Screen Innovations Black Diamond II 1.4 Fixed Frame Projector Screen Review
8/16/2010 - Art Feierman
As it turns out, the Black Diamond II 1.4 screen, according to SI, is an excellent 3D material, for those using or planning a 3D projection setup. I was unaware of that, until right after we returned the Black Diamond to Screen Innovations, following this review. Since I'm working with 3D projectors now, SI is sending us another Black Diamond II 1.4 screen, asap, so I can comment on it's abilities to work with projectors like LG's CF3D, the first 1080p 3D projector for the home, that's shipping. I will blog and update this review after we've tested the 3D abilities of this projection screen.
Screen Innovations Black Diamond 1.4 Projector Screen Overview
First things first. The Black Diamond II 1.4 screen is a screen designed to work in rooms with ambient light. Currently it comes only in fixed screens from 80 to 142" diagonal, with aspect ratios of 16:9 or 2.35:1. Word has it, that Screen Innovations has been working on a motorized version using the Black Diamond surfaces. That would be especially nice, since at home, you are far more likely to need a screen like the Black Diamond II 1.4 if you are setting up in a multi-purpose family room or bonus room, instead of a dedicated theater (where you likely have really good lighting control, and dark surfaces).
My biggest challenge in writing up this review was finding the best way to start it. How to present the primary purpose of this screen. I've been hearing the talk about "black screens" for several years. The Black Diamond series, like Europe's DNP screen company's competing screens, all seem to like to refer to themselves as black screens. I even noted one review describing the Black Diamond as "a couple of shades up from black". Well, I'm not sure what his idea of just up from black is, but, the only time the Black Diamond looked like it had a just up from black surface, was when ambient light was at an absolute minimum, and coming from overhead. At that point, it was very dark gray, but, under the types of ambient situations that the Black Diamond screens should appeal to, the Black Diamond 1.4 screen was rarely more than a bit darker than my Firehawk G3, and sometimes lighter.
In fact, a good deal of this review will be discussing the Black Diamond 1.4 and how it compares to the Firehawk G3, since that is pretty much considered a standard, if not a reference screen, and they are both considered premium priced screens, and competitors.
This is particularly important as I quite often recommend HC gray screens (like the Firehawk G3), to help deal with ambient light issues. Well, that's the big pitch of the Black Diamond projector screen, so it seems logical to put these two up against each other.
Above, my room setup with the Black Diamond II screen on its stand, in front of my Firehawk screen. My overheads are on, and the room is actually fairly bright as you can get a feel for from the brightness of the speakers by the screen. The photo is underexposed to get something approaching a normal exposure of the scene on the screen.
Both companies will tell you that their screens work better than most in ambient light conditions, but these two screens do differ significantly in the way they are designed. Later we'll take a look at the layers of material on the Black Diamond screen
I better also get this out of the way: These are officially Black Diamond II screens - the latest incarnation. These Black Diamond II screens come in 0.8 gain, and 1.4 gain. At SI's recommendation (since the 1.4 is more popular and brighter, and because I felt it would better meet the needs of our readers), I asked for the Black Diamond 1.4. They were able to send me a decent sized one for review - a 92" diagonal 16:9 aspect ratio screen, and with it, a floor stand for my use while reviewing.
Although it will be discussed in more depth below, everyone's first question is going to be "how good is it when there's a fair amount of ambient light"?
My answer to that is that, "it depends". First of all, the SI Black Diamond 1.4 (and likely the .8 version, too) is rather superb in dealing with lighting coming from overhead, or near overhead, and it should be equally good with light coming from below.
On the other hand, the Black Diamond 1.4 are not nearly as good at dealing with side ambient lighting. In that regard, I seem to recall, about 4 years ago, I took a look at the original SI Virage, and it too was designed to work best at "handling" ambient from above/below.
The Black Diamond screens are currently only available for fixed wall mount. I do believe they are trying to make them available for motorized screens, but we'll have to see what they come up with. Unlike the typical soft, fabric-like materials that most screens use, the Black Diamond surface is very stiff. The edges, for example are effectively "sharp" in a paper cut sort of way. A lot thicker, but if you are assembling the screen, you'll see what I mean. No big deal, just be a bit careful. That's one difference between the Black Diamond and most other screens that could be better.
