Video Projection Screens: What You Need to Know

Screen Innovations Black Diamond Screen

Screen Innovations

When considering the purchase of a video projector, unlike a TV in which the screen is already built-in, you need to also purchase a separate screen in order to see your images.

The type of screen that will work best depends on the projector to be used, the viewing angle, the amount of ambient light in the room, and the distance of the projector from the screen. The rest of this article outlines what you need to know before purchasing a video projection screen for your home theater.

Room Characteristics

Before purchasing a video projector and screen, take a good look at the room you will be placing the video projector and screen in. Is the room of sufficient size to project a large image on the wall area where you intend to place your screen? Check for ambient light sources, such as windows, french doors, or other factors that would prevent the room from being dark enough for a good video projection experience.

On the video projector side, here are some additional references that provide tips on what to take into consideration that will affect placement and performance in relation to a video projection screen:

Here are some additional things to consider when setting up a video projector and screen in both an indoor or outdoor setting:

Projection/Screen Distance, Seating Position, and Screen Size

The type of lens used by the projector, as well as the projector-to-screen distance, determines how large an image can be projected on the screen, while the viewer seating position determines the optimum viewing distance. The lens type of the video projector being considered also determines how large an image can be projected from a given distance. This is referred to as a projector's Throw Ratio. Some projectors require a large distance, while others can be placed very close to the screen.

User manuals include specific charts and diagrams that show what size image a projector can produce, given a specific distance from the screen. Some manufacturers also provide this same information on their websites (check the Panasonic example below), which can be consulted before purchasing a video projector.

Screen Aspect Ratio: 4x3 or 16x9

Due to the popularity of widescreen content sources and display technologies such as DVD, HD/Ultra HD TV, and Blu-ray/Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc, the trend in video projection screens also mirrors the trend with the use of the 16x9 screen aspect ratio.

This type of screen design accommodates widescreen programming display on all, or most, of the actual screen surface area, while the 4x3 design will result in a larger unused screen surface area when viewing widescreen programming. However, the 4x3 design will allow the projection of a much larger 4x3 image, which would fill the entire screen surface.

Also, some screens are available in very wide 2.35:1 aspect ratio and some screens designed for custom installation use can be "masked off" to display a 4x3, 16x9, and 2.35:1 Aspect ratio.

It is also important to point out that most video projectors designated as Home Theater or Home Cinema Projectors project a native 16x9 aspect ratio image. However, they can be configured for 4x3 display, and, in some cases, can also be configured for a wider 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

Front Projection or Rear Projection

Most Video projectors can be configured to project an image from either the front or rear of the screen. Front projection is the most common, and the easiest to set up. If you need or want to place your projector close to screen, or you prefer to project the image onto the screen from the rear, it is advisable to get a video projector that can project a large image at a short distance (short throw projector). An example of a Short Throw projector is the BenQ HT2150ST - Review

Permanent Screens

There are several types of screen installation options. If you are planning to construct or use a room as a dedicated home theater room, you have the option of installing a screen on the wall permanently. These types of screens are usually referred to as "Fixed Frame" as the actual screen surface material is placed within a solid wood, metal, or plastic frame so that it is always exposed and cannot be rolled up. In this type of screen installation, it is common to also install curtains in front of the screen to hide and protect the screen surface when not in use. This type of screen installation is also the most expensive.

Pull Down Screens

A second option that allows more room use flexibility for other purposes, besides home theater, is a Pull Down screen. A pull-down screen can be semi-permanently mounted on a wall and can be pulled down when in use and then raised up into a protective housing when not in use. This way you can still have other items on the wall, such as paintings or other decorations, when not viewing the video projector. When the screen is pulled down, it simply covers the permanent wall decorations. Some screens allow the screen case to be mounted in the ceiling instead of having to be mounted on the wall externally.

Portable Screens

The least expensive option is the totally portable screen. One advantage of a portable screen is that you can set it up in different rooms, or even outdoors if your projector is also portable. The drawback is that you have to do more adjusting of the screen and the projector every time you set it up. Portable screens may come in other pull-up, pull-down, or pull-out configurations.

One example of a popular portable screen is the Epson EPSELPSC80 Duet.

Screen Material, Gain, Viewing Angle

Video projection screens are made to reflect as much light as possible to produce a bright image in a specific type of environment. To accomplish this, screens are made of various materials. The type of screen material used determines the Screen Gain and viewing angle characteristics of the screen.

Also, another type of projection screen in use is the Black Diamond from Screen Innovations. This type of screen actually has a black surface (analogous to black screens on TVs — however, the material is different). Although this seems counter-intuitive for a projection screen, the materials used actually allow projected images to be viewed in a brightly lit room. For more details, check out the Official Screen Innovations Black Diamond Product Page.

Using Your Wall

Although the above discussion centers on the need to use a screen to get the best image display experience when using a video projector, with some of today's higher-brightness projectors (projectors that can output 2,000 lumens light output or higher), you can opt to project images on a blank white wall, or cover your wall surface with a special paint that is designed to provide the right amount of light reflection.

Examples of screen paint are:

The Bottom Line

The above article provides the basic information you need to know before purchasing a video projection screen that covers most video projector setup needs.

However, unless you are going with a portable or non-permanent installation, it is advisable to also consult with a home theater dealer/installer that can come out to evaluate your room environment in order to assemble the projector/screen combination that will provide the best possible viewing experience for yourself and other viewers.