I have been a home cinema enthusiast for years and am always looking for the next upgrade or DIY project.
If you have bought a projector, or are thinking about buying a projector, you're going to need a screen.
This article outlines the differences between the different types of projector screen out there in order to help you make a decision on which screen would be the best type for you.
Let's get started!
Do You Need a Screen?
As my friend always says whenever we're talking about gadgets and gizmos and trying to decide whether we want to buy them or really need them, 'define need'.
A projector will work without a screen—you just let it project onto a wall. You might not get the best out of it, but it's not mandatory to have a screen. The downside with projecting onto a wall is that, unless the wall is perfectly flat and blemish free, then any marks, holes, wallpaper bubbles or paint drips will be highlighted.
You can still do it, but if you are going to do this, the best bet is to prepare the wall, get it as smooth as possible and paint it matte white. This will give you the best surface to project onto.
If you want to really get the best out of your projector, then making or using a screen will help you to do that. Screens can help you get better blacks, or even get more brightness, from the projector.
Benefits of a Screen
If you have a room that is not fully light controlled, then you can suffer with poor blacks and contrast from your projector. There are two ways round this. One is to black the room out completely, which is a great thing to do if you really want the full cinema experience, but not always practical. The other is to get yourself a grey projector screen. The grey will make the blacks look blacker. The reason this happens is because projectors cannot project black—the way they show black is just to not project any light at that particular part of the screen. If you are in a room that is very light and are projecting onto a white wall, then what is supposed to be black will come out greyish. A grey screen makes the blacks much blacker.
Here is an example of this. The image below has a white screen on the left and a grey screen on the right. As you can see, the righthand side looks a lot blacker.
So, Should You Only Buy a Grey Screen?
Not necessarily. Although the picture above does show a nice difference in the picture, this is mainly because the room isn't pitch black. Grey screens do make the blacks blacker, but they also make the whites darker and the colours a bit less vivid.
If you have perfect conditions, (e.g.,a room that has been completely blacked out with fabric on the walls or a dark ceiling and floor with blackout blinds), then a white screen will give you a better picture than a grey screen. My room is blacked out as I am a big home cinema geek and I run with a white screen for this reason. A grey screen is better if you can't get your room like this though.
Whether you have a white or grey screen, something that helps the picture is the black border around the image. This is a bit of a trick and fools your eyes into thinking that the contrast on screen is better as the whites on screen look so different from the black border. It makes a big difference all by itself, I was quite surprised when I realised what a difference this made the first time I saw it.
How Can the Screen Make the Picture Brighter?
There is a thing in the projector screen world called gain. This is a ratio of how much light the screen will reflect compared to a standard white board.
A standard white wall will have a gain of 1.0. That is because it won't reflect any more or less light than a standard white board, as that is what it is. A grey screen may have a gain of 0.8, which would mean that it would reflect only 80% of the light, making it less bright than default.
If you have a high-gain reflective material, let's say a 1.4 or 1.5 gain then you would get 40 to 50% more light than default reflected, making it a fair bit brighter. If you have a bright room, or a low powered projector, then this can be pretty useful for getting a viewable picture in different conditions.
The downside of high-gain screens is that they tend to have hot spots in the viewing area, so the centre will appear brighter than the edges. The lower the gain, the less this is an issue. The higher gain screens can also suffer from a small viewing angle. If you're off to the side of the screen, you're going to be seeing a different image to someone sitting in the centre.
High-gain screens do have their place, but once again, a fully light-controlled room with a normal 1.0 gain screen, is a better bet if you can do it.
Screen Ratios Explained
If you are going to buy or make a screen, not only do you have to decide between a low- or high-gain white screen, or a grey screen, you also have to decide what ratio screen you are going to use.
This does depend on what sort of material you're going to be watching through the projector. If you're going to be using it for gaming, TV and movie watching, then you will probably be best off with a 16:9 screen. This is because TV and games are in this format. Most (not all, some are in slightly different ratio) movies are usually in a 2.35:1 format, but you can watch them on a 16:9 screen, you'll just have to cope with having black bars at the top and bottom. If you only ever use your projector for exclusively movie watching and never TV or gaming, then think about a 2.35:1 ratio screen.
So, What Sort of Screen Is Best?
As usual with this sort of thing, there is no one screen that does the best job. You have to choose the best screen for your requirements. If you have a well lit room and want to get decent blacks, then think about a grey screen. If you have a low powered projector and/or a well lit room, then a high-gain screen may be best.
Choosing an aspect ratio is a bit easier. You'll know what you're going to use your projector for. If it's going to be for a variety of viewing, including movies, gaming and TV, you'll probably be better off with a 16:9 screen which is a good compromise between all, if you're purely a movie buff, then a 2.35:1 screen will probably be better.
Just as a side note, a normal 16:9 projector, which is the standard nowadays will project perfectly onto a 2.35:1 screen, or a 16:9, so you don't need to worry about matching the projector to the screen as far as that goes. If you only watch movies, then a fully blacked out light controlled room, with a nice 2.35:1 screen, would be your best choice. Have fun putting it together!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Mansukh bhai savaliya on September 13, 2019:
Elite 4k /Garay screen yaa silver tikit Dono me Letest or bahetar choice Kis ki Karna chahiye
Jay F. on September 02, 2019:
This was very helpful! Thank you
Jason P on August 30, 2019:
Great job sir! I have a much better understanding of this. Your article was great!
Rick W on August 02, 2019:
Nice article! Succinct and informative. Much appreciated!
Budi A. on July 21, 2019:
Now i understand what to when in market for Projector Screen.
Stephen on May 19, 2019:
Super helpful, thanks for this!
Ben on May 01, 2019:
Are you sure that a projector simulates black by not projecting light in a certain region of the screen? I read elsewhere that it is done by projecting trace grey light that when reflected our minds interpret as a relative absence of light and we therefore "see" black.
rpsen on January 29, 2018:
Thanks, it was very helpful to me.
Projectorsam on November 14, 2017:
Your article was very informative but I don't think it's 100% valid. There are really big differences with projector light performances (lumens). So even if you totally black room and your projector is giving 3000 lumens to the screen, you wont get the results of grey screen(deeper blacks). This is because the bright spot is reflecting light to the black spot next to it. So the black will seem grayish. This is totally visible even with as low as 1800 lumens. This is why I would really recommend a part for different projector light performances, because it really isn't just about the room brightness. It's easy to misunderstand the article and get 4000 lumen projector with 1.5gain and probably get really bad results with blacks even in a totally black room.
John on September 03, 2017:
Good article and very informative. What do you think then about high contrast grey screens for an LCD projector. Would that be the best of both worlds?
Anil from Kerala on November 25, 2012:
Hai, thank you for sharing your good projector experiences. I had no idea about it.