Pricing wise, these SI screens are anything but inexpensive, but the same is true of the competition like the Firehawk. If you want a screen with abilities similar to the Black Diamond, (including particularly "gray" not just "black" screens), you will discover that they are premium priced - often about five times the price of inexpensive brands like Elite Screens, but then they are accomplishing something Elite's HC Gray screen just can't match.
That said, for the right setup, the right room, the benefits of a screen like the Black Diamond 1.4 can be huge. Let's get started!
Black Diamond 1.4 Screen Highlights
- Dark surface plus plenty of gain - for a nice dynamic image
- Much better at "rejecting" (or absorbing) ambient light from the vertical (overhead lighting, etc.), than ambient light from the sides.
- For a high contrast "dark" screen, it has a pretty respectable viewing cone
- There is slight color shift, almost completely towards blue
- Assembly is straightforward, but the surface is semi-rigid, and therefore a bit more difficult to work with than most other types of screen surfaces
- The Black Diamond screens are not available in an acoustic material, nor currently in either motorized, or pull down screen configurations
- Pricing is generally premium, but if you need what they're selling, the Black Diamond 1.4 should prove to be a good value
- MSRP for a 100" diagonal 16:9 screen is $2699 (US), the lower gain Black Diamond 0.8 screen in the same size, costs the same
- Available in sizes up to 142" diagonal
Black Diamond 1.4 Screen Specifications
MSRP: $2699 For: 100" diagonal 16:9 screen, Some (not all) additional sizes:
80" 16x9: $2199
92" 16x9: $2499
106" 16x9: $2899
110" 16x9: $3099
133" 16x9: $3699
80" 2.35:1 $2199
92" 2.35:1 $2499
100" 2.35:1 $2699
106" 2.35:1 $2899
110" 2.35:1 $3099
133" 2.35:1 $3699
Accoustic Properties: None - will block any sound from passing through
Warranty: 1 year parts and labor
Black Diamond 1.4 Special Features
The Black Diamond 1.4 is a screen designed to allow successful projection in rooms with significant light. No, the screen isn't a perfect solution, but it is one of the best I've seen, and reasonably effective.
Its strength is rejecting light from the vertical plane. It is very effective. To accomplish this, SI uses a multi-layered approach to the screen material design.
Assembling the Black Diamond 1.4 Fixed Wall Screen
I didn't have to do it! I watched, but I managed to get Tony and Mike to put it together. The screen frame is well built, with a 3.5" wide black velour finish. The pieces fit together nicely. First you have to slide their mounting pins into tracks in the frame.
Those tracks will hold the ends of the heavy "rubber bands" that will pass through the holes along the edge of the screen. The screen material is hard and somewhat sharp. It feels like it could give you one nasty paper cut, so be a bit careful. That said, the team had no problem quickly assembling the screen. I didn't actually time it, but from when the screen was unpacked, until it was assembled was well under 10 minutes - two guys working.
As a side note, we had a much tougher time with their rather complicated wall stands that they sent along. Those came without instructions. Here we were, three "rocket scientists", and we couldn't figure out how to put the legs together, and attach the screen. I had to call the next day for help. Well, you won't be needing these custom stands so don't worry about it. It was humbling experience.
I can't report on actually wall mounting the screen, since we didn't. From the looks of things, it's pretty standard. Screen Innovations has a speed enhanced video on their site which shows the installation from opening the box to finish. I think they did a great job of it. (I wonder if they got it on the first take?)
SI Black Diamond 1.4 Fixed Screen: Image Properties
Let's discuss the Black Diamond II 1.4 screen's slight color shift first, and then we can delve into how this screen really performs in different lighting scenarios. The Black Diamond II 1.4 has a slight shift towards blue. This was definitely visible, and Screen Innovations recognizes the shift, and discusses it on their site.
SI's belief, (and it makes perfect sense to me), is that a good calibration of the projector to include the screen, should effectively remove the shift. I didn't actually recalibrate a projector to confirm. Unlike my discussions about reflected ambient light below, a calibration, taking room and screen into consideration, should do the trick!
SI says the screen has upward of 300% more contrast than other screens. Definitely believable. Over all, in terms of general contrast under ambient light conditions, I'll give it the edge, for example over my Firehawk, but, it really is going to depend on your room.
We've already mentioned the Black Diamond's shift towards blue. A more significant issue popped up when I set up the screen on its stand, and placed it a couple of feet in front of, and partially below my Firehawk G3.
Now, the Firehawk is also a high contrast surface, but the Firehawk G3's properties are such that it is very good at "rejecting" ambient light from the sides, but not very good on ambient coming from overhead or below.
