Almost exactly 2 years ago, I was asked by an advertiser - Visual Apex, to review their Vapex screen, which they bring in from Asia and sell under their Vapex brand. I would generally refer to this as a private label screen, and reviewing it had the potential of creating some conflict. My solution back then was straightfoward: I asked Mike to review the screen. Mike's independent, so advertising on my site by Visual Apex has no bearing on him or his income. I just wanted to keep things neutral. As a former "local installing dealer" Mike is very comfortable with screens and has reviewed other screens for us as well. The 106" Vapex that Visual Apex sent two years ago, was a fixed wall frame, as fixed style was all they offered at the time.
OK, that worked out OK, then, a couple months ago, when Visual Apex pointed out that they have made a number of improvements and expanded the Vapex fixed screen line up, since Mike reviewed it.
As a courtesy to an advertiser, and to keep the old "review" current, I decided to write a few paragraphs here, pointing out the changes, their impact, and the current value proposition of their new tensioned motorized screens. For the most part, performance shouldn't have changed very much, but there are some feature changes. So, here goes:
The main thing that I believe you need to know about the Vapex line now, is that it is no longer limited to fixed wall screens. They now offer four sizes of motorized screens as well, both tensioned and non-tensioned. We are focused on the tensioned screens in this overview.
The Vapex screen itself in many ways is the same. The gain remains the same - a claimed 1.1, fairly typical for a matte screen (Da-lite Da-Mat...), but slightly lower than the Carada Brilliant White (1.4 gain) or the Studiotek 130 (1.3 gain). (The Carada, however is not available except as a fixed wall screen, no motorized or pull-down versions.) It would seem from scanning the Vapex materials, that both fixed and motorized are using the same surface.
The closest screen competitors to the Vapex screens, are from well known affordable asian brands such as Elite Screens, probably the best known. Both VA and Elite offer lower cost screens than from big name brands like Da-lite, Draper, and others which offer alternatives, but typically at significantly higher yet still reasonable reasonable values. Far more expensive screens are out there as well, often touting performance and QC that the lower cost screens can't match. Still there are far more people that can afford Vapex, Elite, or Da-lite screens, than those who can afford Stewart, dnp, or Screen Innovations some very premium brands.
A quick look shows the Vapex to be a bit less expensive on fixed wall, and basic motorized screens, than most, including Elite. On their tensioned motorized screens, they are a bit closer to the pricing for Da-lite and some others, but offer more features. (ie support for screen triggers is included, not an extra option.
Basically VA has set the prices to be highly competitive, which is what we would expect, as they like to bundle the screens with projectors when it seems a good fit.
Again, motorized comes in two versions - standard and tensioned. Let me say right now, I'm not a huge fan of non-tensioned motorized (or pull-down) screens, as over time they will tend to lose their flatness, and you will notice the distortion (especially when scenes are panned - which is a lot of the time).
Most folks should consider a non-tensioned screen only if they are either on an extremely limited budget, or see the screen as a short term proposition - a year or two, before expecting to replace it (ie. planning a move, or a major upgrade...) Note also that the non-tensioned Vapex screens use a different surface than the basic motorized (and non-tensioned) screens. So, when I talk about performance similar to the reviewed 106" screen, I'm not talking about the non-tensioned, only the tensioned one. The non-tensioned screens use what they call a fibre matte white, as opposed to the tensioned and fixed screens which use their Cinema White surface. I have no experience at all with their fibre matte white, and can't speak to how good it would be for home theater compared to any competition.
Let's finish talking price: Since we reviewed the 106" fixed frame screen we'll stick with that size for primary pricing comparisons:
Non-tensioned Motorized: Start at 92" ($299), the 106" is $339, and their largest - 120" is $349.
Tensioned Motorized: Start at 92" ($699, the 106" is $799, and their largest is 120" at $899.
Yep, that's a really big difference for tensioning, but generally worth it - better surface, and your screen should last several times as long.
The Big Feature: Wireless 12 volt trigger, comes standard on their motorized screens.
Now mind you, remote controlling motorized screens has always been a popular thing to do when affordable. And a great way to do it is have the screen automatically come down when you power up your projector, and close when you turn it off. Unfortunately, that has meant running an extra wire - from projectors's 12 volt trigger (when they have one), to the screen. Usually a separate path than your other wiring, and therefore, often expensive and inconvenient, if practical at all.
The easy solution, becoming more popular, such as Elite has done, is to make their screens easier to control Elites solution over the year was to add both an IR remote, and an RF remote, both which work. This is great if you are willing to pick up another remote. Or, if you have a good programmable remote, you could easily program in the screen functions into your universal remote.
Cleverly, however, Visual Apex has gone a different route, and I am impressed. Now I don't follow the screen manufacturers all that closely, so I realize they probably aren't the first to offer aWireless 12 volt trigger, but it is the first one I've encountered. Allow me to explain what they've done.
The Vapex screens, offer you a dongle, you set up the dongle (with provided tool), and when done, you remove part of it, and simply plug it into the wired 12 volt trigger on the back of any projector that has one. Basically, when the projector sends out the 12 volt signal, to drop the screen, the powered jack activates the dongle, which wirelessly talks to the screen and gives it the screen down command... Same for closing it.
Since normal function is for the screen to go up or down with the powering up, or down of the projector, this would seem to be both logical, and a simple solution.
We haven't received one of these screens, but well take, for now, Visual Apex'es word that it works as advertised. As they've been offering these screens for months. If it didn't work as advertised, I would think that word would be out about problems on the forums, our blogs, etc.
