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Da-Lite Projection Screens for Home Theater

So you’ve decided on a fancy home theater projector. Now you need a screen. Seems simple, but what’s with all the fabrics?

Fortunately for good Home Theater viewing, there are a few good choices. Which fabric depends on the brightness of the projector, ambient light in the room, and the type of screen you’re looking for. The trick is to remember that every application is different. Personal preference is key. If you have any questions at all, contact your sales representative.

Screen Types and Fabrics

Da-Lite features several screen types for Home Theater -

1)  Permanent Wall Screens - For HT use, Da-Lite has a number of options. First are the permanent screens, like the Permwall and Cinema Contour. These screens mount on your wall like a picture frame. These screens have an advantage in that the best fabrics for HT are available at a reasonable cost. These fabrics are not self supporting and require the screen surface to be tensioned.

2)  Electric Screens -  These screens will lower and retract at the push of a button. The standard electric screens are non-tensioned. This means they can’t use tensioned fabrics, like the High Contrast Cinema Vision, as available on the permanent wall screens. The tensioned electric screens have a cabling system running the length of the fabric. The cabling provides even surface tension and retracts into the housing along with the screen fabric when it’s closed. These screens offer the best of both worlds – they’re unobtrusive, yet offer the highest picture quality available. The drawback is their expense. You could by 2 or 3 of the same size permanent screens, with the exact same fabric, for the cost of one tensioned electric screen.

3)  Manual Pull Downs – These screens are very like their non-tensioned electric cousins, without the motor of course. They have the same fabrics as the non-tensioned electric screens. Manual pull downs come in two flavors – with Controlled Screen Return (CSR) or without CSR. CSR adds a buffering mechanism to the screen, so it retracts slowly and evenly with a simple tug.

Aspect Ratio

Most content you’ll be enjoying on your new projector and screen will be widescreen – 16:9 or wider. Match your screen to your content. In other words, go widescreen 16:9. 4:3 is great for the office or classroom, but when was the last time you watched a 4:3 DVD? HD content is all 16:9. Most Xbox and PS2 games support 16:9. Plan ahead – everything will be 16:9 in the foreseeable future. It’s important to note that you should also get a native widescreen projector as well.

Fabric Types

You’ll see various numbers, particularly Gain and Viewing Angle. We generally recommend against a high gain for home theater– gain is a measure of how much light is reflected directly back at the projector. As a result, high gain screens are very directional, with significant picture quality drop off at even moderate viewing angles. Viewing angle is a measurement of the optimal viewing “cone”, or the angle where you should sit for optimal picture quality. The higher gain, the narrower the viewing angle. Lots of gain can also cause “hot-spotting”, a phenomenon where a part of the screen image is much brighter than other areas. This effect should be very rare, given the uniform light output of modern projectors.

A Word on High Contrast Fabrics

High contrast fabrics are grey in color. For Home Theater, we recommend high contrast fabrics for moderate and high output LCD and DLP projectors. HC fabrics are very good at making your blacks blacker, given the grey color of the screen material. This expands your actual contrast ratio, giving you better detail in the darker picture areas, as well as providing some insurance against ambient light. It’s important to balance screen size with your projector – too large a screen size (with HC fabrics) on a not-so-bright projector can darken the image significantly. In this case, opt instead for a non-HC fabric, like Cinema Vision or Matte White.

The Bottom Line

With few exceptions, the best overall choice is a High Contrast gray scale fabric. If you’re considering a tensioned screen, go with the Cinema Vision or High Contrast Cinema Vision. If you’re going for a bigger screen, say 120” and up, with a 800-1100 ANSI Lumen projector, consider instead the standard Matte White. The lighter fabric color will help the projector show a clean, bright image. Again, this only applies to larger screen sizes. More typical applications (92”-110”) still benefit from the darker fabric.

It’s my opinion that given the possibility of experiencing strange color effects with  DLP projectors and perforated fabrics, it’s best to mount your center channel speaker above or below the screen. Perforated fabrics have actual holes throughout the fabric. They’re small, but the hole pattern can cause moiré issues. LCD projectors are largely immune to this effect. It’s a different issue with LCD altogether - the holes can be visible, particularly on brighter images.

Gain can be your friend in certain circumstances. Narrow rooms with huge screens, where your head will be between the screen and projector (like in a table top application, for example), might benefit from a higher gain. It’s worth noting again that every application is a little different, and so deserves individual attention.

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