So you’ve bought a projector. You naturally want a projector screen to go with it. You wouldn’t want to buy a DVD or Blu-Ray Player without an HDTV. Or Wi-Fi services without a computer or smartphone. Sure, you can use a blank wall to project the image or video just fine, but if you want to watch HD 1080p or 4K video in its full glory, you still need that screen. With that said, you should be careful when buying screens.
Sure, the projection screen will typically come bundled with the projector as well as be sold separately. However, you should still make sure you’re getting the absolute best screen available. You should have an informed opinion about your purchase so that you can avoid wasting money or be forced to watch Game of Thrones at a brick wall.
Why Use a Screen Instead of The Wall?
You should use a projector screen—the fabric or plastic screen you can unfurl like a window shade or is fixed on a frame that the projector projects the video or picture on—if you care about the quality and fidelity of the projection at all. It’s more enjoyable to have the projector project its movie or display on a surface that’s rough or the wrong color since it affects how well you’re seeing the picture. It’s like painting on colored paper.
Unless you’re trying to achieve a specific look, it mostly ruins the projected picture from your projector. You should specifically look for a screen that’s the perfect size for your projector’s specific throw distance or the distance between the projector and the screen. It should be about one times the diagonal for a 4K projector and 1½ times the screen diagonal for an HD projector. A wall is too uneven or has too little gain when compared to a screen specifically made to cater to projectors.
Types of Projector Screens
There are two basic types of projection screens you should be aware of.
- Fixed Frame: A fixed frame projector screen is, as the name clearly states, a screen stretched out on a frame like a canvas that you’re supposed to project your video or device user interface on. You’re supposed to mount it on your wall or your table like a flatscreen TV, while on the other side is your unimpeded projector. You can get a short-throw projector to reduce the screen-to-projector distance to boot.
- Retractable: A retractable projector screen is a screen you can retract like a window shade or blinds when it’s not in use. Storage is much easier to deal with when you have a retractable frame on hand. Retractable screens can be either motorized or manual. Again, just like blinds, these screens can be stretched out or unfurled with motorized or manual means. It’s renowned for its compactness and dependability.
Screen Sizes 101
Just like with television sets, you can also choose what size of the screen to get. It depends on the throw distance and projection size of your projector. Check the specs of your device to find a matching screen with the exact right size needed for a perfectly clear and detailed picture when push comes to shove.
The different screen sizes are determined not by resolution but by formats and aspect ratio. For example, you have the 1:1 square screen, the 4:3 video screen, the 16:9 HDTV screen, the 16:10 PC widescreen, and the 2.35:1 cinematic screen. Look at the aspect ratio of your projector. It might stick to one or be adjustable to multiple so as to allow you to use different screens for different video types. Learn more about aspect ratio in the entries below about projector screen selection.
The Different Screen Materials Available
There are different projector screen fabrics to choose from. The fabric type dictates screen projection quality.
Screens can be made of plastic, woven cotton, vinyl, and polyester. Many screen makers don’t list down a specific material or combination of materials for their screen as though it’s a trade secret. To wit:
- Blackout Material: It’s recommended that you get blackout material on a 53-inch to 60-inch roll. Blackout cloth is probably the most common material out there when it comes to projector screen material for good reason—it works. It has a good balance between good contrast and high-fidelity color in an affordable package deal.
- Plastic versus Fabric: A white plastic screen has good gain and isn’t easy to fatigue. Fabrics are easier to wash and maintain. There are also projector brands with unique properties such as Ultra-White that’s known for its smoothness, FlexiWhite that’s known to stretch out to get rid of creases, or ProWhite that can be easily folded then stretched without leaving any marks.
Choosing The Right Screen Material Properties
When selecting screen fabric, you should take into consideration the following factors.
- Gain: Gain affects brightness because it describes the light reflectivity of the material. A brighter projection image is produced when you have a higher-gain screen. Plastic is more reflective than fabric or canvas material. A screen with 1.0 screen gain allows light targeted and reflected unto the screen to reflect back with the same brightness or with no brightness loss. A gain is higher than 1.0 means the screen actually boosts brightness. Less than 1.0 reduces brightness.
- Texture: Texture is one of the reasons why it’s not conducive to play your projector on a wall. Many walls are textured. Freshly painted white walls are probably the closest to a projector screen in quality but they also might lose a little something in gain or brightness. You want a screen with a texture so good it reveals instead of hides all detail in HD video up to 1080p or 4K. Some screens have grit or texture to maximize 4K projection quality. A crisp, colorful picture can be gained with screens that have ambient light rejecting properties.
