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Fixed or Rectractable Screens?

When choosing the right screen, there are options including fixed vs. retractable screens. Which is right for your particular application? Let's discuss the pros and cons of each... 

Fixed Wall Screens

Fixed wall screens are accurately named. These screens are fixed in place and attached to the wall, like a wall-mounted TV except flatter and much bigger. They are usually less expensive than a motorized retractable screen using the same material.

Fixed wall screens come in many different sizes, with various widths and colored border options so you can ensure the screen perfectly fits the room. 

Fixed wall screens are a great option for rooms intended specifically for viewing – think home theaters, family rooms, etc. These screens serve as the focal point of a room and the rest of the design can work around it. Fixed screens have exceptional longevity and better picture quality compared to other screens because they don’t require adjustment.

A fixed screen, like a wall-mounted TV, is always taking up wall space even when it is not being used. While this is fine in a dedicated theater, many users do not want a massive screen dominating their living or family room 24 hours a day.

Manual Retractable Screens

A permanent manual projector screen

Mounted: This screen option is commonly used in classrooms and can vary widely in quality. Manual screens can be attached to the ceiling or wall and allow the screen to be discreetly hidden when not in use.

Manual screens are the most budget-friendly screen on the market and are available in a variety of sizes and screen types. Unlike other types of permanent screens -- like a fixed wall screen, manual screens are constantly raised and lowered so they might need to be replaced due to the wear and tear of regular use.

Floor Screens: These types of screens retract into a base a little wider than the screen, for exceptional portability. They are heavier than other types of portable screens but offer solid construction and are very easy and quick to set up. Although most floor screens are manual, there are some powered options on the market.

Tripod Screen: Like its name, this is a retractable screen on top of a tripod. The tripod itself can be folded down and the screen is housed in a base similar to the design of a floor screen. Although there are multiple screen sizes available, there are not quite as many size options as other types of screens.

Folding Screens: Folding screens are the most portable option because the frame folds into itself and the screen isn’t attached to its frame. They are similar to tripod screens except they have two legs instead of a three-legged tripod design. Since the screen is buttoned onto a rigid frame the material is pulled tighter than a portable retractable which reduces image distortion caused by a saggy or wrinkled screen. They are often more expensive than tripod screens and a bit more difficult to set up, but this option benefits from increased flexibility, less image distortion, and the ability to easily switch out screen fabrics.

A portable inflatable projector screen

Inflatable Screens: Because these screens are inflatable and often waterproof, they are typically used outdoors. This budget-friendly option comes in extremely large sizes and is easy to store and set up, most of them inflate and deflate themselves without the need for a manual pump.

The picture quality isn’t quite as good as with other screens, but they do the trick, especially for outdoor movie nights!

Motorized screens can be attached to the wall or ceiling, or if you want to get really fancy, they can even be inserted into the ceiling or hidden in a piece of furniture. Due to the motors and actuators required, they tend to be significantly more expensive than other types of screens.

In recent years, the technology in these screens has seen real progress. For example, there are now screens with a built-in battery. A fully charged battery can power the screen’s function for up to a year of normal use. No holes to put in the wall. No complicated wiring that requires an electrician. It is a great innovation.

Screen Masking

Screen Masking is something else you need to know about before making a final decision: Some home theater owners add masking systems to change the aspect ratio of the visible portion of the projection screen to match that of the video content. This is referred to as a CIW (Constant Image Width) screen masking solution and is done by adding movable horizontal masking panels across the top and across the bottom of the screen that are adjusted up or down to reveal only the portion of the screen that corresponds to the actual aspect ratio of the image that is being projected.  

For a CIH (Constant Image Width) system, vertical masking panels are placed along two sides of the screen and move horizontally to reveal only the portion of the screen that corresponds to the actual aspect ratio of the image that is being projected. There are also a few 4-way masking systems available that allow the user to apply horizontal and/or vertical masking as needed. Several of the screen manufacturers (such as Stewart and Carada) offer their own masking systems while there are also some third party ‘universal’ masking systems available for use with fixed frame projection screens.

Pros and Cons

Pros - Fixed Frame Screens

The primary advantage of fixed frame screens is that they weigh less than their motorized counterparts; this means they can be easily mounted with little effort and usually by one person. Fix framed screens can be mounted to any appropriately sized wall space.

Fixed-frame screens are extremely popular because the installation process is relatively quick and easy.

These screens can also be used for rear projection if there is the required amount of space behind the screen. Rear projection screens are perforated so parts of your home theater audio system, like front left and right as well as center channel speakers can be placed directly behind the screen. The perforations allow for great sound with no discernible effect on sound quality.

Cons - Fixed Screens

These screens require the full-time use of wall real estate. With a fixed screen, nothing else can be put on the wall. Like any fixed surface this type of screen will require periodic cleaning.

Pros - Retractable Screens

These screens retract out of the way when you are not using them not fully taking over the use of an entire wall in a home or meeting space. You can mount a flat-screen TV behind the screen or even a white board for meetings when the projector is not being used.

Cons - Retractable Screens

These motorized screens will require electrical work to be done to supply them with power which can add to the cost. Retractable screens are heavier and take up more space because of the screen housing and motorized elements of the screen. A retractable screen is a motorized device and by design is more likely to have problems with its mechanical elements.

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