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Best Home Projector Report 2013: Screen Recommendations

Posted on November 6, 2013 by Art Feierman

Projector Screen Tips

In addition to this document, and links to all the Projector Screens Recommendations pages of the projectors we've reviewed,, our site has several articles written about choosing screens, different types of screen surfaces, calculating screen dimensions and more. Click to check out our Projector Screens section of the site, and definitely consider our two part videos on Screens selection in our Projector Reviews TV area.  Here's a link to the first of those.

You will get more out of your projector and complete room setup if you pair the right screen to match your projector, room lighting, the brightness of your walls and ceiling, the mix of content - Movies, General HDTV / TV, Sports, and Gaming.

Here are twelve tips to consider

1. High Contrast Gray screens work well if you have ambient light (intentional or not) coming at the screens from the sides (such as interior lighting or sunlight through windows), or if the surfaces in your room (walls, ceiling, etc.) are light and reflect light. These screens "reject" that off angle (side) light, and are therefore good at preventing the image from washing out.

Right, a high contrast grey screen used to combat ambient light and light surfaces.  (Stewart Firehawk G3)

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2. High Gain screens (the brightest) can help you fill a larger screen with a less bright projector, or use a bigger screen with a bright projector, but there are trade-offs. The higher the gain screen, the more roll-off you'll see as your eye moves to the corners of the image. With high gain screens you also have a much narrower viewing cone - the area you can sit in to enjoy the best picture quality.

Right, the same room repainted to have darker surfaces--compare the quality of the image despite overhead lights on!

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3. The most typical white surfaced screens have gains from 1.0 to 1.4. Good ones should have no visible hotspotting, nor visible roll-off in brightness in the corners. And you can sit just about anywhere and get a good picture.

Right, the Daylight Insta Theater Pull up style portable screen with 1.8 gain. It handles side ambient well but definitely has a narrow viewing cone.

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4. High Contrast Gray screens will effectively lower your black levels, normally a desirable thing. The high contrast aspect serves to maintain a dynamic looking image. These screens can have gains anywhere from .5 to a relative 1.3 (we won't go into "relative" at this time).  The Firehawk G3 in the first two images has a "relative gain" of 1.3.

5. If you are going with a motorized screen, please get a tensioned one. While that adds to the price, the screen should stay very flat for years. Even slight waves or rolls on a screen is extremely noticeable when viewing. When it comes to controlling it, most screens have options to work with 12 volt triggers on projectors, infra-red, or RF remotes.

6. Fixed wall screens are the best at being perfectly flat. Pull-down screens are the least expensive, but, again, get a tensioned one. Special paint to paint a screen on your wall, is inexpensive, and works pretty well, but a good screen will serve you better. (Let's say, those screen paints are better than your standard wall paint, which even if white, will give you a real hot spot.)

7. Consider your seating: Distance, also whether you will have some folks sitting behind others (whether in formal theater chairs, or "normal" furniture like a couch). How high off the floor your screen starts can determine whether the folks in the back can see. Most likely the largest group of people set their screen height so that their eye level is at least as high as the bottom of the screen, and even with 1/3 of the way up the screen as the highest point. Do what works for you. In my larger theater, I have my screen mounted high. It actually starts about 18 inches above my seating level, but that's the way I wanted it, because I like to kick back in my captain's chair, at a pretty laid back angle. In addition, I have a large couch behind the two captain's chairs, and everyone in back can easily see the entire screen. Also, consider that where you sit might lead to a viewing cone problem, where those seated off-center experience an uneven picture.

Above, evidence that viewing cones of high gain screens can affect the image for off-center viewers--something to consider, the "lower" surface, a very high gain screen I installed for 3D viewing.

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8. Some folks want the best sound placement, and want their center, left and right channel speakers mounted in wall behind the screen so that the sound more precisely seems to come out of the mouths of the people speaking. No problem, there are plenty of acoustic screen surfaces out there. There are some trade-offs though. Overall, acoustic surfaces aren't quite as good as their non-acoustic counterparts, but the better ones really are extremely good.

9. Pricing for screens is all over the map. There's everything from lower cost Chinese or Taiwanese made screens (such as Elite Screens) to very high end ones made by companies like Stewart Filmscreen and Screen Innovations. Other more mid-priced brand names include Da-Lite, Draper, Vutec, Grandview... Overall Stewart is almost certainly the top mainstay brand, with Screen Innovations also a real player.  Stewart's Studiotek 130 G3 and Grayhawk G3 are pretty much considered reference standards. (I switched from the Firehawk G3 at my old house to their Studiotek 130 for my current home theater). The price is up there, however for Stewart's and Screen Innovations best known lines (both introduced lower cost lines in the last two years).  Typically the screens we're talking about, though, do cost 2 to 4 times as much as the more typically priced screens.

Low cost tensioned pull-down screens start around $200. A very good fixed wall screen of average size can be had for well under $600, while you can spend 3 or four times that for the very best. High priced masking motorized screens can set you back anywhere from probably $4000 to $20,000.

10. Masking systems - a great idea. Basically they change the shape of your screen to match the content you are viewing. You can have them with fixed wall screens, or and motorized screens can be ordered with them from some manufacturers. You can adjust them for the aspect ratio of the content you are viewing. (They are normally motorized and work remotely, by screen trigger, room control system, or normal remote control.) They will move black material in place to cover what isn't being used, for a nice tight framed image, and no visible letterboxing. Stewart sells many high end screens with masking systems, as well as those without. Some screens have masking systems that can be added later. One intriguing product is Carada's Masquerade, a relatively affordable masking system that can be added to almost any fixed wall screen. The Carada system sells starting around $2500 for smaller sizes, and a 110" will set you back about $2750.

11. In a contest with a small child, a low mounted screen loses everytime!

12. Some motorized screens are designed to be installed inside your ceiling to be more or less invisible when not in use. Fixed wall screens do not require rocket science to assemble. Anyone halfway competent with a screwdriver and pliers shouldn't have a problem. And most importantly, if you are mounting a screen yourself, make sure it's perfectly level.

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