How to Use Old LED TV Panels: A DIY Project With A Nice Payoff


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Learning how to use old LED TV panels is one way to show kindness to your wallet and the earth. Reuse is arguably the best way to recycle old or broken screens. 

So, we go over how you can repurpose an old LED panel. We also take a deep dive into how exactly you do that.

How to use old LED TV panels: New uses for your old LCD panel

Old electronics have functional parts that you can reuse. The same goes for broken electronics, barring fire or a run-in with a crusher. So, don’t write off the entirety of your TV on account of a cracked screen. Creative types can reuse the TV to create furniture or an art piece. Of course, they would need help or knowhow to take the screen apart.

With expert-level knowledge of electronics, you could also repurpose the power supply and logic board of an old smart TV.

The LED TV panel also lends itself to reuse. Old and intact panels can make versatile displays that connect to all sorts of input devices. Then there are TVs with broken screens. If the glass part of the panel has a crack on it, you can repurpose the backlight system to make a lightbox.

Some safety notes we should make before diving into the article include:

  • Make sure the damaged TV is not connected to a power source
  • Do not touch the motherboard. It contains capacitors that can still hold charge — and electrocute you — even when the TV is disconnected

Before we get into how to reuse an LED panel, let’s look at the different components of the panel. Why? You’ll find out in the sections that follow.

The structure of an LCD/LED panel: An explainer

how to use old LED TV panels

LCD/LED panels have several components, most of which sit in layers. Some layers emit light, others focus the light while the rest diffuse (spread) said light. There are also layers that block certain polarities of light and layers that act as color filters. Here is a broad-strokes arrangement of the different layers; from the back panel to the glass that covers the screen:

  1. A reflector sheet sits directly on the acrylic base that makes up the bottom of the LED panel. Its job is to catch stray light from the backlight and reflect it towards the front of the screen
  2. For direct backlight TVs, an LED array will sit on the reflector sheet
  3. A diffuser sheet will spread the light evenly across the surface area of the panel
  4. Next comes the prism layer, which focuses the light coming out of the diffuser sheet. The prism layer also catches stray light rays, directing them forward and towards the viewer.
  5. The vertical/bottom polarizer layer blocks horizontal light waves from the prism sheet. It will however allow vertical light to pass through.
  6. A liquid crystal layer and its power source sit on top of the bottom polarizer. This is the layer that executes the pixels that switch on and off according to instructions from the logic board.
  7. The topmost polarizer layer allows horizontal light to come through the TV screen and straight to your eyeballs. Its job is to improve the color and definition of the images that come through the liquid crystal layer.

It’s usually layers five, six, and seven that sustain damage when your screen breaks. They happen to be the topmost layers of an LED panel. Keep this small note at your fingertips. You’ll need it in a few seconds.

Creating ‘natural daylight’ with a DIY lightbox: Disassembly

Let’s say you have a TV with some cracks on it. Chances are that the topmost layers of your TV no longer work, but the rest do. These functional lower layers produce, distribute and focus light over the surface of your LED panel. They’re the ideal light source for artificial yet natural-looking daylight.

To speed up this DIY project, get yourself a couple of LED strips and a 12V DC power source. An old TV or laptop adapter will work. Next, take the following steps:

  • First, disassemble your old or broken TV. It will take time and you’ll be taking out a lot of screws
  • With the chassis off, you should be looking at a panel with some TV guts on it. Strip the panel by detaching the logic board, the power supply, and any other electronics.
  • Remove any plastic or metal brackets that remain on the panel at this point
  • The result is a largely smooth panel, with internal metal housing. Take the housing off

You should be looking at an acrylic base stacked with paper-thin sheets. The previous section listed different layers and what they do. These, along with the housing, are the parts we need for our lightbox. 

If you take a closer look at the base, you’ll find the backlight source. It will likely be an LED strip if it’s an edge-lit TV. For a direct backlit TV, you’ll have multiple strips spread out across the base. The backlight for old LCD screens may be a row of small fluorescent bulbs.

It’s tempting to use the panel’s native LEDs or CCFL bulbs. The truth is, you’re better off using your store-bought LED strips, which are much easier to power.

Creating ‘natural daylight’ with a DIY lightbox: Reassembly

Start by replacing the native backlight with your light source. You’ll first need to remove the LED strip or CCFL system on the internal chassis. Next, place your own LED strip in the exact location of the old backlight source. For a direct-array panel, lay multiple strips across the base and connect them in parallel.

Now, connect the wires from the LED strip to your 12V DC power source. The LEDs should light up. With your new backlight in place and working great, stack the acrylic base and the layers that go on top of it.

If your panel is edge-lit, start with the acrylic base, followed by the reflector sheet, followed by a light guide layer. If the panel uses direct backlights, start with the acrylic base, followed by the reflector sheet, followed by the diffuser sheet, followed by the prism sheet. 

Everything is in place now, and you can re-attach the frame that completes the housing.

Finishing touches

The frame that covers the sides of the panel may not fit as well as it did before. You may need to make adjustments. A neat and permanent fix is to make a new, wider frame that matches the new thickness of the panel.

If need be, extend the wiring from the LEDs. Lastly, sheath the wires with a nice-looking cover.

How to use old LED TV panels: Other uses of old LED TV panels

If your old LED panel is intact, you can upgrade it by changing its logic board. Installing a new logic board can increase the type and number of input ports on the TV. The new board could give an old TV the capability to play media from input sources like USB drives and streaming sticks.

The upgrade process happens to be similar, if slightly simpler than the process of creating a lightbox. This time around, you would get to retain all the different layers of the LCD/LED screen.

Use a fun DIY project like our ‘How to use old LED TV panels’ article to make a brand-new home appliance

Maybe you’re into photography and you could use a light source that simulates daylight. Or you may want to add new ports and new features to your ancient but high-quality LED screen. In both scenarios, knowing how to use old LED TV panels can come in handy. Learn how, using this guide as a start.

**Disclaimer: Use the information contained in this article at your own risk.

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