Projection Screen Material Test

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This is an old write-up and screen shots from some screen material testing I did back in February of 2000 when I built my home theater around the Sony VPL-VW10HT. I tested mostly product from Da-Lite but also a single sample from Stewart.

Please keep in mind that both companies now have many newer materials to offer.

After browsing the various forums and reading other people's comments, I was convinced I was going to want to order a matte white screen with no extra gain (just 1.0 or 1.1) since Sony's VPL-VW10HT projector is bright enough to use with ambient light in the room. However, I became very glad that I asked for sample screen material because I discovered one particular material from DA-LITE which I hadn't heard anyone talk about and I wasn't even interested in testing when I originally got the samples.

I put all of the material (except the rear projeciton only stuff) up on the wall. The results were very interesting indeed. I was initially thrilled to have found some material which really seemed to bring back the blacks with this projector without losing detail and without diminishing the bright scenes. Heck, it even seemed to bring out more definition and color in both bright and dark scenes. That magic material I thought I had was #4 in the table below -- the "DA-LITE Super Wonder Lite". Silly name... and my girlfriend thinks it looks like duct tape, but we both thought that its performance was wonderful with this projector.

Well, yes, "thought".... that is past tense. My initial tests were with a lot of ambient light. I don't have control over ambient light yet, so, later that same day, I discovered that in a darkened room the best material for my tastes was not so obvious. I began debating with myself over the matte white, low gain materials (#5 and #6) and "Super Wonder Lite" (#4).

I took a bunch of pictures with a digital camera of various scenes (bright outdoor, indoor, colorful, space scenes, etc) with both ambient light present and in a darkened room. As an aside, my theatre room has white walls and a low, white vaulted ceiling which doesn't help with contrast. If you want to improve the image you get, you might want to consider painting or covering your walls and ceilings with a darker color because it reduces the amount of light reflected off the screen onto the walls and back to the screen.

The following image shows the layout of the screen material on my wall during the tests. Hanging in the upper portion of the wall is a DA-LITE matte white screen (gain = 1.1) on loan from a friend. It's about 80 inches wide. On the sample images, you can see that I'm projecting a larger image than his screen. I'm projecting for the intended size of my screen which spreads the light output of the projector over a larger area. I was looking to go with a 96 inch wide fixed wall screen (about 110 inches diagonal in a 16:9 aspect ratio).

# material gain
1 DA-LITE Video Spectra 1.5
2 DA-LITE Glass Beaded 2.5
3 DA-LITE High Power 2.8
4 DA-LITE Super Wonder Lite 2.5*
5 DA-LITE Matte White 1.1
6 DA-LITE Da-Mat 1.1
7 DA-LITE Cinema Vision 1.3
8 DA-LITE Pearlescent 2.0
9 DA-LITE Dual Vision 1.0
10 Stewart Studio Tek 130 1.3
11 textured wall (mostly white)  

*Listed as 1.8 on DA-LITE's web page but marked 2.5 on their sample.

Screen Material Tests WITH Ambient Light

(Click on any image to view a larger version.)

I didn't crop this particular image above so that you can see how much ambient light there is in the room
by looking at the wall space below the image.

Notice how material #4 really presents deeper colors and blacks and yet can be just as bright as the matte white materials when the scene is supposed to be very bright. In fact, in both dim and bright scenes, you get more depth and detail from #4 than from the matte screens which can appear washed out. It's also surprising how much color can be brought out by material #4 in textures that otherwise appear to be just gray (look at the scene in the air duct). Best of all, compared to all the other materials, you get MUCH better blacks and more dramatic dark scenes with #4 -- at least with ambient light present. (See Darkened Room Tests further down this page.)

Material #4 is actually a high gain screen but it doesn't behave much like the other high gain screen samples when there's ambient light. For my tastes, the other high gain screen materials really are too much for this projector's output. Forget about blacks! The viewing cone is fairly narrow on some of these other materials and the image is not evenly presented from various viewing areas in the room. This is most apparent with #3, whose brightness drops off to the level of the matte white materials when viewing off center by about twenty-five degrees.

Remember what you're seeing here are images with lots of ambient light in the room -- hence the greatly reduced contrast or the "washed out" look. Keep scrolling to see how things look in a darkened room.

One caution if you get the samples from DA-LITE and want to test the "Super Wonder Lite" material: the orientation of the material matters a lot! It must be oriented with the grooves running vertically (up and down). If you let it hang so that the grooves are running horizontally, you'll find that the image is very dark when viewing on one side of the room, but not the other. When hung properly, the view is identical from left, center, and right. Funny that! Clearly this material is intended to be mounted with a particular orientation to direct the light towards the audience in one direction vertically (depending on whether your projector is floor or ceiling mounted) while, at the same time, providing an even image horizontally for everyone in the room. And I bet it helps to reduce reflected room light from the ceiling when the material is oriented properly. I also assume that DA-LITE will mount the material with the correct orientation as given by the screen's aspect ratio.

Screen Material Tests in a Darkened Room

(Click on any image to view a larger version.)

I didn't crop this particular image above so that you can see how much ambient light there is in the room
by looking at the wall space below the image.

Well, I *was* very excited about this "Super Wonder Lite" material but now, with no ambient light, I see that this material isn't perfect. It doesn't quite provide the same image from every angle. At certain angles within its suggested cone of usage (40 degrees), you can see a bit of shimmer and some high-gain lightness to the image as compared with the matte whites (#5 or #6). It also seemed to make the image a little blurry but then that turned out to be that the material wasn't stretched taut enough on the wall.

In a darkened room, this material #4 isn't nearly as dramatically different than the matte white -- so the blacks aren't dramatically better. Perhaps a little bit better, but not clearly so. Actually, at certain angles, #4 actually appears lighter than the matte whites -- this appears to be due to a bit of sheen reflected back.