- Color: The color of the screen is either white or some shade of gray. The gray screens exist for the sake of boosting contrast and provide blacks that are much deeper and less faded than those offered by a white screen. However, a white screen offers more picture fidelity, particularly when it comes to the light or bright colors of the picture or video you’re projecting on-screen. Choose white screens by default or some shade of gray in case you favor better blacks and contrast instead.
Various Screen Variants and Accessories
You can also get your hands on different screen types and accessories that enhance your projector viewing experience for the better.
- Acoustically Transparent Screens: You can avail of screens that let sound pass through them. This way, you can hide the speakers behind the screen and get a nice surround-sound setup going for you. This also gives your home theater or entertainment setup a nice clean look wherein all the cables and players are hidden and all you have is your projector and the screen. It even assists setups where the speakers are strategically placed all over the room.
- Portable Outdoor Screens: Do you want to watch your HD movie, marathon Arrested Development, do a Twitch Livestream with a pocket Wi-Fi, or simply play Call of Duty or Street Fighter V in the great outdoors or at least at the comfort of your own lawn? Then you should invest in portable outdoor screens with their own stands and everything. These screens provide sharp, vivid images even as you have outdoor movie nights at the park or play Tekken 7 while camping.
- Power Lamp: Although ambient light does ruin what’s being projected and you usually want to watch your video in places that are dark like a screening room or a home theater with the curtains drawn, a power lamp might still be needed to help you see what you’re looking at better. It’s all about strategic placement so that the spotlight enhances rather than detracts from the projection. The lamplight can boost the light output of your projector for the better.
- 3D or Shutter Glasses: If you have a 3D projector you need 3D glasses in order to see it better. Sure, the days of cheap 3D glasses with a red and blue lens are long gone. However, the days where two images are superimposed to each other so that you need glasses to see separate images in each eye to create a stereoscopic effect have come about in the 21st Century thanks to movies like Avatar. Meanwhile, 3D RF active shutter glasses are electronic glasses with batteries that can pick up RF signals to sync with your projector’s 3D effect and get charged with a USB cable.
- 3D RF Emitter: A 3D RF Emitter is a projector accessory that usually costs about a hundred bucks and delivers a 30-foot range of radio frequency signals in all directions. It comes hand-in-hand with your 3D RF active glasses but might have compatibility issues with other RF products that don’t belong in the same line or brand. It gives the signals to have your shutter glasses work to view what’s being projected on the screen in 3D.
- Fusion CPU Extenders: A fusion CPU extender is an amount to hold your CPU or other components connected to your projector in order to play and project whatever it is you want to see or interact with. It can even be used for digital signage but it’s mostly known as a projector accessory for mounting the media-playing device, whether it’s a tablet, external hard drive, or laptop.
- Video Processor: The external video processor is an HDMI-compliant device that allows you to increase the video quality of what you’re watching, whether it’s with a projector, HDTV, or HDMI computer monitor. It typically has 3 viewing modes of full pop, gaming, or HD. It comes with a remote that requires 2 triple-A batteries, an HDMI cable, and an IR extender cable. It works well with video games, BD players, and the like.
4 Steps to Selecting a Projector Screen
Here are the 4 steps you should follow to select the right projector screen for you.
- Determine the Screen Size: Determine the screen size based on the dimensions of the room, the number of seats for your audience, and the arrangement of the room. On average, the height should be ⅙ the distance from the screen the back row seats. Also, the front row should be two screen heights from the screen as well. When it comes to wall placement, use the audience floor as your ruler. The bottom screen should be 4 feet above the floor so that the back row audience could see the movie.
- Select The Aspect Ratio: The aspect ratio depends on what movie or TV show you’re watching but you can always stretch or adjust the aspect ratio anyway care of the player or the app. If your screen is the wrong aspect ratio expect black bars to appear or the screen to go outside the edges of the screen. Here are the different aspect ratios to choose from.
- NTSC: If it’s NTSC it’s 1.33:1.
- HDTV: If it’s HDTV it’s 1.78:1.
- Cinema: If it’s Cinema it’s 2.35:1.
- Video: If it says Video then it’s 4:3.
- Square: If it says Square then it’s 1:1.
- PC Widescreen: If it’s Widescreen it’s 1.6:1 or 16:10.
- Letterbox: If it says Letterbox then it’s 1.85:1 or 18.5:10.
- Choose The Projector Screen Material: As covered earlier, the screen material ranges from different fabrics to plastic as well as the ever-popular blackout material. You should also choose the material based on gain, texture, and color. If your screening room has a bit of ambient light it pays to get gray screens with high contrast. Darker rooms work best with white screens where high contrast isn’t as much of a concern. What’s more, some materials provide other advantages like a wider viewing angle or sharper details due to textured grain.
