Home Theater Projection Screens
What is a really big screen? Well a 65” LCD on the wall is big, but for a really big screen experience there is a better way to go….
A real Home Theater has a projector. Thus, it must have a projector screen – preferably a really BIG projection screen. That’s the whole point, otherwise it’s a media room. Here at K&W Audio we have done projector/ screen combinations since the early 80’s, and we offer every major choice of screen manufacturer. There are a variety of elements to consider when specifying the correct screen for your home projection application, some of those options you may not even be aware of. While it turns out your choice of screen may not be as straight forward as one might think at first blush, exploring the new possibilities can only open up better fits and possibilities in your application. So, let’s explore.
The screen material is the absolutely the most important element in the projection chain. Full stop. Think about it. If the screen isn’t there, you see nothing. If it’s green and rough, so is your image – and when you go to a quality movie house, you watch a very high tech material specifically designed to do the job. Usually by Stewart Filmscreen of California – FYI.
The right screen material is chosen based on desired size and shape, the intended viewing angle, needed reflectivity, (or Gain), type and intensity of projection source and the degree of unwanted light in the room… and of course budget. These factors quickly help us to arrive at the right screen material for you. Once that’s done, it’s on to the fun of deciding how the screen will be mounted in the space. Let’s move on to look at those options.
The fixed projector screen is where we start. The classic screen, mounted on the wall is the most popular option – and it can look impressive. One of the most important areas to consider to begin with every time is the screen’s aspect ratio. Today, the most popular aspect ratio is 1.78:1, more popularly known as 16×9. That’s the same shape as all the current LCD TV set screens on the market.
While many movies and HDTV will fit this size perfectly, there is a strong philosophy that favors the 2.35:1 Cinescope shape for the modern Home Theater. After all, that more letterbox-ish ratio is the ratio all the big budget and more “Artsy” movies are usually shot in today. Because of this, dedicated home theater screens today have migrated toward this widescreen format. Unfortunately, we still don’t always eliminate the dreaded black bars 1:78 so often still presents. Thankfully, they are now only on both sides of the image now though, and happen only rarely when we watch a 1:78 ratio movie or TV show. If you want to address those side black bars, you can choose additional motorized masking for your screen, which descend on both sides of the screen to perfectly frame movies in all ratios – including your HDTV content at a 1:78 aspect. There is obviously an extra cost to doing that though. In that case, these “constant vertical height” curved electric screens eliminate all horizontal black bars, and when the time comes to watch a movie in any format, the screen re-masks to display only the proper aspect ratio of visible screen area.
Curved & Masking
Curved screens and the accompanying fascia are very popular, and they can be self-masking too. The concave shape of what’s called Cinecurve focuses light bouncing off the screen and back to the seating area, making the projected image appear even brighter. It limits the amount of light reflected to the theater side walls, creating an image that really pops with color and black level.
To step the image up to present 4K resolution standards the addition of the aforementioned anamorphic lens assembly mated to the leading-edge projector is the usual choice. It gives this widescreen option the state of the art in size, shape and resolution. If you are considering this – even in the future, this type of option is best considered at the design phase, since the required projection throw distance can change a bit to accommodate this extra lens option. If you want current state of the art, these motorized Cinecurve screens, with a 4K projector utilizing an anamorphic lens are the answer.
Rear Projection & Starglas
Rear projection is another approach often overlooked, but with several big advantages. If you are building a home theater in the basement, and have an adjacent utility room, you are a potential candidate. If you mount your projector in the utility room and hang your rear projection screen on an aperture wall, the image projected from the rear can be brighter and have less parasitic loss to ambient light than with front projection. So, walk out basements without perfect lighting control can still have a great Theater experience. Plus, with the projector completely out of the theater space, there is absolutely no projection noise, and there is no loss of head room to a ceiling mounted projector in the space. Even better, no one can stand up and cast a shadow in front of the projector when the movie is playing! You need to spend some time planning here again, and we can provide as build drawings to scale for any size or configuration.
