Projector screens are truly amazing and everyone who loves going to the cinema will understand what we are talking about. In one of the previous articles, we wrote about building a projector screen on your own and we have realized that, although it seems simple, it really isn’t. It requires a lot of measuring, thinking, and planning but it also requires precision and focuses because any mistake can destroy the perfect image we expect. We have tried to explain and describe a few basic steps in the process of building one of the simplest screens and mentioned choosing the right screen material as one of them.
At that point, we didn’t go into details but, considering the fact that this is one of the most important steps that will seriously affect the image quality, we have decided to write this article only about screen materials and give this topic the attention it really deserves. Before we start, we just want to say that the image quality doesn’t depend only on the material but also on many other factors such as projector features, placement, type of screen you want to buy or build, etc. All of these factors together affect the image quality and combining them is not such an easy task.
In this article, we won’t be considering using a bare wall as a projector screen material. In our opinion, they aren’t bad and they can be used in case of emergency, as a temporary solution or if your budget is very limited but no wall can provide picture so sharp, smooth or bright as, for example, vinyl can.
So, let’s see what are the most important screen material characteristics that you should consider before you make your decision and buy one.
What is Gain?
We assume that you have probably never heard of gain or, even if you have, you haven’t heard the full explanation and you don’t know the meaning of it. However, understanding gain is extremely important if you want to achieve good image quality. Gain is actually kind of measurement that shows us how high is screen fabric reflectivity (how much light your screen reflects).
The gain value is usually 1.0 but it can oscillate and affect image quality. If the gain is 1.0 or slightly higher, it means that the light directed to your screen reflects back with the exact same brightness. When the gain is higher than 1.0, the screen increases the image brightness while the gain lower than 1.0 causes the screen fabric to create the darker image. However, the final image quality is not defined only by the fabric gain but also by many other factors. The amount of ambient light in a room is one of them. If the room is very bright, the reflected light will disperse and you will end up with a washed-out image.
High-gain fabrics decrease viewing angle, which means that the people sitting in front of the screen should sit in the middle because if they sit at the sides, the chances are the image will be less sharp. However, if you want to place your screen in a narrow room or if your projector has a low brightness rating, high-gain fabrics will improve the situation.
Low-gain fabrics are those with gain values lower than .8 and they reflect less light than others. These fabrics usually come in grey color and they help you produce darker images with high contrast when needed. For example, you can use them in too bright rooms with many windows where the amount of light can’t be completely controlled.
What Should You Know About Viewing Angle?
Viewing angle represents the maximum angle from the screen center at which you can see a good-quality image. Some of the screen fabrics have a relatively small viewing angle and, if you have that kind of screen, the best place to sit and get a great image is at the center in front of the screen. High-gain fabrics can cause these problems and make the image at the ends/sides dimmed and distorted if the people in front of the screen aren’t sitting within the optimal viewing angle.
It is well-known that the increase of gain lowers the viewing angle, which means that finding the balance between these two characteristics represents an important task.
What Fabric Color Is the Best for Your Projector Screen?
Most of the screens you usually see in YouTube videos, online ads or in stores are white. If you have ever seen any “how to” video on making projector screen, the chances are they were all made of different kinds of white fabric. These fabrics are the industry standard in terms of brightness and they are the most common on the market, but there are also some other nuances that can create a great image.
If you dig a bit deeper, you will see that there are also silver and grey screen materials. They do a great job in creating darker images. These darker screens have a gain of 1.0 and they are considered high-contrast materials. Their gain is similar to matte white but they help create higher contrast, darker colors, which is great for very bright rooms. While white screens come in handy in dark rooms, darker screens are perfect for the rooms with more ambient light. They reflect less light and some of them, such as some silver materials, can be normally used even when the lights in the room are still on.
What About Acoustic Transparency?
In terms of projector screen material, acoustic transparency is the material’s ability to let the sound pass through it. This actually means that the fabrics with at least a certain amount of acoustic transparency have very small holes and the sound passes through them improving the overall visual and acoustic impression.
These holes are hardly noticeable from a distance but the problem becomes obvious when you sit too close to the screen. If you are too close, the holes become visible and they can even ruin your watching experience. They can also cause a certain light output loss.
However, if you want a real movie theater experience in your house, you will buy this kind of material and place the speakers behind it – that’s the winning combination.
Can You Get 3D Image?
If you’ve been wondering if it’s possible to achieve high definition video quality with a projector screen in your home, the answer is positive. Luckily, certain manufacturers are making special kinds of high-definition fabrics that enable great image quality when combined with adequate high-quality projectors. These screens manage to lower the impact of ambient light, sunlight or any other light source that may affect the image quality.
The Most Common Screen Types
Matte white screens are, as we have already said, the most common on the market. Apart from that, most projectors you can find are actually predicted and adjusted to work with this type of material. Matte white screens have 1.1 gain and they create the best image in dark rooms, such as those you can find in cinemas. They can also perform well in rooms with little ambient light. In some cases, they can deliver a decent image even in bright rooms but only if the light is not directed into the screen.
These screens are commonly used in cinemas, at home for watching films but also for gaming. Their bright colors and nicely balanced contrast are what most of the users want.
Matte grey screens have slightly lower gain (1.0) and they are used in situations when it is required to deliver darker images. They can also be used in extremely bright rooms or in big auditoriums, meeting rooms or convention centers with poorly controlled light.
These screens are great for both watching films and playing games with many dark levels.
Silver screens have 1.5 gain value and belong to the group of high-gain screens. This material manages to brighten very dark images and it is often good for projecting 3D images. They work great with high-lumen projectors with low contrast but they can never be used with short throw ones.
High-contrast grey screens with .95 gain are darker than the average grey screens. They are perfect for extremely bright rooms or the rooms where the ambient light can’t be controlled at all. This material also works great with high-lumen and low-contrast projectors.
WAB (Woven Acoustic with Backing) is the material with 1.1 gain and, as you can see, it is completely acoustically transparent. This material enables you to place your speakers behind the screen and create the same atmosphere as you can find in a good cinema. It is one of the high definition materials compatible with 4K and it is very similar to the previously described matte white material.