- Pick The Screen Type: Your main choices for screen type are fixed frame and retractable. Go with what you want. Retractable screens are easier to put away but require a bit more maintenance since it has moving parts. Fixed frame screens can be left there like a flatscreen TV. There are also versions of the screen that can be manually retracted or makes use of a motor you have to plug into your electrical socket. When doing a portable projection on the go, you also need to choose a tripod with a pull-up screen or a fast-folding tabletop screen
How to Install a Retractable Projector Screen
When installing a retractable projector screen, please do the following.
- Mounting The Screen: Instructions on mounting a retractable projector screen will vary from brand to brand. Make sure to read the manual or instruction booklet that came with the screen carefully. There are a number of ways to mount such screens. You can first hang them from a hook or bracket a la Venetian blinds or window curtains right in front of your wall. You can also use the mounting holes found on the screen itself if available.
- Determine Hole Placement: You can determine the placement of the hole for your screen mount by using a template. These projector screens are actually not that heavy but heavy enough to be burdensome to hold up while trying to drill holes on your cement wall or drywall. Spare yourself the hardship and make a cardboard template to allow screen mounting without tiring out your hands while drilling. Ensure that the impression you make with your pen and cardboard is accurate as well.
- Drilling The Holes: Use a drill bit that’s about 3/16th of an inch in size to pre-drill a hole into your wall to make sure the holes are leveled. This makes it easier for you to drive the screws in and assists you in seeing what you’re working with as far as wall thickness is concerned. Because these screens are a bit heavy, the ideal situation is to hit a stud. Otherwise, the easiest way to go about screen mounting to your wall it so use anchors to assist in weight distribution.
- Use a 2×4 Wood for Stud Purposes: If you need a wall stud then use a 2×4. To be more specific, you can attach a 2×4 piece of wood to the stud for extra support if you wish to attach the screen to a wall stud but there isn’t one where you need it to be. Attach the 2×4 outside the wall and perpendicular to your floor. Leave a bit of length on it so that it can reach the spot where the screws should be inserted for screen installation purposes. Make the 2×4 less noticeable by camouflaging it with the same color of paint as your wall.
- Get an Assistant: You need assistance in the form of another person to help you screw the screen to the wall. If it’s a retractable screen that needs a motor, make sure it has a cord that can reach to a nearby wall socket. You two should lift the screen in place. You can then drill and drive the screw to attach it to the 2×4 or to the wall itself. Put the screws on one end first without tightening then attach the other side. From there, tighten the screws all the way through. You’re now done with your little project.
Here are more than a couple of frequently asked questions in regards to shopping for the right projector screen for home use.
- What’s the price range for the most affordable home entertainment system projector screen? A simple wall-mounted pull-down projector screen found in many a classroom can cost you $80. You can also get square format screens for even less than that. The less fancy the screen the likelier you can get one for less than $100 or even less than $50. However, you get what you pay for. If you go too cheap you’ll lose out on things like contrast, gain, texture, durability, and screen clarity. Buyer beware
- How far away should you or your audience sit from the projector screen? The farness depends on the throw distance of your projector to the screen. Short-throw projectors even allow you to sit directly behind the projector in order to see whatever movie you’re watching or game you’re playing in its full glory. On average, a projector needs about 14 feet of throw distance to project a 100 percent clear picture. In a room that’s 15 feet in length, you need to sit at the edge of it to watch your video in peace!
- Can the HD video projector screen be placed in front of the surround-sound system’s center channel without affecting the audio? The audio will be affected if you place a screen In front of your center channel the same way putting a blanket over the speaker will muffle the sound. However, there are ways around this. You can move your center channel away, move the screen away, or get an acoustically transparent, perforated screen that allows sound to pass through it the same way transparent glass allows light to pass through it.
- At what height should the projector screen be mounted at? You should first consider the height. If it’s mounted to the ceiling it’s not an issue. However, if it’s wall-mounted instead, you should make sure it’s 2-3 feet off of the floor. If your home theater is set up with rows of seats wherein people will be sitting behind one another then you should place the screen a bit higher so that even the back row audience can see the screen and projection without any impediments.
When all is said and done, the most important factor to consider when choosing a projector screen is the projector itself. It’s the display that determines the aspect ratio possible (along with the media player), the throw distance, and various other considerations. The bigger your screen is the more blown-up the projection will get, which then results in a dimmer image overall.
It’s like how your flashlight or torch becomes weaker the more diffused the light is and stronger the more focused the light is. Even laser projectors have their limits so match up your screen in accordance to the specs of your projector every time. Your screen should be the right size of have the right aspect ratio in order for the projector beam to protect the clearest image possible at the right distance.