Posted on August 16, 2010 By Art Feierman
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).
Click to enlarge. SO close 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!
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