Screen Innovations: Visage Hi-Contrast Screen

The Screen Innovations Visage model screen isn’t your everyday screen. It is designed for rooms with significant ambient light. According to Screen Innovations, the Visage has a gain of 2 (twice as bright as a typical standard matte white screen), but also a contrast ratio of 10.

The net result, is that it produces a fairly acceptable image in an environment where a standard screen barely shows the viewed image at all, or it produces an excellent image where normal screens are barely adequate.

I had first seen the Visage (originally dubbed the Mirage) at CEDIA, and again at the EHX tradeshows. At both shows the screen was set up under the usual glaring bright lights found at trade shows. Screen Innovations had half of the screen frame filled with a standard matte white screen material, and the other half, their Visage surface. I don’t know how bright a projector they were hitting this split screen with, but the image was barely visible on the matte surface side, and decent on the Visage material, especially when you consider how much ambient light there is on a trade show floor.

Screen Innovations started shipping the screen sometime in October ’05, and finally got around to shipping me a 60″ diagonal 16:9 Visage for review, this month.

I should note that the Visage screen is very expensive compared to almost anything else. A 100″ diagonal fixed screen with basic trim (Performance) retails from $3699, and the deluxe trim (Reference), for a bit more. The Visage is only available as a fixed screen, there are no motorized or pull-down versions.

That said, there is a definite market for this screen, in both the home theater, and commerical marketplaces. Let’s start with home theater.

Many people want to enjoy the benefits of having a really large screen (92″ to 120+”) for the theater effect, whether they watch movies, Hi-Def in general, or sports. Unfortunately, home theater projectors are meant for fully darkened rooms, or at least those with a bare minimum of ambient light.

As a result, I know people who cannot darken their room sufficiently (such as a family room without blackout shades), to watch the “big screen” during the daytime. A friend of my fits in this group. His solution, last year, was to install a 50″ diagonal Panasonic plasma in his family room, just above the fireplace. He watches sports and other content during the daytime. Come evening, when the room can get very dark, he drops his motorized 100″ diagonal screen down (a few inches in front of the plasma), and hits it with his JVC home theater projector.

The image on the right has the Visage in front of part of my larger Firehawk screen. Visage on the left, Firehawk on the right (the lower right is wall). The room was partially bathed in sunlight as you can see below.

If the room has a fair amount of ambient light, but isn’t bathed in sunlight during the daytime, a projector, combined with the Visage screen would allow you to skip the plasma, and rely on the projector, at least for normal TV/HDTV type viewing, sports, etc. If you are trying to watch a movie with a dark scene, if there is a fair amount of light in the room, you may be able to seem most of the action, but dark areas will still be mostly washed out.

One important note, the screen seems to accomplish its goals by being able to reject most ambient light – that is coming from above, below, left and right. If your light is coming from the same direction as your projector – straight back, the screen is not going to help you.

I’ve worked with the Visage in two different rooms, first, my own theater (still not finished, the walls will soon be dark), and then in my home office/testing area.

In my theater: You can see various images of the Visage here, and a number where the image is split between the Visage, and my 128″ Firehawk. (In all cases the projected image is designed to fill the 128″ screen. If I zoomed down to just fill the 60″ Visage, the images should be about 4 times as bright.

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