Help Using a Laptop Without a Backlight
July 5, 2009 6:36 PM   Subscribe

Today my laptop's backlight stopped working. The screen is visible, but very dim. I can't repair it immediately (if it's even worth it). Does anyone have any tips for lighting the screen to make it more visible? Shining a penlight didn't seem to help much, because the screen is so reflective.

The laptop is a three year old HP Pavilion dv1000. It is no longer under warranty. I probably will get another computer instead, because I don't think I'm up to replacing a backlight myself, and it sounds like getting it done in a shop will cost more than the computer itself.
posted by Charmian to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
Never tried it, but Instructable's has a writeup concerning this exact problem.

Good luck if you have the fortitude to get in on some soldering action.
posted by Gravitus at 7:05 PM on July 5, 2009

Best answer: Well if you have a spare monitor you could hook it up to that, although you of course lose the portability. Other than that, the only thing I could think of would be working in pitch black--you'd probably have to give your eyes some time to adjust, as well.
posted by DMan at 7:05 PM on July 5, 2009

Response by poster: Unfortunately, I don't have a spare monitor; however, I don't really need for it to be a portable solution. I basically just want to continue to use it at my apartment. I do have an old TV set, which I can use a PS2 with.
posted by Charmian at 7:30 PM on July 5, 2009

I think a $20 old CRT monitor from the Goodwill Store* will be your easiest/cheapest option here. You can even carry your laptop in to find one that works well.

(*or maybe there's a computer junk emporium type place where you live, but I always see $20 monitors and printers and crap when I am scavenging for old watches and cameras and doodads.)
posted by rokusan at 7:36 PM on July 5, 2009

For even cheaper, put out the call on Craigslist for one for free, or scour their free listings. Same goes with FreeCycle
posted by deezil at 8:29 PM on July 5, 2009

Often the backlight is fine, the problem is just the LCD inverter.

For under $15 you can buy a new one and it's not super hard to swap yourself (just lots of little screws). Just follow the service manual (.pdf)

I've fixed two different Thinkpads this way.
posted by meta_eli at 9:14 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I live in a foreign country and will be coming home in two weeks. Right now I'm trying to get rid of all of my stuff, so I don't want to get more and have to get rid of it. Once I get home I might try to fix it myself or get a friend to help me, but until then, are there any other suggestions you might have?
posted by Charmian at 9:25 PM on July 5, 2009

You're almost certainly out of luck trying to light it externally. LCD makers have spent a lot of effort researching ways to minimize the effects of external lights your screen.

You might try taking a florescent tube and placing it so the light hits the screen at a very shallow angle, almost perpendicular to the screen. This might provide enough visibility so you can use it enough in an emergency, but not enough for general use.

Otherwise you're going to have to open it up and get a light in there behind the glass.

If you have an old TV you could buy a USB video adapter for maybe $20 USD. Plug the USB end to the laptop, the other end will have composite video out that you should be able to plug into your TV. However an old tube TV won't have near the resolution of your laptop screen. Probably equivalent to 640x480 and it'll be blurry. Possibly better than nothing though. (And installing drivers will be a pain in the ass if you can't see your screen to begin with.)
posted by Ookseer at 10:21 PM on July 5, 2009

I came in here to say what Ookseer just said. The way LCD screens are typically made is so that they absorb any incident light instead of using it for illumination. (I can go into more detail if you like, it's all about polarization.) If you can open up the screen, though, you might be able to expose the back of the LCD to room light and see it that way. For some panels this is not too hard, but some panels have the backlight bonded to the LCD glass in some way.

(There are LCDs that can be seen by ambient light, like the OLPC's daylight mode. I'm not sure why this is such a rare feature.)
posted by hattifattener at 12:10 AM on July 6, 2009

Do you have an S-video port on your laptop? You'll need a cable with gold connectors. (A standard S-vid cable will work but there's a problem... Like the picture comes out in B&W or something shitty like that?)

Note: There are two kinds of ports. (Some lap/desktops conveniently have both.)

- I've never paid any attention.. do TVs only have one kind of S-video connection?
Because my cable has identical ends... So yeah
Hope that'll help? :)

Obviously the quality of the TV has an impact but even if it's pretty crap it'll still be better than nothing. (But you'll now have something to work with at least. So you might be able to improve that a bit anyway.)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 5:04 AM on July 6, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for everyone's comments. I got back home, replaced the inverter and.... still doesn't work. It's probably the bulb that's the problem. Now I'm considering what to do next.
posted by Charmian at 8:31 PM on August 13, 2009

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