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  • Writer's pictureB. McDaniel

A Buyer's Guide for Projector Screens

You might think it's simple, but if you want to get it right, you need to consider a variety of things. So, we've created this guide to help you through the process!

So, you’ve decided that you want to buy a projector. If it’s your first time buying one, you may quickly realize that while there is a vast amount of information out there about which projector you should buy, the information about which projector screen is most compatible with the projector you’ve selected is incredibly limited. Keep reading, because we’re going to use this post to provide you with all that hard-to-find information!

First, it’s probably a good idea to explain what a projector screen is and why you need one vs. just projecting onto a plain white wall or a bed sheet. A projector screen is obviously the surface upon which your projector will display the images onto. The benefits of using one are as follows:

1. Higher Image Resolution: A good projector screen is specifically designed to show off your high-resolution projector’s full capability. Its true resolution is only visible to you when it is displayed on a surface that does not impede the integrity of the pixels. ANY surface that isn’t absolutely flat has the potential to distort the pixel’s geometry. You might not notice one distorted pixel, but you will definitely notice the lack of sharpness, clarity, and dynamics in the images being displayed.

2. Color Accuracy: A high quality projector screen is perfectly calibrated to have no color-shifting influence. You might think that white is white, and gray is gray, but that isn’t always the case. The spectrum of these colors can have instances of tinting where the white balance can shift more into yellows or blues. A calibrated projector screen won’t have that effect.

3. More (Or Less) Brightness: One big advantage to owning a high-quality projector screen is that the gain levels can be adjusted to enhance your viewing experience. You may want to brighten the image on a larger screen or make the black levels even more black. Being able to adjust and select different gain levels is what makes that possible.

4. Smooth Image: A great projector screen should be completely free of any kind of texture. This ensures that the displayed images will “pop” more, because there again, the pixels are not being distorted in any way. A smooth screen texture allows you to project images that are 4K resolution and beyond.

Maybe you think that a projector screen isn’t something you need? Check out all these places that a projector screen could be utilized. We’re willing to bet that your space fits into this list somewhere:

- Home Theatre, large OR small

- Large Venues (i.e., Conference Centers and Convention Halls)

- Business Conference Rooms

- Classrooms

- Churches/Houses of Worship

- Outdoor Theatre

- Concert Halls

Now, what do you need to know BEFORE buying a projector screen? Here’s a handy dandy checklist for you:

a. What type of projector do you have? This definitely influences the type of screen you should purchase. The size of the lens on your projector decides how large an image is displayed. The resolution of your projector is also important. For example, if you have a higher quality 4K projector, it likely won’t work on a basic matte finish screen. You would need to invest in a 4K projector screen to get the best quality images out of your projector. *Bonus recommendation: To future proof your investment, buy a screen whose supported resolution is HIGHER than that of your projector.

b. What kind of lighting is in the room you want to have the projector in? This is extremely important when deciding what type of material your screen should be made of. These screens are not only meant to reflect the light being sent from the projector, but also to use any ambient lighting in the room to achieve the best picture quality. For example, if you aren’t able to block out all of the outside light from the room, or your room has a lot of ambient light, you may want to consider an ambient light rejecting (ALR) projector screen.

c. How big is the room you want to put the projector in? In a larger room, it’s much easier to center seating to the front of the display so that your screen can reflect more light. However, in a smaller room where people may be more spread out and viewing at various angles, you want a screen that projects less light so that everyone watching is able to see the images clearly.

d. Where are you putting the projector screen?

1. Ceiling mounted projector screens descend or hang from the ceiling. They are a great choice for both businesses and home theatre because they simply look better than a free-standing tripod screen. The most popular type of ceiling mounted screen is a recessed screen that is housed in the ceiling, though this generally requires the assistance of a contractor or electrician to be mounted.

2. Wall mounted projector screens are permanently mounted to the wall. These are likely the most popular type of screen, as it turns the screen into the centerpiece of your room. Most of these wall mounted screens come in a fixed frame, meaning they are hung like a painting. That said, there are also some wall mounted projector screens that are retractable.

3. Outdoor screens are great whether you’re having a small family gathering or hosting a movie night in the park for your community. These screens come in a wide variety of sizes ranging from small to huge. If you want to watch movies outside, you need to be sure to get a screen that is made to be used outdoors so that it can withstand any weather that may occur. There are a few types to choose from:

A. Permanent outdoor screens

B. Portable outdoor screens

C. Inflatable outdoor screens

4. Tabletop projection screens are great for making a presentation on the road or at a convention. These are typically much smaller than their wall mounted counterparts.

Next up, let’s talk about the different types of screens!

1. Fixed Frame Projector Screens: These are arguably the most elite of all of the projector screens available. They cannot be rolled up or down as they are a permanent fixture in the room. One reason they are so popular is because they last longer than other types of screens because they aren’t constantly being rolled, folded, or handled. They also have the best picture quality because they have the widest variety of screen material to pick from.

2. Retractable Projector Screens: These come in three varieties:

a. Motorized – Operated via remote control, these screens are sleek and elegant. They are a popular choice for people who want to have a large screen that is semi-permanent.

b. Manual – These are an excellent alternative for those looking for a less expensive screen. They have a pulley at the bottom by which the user pulls the screen up and down. These are the screens you likely remember seeing in school. They can be tensioned or non-tensioned, but bear in mind that while less expensive, non-tensioned screens sometimes end up bending or folding due to wear and tear.

c. Floor-Rising – These are much more lightweight and simpler to take up and down compared to their more cumbersome counterpart, the tripod screen. They usually come in one piece and require no assembly. All you need to do is set up the feet on the display surface. Most of these come manual, but there are some models that come with a pneumatic version that allows you to lift the screen out of the base using a remote control.

