Pennytech: My Five Dollar Teleprompter

This article was originally posted June 2005 on the Red Dirt Roundup TV show website. Since then the original images have been lost. I will be improving the design and will be sure to post photos when I do.
— Rex

The need for a teleprompter becomes pretty obvious the minute you start doing any sort of video. After some research I discovered that there were two options:

a) spend a buttload of money

b) make one myself

After a little research I discovered several homemade examples of teleprompters and tons of advice on using a teleprompter. The most helpful articles I found were Brian Lawler’s Forget Cue Cards, Make a Teleprompter! and the Plasti-Prompter devised by video blogger Max Rottersman. The latter was especially helpful because I was under the impression that a one-way mirror was required. After seeing what Max had done with nothing more than a lid from a CD jewel case I realized this was not rocket science.

No Rockets, Some Science
Here’s the basic idea of my teleprompter made from a wine box, packing tape and a $5 piece of glass. A piece of glass held at a 45° angle to our laptop screen reflects the image toward our talented viewer. On the other side of the glass is a camera to take it all in. But for some magical reason the camera doesn’t see that reflected image on the glass. Maybe this is some rocket science after all?

My first challenge was to determine the optimum size for the piece of glass. I wanted it as large as possible to show the entire display of my laptop. The 15″ display on my Dell Inspiron 5500 was about 12 inches wide and 9 inches tall. So the width was easy- about 12.25 inches would be great. That would allow my “frame” to be about 12.5 inches wide, which would fit perfectly on the bezel surrounding the laptop’s display. But the height was another matter.

The glass needs to be set at 45° to the display. So I drew a right triangle with a base of 9.5 inches (the laptop display) and a leg of 9.5 inches (distance to the glass) which left the size of the glass a mystery. I knew the answer involved calculating the length of the hypotenuse and the Pythagorean theorem was involved. After a search on Google all that math fun came rolling back: A² + B² = C² That calculation gave me 13.435 which I rounded to 13 7/16 inches and called the glass shop. $4.68 later I was rummaging around for something to mount the glass in.

A wine box for 6 of the 1.5 liter bottles happened to be almost exactly 12.5 inches across. The top flap was already cut off, as is the custom at most fine liquor stores. So I cut the front and back out which leaves us 3 sides of the wine box. Then I cut a couple of thin strips from the scrap to make a pair of supports. These are taped inside the box at the magical 45° angle, then the glass rests on them. A couple more pieces of tape keep the glass from bouncing out of place.

After about 15 minutes of slicing and taping we had the laptop fired up and made some final adjustments. To get it just right I ended up trimming a couple of inches off the box, giving it a final overall height of 11 inches. You’ll notice I used Priority Mail tape, and since the wine box was also free I’m actually under budget. So my teleprompter actually cost less than $5, but I allowed a little leeway for those of you that splurge for packing tape.

For displaying our script we use Prompt! on the PC and Mac. It runs the script mirrored with one click and allows the operator to adjust the speed easily via mouse or keyboard. The basic version is free and the only drawback is a 2500 character limit. If you plan to do War and Peace you’ll need to pay, but even so it’s quite reasonable. Once you learn about 4 of the hotkey combinations you can easily operate the camera and the `prompter from behind the laptop.

Materials Needed:

Glass, plain old window pane, thinner the better, cut to 12 1/4″ x 13 7/16″

Wine Box

Packing Tape

Originally published at http://www.reddirtroundup.com/2005/06/my-five-dollar-teleprompter.htm

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