In this article I will lay out the difference options for your projector screen material, depending on your budget and lightning conditions in the room. You can go the DIY route and save some money or buy a finished product. Use projector screen paint, fixed frame screen or a drop down screen, white screen or an ALR screen, it all depends on your needs and budget.
Projector screen material vs White wall
One easy way is to get started is to just fire up the projector and project to your wall, preferably white. This can work to some extent but the drawbacks of using a wall are several:
– A wall reflects light much poorer than a dedicated screen, this results in much lower contrast, which make us see less details in the image.
– Dark areas can become too bright
– Black and white images can look yellow
– Loss of color saturation making the picture less clear and rich
– The image can appear to be blurry in some scenes
Looks at the video below for yourself, if you can live with these imperfections it can be a good starting point for you.
Projector screen paint – Cons and Pros
An easy way to set up a projection area is to simply paint your wall with a projector screen color, It produces much better results than just projecting to your regular white wall. There are special projector screen paints that are specifically designed for a projectors light output in order to produce the best picture. I’ve listed some of the pros and cons of using projector screen paint:
– no need to mount a screen
– no bulky border
– you need a smooth wall surface
– mixing the paint wrong can lead to a bad result
– you need to paint several times if buying a low grade paint
– can not move the screen
If you rather want to use a fabric continue reading…
Projector screen material – The 4 different types
This screen is what is used in your local cinema. Also if you have a dedicated room with dark walls and ceiling this is a good screen to use. But If you have white walls and ambient light coming in an ambient rejecting screen is the way to go.
A grey screen is similar to a white screen. Typically a gain below 1.0 and together with the grey color it increases dark level performance at the expense of brightness. If you have a projector with a high light output but with bad contrast this can be a good match. But If you can’t darken the room a ALR screen is the better choice.
This is a screen that is a great fit for a living room with ambient light, or if you have white walls and ceiling. It is more expensive than a white screen because of its ambient rejecting light capabilities.
Comparing the 3 materials
Here the 3 different materials compared on small samples on a wall, at the left and right is a white projector screen material. The 2 darker samples in the middles is the ALR material. The grey at the right besides the white is not much better than the white in this light level. So at this light level an ALR is the way to go.
Acoustically transparent screen
An acoustically transparent projector screen is great option if you want to hide your speakers behind the projection screen. The screen below is made up of thousands if not more micro holes. The center speaker can be placed behind at the correct location. But you need to make sure there are extra space between the speaker and screen. If you can cut a wall in your walls you can make on for the center speaker, but if you can’t you need to put the projector screen further out.
These holes are not visible when watching a movie if you sit at a proper distance from the screen. I have a 110 inch screen with the sofa 3 meters from the screen and at that distance they holes disappear. If I go closer to say 2 meters they begin to be noticeable.
Here I have started the projector with a still image, the camera is close to the screen.
Here I have backed up about 0,5 meters, the holes are always invisible
The last photo is taken from the couch at 3 meter position, the holes are too small to be seen by the human eye.
Gain is another important factor when buying your projector screen material. Some screens are high gain and some are low gain. Its a measurement of reflectivity of the projection surface. For example a screen with a gain of 1.0 will reflect the same amount of light as the color white. But a screen with a gain of 1.5 will reflect 50% more light.
A high gain screen is typically only useful in conference rooms and classrooms where you want to light on in the room. High gain screens can be great at boosting image brightness but in a home theater environment a low gain screen is the better choice. They are typically 1.0 or 0.8. The last number means that the screen reflect 80% of the incoming light.
Hot spotting is also something to look out for when you go over 1.0 in gain. When you view the screen from the center position, the middle portion of the image will appear brighter than the edges, like in the image below:
Fixed frame vs drop down screen?
A fixed frame screen is better than a drop down screen if you have the space for it. They don’t suffer from waves because they are always tensioned perfectly. They also don’t require electrical connectivity. You just need to make sure you its aligned with the projected image.
Some small assembly is required but Its usually pretty easy.
Fixed frame curved screen
You can also go with a curved screen, this screen is usually used together with an anamorphic lens, an anamorphic lens causes a pin cushion effect and you want a curved screen that matches that curvature.
DIY Fixed frame screen
This is an even cheaper option than buying a finished fixed frame kit. But it does require you to have some experience with woodworking. What you need is the projector screen material wood for the frame, and also some tools for assembly. This video shows how to make one yourself.
Drop down screen
A drop down screen is a good option if you want to have both a tv and a projector in your living room. Perhaps you want to use your TV to watch tv shows, news and sports but when Its time for movie watching you can just use a drop down screen which goes down in front of your tv.
The video below shows how a drop down screen can be installed, in this video the person has made some diy brackets but many drop down screens can also be ceiling mounted. But keep in mind that a drop down screen is more expensive than a fixed frame screen.
A manual drop down screen is the cheapest option since you don’t have to have a motor. If you mostly watch tv shows on your tv and movies on special occasions a manual screen could work.
If you want the screen to come down with the touch of a button you should invest in a motorized screen. Obviously more expensive than a manual screen.
Tab Tension vs normal
A drop down screen can suffer from waves in the material, how frequent this happens depends on the brand and model, with a cheaper screen the chances of waves are bigger.
You might not see anything in the beginning but after going up and down many times the chances of seeing waves increases.
A tab tensioned drop down screen minimizes waves by stretching the screen on this sides with lines. Again not all tab tension screens are alike and a cheap tab tension screen might still produce lines after a while. With an expensive screen you will probably not have any problem even after many uses. Like everything you get what you pay for.
Ambient rejecting drop down screen
The purpose of a drop down screen is to mostly use it for night time movie watching in a dark room. But if you have a lot of white material in your room like the furniture, walls and ceiling they will reflect the light of the screen and increase the overall brightness in the room. This can wash out the picture in bright scenes. In this case an ambient rejecting screen (ALR) might be a better option. Keep in mind that they are more expensive the regular white ones. For more information on ALR screens keep reading.
Projector screen material with Ambient light rejecting cababilities
An ambient light rejecting material is just what it sound like, it rejects ambient light coming from other sources other than the projector. I did a test where I compared my alr screen vs a white screen, for more info click that link. Below are some alr projector screen materials of different brands and quality.
This is a ALR material that I have used myself on my old wall. It’s specifically designed to reject ambient light. So its great for a living room with ambient light.
Dark Energy Abyss
This is another ALR material that I’m currently using right now, the blacks are better than my old react screen white still remaining the almost the same brightness as my old react 2.0 screen. So definitely an upgrade over the react material. I did a comparison where I hung my new DEA material over half of the frame of my react material. You can see that the black levels are a little better with the Dark energy abyss in this comparison. It hard to see in this picture but I also think the color saturation is better with the DEA.
This material is very high end projector screen material. I haven’t used it myself so I cannot comment on the image quality, but several test have shows it the Dark energy abyss to be better, even though its cheaper. This could be because you pay extra for the brand even though the image quality is similar to the DEA screen.
Carls ALR material
Carls ALR material is a popular material if you are going the diy route. for about 144$ you could get a whopping 135 inch projector screen which is a real bargain if you build the actual screen frame yourself.
ALR Screen Paint
There is also projector screen paint that have ambient rejecting capabilities. And just like the projection screen material fabric have quality / price differences the ALR screen paint comes in different qualities and price ranges too.
I hope now you have a greater understanding of the different projector screen materials available out there and their different capabilities. And when a fixed frame screen is better to use than a pull down screen.
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