The Art of Home Theater Projectors

Something different: VApex 106" Diagonal Projector Screen – A bargain for the bucks

Guest Blog by Mike Rollet

Intro, and conclusions by Art

Greetings all, this is one of those times I get caught between a rock, and a hard place, situations.  Several months ago, one of our larger dealer advertisers mentioned to me that they were introducing their own line of lower cost fixed projector screens.  Further they asked:  “Art, would you review one of our screens, and publish it?

Now some of you know I do an occasional “end user” review – where I write up a review of a related product, that I bought for my own theaters, and worked out well enough that

The VApex 106" diagonal projector screen looks good, with a nice 3.5 inch velour border

The VApex 106″ diagonal projector screen looks good, with a nice 3.5 inch velour border

I thought I would share the word.  I’ve done that for Gefen and Octava switchers and extenders, etc.   In this case, however, I really don’t need one more screen, they are piled up in the garage. (Projector companies always want their projectors back after a review.  Screen companies almost never do.)

I also have a bit of a problem doing what I’ll call a “private label” product review.  Do one, and next thing I know, every dealer I have wants me to review their “this or that” private label product.   I came up with the best solution I could,  for now.  The dealer/manufacturer – in this case, Visual Apex, should be happy, you should be happy, and I’ve dodged another bullet, for now.

To accomplish all this, my solution was simple.  I asked Mike if he would review the screen. Mike’s independent, makes no profit off of Visual Apex advertising, etc, and Mike has plenty of experience with screens, and it’s not his first screen review, either.  Besides, I just hate assembling screens. I’ve provided commentary, relating to pricing vs. performance starting with Mike’s conclusions, and in consultation with him.

So, with all that in mind, here’s Mike’s review of the Visual Apex 106” fixed matte white screen (I have managed, of course, to throw in lots of  comments at the end). -art

 

 

VApex 106″ Matte White Fixed Projector Screen Overview:

With the price of some 1080P projectors now approaching $1000, the market for an inexpensive, but good-looking, fixed frame screen has increased.  Visual Apex, a prominent retailer of home theater and business projectors, has addressed this need with their line of Cinema White, fixed frame screens.

Available in sizes from 92” to 135” diagonal (16:9 format only), the VApex screens feature a 3.5” black velour-covered aluminum frame that is easy to assemble and at selling prices ranging from $329 to $499.  They also offer the screens in package deals with certain projectors at additional savings.

The screen material is a 0.32 mm thick, highly elastic fabric that is washable, mildew resistant and is rated at a gain of 1.1.  This is a fairly typical type of surface for low cost screens from asia.

The pricing quoted above, is pretty low, for screens of this type.  Pricing seems to be below that of Elite Screens, which is probably the largest and best known of the screen brands that bring in screens from asia. Elite sells their screens for less than the US manufacturers can match, and it looks like VA is selling their own screens for at least 20% less than any recognized brand name, including Elite.   This makes the VApex screens an excellent, low cost way, to get into an entry level home theater projector based system.  The VApex screens are definitely far less expensive than the well respected Carada Brilliant White that Art uses in his testing room, and Mike uses in his theater, and even less expensive still, compared to screens from Da-Lite, and Draper, nevermind Stewart screens which are probably three times the price, and hard to rationalize if you are buying a $1000, or $2000 projector.

VApex 106″ Diagonal Screen:  Assembly

Unpacking the VApex 106" diagonal projector screen

Unpacking the VApex 106″ diagonal projector screen

Assembly of the VApex screen is pretty straightforward.  Opening the shipping box, you’ll find each of the velour-covered frame pieces wrapped in tissue paper and the screen material is rolled up over a piece of PVC pipe and inserted into a larger PVC pipe to protect it during shipment.  There is a bag of plastic screen clips, plastic rods for the screen connection and the frame connecting brackets and hardware are in a separate box.

