Different Types of Projector Screens

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, 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, just projected 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 matt 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, projecting onto a white wall, then that is obviously going to mean that what is supposed to be black, comes 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 right hand side looks a lot blacker.

White screen on left, grey screen on right. Check out the difference in contrast / blacks!

So after seeing that, surely you should only buy a grey screen?

This isn't always true. 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, ie a room that has been completely blacked out with fabric on the walls, a dark ceiling and floor and black out 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.

So you mentioned that the screen can make the picture brighter? How?

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.

2.35:1 ratio (most movies are in this format) inside a 16:9 screen

If you don't compromise with a 16:9 screen, then you will want one of these and you can then say goodbye to the black bars.

a 2.35:1 screen

So then, 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!

I hope this article was useful in some way, if you have any comments then please leave them below.


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Anil and Honey 3 years ago from Kerala

Hai, thank you for sharing your good projector experiences. I had no idea about it.

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