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The Couch Potato Telescope (bino viewing chair)
I have always loved viewing the night sky through binoculars and I wanted to use them with a full motion chair that did not require a second home mortgage, or hand holding the binos. In addition, I wanted something portable enough to toss in the back seat of my car. Just recently, I have found a product from a fellow in Houston, Texas called the Couch Potato Telescope. It's not really a telescope at all, but rather a full motion, fully adjustable binocular viewing chair. With this product, you can mount your binos to the crossbar, relax in a beach chair, and have full altitude and azimuth control without ever getting up from your comfortable seated position. For the total couch potato experience, you could mount a drink holder to the arm of the chair, which I plan on doing very soon. The creator, Sim Picheloup, sells this viewing chair in various states of completion, from mere plans with detailed instructions, to a fully assembled unit.
The concept is simple. The Couch Potato Telescope is a binocular mounting platform that is fully controllable in altitude and azimuth and requires a beach chair to place on the platform. The binocular support structure consists of aluminum and PVC tubing, and is fully adjustable using friction joints constructed of polyethelene tubing and hose clamps. The swivel base is made of plywood mounted on a large lazy susan bearing. Also, Sim will sell you a good beach chair if one is unavailable in your area. You can paint the white PVC and finish the wood of the platform to give it a neat, finished appearance, but as you can see from the picture, I prefer the "au natual" look. Or was it that I was too lazy to finish it off? But I digress.
The design is very ingenious. All parts consist of items readily found at Home Depot type stores and are easy to assemble. The plans for the Couch Potato Telescope cost $15.00 and the illustrated instructions are simple to follow. The total cost of material required to build the unit is less than $100 dollars, and the only tools one needs are a tape measure, hack saw, drill, screwdriver (blade and phillips), small adjustable crescent wrench, pliers, and PVC primer and glue. I ordered the "hardware kit" which included the plans, all the hardware required for the entire unit (sorted in ziplock bags), all aluminum and PVC tubing cut to length, and the lazy susan bearing for the base structure. It does not include the wood for the base structure. I purchased the “hardware kit” and found that it was well worth the money. Sim Charges $100 dollars for the hardware kit, plus $15 shipping in the continental US. It would have taken me hours to find all the hardware required, and to cut the tubing.
Once I received the kit I was able to build the base and assemble the unit in about 8 hours. The tubing was already cut to exact length and every piece of the required hardware was included. Incredibly, given the number of pieces, not one single piece of hardware was missing from the kit. As for the plywood base, Home Depot, or your local hardware store, should be able to cut the plywood to your specs, negating the need for a saw.
After building the base structure, I found that the 1/2 inch
plywood that Sim recommends was a bit too flimsy for my liking, so I made
a few modifications. For the swivel board and base board I constructed a 2x2
frame sandwiched by 2 pieces of 1/2 inch plywood. Although now rock solid,
the base is now slightly heavy for carrying long distances, but I never need
to take it very far from my vehicle. If you plan on modifying the base design
by using 3/4 in. or thicker plywood, you will have to use longer carriage
bolts than Sim specifies for mounting the lazy susan bearing.
Once the platform was finished, I mounted my rather heavy 10x70 Fujinons to the crossbar. I was in for a real treat. The azimuth motions were smooth as silk and backlash free thanks to the lazy susan bearing. The friction joints are made from polyethelene tubing rubbing on the aluminum struts and are very smooth. However, the friction joints that control the altitiude motions have a bit of backlash (about one quarter the FOV) which was not really an issue in my 5.5* FOV binos. The unit will definitely support 20x80 giant binos very well, and Sim says that he has heard of folks using light weight 100 mm binos in the unit with no problems. One thing that I did notice was that there was some "jiggle" in the image when I was viewing, even while holding perfectly still. The vibration was from my heartbeat and it was very objectionable to viewing. Ingenuity to the rescue. I placed two layers of foam pipe insulation on the bottom rails of the beach chair and the jiggle subsided substantially enough that it was not a hindrance to my viewing. For example, in the 10x70 Fujinons I could resolve 3 stars of the trapezium....not too bad. However, there is still some VERY slight vibration from my heartbeat, but it is not at all objectionable in 10 power binos. The heartbeat vibration might be more of an issue in 20 power binoculars. In addition, the image in the binos shakes quite a bit in windy conditions, so if you use the Couch Potato Telescope on a night that the images in your solidly mounted scope are shaking from the wind, chances are the images in your binos will also be shaking.
I know that I’m supposed to be unbiased in this review, but I really love this chair. Its so comfortable that many nights I don't even take my telescope with me to my dark sky site. I am content to sit in the chair with a sky atlas in my lap, and soak up a wide field, two eyed view of the sky for hours. The chair enables you to enjoy long views of objects quite comfortably, and it’s quick and easy to move your binos from object to object. Within mere minutes I was able to view M31, M33, M15, M41, M42, M44, M45, M81/82, and numerous other objects all without getting up from the chair, too cool! Moreover, the viewing positions are so comfortable I found myself able to study single objects for up to 20 minutes in comfort. Also, the chair is great for observing meteor showers. Just kick back in the chair, move your binos up over your head and out of the way, and you can scan a full 360 degrees of the sky without getting up. Before I built the Couch Potato Telescope, I would quickly tire from using binoculars, which turned my binos into $600 closet dust collectors rather than light collectors. Now my binoculars see more use than my telescope, thanks to the comfortable viewing chair and the one minute set up time. I do not feel that the chair is a replacement for a solid tripod binocular mount such as the Universal Astronomics units, but for viewing comfort, and price, it can't be beat. I highly recommend this product. It was just what I needed to dust off my binos and rediscover the breathtaking views of binocular astronomy. One last thing, I have no undisclosed interest in the product or vendor mentioned above, and I purchased the product through normal channels.