Projector Screen Review: Gemmy Inflatable Outdoor Screen
A couple of months ago, one of the dealers who advertises on our site mentioned that they were - get this - selling a significant number of inflatable projector screens for outdoor use.
I've been familiar with such screens for several years, however to the best of my knowledge most sold in the $1000+ range and some several times that. Primarily they were sold for commercial applications - community events, concerts, you name it.
Also, some of them were very awkward to inflate and setup.
So, bottom line, this dealer tells me that this outdoor screen he is selling is from a company called Gemmy, and it sells for less than $300!
I couldn't resist. I put in a call to Gemmy, and about four weeks later, a Gemmy inflatable screen arrives at my door, for review. Unfortunately due to some vacation time, and a busy review schedule it sat around in its box for about a month, until I finally got to it.
Well, I finally did get to it. With much trepidation, I might note. I'm not big on assembling things, not bad at it, but would just assume things be simple, or having someone else do it.
Before I go into the setup of the screen (and scare you readers a bit), let me just say that overall, this is a great, fun product. In fact, although it didn't meet the type of qualifications I use for determining what receives our Hot Product Award, I feel that it is a unique product with a real consumer market of people who will enjoy using it. End result - a new class of reward has been created, and the Gemmy is the first to receive it - our Special Interest Award.
Gemmy Screen Basic Information
Screen size (usable area) 149" diagonal 16:9 aspect ratio
Inflatable frame, snap on (cleanable) screen surface
Comes with carry "duffle" bag
Gemmy Inflatable Projector Screen "Installation"
OK, here's how it went: The screen arrived in a modest sized plain brown shipping box, which when opened revealed the Gemmy screen's actual box, pretty, and nicely dressed up consumer style - with lots of information about the screen, as seen here.
Upon opening the box, you find the screen neatly packed in a black duffle like bag, as shown below. The major components included, are the inflatable frame, with it's built in fans to inflate the screen (just like those bouncy inflatables you see at those "suburban rich" kids' outdoor birthday parties), the screen surface itself, a bag of screw into the ground anchors and 8 tethers to tie down the screen.
Now, first I had intended to set it up in my driveway (and impress the neighbors), but upon a quick read of the installation guide, I realized they were looking for some lawn to place those anchors, so I abandoned that idea (for now). Instead, I hauled it to my typically very small California back yard, and started to set it up.
Documentation for setting it up (a laminated quickguide is provided and a small manual), proved to be pretty decent, except for one thing (I'll get to that). I opened the screen frame and stretched it out in my backyard. I got out my waterproof extension cord, plugged it in and it started inflating. So far, so good, until I realized it wasn't fully inflating! (That's why I'm not a fan of assembling things myself.) So back to the guide and the manual. Sure enough there is a mention and a small diagram of a zipper, and a notice to make sure the zipper is closed. Problem is, it didn't say where the zipper was, and no way to tell from the image. So, the sun has just gone down, and here I am using my camping lantern (and limited outside lighting) searching inch by inch - looking for this zipper. I finally got smart and looked around the fan, and sure enough - there it was, and wide open - leaking huge volumes of air. Bingo, I zipped it up, anticipating a smooth inflation, only to find, that, though better, I was still not going to get it fully inflated. Since the screen has two fans, I immediately checked around the other fan, and there it was. Zip again, and within moments the Gemmy was fully inflated, lying on the ground. (I would guess that, from scratch the screen frame inflates in less than 2 minutes - nice.)
Next, time to attach the screen surface. I unfolded it and started clipping it on to the frame. That took maybe another minute and change. Then I attached the 8 tethers to the screen frame. There are two connecting spots for them, on the left side, and two more on the right. (One on each side near the top, the other about half way up.) Time to stand up the screen!
Let me say right now, that this whole process is much easier with two people than one. I wrestled the screen to the vertical position (naw, it wasn't that tough), and thanks to virtually no breeze - it just stood there. I imagine that if you have a several mile an hour wind, you'll need one person to hold the screen up, while the other secures the tethers.
OK, tether time - Gemmy provides these screw in type anchors that went right into my lawn, on one side, but I was short on space on the other. I managed to tether the left side, with 2 of the tethers into the ground, but the other two - one to the upstairs patio support, and one to my hot tub (behind the screen). That took all of another 4-5 minutes and I was ready to go.
One minor beef, about the tethers provided. They use a standard eyehook (I think that's what they are called) at each end and cliping them to the screen frame is - almost literally - a snap. I would, however, have liked to see the tethers be adjustable in length. That will make setup even easier for those, like myself, who may find attaching the far end of the tether to available objects instead of into the ground/grass. With adjustable tethers, I would have easily been able to setup on my driveway, as I have many places that I could have attached the tethers to. Those spots, though, were not necessarily the right distance for the tethers. Of course, a quick trip to the hardware store and maybe $10-$20 bucks, and the problem is solved.
