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Topic: FAQ's - Projection Screens - Read First
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Joined: Mar 28, 2005
Posts: 12,219
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1. What size screen should I get?
2. What does gain mean?
3. Should I get a white or a grey screen?
4. What brand should I get?
5. Can I make a screen myself?
6. More info on making screens yourself!
7. Why should I never buy a roll up screen?
8. What format (aspect ratio) should my screen be?
9. What is screen masking or a masking system?

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1. What size screen should I get?

There is no set rule on this and personal opinions are all over the place, but THX Laboratories has come up with general rules that help commercial movie theaters design their seating and screen size. It basically boils down to this: The primary seating (center of the theater) should be about 1.5x the screen width (not screen diagonal).

In home theater, this goes a step further to require that both the projector, and the viewing material are HD in nature. So, at least a 1280x720 projector feeding it HDTV, not DVD.

If you are viewing something less than it is recommended that you back up a bit, but this really becomes more and more an opinion issue and you begin to trade off size to gain quality. Which is not the reason you got the killer projector in the first place!

Link to projection calculator - best I've seen - THX Projection Calculator

Some people make the claim that they don't see screen door when they get 1.0x the screen width so they can sit that close. Please understand, THX standards are not resolution based. They are determined as a way for viewers to comfortably see the movie screen without their eyes getting tired or developing headaches. Bigger is not always better. Plus, you should understand that encoding artifacts for HDTV are visible from 1.5x screen width and become more and more pronounced as you get closer and closer to the screen.

Good reading:
Projector Central Screens Shootout

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2. What does gain mean?

Screen gain is a measurement of the amount of light that is reflected back towards viewers eyes. With 1.0 being considered no gain - or neutral gain, anything above that reflects more light to your eyes, anything less reflects less light towards your eyes. By chosing a screen with higher gain, it can help a dim image appear brighter, or allow you to go to a larger screen size than you might normally want.

But, there are things (as always) that must be considered. So, do some good reading...

Good reading:
Projector Central Screen Gain Article

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AV Integrated - Theater, whole house audio, and technology consultation during the build and installation process in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.
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3. Should I get a white or a grey screen?

This is a question that is under a lot of debate by a lot of people and the bottom line answer is: It depends. If you are combatting ambient light in the room from windows or lights that fall directly on the screen, then a grey, or even a new 'black' screen may be appropriate. But, if your room is a dedicated theater with dark furniture, walls, and carpet, then a white screen may be perfect.

White screens typically look brighter to viewers and even in a bright room the white screens may be more pleasing for some peoople who just don't like the look of grey screens.

Good reading:
Projector Central Grey or White?

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4. What brand should I get?

This site lists about 30 screen manufacturers here:
http://www.projectorcentral.com/mfg.cfm

Of these, none are notably bad. Some may be a bit better, but you may end up paying a lot more for them. There is zero official endorsement that I am aware of by Projector Central for specific manufacturers.

Yes, yes, but what is a good deal?
I would take a close look at the following...
Carada - http://www.carada.com
Severtson - http://www.projectorpackages.com (you must call them)
Saaria - http://www.saaria.com - new player, but great pricing on tab-tensioned electric screens.

Do it yourself is the BEST deal and Goo Systems can give you thousand dollar results for a couple hundred bucks.

Good reading:
Projector Central Screens Shootout

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5. Can I make a screen myself?

Yes, in fact a screen you make yourself can easily be comparible to the $1,000+ screens you buy from major manufacturers. But, when you make one you begin to realize that it is a fairly labor intensive task. You may spend 4-20 hours making a screen yourself and getting it exactly how you want it.

The big benefit to this is that you can make a screen for anywhere from about $20.00 to around $300.00 for a large one. This is far less than pre-manufactured screens will run.

Good reading:
See next response!

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AV Integrated - Theater, whole house audio, and technology consultation during the build and installation process in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.
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Joined: Mar 28, 2005
Posts: 12,219
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6. More info on making screens yourself!

There is no question that the best place to find out about making a screen yourself exists within the FAQs over at AVS Forum. So, hopefully they won't mind this link:
AVS Forum FAQs

Is it better to paint a screen or use a fabric like blackout cloth to make a screen? I think this is personal opinion and both produce similarly excellent results.

Painted screens require a smooth surface and some people say 'just use your wall' - but the wall should be VERY flat, which most walls aren't. So, a paintable surface like gatorboard or doable board (see avsforum link) may be a good way to go. But, if you aren't comfortable with painting or need/want some flexibility with screen placement, a fabric screen may be a better choice. Also, remember that there are about 1,000 different do it yourself screen paint forumlas, none of which can truly be called 'the best'. Opinions vary wildly on what is even good.