After removing and unwrapping the frame pieces, you lay them out, velour side down, on a clean soft surface (like a bed sheet or plastic drop cloth).  You then insert the frame connecting brackets into each corner. With a screen this size (106” diagonal), the top and bottom frame pieces would be over 100” long if they were a single piece.  A box that long can cause a large increase in shipping cost over a smaller box and is likely more expensive to produce, so, with the VApex screen, these frame pieces come in two halves and are connected with a straight connecting bracket.  The frame pieces are then secured together with machine screws that connect the frame to the connecting brackets.

Assembling the screen frame corners

Assembling the screen frame corners

Spitting the frame width into two pieces makes the unit smaller to box and less expensive to ship.

Spitting the frame width into two pieces makes the unit smaller to box and less expensive to ship.

Next, you unroll the screen material inside the screen frame and insert the plastic rods into the pockets on each edge of the screen.  Starting on one end of the screen and working from the middle out toward the edges, the screen ends and plastic rod are pushed down into a channel in the frame.  Plastic screen clips are then placed over the screen and channel where they clip into the frame, holding the screen in place.

You then repeat the process on the other three sides.

The screen material is slightly undersized for the frame, so when you attach on side opposite one that has already been attached, the screen must be pulled and stretched to seat it into the channel.

Once you’ve completed attaching all four sides, you can go back and add clips as necessary to remove any wrinkles that may remain and you’ve got a finished screen.

The VApex screen comes with wall hanger brackets, as well as screw anchors for drywall (though you should use a stud finder to screw the brackets into studs wherever possible).  The brackets need to be installed at the desired height and should be level across the width of the frame.  The screen is then placed over the brackets and the brackets fit into a slot that runs the length of the frame.  The screen comes with a backing.  On paper the screen is “black backed”, according to the documentation, but this one wasn’t.  The back surface provided with this unit was white, not black.  I’ve already got a “what’s up with this” email into Visual Apex, and will post the explanation.  Mike doesn’t recall noting any significant light leakage through the screen, though we’d both be happier with a black backing.

The assembled corner still missing the backcloth

The assembled corner still missing the backcloth

Update:  11/3/09 – Spoke with Visual Apex.  They advise that the screen they sent me was a previously used one, that’s been around a while, and assure me that the screens in current inventory all have the black backing, as advertised! -art

VApex 106″ Diagonal Projection Screen: Performance:

The back of the VApex 106, with backing attached

The back of the VApex 106, with backing attached

The VApex screen has a smooth white surface that adds no significant coloration or texture to a displayed image.  While I did not measure its gain, it was a typical example of a white matte screen, which usually delivers gains in the 1.0-1.2 range, so its claimed 1.1 gain is probably correct.  Also typical of screen material of this type, it has a fairly wide angle of viewing, again probably close to the claimed 80 degrees.

The wide, velour-covered tapered frame looks quite good and gives the impression of a much more expensive screen.  Typically, you’d be lucky to get a one-inch frame, painted black, for a screen in this price range.  It has some joint misalignment, but it’s not noticeable at normal viewing distances, especially in a darkened theater room.  If you’re home theater buff, but trying to save some money in today’s economy, you can have a home theater setup with a 1080p projector and a respectable 106” screen for under $1500.  Not bad!

Final notes: Mike’s additional comments include that although he didn’t attempt to measure color shift from the screen, he did observe the screen, along side his Carada Brilliant White (known for having very good color accuracy).  He notes that there is a slight shift in color.  (We’ve noted some slight shifts in color in  at least two Elite screens we’ve reviewed, to date, so it’s hardly rare.)  For those interested, You can read more about the Carada, in its review, a similar sized Carada, will retail for close to $600.). This slight color shift probably isn’t a significant issue for an entry level buyer. Also, should any buyer calibrate their projector, they can take any screen color shift into consideration, as they should.