Time to put this inflatable projector screen to work.
So I dragged out my HD-DVD player, and the new Epson Cinema 400 home theater projector that I was also reviewing at the time, plugged everything in, powered up, and Damn! if it didn't look great!
Minor detail: My yard slopes a bit (from the right side of the screen to the left so the screen was a little off angle. I set the projector level, and things worked out great, I was able to almost perfectly fill this 149" diagonal screen.
The first movie I popped in was the HD-DVD of Phantom, and here are a couple of images of the screen:
Gemmy Projector Screen Image Quality
I'll make no attempt here to compare the Gemmy to a traditional indoor screen. What I can say, however, is that I dragged out the family, and then a couple of friends who I invited over, and everyone agreed there was a definite, major, wow factor! "This is cool." was probably the most common accolade.
The screen surface seemed very neutral in terms of color accuracy. I didn't notice any shift in color to red, blue, or any other color. Of course, there was some low levels of ambient light in my back yard, from the neighborhood lighting...
Movie watching outside definitely is practical. The Epson Cinema 400 I used is a relatively bright new home theater projector, but not dramatically brighter than most others. Even in it's Theater Dark 1 mode, it was able to fill the screen reasonably well, but I opted to use one of the brighter preset modes - Theater, and then the much brighter Living Room" mode. The Living Room mode had way more than enough brightness, even with the modest outside ambient light.
Two issues - wrinkles on the screen surface, and fan noise.
First, unpacking this new screen, neatly folded in the carry bag, there were plenty of wrinkles. A quick look at the documentation, and it says that the wrinkles will come out over a short time.
I had the screen set up for about 5 hours, before deflating it for the night. I can say that some of the wrinkles did vanish, or become less noticeable, but some of the hard creases did remain, although they might have diminished somewhat over that time. Whether a couple dozen hours of setup will get rid of them all, I cannot guess. It is possible that Gemmy may have a recommendation to get out all of the wrinkles, but personally, I rarely spotted them. The image below - shot about 2 hours after setup - I chose to show you, because of the large sky background - nice and smooth, so that the wrinkles are as visible to you as they would get. Click on the image, for a much larger one, and you will spot the wrinkles high center right next to the man's face, and you can see other lines in the screen, horizontal and vertical. There is a little bit of waves from the screen, on the sides, due to the screen not being perfectly flat, but the clips that attach the screen to the frame should easily adjust to allow the surface to be tightened up.
Now, IMHO (in my humble opinion) the wrinkles are not a critical issue. I doubt people are buying a portable outdoor screen expecting the same level of quality from a far more expensive, flat, fixed wall, indoor screen.
The other issue is fan noise. I paid attention to this, because, when I listed on the site that I was going to review it, a reader emailed me, mentioning that he heard many of these types of screens fans, are noisey.
I can say that the fan noise was definitely louder than the projector, perhaps an extra 10-15 db. I don't believe, though, that it is a problem considering the environment. I could hear the fan, sure, but also crickets, my neighbor's air conditioning unit, and some traffic noise, too. I found the noise levels to be nothing like the kids' birthday party jumper things, which can be very loud.
This screen is for fun, family nights, block parties, and probably commercial outdoor applications too. and it really does provide the fun factor and a more than acceptable image. Any wrinkles and modest fan noise do not impact the fun at all.
Speaking of fun - I would have liked to see what the screen could do with a non-home theater projector - say one with 3500-5000 lumens to see if it could handle a cloudy day, and not just be a nighttime product.
So, in summary, this is a really low cost screen, that sets up best with two people, but one can handle it (at least with no wind). It lets you project a really large image - over 12 feet diagonal, and does a very nice job overall, minor wrinkles notwithstanding.
I think documentation can be improved a bit, including how to deal with the wrinkles, if possible. I would also like to see adjustable tethers, but that's pretty minor.
Overall, it appears to be a great product, selling for well under $300, which seems to be a small fraction of other (although often larger) inflatable screens.
As a result, I am pleased to give the Gemmy Inflatable Screen our first ever Special Interest Award! An impressive product, at a great price.
In fact, it makes me want to own an all-in-one projector, like the Epson Moviemate 25, or Optoma DV10.
Editor's note: Or newer All-in-one projectors - as of 5/2008, such as the Epson MovieMate 50 and MovieMate 72, and the Optoma DV-11.
From a practical standpoint, I could set up the screen in less than 10 minutes, and have an all-in-one projector and sound system running in less than 5 more minutes! Have long extension cord, will Travel!
Instant Block Party! - Can't beat that!