So basically, VA's solution is simpler, and cleaner than providing a stand alone remote control. In Elite Screen's case, btw, they provide the two different types of remotes, because folks would normally prefer RF (no accurate pointing required), but otherwise, the IR features can be plugged into that universal IR remote.
With a simple wireless screen trigger, you get the results you want, without the extra remotes. Pretty elegant. Doesn't do everything, but it can even control the amount of black drop at the top of the screen, that comes down. That's pretty important.
Which reminds us, Visual Apex likes to point out that their screens do come with 18 inches of drop (that you can adjust), more than the usual 6 - 12 inches provided by most screen manufacturers. They also allow you to control that drop precisely (with their tool adjustment, and a small bit of trial and error), which is very important. With many companies, you'll pay some extra for the extra drop, and that can amount two $Hundreds.
When comparing prices, also remember to compare apples to apples. Da-lite (on their motorized screens) charges optionally to have them equipped with a 12 volt trigger - the base models normally are dropped by a wall switch.
So, what do we have when all is considered? First I must take a leap of faith, since I passed on bringing in the screen for a full review. And that is, that their motorized screen surface behaves like their fixed wall screen that Mike worked with. Based on talking with VA, they tell me that we can expect the same results (color wise, gain, etc.) With that assumed, what you get with the Vapex motorized and tensioned screen is a good pretty neutral gain screen, that prices out competitively with other asian made screens, and perhaps a bit lower.
A quick comparison:
Vapex 106" motorized Tensioned $799 (includes wireless 12 volt trigger), 3 year warranty, 1.1 gain
Elite Screens 106" motorized Tensioned: $867 (includes two remotes), 2 year warranty, 1.1 gain
Da-lite - who makes their screens in the US, is a good deal more expensive:
Da-lite 106" NON-Tensioned 1.1 gain screen: $751 - (has wall switch), no wireless 12 volt trigger, 12 volt trigger optional.
Da-lite Contour Tensioned 106" motorized: 1.1 gain: $1876, (12 volt trigger optional)
As you can see, the VA screen is definitely price competitive with a "big name" asian made brand like Elite, and still a fraction the price of a well known - good value - major US manufacturer like Da-lite, nevermind some really expensive screens such as those from Stewart or Screen Innovations.
Is the Vapex screen the right choice for you? You'll have to decide. For openers, you are a bit more limited in your choices -with only four screen sizes from 92" to 120" on their motorized screens. You'll have more size choices from the competition.
The other big thing, of course, is the screen surface. The Vapex screen is 1.1 gain, and while that's the most typical out there, many prefer a bit more gain - 1.3 - 1.5 from other brands for more brightness, with minimal sacrifice of viewing area...
The other thing that is obviously missing from your choices in the Vapex line-up, is the lack of a High Contrast gray, as well as HC white surfaces. As many of you know, I'm a big fan of HC gray screens to match many rooms. If that's what is called for, sure, look to Elite, or other affordable brands as your budget allows, who do offer.
Bottom Line on Visual Apex's recently launched motorized tensioned screens. It comes down to this; by most measures, the Vapex screens are aggressively priced, probably in most sizes they offer, no doubt price comparable to any nationally known brands that build overseas. Of course you can only get them from Visual Apex, not the competition. One or two other major online resellers may offer their own lines as well. I'm not aware of any, though at the moment. So, bottom line, you'll be able to find similar screens elsewhere, often for a bit more money, but if the Vapex screen makes the most sense to you, you'll be buying from VA. That's likely an advantage price wise if buying a screen with a projector and other goodies, but, if you are shopping from VA's competition, most likely they will be able to bundle some relatively similar screen (be it Elite or someone else), at least in the general price range.
The Vapex screens appear to be great values, if they have what you need in your size, and gain.
The 106" Vapex, however, offers a limited selection. Most notably missing are two things - potential deal breakers:
a) more sizes - 92" 100", 106" and 120" leaves a few holes in the line-up. Most notably, the very popular 110" diagonal sized screen, is absent - that size is oft considered a "large" medium sized screen, or perhaps the "smallest" large size screen by many. Many manufacturers offer screens in every inch increment, or at least every 6 inches.
b) Lack of more screen surfaces - most notably lack of a high contast gray surface, and secondarily lack of a slightly brighter 1.3 to 1.5 gain screen.
Ultimately though, based on Mike's liking the original 106" fixed screen he reviewed, and that this screen offers the same material, you would have to consider that if one of VA's four size options for the tensioned screens works for you , then they should be seriously considered, as Vapex screens would seem to offer very good value, and a nice, longer warranty, than a lot of other lower cost screens.
If these Vapex tensioned screens fit your requirements, you'll be hard pressed to do better price wise, but, don't buy the wrong screen to save a few bucks. Their four models probably meet the needs a a goodly portion of 16:9 screen users, but without the high contrast grey screen in the lineup, and the limited choices of sizes and aspect ratios, Vapex screens won't be for everyone.
Choose wisely. I hope this sheds a little light. Perhaps more on screens in general, than the Vapex screen in particular. Please refer back to Mike's original Vapex 106 review for comments about the overall image performance of the screen itself.
Finally, let's just put it this way, if you are shopping Visual Apex, and they pitch you on a Vapex screen for your projector, keep in mind, if it's the right screen for your room, and types of viewing, it should prove to be an extremely good value.
On the other hand, if you are comfortable plunking down $5K+ for a projector, I would have to say, that there are better screens out there, and you should be considering screens that are ideal for your situation if budget allows.
Just keep in mind that a good screen, that fits your needs, can outlast several projectors for an enthusiast who upgrades their projector every few years... Got it? -art