Elite ezFrame Fixed Projector Screen: Summary
We awarded the original ezFrame fixed screen our Hot Product Award last year, primarily based on price. Although we found fault with the screen, primarily the significant hotspot causing uneven illumination, we took comfort in that it represented a low cost alternative to better performing screens such as those from Da-Lite and Stewart. One could say that it was a bargain, in that there were no low cost alternatives that could rival it.
In the case of this new version of the ezFrame screen, the Hot Product Award is given for a screen that not only remains perhaps the lowest cost screen of its type, but provides superior price performance. This time around you get a screen that is not only more affordable than the competition, but definitely appears to equal or exceed the capabilities of some of the more expensive screens. We are looking forward to reviewing some of it's competition this fall, especially either Da-Lite's fixed screen CinemaVision or HC Da-Mat screens. One is a darker gray surface, the other lighter. I am well familiar with both from having sold them for years, and both are excellent products. Whether they can provide better performance than the Elite screen remains to be seen. Certainly, though, they do cost a bit more.
This Elite screen, although a bit different (less "high contrast"), I would have to say, is still not a match for Stewart's closest equivalent, the Firehawk (I use a motorized Firehawk surface in my own home theater). I say this, even though it's illumination is actually more even, due, no doubt to being less of a High Contrast surface. My Firehawk is a bit brighter, and does do more from a contrast standpoint, but then, a fixed frame Firehawk is going to run at least twice the price of this Elite screen.
What home theater projectors will work best with the Elite ezFrame screen?
That of course is the big question. In this case I would say that the Elite screen is an excellent match for a wide range of projectors. Originally, high contrast screens were mostly dark gray, absorbing a lot of the light, and creating an overall darker image than a standard matte white surface. This was highly desireable, because 3-5 years ago, few projectors could produce respectable black levels. Thus, a high contrast screen darkened the darkest areas, while only slightly darkened the brightest areas of an image. The result, instead of your blacks coming out medium dark gray, they came out very dark gray.
Today's projectors however are much improved. While a few years ago, a claimed 2000:1 or 2500:1 was considered excellent projector contrast (DLP projectors primarily, the LCD models were no where near as good at black levels), today, however 2500:1 is pretty much "entry level" contrast. As a result, today, few home theater users need a really dark gray surface, such as Stewart's Grayhawk.
Quicktip: In the past, contrast ratio was the primary method of measuring black levels, but today, various techniques such as "AI", dynamic irises and lamps that brighten and dim frame by frame to adjust for the image, have somewhat negated the link between contrast, and black levels.
At this point, considering the overall brightness levels, certainly any of the LCD projectors, despite their often high contrast ratios of 5000:1 or even 7000:1, will be good matches for this projector screen.
On the DLP projector side, the Elite screen should prove to be an excellent match for any of the projectors that use the Darkchip2 technology (just about all selling below $3000). As you move to the naturally higher contrast/better black levels of the Darkchip3, however, black levels are inherently better, and do not need gray surfaces to get those blacks pretty dark.
With that in mind, I watched sements of movies on two projectors, the Panasonic DW5000U which I recently reviewed (a commercial Darkchip2 DLP projector with a 2500:1 contrast ratio) and the Optoma HD7100, the lowest cost Darkchip3 DLP home theater projector on the market (at this time, less than $3000). The Optoma is fairly typical of Darkchip3 HT projectors with a claimed contrast ratio of 5000:1.
The Panasonic definitely matched well with the screen's gray surface, and for movie viewing was a better choice than the Carada in my room. Before I started with the Optoma, however I seriously doubted I would prefer the Elite screen to the Carada Brilliant White fixed screen in my testing room. The Carada screen has an impressive claimed gain of 1.4, guarantying a bright image. (My Carada is 106" diagonal, only slightly larger than the Elite's 100"). Because the Carada is so bright, black levels are compromised a bit. As I think I may have noted in my review of the Carada many months ago, I wouldn't normally recommend it for Darkchip3 type projectors if the screen size was 100" or smaller, unless the user had to deal with more than minimal ambient light.
There is no question that the Carada is brighter, and also no question that the Elite produces blacker blacks. I really ended up (since I viewed the Optoma on the same video clips perhaps 15 minutes after the Elite), rather torn between the two. Brights or blacks?
I tend to favor in most cases, getting those blacks as black as possible, but less critical viewers probably will prefer the slightly brighter image. I'm talking movies now, and dark scenes. If you are looking for sports viewing, I would definitely favor the Carada or another screen with moderate gain, but for movie viewing on smaller screens (depending on your projector's brightness) but for the average projector - under 106", my recommendation would normally lean to the Elite.
Screens, by and large, are harder to recommend than the projectors. Why? Ultimately many factors come into play, most notably, ambient room light, size of screen, brightness of the projector, abilities of the projector (in terms of black levels), but ultimately, personal preference may be the the biggest factor. I'm pretty confident that if I packed a half a dozen knowledgeble home theater people into my testing room, under the aforementioned circumstances, I would get people picking out one over the other for different reasons than mine. And, to make matters worse, if I moved both screens into my theater room, with its different conditions, some of those people would likely change their minds, and again, not necessarily for the same reason.
So, perhaps I should say "good luck to you" regarding screen selection. Just keep these things in mind:
If you have some side ambient light, the Elite's gray surface may help a bit by absorbing some of it, but it does not help out as much as a higher contrast screen such as my Firehawk does. In this regard, it's only slightly better than a good bright matte surface.
If your projector is a bright one, such as Optoma's Darkchip2 HD72, unless you are going very large screen (over 110"), I would say that the the Elite is a superb match, not gobbling up much brightness, but definitely lowering the black levels.
If your screen is going to be 100" diagonal or smaller, the Elite should be an excellent match with almost any DLP (Darkchip2 or 3) or LCD home theater projector.
To summarize, this Elite ezFrame screen should be excellent with any Darkchip2 DLP business or home theater projector, and do equally well with today's LCD home theater projectors ( especially business LCD models with their far worse black levels). When it comes to higher end projectors sporting the Darkchip3, the Elite is certainly a perfectly acceptable screen that many will like, but others will be more than satisfied with the black levels of a non-gray surface screen. For those not seeking to improve black levels, many will choose a white surface with some gain, like my Carada, or the StudioTek 130 from Stewart (by many considered the industry standard). Note: Elite, like essentially all screen manufacturers also offers fixed, motorized and pull-down screens with white surfaces.
Of course when it comes to personal preference, I just can't help you there, except to say again, that the Elite screen is not that dissimilar to a matte surface, just a little darker, just a tiny bit more roll off to the sides, and perhaps a very slight help with side ambient light. It is, in my opinion, closer in performance to a matte white surface, than a dark gray like Stewart's Grayhawk. I personally like the "not too High Contrast" aspect of this High Contrast screen.
Considering all of that, ultimately, the Elite's color balance is extremely close to neutral, with just the very slightest shift to red, it assembles pretty easily, and the screen surface is taut with no waves. Overall construction appears pretty good, (I'm certainly no expert in this area), and I doubt you'll find another screen that will do better when you take price into consideration.
Bottom line. This new version of the ezFrame, is a rather significant improvement over "last year's model". As such it should have much wider appeal, and it exhibits very good overall performance, despite its low price!
And, I swear I didn't say all these nice things just because Elite assembled the screen for me!