My search for a new front projection screen

December 6, 2004

screen_choiceI initially had the feeling I’d bitten off more than I could chew with this review. Possibly due to the fact I would likely purchase whatever screen I felt was better, and that picking a screen in some regards is harder than picking the projector it’s self. Not being one to admit defeat easily, I plowed on and came up with my choice for a new screen. I say ‘my choice’ to stress that picking a front projection screen is somewhat of a taste preference, not an absolute science. Many of the screens on the market today are compromises, and can’t be nailed down to a simple ‘better’ or ‘worse’.

Before I get started I want to provide a few disclaimers and warnings are in order. A lot of what I’ll say in this review is subjective to my room and projector. The room a screen is to be installed in makes a huge difference in how the projected video will appear, for example a high-contrast grey screen paired with a projector capable of high light output and deep blacks in a dark room, is a waste. The real purpose of a grey screen is to offer better black levels in one of two situations, either with a good projector in a room with ambient light or paired to a projector with less than stellar black level reproduction. Since my projector (InFocus 4805) doesn’t suffer form poor black levels and I do 95% of my viewing after nightfall, a grey screen wasn’t really in the cards here, but I did test two samples just for the sake of sharing my impressions.


One more warning to those in search of a new screen, screenshots are worthless for objectively determining how something will ‘look’. I’ll explain in a second, but they are useful for comparing images side by side, if and only if the shot you’re looking at has roughly 50% illumination, or in other words ‘enough light’ on the screen to actually show you something. The reason why screen shots from most digital cameras are almost useless in comparing images, on screen from a front projector, is the fact that almost all digital cameras ‘create’ black in near black situations. By this I mean that if a digital camera ‘sees’ a section of what appears to be very close to absolute black, it will render it as so, where of course the human eye wouldn’t.

In one particular screen shot I’d taken from ‘Moulin Rouge’ several actors in black tuxedos have their backs to the screen and one actor’s arm spanned from the Carada’s grey sample over to the Da-Lite’s high contrast grey section. It was clearly evident the Carada reproduced the tux with a darker black (the Da-Lite was ever so much lighter) but when I downloaded the images and looked at them, both screen sections looked identical. So take random screenshots of front projection displays with a grain of salt, you’re likely only seeing a representation of the image, not the gospel truth of what was really on the screen. Yes I have included some screen shots for this review, but only ones I feel represent what I actually saw during the course of the review.

Background:

Alright, first off a little background as to my viewing environment for comparisons sake. My room is painted white, gold and burgundy, (yes I know I’m a weirdo) but believe it or not I don’t live in a home theater cocoon venturing out only to get supplies. It’s a real world environment and to be honest I’m too lazy to repaint. We do most of our viewing at night and reflected ambient light is minimal. In addition, we have no other light sources on, in the room while watching the projector. I can get the room to near total darkness with a few blinds and turning off of other unused equipment. As a matter of fact, my light meter reports a foot-candle measurement of 0.018, with the projector off. That’s pretty damn dark. So like I stated before, this combined with the fact the SP 4805 has decent black levels, I wasn’t really a candidate for a grey screen. DVDs used for this review were ‘Moulin Rouge’ (Double Disc set) for it’s brilliant colors, ‘Ice Age’ (2 Disc Edition) for the crisp whites and excellent contrast, and ‘Hollow Man’ (Super Bit) for it’s overall picture quality. So with the screen samples from Carada: ‘Classic Cinema White’ (gain of 1.0), ‘Brilliant White’ (gain of 1.4) and ‘High Contrast Grey’ (gain of 0.8) as well as a Da-Lite Permwall custom screen with ‘Da-Mat’ (1.0 gain), ‘Cinema Vision’ (1.3 gain) and ‘High Contrast Cinema Vision’ HCCV (1.1 gain) side by side, I was off and running.

Review:
I started off in the middle of the afternoon to test out the grey materials. Let me share a little insight with you as to whether you’ll be able to watch a front projection display in the middle of the afternoon, with high ambient light in the room. Grey screen or otherwise, you won’t. Until Sony or alike releases their ‘black’ screens next year or some other revolutionary technology makes it’s way to the home theater world, daytime front projection viewing with full on sunlight in the room is a fallacy, as the below screen shot will illustrate (a). Now what these high contrast screens can provide is a ‘stretching’ or ‘extending’ of your viewing times, say up to and including late afternoon (if you have ambient light issues) or if you have minimal ambient lighting that doesn’t increase much as the day goes on, as the other screenshot will illustrate (b).

[(a) click to enlarge]
                                 [(b) click to enlarge]

iceage_carada_color_2pmiceage_carada_color_5pm

 

Once the light started to minimize I caught my first real glimpse of what the different screen materials provided. Around 5pm I measured roughly 3.3 foot-candles on my light meter and decided this should be fine for some casual viewing on a grey screen. I popped in ‘Ice Age’ and let her rip. I found, obviously, that the grey screen samples provided good black level and reasonable color reproduction with a moderate amount of light still in the room. Hey this was fun, I could almost watch a movie before dark. Looking closer I did find that the Carada grey sample was a good bit darker, to the point my projector couldnt keep up with the required light-output, at this time of day at least. As you can see in the screen shot below, the Carada seemed dim compared to the Da-Lite. Throughout the entire range of tests I found the Carada samples to be darker, regardless of what the material was. The Da-Lite samples on the other hand were somewhat brighter, even the HCCV (grey) sample. Now by darker don’t take that to necessarily mean ‘worse’, just that across the board the Carada samples were dimmer than the Da-Lite’s.

