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A look inside a typical tungsten lamp based water-ripple projector.
This is a very generic Chinese clone style unit that lacks proper optical efficiency.
It's designed to operate with a high output 12V 100W narrow beam lamp, but the high output lamps like that have a very short lifespan of around 50 hours. Using a lower power lamp or long-life lamp results in a much longer run time between lamp changes, but at the cost of intensity.
Nowadays these projectors tend to use LED based light sources. The ripple mechanism remains very similar between larger units like this. Sometimes with a dichroic glass colour wheel that can operate independently or in conjunction with one of the ripple disks.
The visual effect that these units produce is very subtle and soothing. Like a reflection from a pool or the sea.
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Let's start this video with a look at the effect, this projection device creates it's a water ripple projector and it creates an overlaying effect of riffles that interact with each other. It's a nice effect. Let's take a look at the unit and take it apart and see. What's inside so, let's take a look at this light.

I'll show you the sections of it first and i have to say it's not a very good light. It's very much a chinese cloned light that has just missed out some important features that increase the efficiency. But what we have here is a great big transform in the back. This was originally designed to take a 12 volt 100 watt lamp and the 100 watt lamps had a fairly short life span.

I swapped it for a 50 watt lamp to allow things to run cooler and last longer, and this uh the lamp just literally slots into this spring-loaded mounting and it holds it in the correct position. There is a 12-volt fan the back and to facilitate that. There's a winding from the transformer with a little circuit board, with a discrete bridge, rectifier and smoothing capacitor. I have added this resistor at some point, because otherwise that fan was very, very noisy.

Maybe i could demonstrate just how different the noise was, but when i turn this on you'll see these two pattern. Glass discs start rotating. The motors are directional they're, both running the same direction, and what that means is that, as the two fields are rotating the same direction, where they overlap, which is where the light actually shines through, one is going down the way. Another is effectively going up the way and because they're rippled glass, it creates a strong um distortion of the light, and the distortion of the light from one set of ripples then gets distorted again by the second set, and the light is then gathered by this very Small and completely unfocusible lens - and it's fired through that tiny orifice at the front of the light.

It's not an efficient light at all, but this is how many of them are made um. I also plug it in that's the best bet you can see the stuff going on you're not going to see much of a ripple effect. It's not bright at all. You can see yeah.

You can see a bright light. You can see the glass rotating like that. Perhaps you can see a slight ripple on my hand. It's a nice effect just not produced efficiently.

In a way, this is almost a situation that a video projector might do a better job with just a little loop in it. Let's see how noise the fan was. This is all the voltage, so here's the fan at the moment quite quiet. I can hear the motors turning around, let's plug it in directly in and the fan is now a lot noisier.

That would have been useful if it was the 100 watt lamp, but to be honest for this 50 watt lamp, it really isn't needed. So, let's tame that back down again, i don't know how well that uh. Well, you heard that usually a different microphone from normal um right. Well, that's about all.

I can say transformer lamp, two motors that run at 240 volts, i believe, and then the two discs interfere with each other and then the lens and that output right taiwa, i'm going to pause, i'm going to remove this assembly, so you can actually see these uh. These rotating discs better because they are the secret behind its operation, so that's them lifted up out the unit, so you can actually see them in greater detail. Fortunately, there is an earth bond onto them, so i can move them as well. So these are directional motors.

Although the motors themselves are marked cw, ccw, clockwise counterclockwise, usually it's just when it's uh like this, it is directional either it would just be cw, clockwise or c cw counterclockwise, but not both the ones that are marked both. Usually it's non-directional. If i turn these off and on again you'll see, they do both go in the right direction, although they make jitter initially, when it's turned on now, you might have seen them just jump backwards and forwards a little bit, but they both ultimately go in the right Direction the reason for that is that inside the motor there's a mechanism that, if they start going the wrong direction, it just kicks them back in the right direction until they're going, they can only go in one direction. So the first thing that happens in this is this: is the baffle plate that that light shines through and it blocks a good section of the amount of light coming through.

So it has to be a narrow, beam lamp. But then it goes on to this, which is the dual motor assembly, and the light then has to find its way through that hole there, but then behind it, there's another hole again. So by the time it gets over there unless it's a very well focused lamp. Most the light is wasted before getting to those lenses and it gets splattered, and then it has to go through that tiny lens at the front.

