Grey vs White Projector Screens: Which One Should You Use?

Figure out which color works for your setup

When you're setting up a projector for an actual home theater, you'll need someplace for the movies to show up. A plain wall might be good enough, but a screen can take the experience up several levels. You have two main options for a standalone screen: grey and white. Both have strengths and weaknesses, and which one you go with depends on your hardware, room, and the kind of picture you want.

A drive-in movie theater

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What to Know About Grey Screens for Projectors

Grey projector screens are newer technology; they first entered the market in 2001. The main advantage of a grey screen over a white one is that the darker color absorbs more light. This feature maintains a better contrast (the difference between white and black) in the picture. Black projected onto gray will also be less bright than on white, which makes the darks darker and can create a better image under most circumstances.

That leads to the other significant benefit of a grey screen: Generally speaking, it's easier to get a great picture with one. The screen's ability to grab more light doesn't just apply to the beam from your projector. It also reflects less of the light within your room. You don't have to worry about turning off all the lamps or overhead bulbs or investing in blackout curtains to stop sunlight from affecting your picture. The screen is immune to other sources, and you'll get a great picture even if the room isn't completely dark.

All About White Screens for Projectors

White screens are generally more available and easier to find than grey ones. That isn't to say grey ones are hard to find, but more companies make white screens, so you'll probably have more options.

This older screen technology also reflects more light, affecting the picture. A white surface can decrease the contrast of the projected image in all but the most high-end projectors. Newer hardware has better contrast built-in, which can compensate for some of the shortcomings of a white screen and its reflectivity.

A white screen outdoes a grey one in a room with absolute light control. In a space with no other light sources, including nothing coming in from a window or doorway, you'll want a white screen. In an otherwise dark room, a white screen creates a brighter, sharper image than a grey one, which is why you still see this color in movie theaters.

So What's the Best Color for Your Projector Screen?

Generally speaking, grey and white projector screens cost about the same and come in a variety of sizes, so the one you choose depends on what they bring to (or take away from) the projected image.

Unless you've designed a room specifically to serve as a movie theater (or decked one out with blackout curtains, dark paint on the walls, and interior lights you can easily switch off), a gray screen will probably serve you better. Its increased light absorption will give you greater contrast and, therefore, a better picture.

For a completely dark space, however, you'll want to go with white. Its reflectivity in these circumstances becomes a benefit by creating a brighter, sharper image. The less ambient light you have in the room, the less the advantages of a gray screen matter.

Newer projectors can make which screen color you choose irrelevant. Devices that can project an image with a contrast of 15,000:1 will look great almost regardless of what you show the movie on. For a lower-end projector, however, you'll likely want to go with grey to save some extra work.

  • How do you clean a white projector screen?

    To clean a projector screen, put on latex gloves and gently use a dry microfiber cloth in short, left/right, or up/down motions or canned air to remove loose dust and other particles. If there are still particles on the screen, use masking tape wrapped around your hand, a foam brush, or a large soft eraser and dab the particle to remove it. If you need to continue, use a cloth dampened with warm water and a small amount of mild detergent to gently wipe small sections of the screen.

  • Which side is up on a grey projector screen?

    A projector screen has two sides: A shiny side and a dull side. The shiny side should face the wall, and the dull or matte side should face the projector.

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