[click to enlarge]
                                 [click to enlarge]

iceage_carada_color_6pmiceage_carada_color_dark

 

However, I felt that for most applications I’ve encountered the Carada High Contrast Grey would have been too dark for all but the most demanding ambient light specific applications. (as can be seen above). In a conversation with David Giles of Carada he stated: “The High Contrast Grey does need a brighter projector for a given size screen. But you can’t really put a number on the lumens required unless the size of the screen is specified. In other words, with an 88″ diagonal screen, 450 lumens would give you a nice 15.6 footlamberts, which is right at the recommended level for home theater. But with a 110″ diagonal screen, you’d need 700 lumens to get the same brightness as the 88″ screen.”

The Da-Lite HCCV on the other hand seemed a little brighter while offering good black level, and therefore offered a slightly more pleasing color palette. This however does come with a small price; the HCCV has sparkly sheen due to the positive gain of the material. This ‘sparkle’ is somewhat reminiscent of older rear-projection sets that had an odd look to them if you moved off-axis. This effect didn’t make the image unpleasant just a little distracting in some scenes. I feel that the Da-Lite HCCV would be a good choice for those wanting to try out a high-contrast grey screen, but aren’t hindered by severe ambient light control issues. I do feel that Carada’s High-Contrast grey screen offers deeper blacks but, as previously mentioned, at a relative loss in brightness. Only your tastes and setup can determine if those deep blacks are worth the loss in brightness.

So getting down to the real nitty gritty, that is night-time viewing I put in ‘Moulin Rouge’ and started searching for some nice scenes to compare the material samples from each manufacturer. During the opening ‘fantasy’ sequence I started noticing some differences with the 1.0 gain matte materials. The Carada 1.0 gain (Classic White) seemed to offer a little darker blacks but the Da-Mat material wasn’t far behind, offering arguably a better image (a) if the brightness of whites is a major concern. Throughout the majority of the review I wavered back and forth as to which I actually preferred. But for the most part the Carada samples produced a pleasant image with slightly deeper blacks while Da-Lite’s screen materials were brighter. It seemed to be somewhat of a tradeoff, so I kept searching for more scenes to gauge this by.

One reoccurring trend I noticed during my viewing was that Carada’s ‘Brilliant White’ seemed to offer a little more clarity and punch (b) for lack of a better term and it seemed to have the right combination of brightness and black level. While the Da-lite Da-Mat was somewhat brighter than Carada’s counterpart Classic Cinema White’, as can been seen in the screenshots below. Another factor I saw from time to time was color saturation or ‘deepness’ from the Carada Classic White, as can be seen below. The red on the left hand side of the drapery just seemed a tad more lush and pleasing to the eye.

[ (a) click to enlarge]
                                 [click to enlarge]

fantasyiceage_carada_color_6pm

 

[click to enlarge]
                                 [ (b) click to enlarge]

rouge_colorblack_on_carada_classic

 

Not wanting to spend the majority of my time with one disc, I moved onto ‘Hollow Man’. Again I found myself liking the Carada ‘Brilliant White’ for it’s combination of brightness and black level reproduction, as well as that ‘clarity’ I’d seen in several other shots. Whereas Da-Lite’s ‘Pearlescent’ material was indeed brighter, I felt like I was getting a less than accurate color representation of color. It was nothing dramatic, just a slight lean into the yellow spectrum.

[click to enlarge]
                                 [click to enlarge]

carada_hollow_clarityiceage_carada_color_6pm

 

Recommendations:

I feel like I’ve made up my mind, but this has been an extremely difficult review thus far. Picking a screen from samples might sound easy, but if you ever try it you’ll quickly realize that finding that ‘perfect’ scene that just happens to align with where you’ve arranged the samples in your projection area is no easy task. That said I was able to finally come up with some conclusions.

As to the Matte Whites or (1.0 gain’s), as I alluded to before, this was a toss up in my book, as the Carada was slightly darker it displayed deeper blacks, while the Da-Lite rendered brighter whites. Of these two screen materials I’d have to leave this one up to personal preference, as I saw the smallest appreciable difference in the two, although I have to admit to being partial to really deep blacks.

For the bright-whites, the Carada Brilliant White (1.4 gain) and Da-Lite’s (1.3 gain) Cinema Vision proved to be an easier task of choosing. I really liked the Carada Brilliant White and, as can be seen in several of the screenshots, it not only reproduced convincing black levels but was one of the brighter screen materials sampled as well. More often than not when I tired of reviewing and wandered off into the movie I found myself watching the Carada Brilliant White section.

On to the Grey screens, this again was a relatively easy one. The Da-Lite HCCV was my favorite here, even with the slight shimmer from the high gain. I favored it over the Carada which, in my opinion, was just to dark for decent white reproduction in my setup. The HCCV looked to my eyes at least, an acceptable tradeoff between good black level and bright images in a real world environment.

Special thanks to both Matt Teevan of Da-Lite and David Giles from Carada, for making this review possible. It’s no coincidence I picked these two companies for the review, given the fact that a budget projector was used for testing and both companies offer some of the best buys in front projection screens around. I felt it was a prefect match. I can tell you from personal experience both Carada and Da-Lite offer excellent assistance pre-sale and technical support afterwards. You won’t be disappointed with either company’s product, with just a little homework ahead of time.

the_end

Manufacturer’s websites:
Carada Projection Screens
Da-Lite Projection Screens



Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Projection Screen's


Comments

  • finishdish

    Looks like fun. Thanks for posting your research. Hope you enjoy your new screen.

  • finishdish

    Looks like fun. Thanks for posting your research. Hope you enjoy your new screen.