Screen Innovations: Visage Hi-Contrast Screen
-Art Feierman 2/17/2006
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.
I have also provided a shot of the room, to give you an idea of the ambient light present. This was taken on a bright sunny day, with light pouring in from two glass doors. The room in these pictures is more than bright enough for almost any activity. Other photos make the room look darker, so the image on the screen can be seen the way I see it. (If the room is properly exposed, then the screen is so overexposed, the image is almost completely whited out.
In my office, I placed the Screen Innovations Visage partially in front of a Carada screen with a gain of 1.4, in otherwords, even the Carada is a bright screen. For the first picture, there is plenty of light in the room coming from overhead (four recessed lights), plus some coming from the left side open french doors.
As you can see, the Visage makes a real difference on these images.
The images on the Visage still are able to have dark areas look pretty dark. Above is a shot of a space craft from the 5th Element. Most of the area is supposed to be black. On the Visage its somewhat close, on the Firehawk, the background is closer to white than black.
Perhaps the image directly below gives you the best indication, the Visage (left) looks pretty good, you can see details in the wall behind, the blues and golds are much richer, etc. If you were to hold your fingers in front of the Firehawk area, you'ld realize how good the Visage looks.
The last image, below (the closeup), though, has the overhead lights turned off, but the shades on the window, that is right behind the projector, are full open. Now the Visage washes out even more than the other screen.
So - the trick to putting the Visage to good use, is to NOT have your light sources(except the projector, of course), straight back from the screen.
The Visage is probably just what a lot of boardrooms, conference rooms and training rooms can really use. And that's not to mention tradeshow displays, as tradeshow floors are usually extremely bright places.
Of course, commercial projectors, even inexpensive ones are significantly brighter than home theater projectors.
If you have a room with a lot of side ambient light from windows, or overhead lighting like florescents, very close to the screen, the Visage, in conjunction with a good business projector will provide a much better image than a traditional screen. In other words, you might get very good results with a basic 2000 lumen"portable" projector ($1000 - $1500), instead of paying several thousand more dollars for a 5000 lumen projector which probably has a ton of extra features you don't need.
Like other high gain screens, the Visage does have a weakness in that, the image brightness rolls off to the sides (as well as non-ideal, vertical viewing angles).
All screens with significant gain, do have this issue. Basically, as long as the off angle viewing isn't too great, a high gain screen will work fine.