Stewart Firehawk G3 Motorized, Tensioned, Projector Screen Review: Summary
There is no question in my mind. The Firehawk G3 projector screen deserves our Hot Product Award. That shouldn't be surprising since I certainly like it enough (I love my Firehawk - yes I'm biased), to own one.
Whether you need a motorized and tensioned projector screen like my Firehawk, or the much more affordable fixed wall Luxus Deluxe version, (or any of 8 or 9 other configurations) you quickly realize that the issues are pretty simple: On the plus side:
Image Quality and Build Quality: Stewart's reputation is as good as it gets, with reviewers across the board consistantly giving Stewart screens top grades
Stewart's surfaces tend to be more advanced, resulting in better performance than the competition. Or at the minimum being able to do do extremely well, what most others just can't do as well.
And on the downside, they do cost more.
I would say, first and foremost, that if you are buying a higher end projector, and you can budget both the projector and a good screen, then there is no downside. Just make sure the Firehawk is the right screen surface for your environment. The price of the Firehawk with a good projector is worth it!
Does it make sense to buy a $2000 projector screen for a $1000 projector?
Stewart would almost certainly say yes, and I would have to say, it certainly can be justified, although definitely not for everyone.
Image above photographed of the JVC DLA-RS1 projector and Firehawk G3 128" diagonal, Blu-ray content.
Let's say you are buying a good, but low cost 720p projector today $1000 - $1500: OK, it is not the very best, but combined with a good screen still will blow you and your friends away. Buy a better screen, and it's even better, but at some point you've got to say:
"Gee, instead of $1500 for a projector and $2000 for the screen, wouldn't I be better off spending $2500 for the projector and $1000 for the screen?"
And the answer is....most often yes, but - those doing long range planning might see the advantage in investing more in the projector screen now!
If your investment is for your "last" projector ever, that argument is a good one for spending more for your projector.
If, however, you figure you'll probably upgrade your projector in 2-4 years, then it makes sense to spend a lot more on your screen. Consider: Today's $1000 - $1500 projectors are easily better than anyone's $5000 - $10,000 home theater projectors 4 years ago. So, 3-4 years from now, you are likely able to spend $2000 and perhaps get a projector that rivals today's $10,000 1080p projectors. At that point, if you have a lower performance screen, you'll be upgrading to maximize your picture.
If that's the case, having purchased a great screen today (technology changes far slower with screens of course), and it should still be a great screen for that next projector in your future. And a similar screen probably won't be any less expensive in 3-4 years.
If you were buying that $10,000 projector today, everyone would be telling you - "don't cheat yourself by not buying a first class screen". I hear often from those who did spend a lot on a first class screen years ago, how pleased they are today, that they spent the bucks back then. Some of the hard core, have had the same screen for many years - and that screen is now on their 2nd or 3rd or 4th projector. And the folks that are always upgrading their projectors are the most critical ones, in most cases.
Back to the Firehawk G3. It's pretty simple, if you have a bit of ambient light to deal with, the Firehawk should be at the top of your shopping list. If your projector could do a bit better in black levels, again, the Firehawk will do the trick. Details in your placement will help you determine if the G3 or the SST is for you. If, on the other hand, you have a great projector with superb black levels and a fully light controlled room, with no ambient light issues, you are likely to find the Stewart's Studiotek 130 the better choice. Unfortunately there are fewer of us with those perfect rooms...
Really, your biggest challenges will be budgeting it, and deciding (assuming you have concluded an HC Gray surface is ideal for you), whether a Firehawk is right, or another type of surface.
Remember, the Firehawk SST is for projectors mounted closer than 1.6 times screen distance. Note also, though, that sitting very close, like I do, tends to have a similar effect. For my close in seating distance and long throw on the projector (11 feet, and 19 feet), it is a tough call, I would say, I'm pretty close to the point where the SST is a serious alternative. If I was sitting a foot or two further back (remember it is a 128" diagonal), it would be a "slam-dunk" decision for the G3. If my projector was 4-5 feet closer to the screen, especially with my seating position, the SST would be my recommendation to you.
OK, let's assume I've convinced you that the Firehawk G3 or Firehawk SST, is the best thing since electricity. (I was going to say the internal combustion engine - but I don't think that's politically correct anymore.) How do you get one? (And how fast?)
Stewart's website www.stewartfilmscreen.com can connect you with Stewart's repping firms around the country, and they, in turn can turn you on to a local dealer, or you can call Stewart. You can also easily find Stewart Authorized dealers online. I should note that just about every A V dealer advertising on our site is an Authorized Dealer for Stewart.
Don't expect to order a screen and put it up next week. I touched on the process earlier. You'll work with a dealer, decide on the size, aspect ratio, surface, drop (for motorized screens), etc. But at that point, yes you can conceivably order it, but in reality, the dealer will submit everything to Stewart and Stewart will generate those engineering drawings for the dealer or you to sign off on before production begins. When you talk with your dealer I recommend two things:
1. Tell them you want to see the drawings to check everything over, and you will sign off, rather than have the dealer do it. and
2. When you get the drawings, be thorough, before signing. I hear all the time that this person ordered a 110" brand something or other, just to get it in, and discover that they didn't allow for the frame's 5 inch border (that means 10" total) and it won't fit on their wall.... pay attention. Screens are big, heavy and expensive to ship. Stewart built their ordering process with the idea in mind to prevent people from ordering what won't work. But, for their system to save you, you have to do your share.
Yep, check to make sure you understand and have everything covered!
You sign off, the order goes in, and typically it will take about 10 days build time, and depending on where in the US (if you are buying in the US) you live, several days to a week or more for delivery. Historically things tend to get a bit slower in November and December for the big holiday rush, so plan at least 4 weeks that time of year!
Enough, I have another new projector in for review, and I'll be viewing it now in my theater ("the viewing room") on my new Firehawk G3. I'm sure you'll enjoy your Firehawk as much as I do, should you get one.
BTW, here's one last image for you - from yesterday's Superbowl. Projected onto my Firehawk G3 from my BenQ PE-8720 (720p darkchip3 DLP) in Family room mode. It looked incredible - or so said the 30+ people we had for our Superbowl party.