In other words the properties of the Black Diamond 1.4 and the Firehawk G3, are such that the Black Diamond is great when there's overhead lighting (they always look good at trade shows). The Firehawk, is better with side lighting, and that brings us to a key realization:
The Black Diamond projection screen does not like working in rooms where the walls are really colored, such as my primary "theater". With the rust colored walls in my theater, the Back Diamond picked up a lot of that rust color. In fact, sitting in my normal seat, about a foot off of dead center, and 12 feet back, the rust color reflecting off the screen (when there's ambient light present), is noticeable whether I have my shades all the way down (leaking a little daylight at the edges), or a couple of the shades half way open, the rust color is there. In the shots below you can clearly see the rust on the screen. BTW, it's not going to be even across the screen because the walls are closer to the sides of the screen. That translates into: No way to calibrate it away.
In the image above the slide blinds are open, and the overhead lights are also on. You can see both screens affected by the side daylight lighting (the SI taking a bigger hit). You can see my Firehawk picking up color from the lights above. (They are full on, something I would never have in real life.) The Black Diamond though is showing a lot of rust color on the right side of the screen.
Black Diamond II 1.4 Screen vs. Firehawk G3 screen
Compared to the Black Diamond, my Firehawk is barely affected at all by the rust color of my room. Even with all the window shades open, its only slightly detectable, and mostly at the sides of the screen.
My ceilings are an "off white" - slightly beige, and actually quite a few shades darker than white. I'd say the ceiling is a light medium beige, not much different than the room's carpet, which is a touch darker still. Because the ceiling and carpeting are pretty color neutral, they have almost no noticeable affect on the Firehawk - only maximum ambient light causes any rust coloration to appear, and that's nothing compared to the SI's shift.
This simply means that one of these two screens is likely to work better in your environment, than the other.
To provide a real perspective of how black the Black Diamond (and the Firehawk) get when really hit by ambient light consider these images:
Above, with one door's shade up, and the upper window also up, here are some results - hitting both screens with a JVC RS20:
In the three photos above, everything's the same, only the position of the camera changes. In all cases, it seems that the Firehawk is providing a bit more contrast, and has a slightly easier to see picture. Note the significant differences depending on the angle of the camera compared to the source of the bulk of the ambient light.
For most people it simply will not be a question of which screen is technically better, but which one works in their specific room and viewing circumstances.
Next images when the room is more affected by full overhead lighting than from side ambient, with all blinds closed. Note that over all, the surface of the SI is darker than the Firehawk:
In the palace scene above, with overhead lighting on, the Firehawk is taking the bigger hit. The BD II has a distinct edge.
Neutral colored walls
If your walls are pretty much color neutral, and you have no windows on the sides or can fully black them out, when needed, and you do have lights above (maybe even a skylight?) then the SI Black Diamond II 1.4 would seem to be your screen of choice!
Walls with significant color
On the other hand, if your walls are "colorful", and you have ambient light from the sides (including intentional use of wall sconces), then the Firehawk will prove to be the better choice. Mostly it's that simple.
As I don't have a room set up to check it out, I'm not sure, which screen surface would work best for someone with white or near white walls. I know when I had my Firehawk before we painted the theater rust, the white walls still degraded the image just from light from the screen, reflecting off the near walls and back onto the screen. Going to the rust color was a massive improvement of the picture quality.
The SI screen claims to absorb more light than others (including the Firehawk), yes absorbing some of that light energy, not just reflecting it away to the opposite direction. As such my belief is that the Black Diamond II 1.4 will do better in a room with white walls than the Firehawk would. No question about it, the SI does far better than the Firehawk when I turn on the one light in my theater that is designed to hit the screen directly pointing down from just in front, and up high, but since the the Firehawk's weakness is the vertical plane, it also raises the question of a situation that I don't have to deal with, and that's low ceilings. Mine is a cathedral ceiling - the closest any part of my Firehawk gets to any part of our ceiling is a good 5 feet, and on average, the top of the surface is about 7 feet from the closest ceiling (21 ft cathedral at it's peak).
My point being that the Firehawk isn't going to do particularly well, in the light rejection category, if you have a low ceiling (or tiled floors), that are white or near white, just a foot or two from the Firehawk's surface.