It needs to be noted that Stewart Filmscreen has come up with a rather inspired surface in this category, called Starglas. It’s a glass surface rather than opaque screen material that allows for rear-projection. What makes Stewart Filmscreen Starglas unique is the fact that, when used properly, you can view huge images in full lighting conditions, making a Starglas installation more like massive plasma or an LCD then a front-projection system. It’s like viewing the film on the world’s largest TV, and looks like a sheet of glass.
Going one step further, you can even use Starglas outdoors for a unique home theater experience by your pool, deck or barbecue. Don’t worry about damaging or marring your Starglas surface either – its tempered glass is rated for commercial applications and can be cleaned via hose or perhaps a little more prudently, with Windex.
Starglas can be manufactured as large as 204 inches. As you can imagine, the performance and cool factor of Stewart Filmscreen Starglas makes it the choice in some very innovative designs. Suspended it on steel cables, (effectively floating in space), on a table top or even in a floor and, provided you can mount a projector properly it creates a very cool James Bond-like effect.
Starglas runs about $300 per square foot, which is quite a bargain, considering the benefits it provides over a huge plasma or LCD display, which retail for easily six figures. There is a caveat regarding Starglas though. It requires our professional design expertise, just like any other screen choice for the right result. While not as simple as the picture-hanging technique, often used for flat-panel displays these days, the performance and cool factor of Starglas can blow all other display options out of the water. Here is an example.
Power driven drop down projection screens are another popular choice. Today people don’t want to end up with a black can housing their rolled-up screen in their home – looking like a high school gymnasium. There are options. Completely hidden screens that descend from a trap door built into the ceiling are one option, and new housings stylishly designed and custom colored to the room (or contrasting for that hi-tech look) are another great choice. This stylish offering allows for the creation of home theaters within dens, recreation rooms, or any other home living spaces, and they can be hidden away at a moment’s notice.
With Stewart Filmscreen’s Cabaret the video screen is housed in a stylish aluminum valance, available in various finishes. It can be customized to taste with various colors, fabrics & even accented with LED lighting that shines from the top of the valance in your choice of cobalt blue, or white to further enhance the space.
This unique customization level allows the screen housing to become a beautiful enhancement to any environment, while keeping the video screen completely out of sight when not in use. Its sleek and contemporary design makes it possible to install a front projection system into any size space, with any décor and blend into the environment.
This housing can be as wide as 16 feet, while the screen it houses can be smaller, and descend from any point along its length. That gives the designer the ability to install the housing like a valance, and ensure the screen drops only where it looks its best. Another great feature of the Stewart Filmscreen Cabaret is that it can be installed above a flat panel television or a picture frame too. When the screen is lowered, it won’t touch either. The versatility of this unit allows it to feel at home within a traditional suburban living room or a sleek and contemporary loft. This style of drop down screen allows the room furnishings to be oriented toward the view at all times.
Yet another area to consider when kicking around what projection screen is right for you is acoustic transparency. This allows you to mount all of your front speakers directly behind the screen. “But a screen in front of my speakers has to change the sound” you say. Well, you would be right. That’s why the good folks at Lucasfilm THX along with Stewart Filmscreen a have developed the THX perforation. Basically, teeny tiny holes in the screen, arranged in a way that doesn’t amplify pixel orientation, combined with a specifically designed equalizer you connect to your surround amplifier nets you the same or better performance than available at your favorite theater.
Yet another area to consider when kicking around what projection screen is right for you is THX acoustic transparency. This allows you to mount all of your front speakers directly behind the screen. “But a screen in front of my speakers has to change the sound” you say. Well, you would be right. That’s why the good folks at Lucasfilm THX along with Stewart Filmscreen a have developed the THX perforation. Basically teeny tiny holes in the screen, arranged in a way that doesn’t amplify pixel orientation, combined with a specifically designed equalizer you connect to your surround amplifier nets you the same or better performance than available at your favorite theater.
Do you love being outdoors on your spacious patio? Maybe you have an amazing view of the mountains or live right along the shore. Entertaining your friends and family outside during Superbowl Sunday or watching a movie while feeling the refreshing ocean breeze in a weather-resistant video theater Oasis is a remarkable experience. Outdoor theaters create upscale outdoor living spaces. Electronically controlled retractable projection screens designed specifically for outdoor use and resistant to corrosion and other outdoor elements are just too cool, and you know you will be the only one on the block with one!