Bottom line: VA offers up a “private label” lose cost, fixed screen. It’s only available in neutral gain (around 1.0-1.2) matte white, and in sizes from about 90” to 135” diagonal. With a typical size like 106” diagonal selling in the mid-$300s range, (and probably a little less when bundled with a $999 type projector), their screen will likely save you $100 – $200 over any of the lower cost “name brands”, and save close to half,  or even more, compared to the top recognized brands. All in all, it’s a nice basic screen. Looks good and works well enough. Mike says assembly is pretty straight forward. I think one of the VApex screens is probably a very good choice for those on a really tight budget.  It allows the buyer to put more money toward the projector.  A solid entry level product!  -art

Best I can figure, there are only about three ways to spend less on a screen:

1. Go with a pull-down screen, but they never (even with tensioning) will be quite as flat as a fixed wall screen, but they do start in the $200 range with tensioning.

2. Use “screen paint” such as Goo, and paint your wall to be a screen. This is basic stuff, I’m not a big fan, as it seems everytime I see a setup using screen paint, that there is more of a tendency to hotspot than with screen materials, and you have to get that wall, very, very smooth.

3. Even worse – just shine it on whatever wall you have. (We needn’t discuss that further!)

The VA 106" projector screen, with wide velour border.

The VA 106″ projector screen, with wide velour border.

The VApex screens, in general, and the 106″ specifically, turn out to be a very nice low cost screen solution. I’m not going to recommend the VA for use with projectors in the $2000+ range. where I believe most people will be better served with a more expensive screen.  Still even there, a VApex screen might do in a pinch if there’s no money left for more expensive screens.

On the other hand, if you are looking to spend less than $2000 on the whole deal – projector, screen, and perhaps audio, blu-ray player, this VApex screen may well be a good example of “choosing wisely”. I believe Visual Apex was smart to create this line of screens, considering that the low cost will benefit many home theater buyers on a tight budget.  -art

News And Comments

  • Julian Cooling

    Art,

    I am really pleased that you are including another screen review (although I understand your problem). As one comentator pointed out elsewher, you look at the screen to watch a film and not the projector.

    I would love it if you could put together a simple essay that compared tab tensioned, motorised, fixed frame screen technologies. They all have tradeoffs but it is not always clear what they are to the keen explorer.

    Right now I have the money and space for a projector system but nowhere to permanently fix a screen (rented flat in inner London with one, big dark room used as a library and study). If I could sort out the screen so that I could hang off a bookcase (which I own) or somehow “put away”, I would probably begin buying. Something on a stand (bringing back bad memories of school) is not what I had in mind, but maybe things are different now.

    Julian

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Hi Julian,

      Hmm, I do have several articles about screen selection, though written at least 2-3 years ago, and I must admit, I haven’t looked them over anytime recently, to see what could be added. I will address that after the rush of reviews, probably Feb, or March. Simply put, tab tensioned, really is pretty essential if you want to get more than a year or two out of a roll-down or motorized screen. (The exception being if you leave it down all the time, which if you could, you’d have a fixed screen, wouldn’t ya?). So, unless you need a screen very temporarily, be sure if it’s motorized or pull-down that it is tab tensioned. I may talk about a lot of minor issues with the picture quality of various projectors, but, they mostly all pale in comparison to having a screen that isn’t flat – and seeing backgrounds with waves in them as the camera pans. Nasty stuff – makes poor CFI performance, for example, seem very minor (and you can always turn CFI off).

      I’ve recently looked at, Elite’s motorized screen that is a riser type. They announced it earlier this year, but it needs better tensiioning, still has waves. Sounds like hanging a pull-down, or motorized from your bookcase is the way to go. -art

  • daniel keeton

    Hey Art, if all those screens piled up in your garage are getting in your way just send one my way!! I need a 106″-120″ high contrast screen for my living room, shoot me a shipping cost and I’ll pick up the tab, just to help you out of course. hahaha