In my 2nd theater/testing room the ceiling is again darkened a bit, and the walls are slighly brownish, but medium to medium-dark in color. In that room, with conventional matte screens, the biggest problem in terms of reflected light (from the projected image) is definitely reflection back from the ceiling, which is closer, than the side walls, to the screen.
I mention this, because these are the types of issues you must consider, to chose the better screen - the Black Diamond, or the Firehawk - or any HC gray surfaced screen.
While I can't move my Firehawk into the testing room, I have a Carada Brilliant White there, and also that Elite high contrast light gray screen I reviewed, and liked as a good low cost HC gray (that's not too gray).
The Carada has no light rejection abilities - a 1.4 gain white matte. The Elite, is a different matter. It does reject some of the overhead lighting, but it's not even remotely in the league of the Screen Innovations Black Diamond II 1.4. The SI screen still provided a repectable picture (not great, though) with the pair of 65 watt recessed lights just 20 inches in front of the screen. Impressive.
The Black Diamond performed superbly in that room, compared to the other screens available. If it was a choice of Firehawk or Black Diamond for that room, I would have to choose the Black Diamond.
Movies on the Black Diamond II 1.4 Screen:
If you have a dedicated theater room, with no real issues (dark everything, full lighting control), it's unlikely you would need a BD II 1.4 screen.
Come nighttime, when I do have the ability to fully darken my main theater, the Black Diamond looks great. Mind you, I didn't recalibrate my JVC RS20 for the rust color that ambient light was causing the screen to pick up. At night, only when really looking for it, did I detect that rust tint. When it is most noticeable is when the center of the content is really bright, and the sides are dark (think the sillouette image that I use from The Dark Knight - looking into a bright interrogation room). In that situation, enough light from the screen is hitting side walls and or back wall, and reflecting back enough rust, to discolor the darker edges a bit.
That said, I watch many hours (at least 15) in the usual dark setup, and did not think I had a real problem that couldn't be solved with just a minor adjust. A bigger calibration adjust would be needed for my daytime viewing though, and there's the rub.
Unfortunately, just general observation shows that in my room the amount of rust (side windows open slightly) coming off the screen reflection, varies greatly with where on the screen surface you are looking. For that reason, I don't see how to calibrate it away, when there's lots of side ambient light. If you brought down the red/rust color, the sides might look better, but the center would be shifting blue green.
Above - late afternoon, overcast day, four overhead recessed lights on, partially dimmed - typical TV viewing setup on the lights - results in a bright, vibrant image. Lot's of pop to the image! (Dont try this with the sun shining in that window.)
Simply stated, in situations with side ambient and significantly non-neutral walls, being hit by that ambient light, is not the right environment for the Black Diamond II 1.4! (That would be a good situation for the Firehawk.)
The image above taken with no side ambient from windows (night), but overhead lighting up enough that reading a magazine would be doable, though not great. Below, a better shot, don't mind the menu. These HDTV images, and close up movie shots were using the Vivitek H5080 projector:
But, back to viewing in a fully darkened room. Remember, this is all subjective. Unfortunately, for most of my viewing, the BD 1.4 was about 24 inches closer to the projector. This meant when viewing both (half the image on each), the BD 1.4 was visibly brighter. I did do a fair amount of back and forth viewing later though, with the screen only inches in front of the Firehawk (someone holding it up!)
Overall, my take is that in a dark room environment, the Black Diamond II 1.4 is both a slight bit brighter than the Firehawk on bright areas, and it has a touch more contrast. Overall, I felt this Screen Innovations screen provided a tad more pop and wow than my Firehawk.
Below Leeloo from The Fifth Element (Blu-ray) shot evening time, blinds closed, overhead lights off (darkened room). Vivitek projector (over 600 lumens hitting a 92" 16:9 Black Diamond II 1.4 screen. Excellent blacks, lots of pop to the image!
Sports and HDTV on the Black Diamond II 1.4 Screen
Outstanding - as long as you are in the right room. With my window shades shut - leaking just a little light, the BD 1.4 did just dandy, but if I opened one or more shades partially, the rust shift was too much. With shades fully down, and moderate overhead lighting, the Black Diamond looked pretty good! On the other hand, when I put on some sports in the testing room, with both pairs of recessed lights at half power, the picture was stunning. It was drastically better than the Elite screen, and the Carada, though bright, was nicely washed out, as it would expected.
This is not an acoustic screen! No way, nada, nix... your speakers will have to go somewhere that's not behind the screen.
NEXT: Summary of Screen Innovations Black Diamond II 1.4 screen