Uh after it's been through the glass, it's not an efficient light. It's a nice visual effect. It's certainly it works very well, but it's not a good way of doing it. There are better ones, particularly there are better ones, with an ability to focus as well, which is nice that it means that you know you can get a nice sharp effect or you can soften it in the wall, but this is fundamentally it.

This is the basis of these uh ripple, projectors, just two discs of glass with patterned glass on it. Look how off-center this one is. That's ridiculous! This is a very cheap and nasty unit, but that's a principle. It's just two overlaid pieces of glass rotating slowly in front of each other, one going effectively down one going up the way the light interferes with each layer of lenses and it projects that nice rippling effect onto the wall good effect.

Shame about the quality of this light.

14 thoughts on “Inside a water-ripple projector”
  1. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Glenn Idalski says:

    It is made in China clive do not forget that low quality junk is made there and Vietnam and Cambodia how low will we go to (disposable electronics ) we are in a new era of junk

  2. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Amaroq Starwind says:

    If the two motors ran at very slightly different gear ratios, it could add some natural variation. Even better would be if you could adjust the gear ratio (and direction) of each motor indepdently.

    You should go ahead and upgrade this thing. Cool white LED, better focusing and light redirection, more motor adjustment, a better/quieter fan (LEDs really don't like heat), maybe some lower voltage requirements or a rechargeable battery…

  3. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Joseph King says:

    The quality and efficiency of this device was effected by the chinesium espionage R&D budget being fairly minimal when this design was stolen "invented" by the manufacturer. 🙄

  4. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Jason Kuehl says:

    I can see all kinds of hacks for this, everyone else is saying LED, but that would leave a huge chunk of the enclosure empty… I could see adding a second set of motors and disks, but with various other lighting effects (colors, patterns…). Psychedelic water ripples! 😁

  5. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Robert Grant says:

    Maybe not so much the quality as the design / engineering, The two pieces of glass could have been a tad larger in diameter with more overlap then the size of the round gobos could have been made a bit larger and overall more of the light coming out of the lamp utilized. All this is what drives me nuts about so many products coming out of China, just a bit more effort put into the design with a trivial increase in cost for a way better all round product.

  6. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars twocvbloke says:

    Even if it's a bit low-quality, it's still a neat thing to have to make some nice visuals, just needs a bit of tweaking… 😀

  7. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Gerry BVR says:

    I'm surprised they even used two motors in a cheapo knockoff. I half expected a rubber band or plastic gears between the rotating plates.

  8. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars DC Allan says:

    the fan noise was noticeable, but is a shame so much light is lost. A good high power LED would make much more light, a possible project?

  9. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars devttyUSB0 says:

    Nice set of lamps, this and the previous fiber optic light. Interesting designs, this one really could do with a more focused LED-makeover 🙂

  10. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars zh84 says:

    Back in the middle 1970s my parents took us to a cinema in central London. While the audience was getting seated and waiting for the film to start they treated us to a projection of bubbles on the main screen. At the age of five or so I thought it very pretty. I can imagine how it was done – a compressed air line going into a container of washing-up liquid solution, the bubbles spreading across a glass screen with a light behind it, and a mirror and lens to get the image to the screen. It was fashionable in those days, but I'm pretty sure it has completely gone out. I wonder if any of those devices have survived?

  11. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Tim Gooding says:

    Even with the fan at full tilt I would image that unit got quite hot or maybe I'm wrong?

  12. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars TopEnd Spoonie says:

    I saw the other day what I thought was light reflecting off a pool, although I knew that there was no pool anywhere near there. Turned out to be the sun reflecting off of large sheets of plastic curtains. It was a very convincing, although unintentional, effect.

  13. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Peter Stimpel says:

    is this mains voltage? Cannot read the value on my mini display! Edit: It is, have seen the values on that motors now … Really dislike the design when you have mains inside the case for turning 2 glas pieces, and turn a single lamp on.

  14. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Ranger Kevin says:

    Is it just my imagination, or were there also some ripple-projectors that had some kind of oil-film inside to create the ripples?
    I always wondered how they work.

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