How Do I Choose the Right Projector Screen?

How Do I Choose the Right Screen for My Projector?

So you’re buying a new projector. You’ve researched and read the reviews, you’ve priced it out, compared specs, and now you’re finally ready to purchase. But buying a projector is only half of the battle! Projectors require screens, and some projectors work better with specific screen types but do not work at all with others.

There are many brands out there, with innumerable varieties in framing and material. Fixed screens that mount to the wall, pull-down screens, motorized screens, portable screens, screens that deflect ambient light – how are you to know which one to choose?

In this article, Art walks through one of the most commonly-asked questions so that you can choose the best projector screen, “How do I choose the right screen for my projector?”

About This Article

I first wrote this article in response to a question about screens from someone who recently purchased a Sony VPL-HW40ES projector. That projector musters up about 1700 lumens, and well over 1000 lumens even calibrated.The same general advice about screens applies to a great many of projectors in today’s market. For instance, the more expensive HW55ES is only slightly less bright, and while better suited for a dedicated theater, the same advice for screens applies here.It is also relevant to most Epson projectors, as they tend to have 1,500 to 2,400 lumens to work with, and for Panasonics. JVC projectors aren’t quite as bright as that, but for JVC owners, this article is helpful nonetheless. Just realize that those JVCs are typically under 1000 lumens when calibrated – so, the same rules, with a slightly smaller screen.While some popular Epsons and Panasonics only calibrate in the 500 – 700 lumen range for their best picture, they have very good “brighter modes,” which are still in the ballpark of 1,500 lumens. Thus, when using those better modes, the advice given here for the HW40ES becomes virtually identical to any of the projectors mentioned above.When it comes to many of the DLP projectors – Viewsonic projectors, Optomas, BenQs, Viviteks, Acers, etc., the brightness tends to vary greatly from model to model. Again, if those projectors can muster up a good picture with 1,200 to 2,400 lumens, this advice applies. If the projectors are of lower brightness, such as the Sharp XV-Z30000 and definitely some of the Optomas and BenQs, then the problem is that some of those really aren’t geared for rooms with any significant amount of ambient light. Keep them in cave-light environments, use them only at night when those rooms can be almost fully darkened, or invest in some blackout curtains from Amazon like those mentioned in some of Nikki’s reviews.

Choosing a Screen for Your Room

The trick is to match the screen to three things:1.  The Room
2.  What You Watch – And When
3.  The ProjectorWe’ll consider the HW40ES. It’s 1700 lumens and geared toward a living room, media room, bonus room, family room, and other less-than-ideal spaces that have some degree of uncontrollable ambient light. It is Sony’s “intent” that their projector is geared more for these types of rooms rather than for a home theater – dark walls and other surfaces, very good lighting control. By the way – their more-expensive HW55ES is better matched for a true home theater/cave. These other rooms typically lack the ability to block out all outside light during the daytime, and as a general rule of thumb – the darker the surfaces in your room, the better.

In a previous home of mine (photos above), I took near-white walls and ceilings and darkened the ceilings by several shades. They still appeared to be “off-white” because they were still the brightest surfaces in the room. I also took the walls from an “off-white” to a rust color. Oh, what a huge difference it made! For that room, I used a Stewart Firehawk screen, which is pretty good at rejecting ambient light shining at it from the sides.

I’ve had projectors set up in such rooms. One can get those rooms dark enough for casual viewing such as sports, most HDTV in general, but they will be too bright to really be ideal for viewing movies. You’ll have to decide if movie viewing will be reserved for when you can keep the room dark, as that would affect your screen decision. Again, you can combat ambient light with blackout curtains or shades, which you can get for a very affordable price on Amazon.

If you have one of the brighter types of rooms and are planning to watch a mix of general HDTV and movies, then you’ll want a screen that can “help out” with dealing with that ambient light. These types of screens are typically known as High-Contrast Gray Screens (Gains from 0.5 to 1.3), such as Screen Innovation’s Black Diamond series or Elite Screen’s CineGrey 3D screen material that we are currently writing a review for. Screens like that can reject a fair amount of off-angle ambient light (light pouring in from the sides, top, or bottom of the screen), providing a much better picture.

Still, movie viewing will be best at night, when you have full lighting control. Even with the right screen, if your room has a modest amount of ambient light (i.e. light leaking in around dark window shades), you may still need to project your films at night to get the best picture.

Dedicated Theater or Cave-Like Rooms

If your room is more theater-like, with full lighting control, then you don’t need to worry so much about side ambient light. The exception to this statement comes in the form of theater lighting, such as low-light sconces on the side walls like you see in some movie theaters, or ceiling flood lights. In that case, go with a standard gain white screen from gains of 1 to 1.4 for widest viewing areas.

Budget

When choosing the right screen for your projector, your budget also comes into play. The higher tech screens – my old Firehawk was very good, but not “state of the art”  – can almost work wonders. I just installed a Screen Innovations Slate in a very bright living room, so I could test projectors in a near “awful” room when it comes to ambient light. That’s a pricey screen – it’s motorized and around double the price of the Sony HW40 ($4000+ for 100” diagonal – motorized, I think about half that for fixed wall). The Firehawk G3 (or G4) isn’t much less.Screen Innovations Black Diamond series (say, their 1.4 gain), costs even more, but is the best around for handling ambient light in my experience. Nikki is currently writing a review of Elite Screen’s CineGrey 3D material, which comes in both fixed and motorized, and is considered by Elite Screens to be “the poor man’s Black Diamond.”Spoiler alert – Nikki found that screen to do a great job handling off-angle ambient light, and reviewed the screen using an 1,800-lumen 4K Sony VPL-VW665ES. The picture looked gorgeous on that screen – just as good as it did on her matte-white screen. That screen material can be found between $599 and $299 depending on your size and choice of frame.If you don’t need a great light rejecting/absorbing screen, then non-light-reflecting fixed wall screens start at under $400 (brands like Elite Screens). The premium brands are around $2000, but many big names (like Da-Lite) fall in the $500 to $1000 range. Those brands typically have motorized screens from $500 to $2000 depending on brand and size.

If your room is theater/cave like, then just decide your budget, and score an Elite if it’s low, or maybe a Carada – I use their Brilliant White 1.4 gain in my testing room. Otherwise, look to screens like the Da-lite Cinemavision, and Da-Mat.

Helpful Videos

We have created videos that you may find helpful when deciding on the right projector and screen for your room type. Check them out on the Projector Reviews TV tab on our website. After watching, subscribe to our YouTube Channel to hear more from us. We are constantly adding new videos on the latest projectors, projector news, and commentary on both home theater and business/education projectors.

If you haven’t bought a projector yet, we have reviewed several home theater/home entertainment over the last year. Check out our reviews of the Epson HC5040UB, the BenQ HT6050, for which we have also created videos. We have an extensive list of projectors we have reviewed by manufacturer on our Home Theater Projector Reviews page.

A Word About Affiliate Links

Articles on this site will often contain links to products and accessories for the home theater. In the interest of full disclosure, if you use these links to purchase these items, Projector Reviews will receive a small percentage from the sale. We only link to products that are relevant to our readers and that we believe our audience may get something out of. The affiliate link embedded in this article is for blackout screens from Amazon, which our reviewer Nikki has installed to alleviate some of the ambient light in her living room when reviewing projectors. Nikki will be publishing a short review of these curtains within the next weeks.

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