Oh, by the way... have you noticed how gorgeous the color rendition is from this projector??? My, oh my....

(From much further above projector)

In this image, material #4 actually shows up lighter
than #5 (matte white).

(From slightly above projector, viewed direct-on)

Notice how different this image can look with each of the high gain materials (including #4) at different angles. Above is direct on, a couple feet above the projector. (My projector is on a table until I can arrange to get it mounted on my vaulted ceiling.) The image on the left below is taken at about 25 degrees to the left of the projector at normal height and the image to the right and below was taken about 20 degrees to the left but from below the screen, in front of the projector.

(From twenty-five degrees off-axis of projector)

(From below and twenty degrees off-axis of projector)

Even Larger Images

You can access even larger versions of all of these images by editing the URL you get from clicking on any of these images above. Just replace the "med" directory name with "large".

Enjoy! I hope these images are helpful!


# material gain notes
1 DA-LITE Video Spectra 1.5 reflects a bit of a sheen, not bad performance but not remarkable for this projector
2 DA-LITE Glass Beaded 2.5 emphasizes artifacts and noise, too bright for this projector, narrow viewing cone -- reflects back to projector
3 DA-LITE High Power 2.8 same issues as #2, only more so -- really bright -- "blown out"
4 DA-LITE Super Wonder Lite 2.5? reflects a bit of a sheen when room is dark, but enhances depth of blacks and colors when ambient light is present, produces really nice dark-skinned skin tones
5 DA-LITE Matte White 1.1 white appears a bit gray (not pure), can make colors seem a bit dull as compared to #6, skin tones appear a bit gray as well, but nice solid material -- probably really good for roll-up screens
6 DA-LITE Da-Mat 1.1 appears to display a purer white than #5, really nice light-skinned skin tones, but unsupported material seems a bit flimsy compared to #5 -- (Da-Lite says this is not a problem on fixed frames)
7 DA-LITE Cinema Vision 1.3 progressively brighter than #6 but not needed for this projector
8 DA-LITE Pearlescent 2.0 progressively brighter than #7 but not needed for this projector
9 DA-LITE Dual Vision 1.0 blurry! this material is intended to serve dual purposes -- it allows for both front and rear projection
10 Stewart Studio Tek 130 1.3 seems too bright for this projector -- doesn't help with depth of colors or blacks
11 textured wall (mostly white)   really not that bad!

Some of the difficulty in evaluating this screen material was the small sample sizes and trying to take into account the current position of the projector (on a table) versus where it will be (on the ceiling). I used a stool to try to check the view from well above the projector which should correspond to the view below once it is mounted.

Obviously, material #4 really caught my eye when I started testing these screen materials and I got really excited before seeing it perform in a very dark room. As a result, I was undecided. I was debating between materials #4 and #6 (and #5 was still in the back of my mind). I was thinking that #4 is a good choice if you want to provide an enhanced image under conditions with ambient light present, but I wasn't thrilled about that sheen that becomes apparent at certain angles in a dark room. But I was still considering it.

With material #6 (Da-Mat) I liked the very even and untarnished image it produced but couldn't help thinking about how it didn't do anything to enhance the black level of this projector. And since #6 is an unsupported material, I was concerned about whether it would stretch over time and start to sag. (When I spoke with a Da-Lite representative, they said that this was not an issue. They claimed it would remain flat and taut when mounted properly to a fixed frame.)

Well, after all these tests, I spoke with a Da-Lite representative again with some questions about my three preferred materials... as a result, my choice was made for me:

The "Super Wonder Lite" (#4) material is NOT available on screen sizes greater than 70" in any direction (I was looking for about 110" diagonal) and it's only available with roll-ups: tripod or pull-down setups.

The "Matte White" (#5) material is NOT available on the fixed wall frames (Da-Snap or Perm-Wall). It's available only on pull-down and electric screens.

So, that left the "Da-Mat" (#6) material for me with either the Perm-Wall (unpainted aluminum frame, requires drilling to mount, material snaps on front of frame, snaps are black but visible) or the Da-Snap (black, painted frame hangs on wall, material snaps on back of frame, snaps are hidden behind frame, frame forms a shadow box).

I was quoted some retail prices but these turned out to be much more than the price you pay through a dealer (you can't order direct from these manufacturers).

So I ended up ordering the Da-Mat material and a Da-Snap screen at 110" diagonal 16:9 aspect ratio from Medical Video Systems (a sponsor of The Big Picture Forums). Speaking of which, Dennis Shepard of MVS was very helpful , and their prices were very competitive -- I recommend them wholeheartedly.

UPDATE (December 2000): There's a couple of new gray screens from Da-Lite and Stewart which are becoming available and being discussed on home theater forums like the AVScience Forums. These gray screens look very promising for projectors with less than ideal black levels. Check it out!


Manufacturers of Home Theatre screens:  DA-LITE  |  Stewart  |  Draper

Having trouble finding details about the various screen materials on DA-LITE's site? DA-LITE's web site *is* a pain to navigate -- I think I finally found a link to a page describing their screen material using a web search engine. Anyway, here it is: DA-LITE Screen Material Page

Test Notes

For these tests, the projector was sitting fairly level with the bottom of the screen. Unless otherwise noted, the camera was positioned behind the projector and up a couple of feet.

Source Material: "The Fifth Element" anamorphic DVD recording

Equipment: Sony DVD Player DVP-S7700 connected via component output directly to Sony VPL-VW10HT.

Projector Settings: Color Temp: Low; Dynamic Picture: On, Cinema Black: On for darkened room, Off for room with ambient light; contrast set at 80, all other settings at 50.

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