Anatomy of a Projection Screen
Everything you need to know about screens, including masking, automation, size, and pricing.
Credit: Stacey Poythress
September 23, 2010 by Julie Jacobson
For a 1080p image, a good rule of thumb is that the height of a screen should be about one-third the distance between the screen and the best seat in the house. For example, if your best seat is about 14 feet away, select a 16:9 (widescreen) that’s 54 inches high x 96 inches wide (110” diagonal).

Some home theater experts also use a rule of thumb based on the horizontal measure of the screen, suggesting that the distance between the screen and the seating should be about 1.2 times the width of the screen.

Screen Features
Many of the better home theater screens have tension tabs along the sides to keep them taut and flat.

A rear-projection system can be an excellent alternative when a room is too bright or the space simply cannot support a front-facing projector for whatever reason. Make sure you select a specially formulated screen for this application.

Larger and wider images have spawned a new class of screens for home theaters: curved screens. Because of the curvature, more of the light reflects into the seating area, rather than the walls of the theater. Curved screens also can create a more uniform image between the center and edges of the surface.

If the housing for your retractable screen is going to visible, there are several attractive options beyond harsh rectangular metal pieces found in conference rooms. Some even provide LED lighting so the housing can double as a sconce when the screen is not in use.

For screen maintenance, brush the surface softly with a clean, soft-bristled brush to remove any loose dirt or dust. Do not vacuum or use sharp instruments. For tougher spots, try a non-moisturizing/non-oily detergent (diluted to 20% strength), water, and a cellulose sponge.

Pricing a Screen
Typically, the price of a video screen depends on the size of the surface, the quality of the screen material, motorization and a handful of other features.

Screen Size
Naturally, the price of the screen increases with its size. A 92-inch fixed screen that is suitable for a home theater might retail for about $1,000 and a 110-inch piece might sell for about $1,500. Decent Internet brands and more mainstream screens might cost half that amount, and premium providers can easily double the amount. The aspect ratio (shape) of the screen (16:9, 2.35:1, etc.) does not really affect the price; generally, it’s the surface area that counts.

Expect wide swings in the price of motorization for video screens. Be aware that it’s not just the motor you’re paying for. The screen design changes as well in order to maintain the shape and integrity of the material. Make sure your motorized screen has side supports to keep the surface taut. Adding motorization to a good screen can range from $500 to $2,500 depending on the quality, longevity, automation features and loudness of the motor, as well as special accommodations to the screen itself. You’ll pay much more, possibly three times the amount, for a screen that lifts from the bottom because it requires additional support. Side-to-side motorization for masking is two to three times more expensive than up/down motorization. Don’t forget to consider the extra cost for installation and integration.

Screen Material
Most elite manufacturers charge little or no premium for different colors and textures of screen material. The exception is for acoustically transparent screens that are perforated so that speakers can be situated behind them. Perforating the screens can be a highly scientific process. Expect to pay a 15 percent to 20 percent premium on the more modestly priced screens and up to 40 percent extra on higher-end models.

Additional Features
Some manufacturers make screens that are suitable for covered outdoor spaces. A weatherproof housing might add about 15 percent to a screen. Even in indoor spaces, screen housings can vary, with more aesthetically pleasing units coming with a 20 percent premium or so. Don’t forget to inquire about the cost of control, including special modules and controllers for automation.

Stewart Filmscreen contributed to this article.

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Julie Jacobson - Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson is co-founder of EH Publishing and currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro, mostly in the areas of home automation, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. She majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. Julie is a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player with the scars to prove it. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.

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