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Greetings Daniel,

      Actually I plan to try to unload some of them, (for whatever I can get. Problem is, I don’t have any boxes. The screens I have here, which include (just sitting around), a 100″ pull-down Optoma Graywolf (I think 100, maybe 106?), at least two, probably Elite fixed screens (one is their acoustic material, and Epson dual size tripod screen (used to be bundled in the MovieMate 33, and, maybe, one other. That doesn’t count my Firehawk G3, Carada Brilliant White, or other Elite high contrast gray (that one is motorized), nor the 100″ part of my Ensemble HD, all of which are used in the course of business. art

      Basically I’ll sell’m off for about $100 – $200 or so, each, but, since I have no boxes, it’s going to have to be fairly local people who have the ability to come down

  • Jeff Hurst

    At a glance the frame at least looks an awful like my Elite Screens unit. I’d be very curious to see a direct comparison. I wonder if they could be buying from the same OEM, which means the screen material might even be interchangeable.

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Hmm, not quite the same I think. Most fixed screens do look pretty similar in terms of channels etc., but it doesn’t take much change to achieve complete incompatibility! -art

  • Tim

    Art, I’m setting up my first theater room and like you, I watch alot of sports. Visual Apex screen package was high on my list, in fact I was trying to decide between a the Epson 8100 or 8500UB, because of the lower operating cost in their long bulb life. After reading this review I’m getting the idea that if I buy this vapex screen I should match it with the 8100 and if I decide to upgrade to the 8500UB I should also look to upgrade my screen to perhaps the Carada bright white. Do you actually lose the perfomance benefits from the 8500UB such as 120hz, and higher contrast ratio with the Vapex screen.

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Hi Tim,

      My take from Mike’s review, and discussing that with him (he like me owns a Carada Brilliant White, among other screens), is that the VApex is a good basic screen. A very small amount of color shift, good construction, etc. When I indicated “over $2000″ spending for a step up screen. I’m really thinking this way:

      The projector is key: (and the content, so get that blu-ray player if you don’t already have one). A better screen helps, of course, but, there isn’t going to be a huge difference, so to speak, between a VApex and some of the other less expensive screens out there. As such, sure, I’d rather match the Carada BW, than the VApex, with an 8500UB, but, my point is really this: I’d rather have an 8500UB, and a VApex, than, an 8100, and a Carada BW. Now, I realize that the difference in the price of projectors is about twice that of the difference between the two screens, but, you should get my point. If the bucks are really tight, I’d put the money into the better projector, and worry about a better screen some time in the future. -art
      PS. as to 120hz, contrast, etc., other than high contrast aspects of screens (a non-issue with the white VApex, no, nothing gets lost, re 120hz, contrast, etc. Most likely you get, with the better screen – a touch more gain (better backings, etc.) finer screen surface (for 1080p), although not in this case, mike says the surface is fine enough. If you are calibrating a projector, a good calibrator, will adjust for any screen shift. (For our published calibration settings, we make no attempt to calibrate for anything except the projector itself. -art

  • sri

    Hi Art,
    I was thinking of pairing a Panasonic PT AE 400U with a Vapex screen, probably in the 120″ diagonal range. Is there a huge advantage in going with Carada? I have used a older Panny with a Draper (I think) screen in the past- pretty solid performance.

    Thanks
    Sri

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      SRI -
      Huge? ahh that’s subjective. is the vapex as good a screen as the carada – no its not. Is it as color accurate – no, but a full calibration off your screen would theoretically correct for that, and afterall, it’s pretty good to start. Let me put it this way. OK, what will you do with the $350 or so savings? If you need it to buy food for the baby, then the Carada likely should not be worth the extra. If, on the other hand, you plan to blow the $350 at a strip club (you have disposable income), then, well even for those who enjoy an occasional strip club, put the money in the screen, it will last years. A lap dance is good for what – 5 minutes?

      OK, how about that for an off topic analogy? (and not a particularly good one at that!)

