How To Buy a Projection Screen
Experts at Stewart Filmscreen and Screen Research tell us how to find the best projection screen for your home theater.
Stewart Filmscreen Luxus
Stewart’s Luxus model utilizes a simple square tube frame and unique snap-fastening system for a perfectly tensioned surface.
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March 28, 2008 by EH Staff

“Screens should not be thought of as an accessory to the projector,” says Joaquin Rivera, director of sales for Stewart Filmscreen’s North America consumer products. “Remember, this is called a two-piece system for a reason. Each piece, the projector and the screen, are integral parts of the entire video display.”

Joaquin offers the following tips and definitions to help with your purchase:

Size Matters
The size of the screen will be determined by the seating distance from the screen, and the screen size will determine how bright the projector should be. The room environment and your own preferences will also play an important role in how bright the projector should be. If the room has more light, you will need more brightness to overcome the environment. However, excess brightness will make your eyes fatigue.

White Screen/Gray Screen
If you have complete light control and can darken a room, use a white screen. A gray screen allows you to have a certain amount of ambient light in the room, while increasing the contrast ratio of your image. This material works best with DLP or bright LCD, D-ILA (direct-imaging light amplifier) or LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon). It’s important that the projector is bright, as a gray screen will absorb a certain amount of light emitted by the projector.

Levels, Contrast & Gain
Black levels and contrast are the most important part of creating a good image in a dark theater. A projector does not project black; it is created by the absence of light in the room and the screen. Gain is a measure of reflectivity in screens. With high definition, the most popular materials have gains between about .95 and 1.3.  The gain should always be moderate and no higher than 1.5.

The Mask
Masking is a motorized system that acts like curtains to adjust the aspect ratios of the screen and prevent black bars from showing. This elevates the price, but with so many different aspect ratios, masking can help you perceive better contrast, brightness, and a wow factor.

Get Bent
A curved screen prevents an anamorphic lens used for viewing superwide CinemaScope images from projecting a distorted image, or a “pincushion” effect, on the screen. Instead, the image wraps around the slight curvature of the screen and appears normal.

Screen Research vice president of global sales Jim McGall adds a few words on acoustically transparent screens:

Go Transparent
For the most convincing audio visual experience, the sound and picture should come from the same “apparent” place in space and time. Acoustically transparent projector screens utilize perforation, specialty fabrics or other woven materials with small gaps, allowing the sound to transmit through these holes without major impact to sound or video quality. Placing the front speakers behind the picture screen is the best way to achieve this and is a proven approach that commercial movie theaters have used for years.

Known Issues
Jim emphasizes that the wrong choice of screen can severely compromise a home theater system. Two known problems can occur, especially when mated to today’s best cinema gear.

Moiré Patterns - In video, the use of fixed pixel display projectors can create unwanted visual moiré patterns (rippled or watered appearance), as the tiny screen perforations can often interact in a “beat” pattern with the projector. 

Roll-Off - Certain acoustically transparent screens can exhibit rather dramatic (and undesired) mid-to-high frequency attenuation, or roll-off. Such acoustic problems can be difficult to overcome and may require additional audio processing to help resolve. 

A properly designed, advanced acoustically transparent screen can readily solve both of these problems.

Share Your Tips
Do you have a tip or two on buying the “right” filmscreen? Comment below!

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