Fabric screens typically involve a material to be projected onto that have been stretched around a frame, similar to an artists canvas. Heck, some people have used artist canvases. Blackout cloth, is available in most fabric stores and is actually a white cloth used as a backing on curtains to keep light from coming through. About the heaviest weight should be purchased and if you let the fabric store know you want it for a home theater screen, they often can tell you exactly which material you should purchase. The best frame tutorial and how to stretch the screen is, in my opinion, here:
Eldemar DIY Screen
I would add screws and steel angle brackets to help make this screen frame even stronger.
I have heard complaints of screen sagging, but question whether the frame was properly braced as a year after 20+ pounds of pressure on a poorly built frame will cause some issues for sure.

This is the framing of a screen I made which used screws and angle brackets with horizontal bracing and diagonal bracing:
HERE
You can see the material looks very wrinkled, but this goes away when the material is stretched onto the frame.Finished Product

Good reading:
AVS Forum DIY Screen Forums

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7. Why should I never buy a roll up screen?

This is not entirely a complete statement or question. You should never buy a manual, or electric, roll up screen that is not tab-tensioned. This is because those screens develop waves in the fabric over time - like within a year. This is very visible and detracting from the image. It is annoying on a screen you pay $200.00 for. But, when you spend $1,000 or more on an electric screen, and this problem occurs, it will really drive you nuts.

Excellent example of waves on a roll up screen!

Tab-tensioned roll up screens can be very expensive, which is why you may want to take a look at Saaria screens who offer some very inexpensive tab-tensioned screens. Unfortunately, I have not read any reviews of Saaria screens at this time. They may be removed as a possibility if reports show them to provide poor quality product.

Good reading:
Nothing yet...

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[Edited by AV_Integrated on Jul 25, 2010 at 7:59 PM]
AV Integrated - Theater, whole house audio, and technology consultation during the build and installation process in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.
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Joined: Mar 28, 2005
Posts: 12,219
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8. What format (aspect ratio) should my screen be?

Your screen should always match the native aspect ratio of your projector unless there are special circumstances.

So, if you own a 16:9 projector, as in the case with 90%+ of home theaters, then you want a 16:9 screen. 16:9 screens are sometimes referred to as HDTV format or 1.78:1 format. This allows the projector to fill the screen from edge to edge, corner to corner, with video, as it was designed to do.

Extenuating circumstances?

You have a 4:3 projector that you know you will be upgrading to a HD projector in a year or two. Might be best to go ahead and invest in a decent 16:9 screen instead of having to buy a new projector AND a new screen a couple years down the road.

You are setting things up for 2.35 aspect ratio films. This requires special processing to achieve this wide format which many films are shot in. The processing is built into some projectors, like the Panasonic AE900, and can give good results when filling the screen with a 2.35 film. But, most people choose not to go this route. It is personal preference, but not the way I would suggest unless you use screen masking.

Good reading:
Nothing yet.

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9. What is screen masking or a masking system?

A masking system allows for adjustment of the black frame on your screen.

Most screens come with a 1 inch to 4 inch black border around the video which helps to frame the image and increase perceived contrast ratio. It also catches any stray optical problems with the lens/image. Unfortunately, many films on DVD won't match your screen.

Let's say your screen is 16:9 format (1.78:1 or HDTV)
You watch a widescreen DVD which is original to a film at 2.35:1.

This will produce black bars above and below the image on your screen! This is perfectly normal, but is annoying to some people. It can take a bit away from the final presentation.

A masking system will allow you to bring a black border right to the edge of the actual image you are projecting. 2-way masking allows you adjust the sides inward, to convert from 16:9 to 4:3 or similar, or the top & bottoms of the border up and down to match widescreen DVDs. A 4-way masking system allows both horizontal and vertical adjustment of the borders. This gives you a nice black border around your screen no matter what the actual size of the video that is being preseneted is.

Many good screen manufacturers offer motorized or manual masking systems - and most are fairly expensive. There is one that I have seen that seems to be very reasonably priced.

http://www.htiq.com/ - Very limited sizes, but extremely reasonable pricing!

Good reading:
Nothing yet.
[Edited by AV_Integrated on Dec 31, 2006 at 12:12 AM]
AV Integrated - Theater, whole house audio, and technology consultation during the build and installation process in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.
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