      But seriously I recommend the Vapex for those on a really tight budget – who otherwise are buying Goo or other screen paint, or shining on a wall, because they can’t afford a decent screen. Was a time just 4 or so years ago you would have been hard pressed to find anything decent that wasn’t a pulldown, for less than $600.

      Just re-read the blog on the screen. You’ve got a really excellent projector. No doubt about it I recommend spending the extra for the Carada – Mike would likely say the exact same thing. (unless of course it’s a choice for all of 2010: A Vapex screen and blu-ray player, or Carada and standard DVD for another year. Now that’s my idea of a trade-off and then, I’d say get the blu-ray player! -a

  • Keith

    Art -

    First, thanks for all you do here. Your website and reviews are invaluable.

    So, here’s my dilemma. I just bought my first projector… the Epson 8500UB. I got a great deal at just over $2000 delivered. Now, I need to get a screen. I’ve got room for 100-106″ depending on the frame. I was originally going to build my own with Goo Systems product. The cost of the Visual Apex screen makes that not realistic as Va is very cost effective.

    A 100″ VA delivered is about $390. I can get a 102″ Carada with the 1.0-1.1 matte white finish delivered for about $770. While the analogies are great, is the Carada really worth twice the cost of the VA? Can I afford it? Sure, but my question is SHOULD I afford it? While I don’t frequent the “clubs”, I do have plenty of AV gear or other hobbies that $350 could be spent on.

    My biggest fear is that I blow the extra $$$ on the Carada and then want to move the system to another part of the house where a larger screen can be supported?

    Is the Carada really worth a price where I can buy 2 AV screens for the price of 1 Carada?

    Thanks!
    Keith

  • Keith

    Sorry Art – just nuke my last letter. For some reason I didn’t read your comments from the 13th close enough. Upon re-reading, it covers my comments for the most part.

    Not sure what I want to do… it sure would be nice if you could see these things (like DaLite, etc) before you buy.

  • Keith

    I figured I would come back and close the loop in case there are other people weighing the same decision. I opted for the Visual Apex screen and I couldn’t be happier.

    I am not a reviewer who looks at projectors and screens day in and day out. So, for someone like me, I think you will be more than happy with the VA. The frame is nice and wide and has a very high end look. Yes, there is a joint in the middle of the long sides, but if your room is relatively dark (like mine), you won’t really notice it. The light overspill onto the frame is sucked into oblivion just like it’s supposed to be. The money you save can be put to other gear.

    Is the Carada better… I’m sure it is. Is the difference enough to the normal, non-reviewer type who is setting up his first front-projection system… probably not.

    Thanks for all you do Art. Your reviews helped my decide on the gear to get and I couldn’t be happier.

    Keith

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Hi Keith,

      Thanks for the feedback. Overall, I’d just let it go as saying that the VAPex is a nice entry level screen. The Carada is the better, probably a touch more neutral, etc. Worth the difference – no doubt, depends on budget. If I was buying $999, the low cost screen makes a lot of sense. If buying $2000+, probably the Carada is proportionally priced right. Hey, if buying something like a JVC projector, then the discussion goes to – is the Stewart Studiotek 130 worth the extra $1200+ over the Carada, and so on.

      Remember the old saying – your “…….fill in the blank….” is only as good as the weakest link. These days, that’s usually first, poor content (SD TV and DVD), probably next followed by projector picture quality. Screens are less significant (within competing screen surfaces), but can still make a difference. I on occasion switch between my carada, and an motorized Elite that can come down in front of it. Same idea. I stick with the Carada for my photoshoots because I believe it to be a touch more neutral, etc… -art

  • Tony

    Hi Art,

    I am wondering if you have done any reviews on Severtson screens. How would a 135″ VApex (white fixed screen) compare in quality to a 135″ Legacy II Severtson white fixed screen. I know price wise there is about a $700 difference in price.

    Thanks.

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Hi Tony,

      So far we do very few screens, just enough to give people an idea about what they get with different surfaces and prices… Sorry, not very complete, and I’ve never seen a Severtson screen though I’ve heard of them. Can’t help.