3. Folding Frame Projector Screens: These are best for people who only sometimes need a display setup. Our best advice here is to not cheap out on a foldable screen. More expensive ones are made with impressive anti-crease technology. They are portable, durable, and easy to set up. When you’re done, you simply fold it up and store it away. Easy peasy!

4. Tripod Projector Screens: These are definitely the most popular of the portable screen types available. They come in two parts. Part one is the screen itself, and part two is the tripod stand that holds the screen up. Both are fairly lightweight, and generally will fold down into a small carrying case. These also tend to be the most cost efficient because they are meant to withstand more wear and tear than other portable screens. That said, these do not offer very good picture quality.

5. Whiteboards: Projection whiteboards are handy for office or classroom environments because their configuration allows for a person to draw and write directly onto the surface. They are specially finished to be paired with a projector and work much better for this purpose than a standard whiteboard, which is often too glossy and reflective for a projector.

6. Projector Screen Paint: This is a fantastic, newer alternative to an actual screen if cost is a factor. One gallon of projector screen paint can provide a surface area between 92” and 240” diagonal viewing. As we discussed earlier though, this is not going to provide you with very high-quality images due to pixel distortion. One option is to apply the paint to a smooth board and mount it that way vs. painting it directly onto the wall which may not be flat or may have texture.

Let’s move on to the types of material used for projector screens, and what those materials mean for your picture quality. Most of them are made from vinyl, high grade plastic, spandex, rubber, and polyester fabric. You can also find ones made using PVC, canvas, and fiberglass, but the best ones to have are made using vinyl or spandex. The material used can make all the difference in how well your image is displayed. Different materials have different textures, colors, and reflective properties. Regardless of the material used, the screen will be coated with magnesium carbonate, titanium dioxide, or barium sulfate. This enhances the visibility of the light and is directly related to the amount of light being reflected off of the surface. FUN FACT: This is where the phrase “the silver screen” comes from.

Screen Colors:

1. White – Best option for a room that is totally dark.

2. Gray – These tend to have ambient light rejecting properties which allows them to be used in the daylight.

3. Black – These also have ambient light rejecting properties, and it gives you the blackest of blacks on screen. The downside to a black screen is that the white levels tend to be less accurate.

Screen gain is another aspect of projector screens that you should have a basic understanding of. The screen works by reflecting the light coming from your projector back to your eyes. The brightness of said image is measured in units of “gain”, which gauges the reflectivity of that surface. The gain number represents the ratio of reflected light. A screen with a gain measurement over 1.0 infers that the image being projected back off of the surface is brighter than the image being projected AT the surface. For example, a screen with a gain of 1.5 will project the light back 1.5x brighter than what’s being projected at the screen. So, a 1,000-lumen projector aimed at a screen with 1.5 gain will appear to the viewer as 1,500 lumens. This is achieved by focusing the light into a more reflective angle. This is why higher gain screens have a smaller viewing angle. A screen with a gain measurement of .8 will reflect back at 80% brightness, so that same 1,000-lumen projector would be perceived as only 800 lumens. While you may think brighter is always better, consider that a projector screen with a lower gain has a wider viewing angle, and can help to bring out more vivid blacks.

Here are a few other types of projector screens that have special features:

A. Ambient Light Rejecting (ALR) Projector Screens: Any light source beyond your projector is going to cause some washing out of the image you see. ALR screens have a surface that prevents any ambient light from affecting your image. This is done by reflecting the light away from the source using microscopic sawtooth teeth. These types of screens are best utilized in multipurpose or living rooms where daytime TV watching normally occurs, and blackout curtains are not available.

B. Acoustically Transparent Projector Screens: These screens allow sound to pass through the material, which means speakers can be placed behind the screen. There are two types:

1. Woven – These use a porous surface (similar to a bed sheet) that allows the sound to pass through freely. The two biggest disadvantages to this type of screen are that you lose more light, and it does not render a 4K image because of the strange texture.

2. Perforated – These have very tiny holes all over the surface that allow sound waves to pass through. With this type of screen, you will lose less light than a woven screen, and it can render a 4K image.

C. Rear Projection Screens: These obviously require the projector to be positioned behind the screen and are partially translucent. These screens are always tensioned by default. The tensioning feature gets rid of occasional creasing, waviness, or other imperfections that you might see a non-tensioned screen have. Fixed frame screens are always tensioned. These tensioned screens are necessary for a 4K resolution or higher image.

D. Ultra Short Throw (UST) Projector Screens: These are designed to enhance the image from a UST Projector or Laser TV. This kind of projector uses a special wide-angle lens and mirrors to “throw” an image onto the screen from a very short distance. UST screens are ambient light rejecting. This setup should be used in a space where there is less room between where the projector sits and where the screen needs to be placed.

E. Curved Projector Screen: These have several benefits for a home theatre. The curved edge allows your peripheral vision to become more involved than a traditional flat screen.

So, what is the best brand to buy? Well, that is going to depend on a number of things, but if you’re looking for a high-quality screen for under $2000, check out our next post to see what we here at Home Theatre Concepts recommend! SPOILER ALERT: We love Dragonfly screens!

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