the cost.
After I got the frame built and everything flushed, I gave it all a coat of black paint. The tan wood was ok but I wanted something slicker. Plus when the monitor is off it really just looks like a black coffee table. I added some silver trim to the corners and I had myself a Surface hub on the cheap.
The IR touch screen works great! My version takes the Windows maximum of 10 touch points. I’ve had the boys down and we have had a lot of fun playing multiplayer touch games or just drawing together. I have a wireless keyboard and mouse hooked up for anything that gets tricky with the touch controls but honestly I don’t need it very much. I also recently hooked up a microphone to enable Cortana. Once I got past the HAL 9000 feel of being monitored, it’s pretty cool.
So if you don’t have $22K or $9K to spend on a Surface Hub you can get it done on the low end. Won’t be exactly the same but for the money you’ll save who cares.