  • siva

    Hello Art,
    I am getting Mitsibishi HC3800 projector and the 92″ Vapex Screen package. Can you please comment on how good this combination could work. Or do you suggest me to go for VUTEC Elegante92 92″ 16:9 ASPECT RATIO FIXED MOUNT SCREEN with HC3800? Will there be a big difference?

  • Charlie

    Hi Art,

    I’m trying to decide between this Vapex screen (100″) and an Elete ezFrame white (R100WH1) or grey (R100H1), to be paired with the Epson 8350. The Vapex packages these for $373 more than the projector (with a bunch of other stuff I don’t need). I can get the Elete white or grey shipped for $403 or $387, respectively. So price is currently a tie for these. I have a basement room with good light control, couch 13′ or less away. Mostly watch movies but I also do photography (although I’ve never considered using a tv for photography before). Any thoughts on Vapex vs. Elete? And for Elete, grey vs. white?

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Charlie, I’d lean to the grey. My reason in this case

      1. movies – and you are on a tight budget. – hey if you had a few grand more to through at this, as a movie person, you’d almost certainly opt for a projector with better blacks, like the 8700UB, or a Sony Pro1, or… So, with budget tight, a moderate screen (100″) and good lighting control, then the gray will let you lower your blacks (you’ll appreciate in the letterbox areas especially). You still have plenty of brightness, and the elite grey isn’t that dark a grey, so it’s not extreme.

      2. Photography. You’ll like those “blacker blacks” on those photos as well

      3. Even with lighting control the hc gray screen will reject a some side lighting allowing more use of sconces etc on side walls if you want low light but want to keep most of it “off the screen”

      downside, any HC grey screen will have some roll off to the sides and corners although this one is very moderate.

  • http://ProjectorReviews Bill

    I currently have a 106″ Stewart Firehawk G3 that I used with my Panasonic PT-AX200U. I just moved up to the new Panasonic PT-AE7000 and would like to move up to a 120″ screen. From what I’m reading in this review, I had better stay with what I’ve got. I had been considering buying a VApex 120″ screen and selling the G3 resulting in cash in my pocket. I’ve also been considering a locally made custom 2.35:1 / 16:9 screen with adjustable masking but I am probably in for a rude awakening when I see the cost. Basically, what I’m saying in a roundabout manner is I have exhausted funds for my home theater and was trying to go cheap. I have a feeling a screen is not the place to do that. What say you?

    • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

      Hi Bill,
      Don’t panic. My only real complaint regarding that sized image would be in 3D. Given, in the absolute best mode, you might be a little underpowered with your Firehawk G3 (remember, it’s a “relative” 1.3 gain screen). If you don’t need to be rejecting side ambient light (as the Firehawk is so good at), and have at least somewhat dark surfaces, you can make good with a plus gain screen. Even if you end up with something in the 1.5 – 1.8 range, the roll-off, etc isn’t likely to be too different to the firehawk.

      For 3D, I like “the bigger the better” but ultimately if it comes down to brightness, remember, you can always reduce the image size to say 100″ for 3D. With those glasses on, you won’t really notice your screen / letterboxing.

      Since you have the PT-AE7000 play around with it. check out the different modes in terms of quality, and you can use our performance or calibration pages for the relative brightness differences. Use low lamp on your 106, and do the the math. Full power on a 120 should be pretty close to low power on a 100″.

  • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

    John, it could be. Are you dealing with any ambient light – from the sides for example. How big a screen…? Any good screen will work with any good projector – if it’s the right match in terms of size, room conditions (ambient light – and from where, type of content viewed, etc. -art

  • http://www.projectorreviews.com/members/lisasonfeier/ Lisa Feierman

    It is if you want ideal d65 color, but I used the 8700ub on my old 128″ firehawk g3, in the brighter modes. Of course the higher the gain screen, the brighter, but go to high, and get roll off to the sides, narrower viewing cone