There are three types of the projector screen, with about two of them being the most common—white, grey, and silver. Silver is the oldest type among them because it was used during the early days of projection, with projectors being so low-light that you needed the material to enhance their brightness to a viewable degree (hence the early days of cinema referring to movies and talkies as being on the “silver screen”.
Nowadays, most users avail of either the white or grey/gray screen materials instead since silver screens are expensive (although still available). White is the traditional one that’s been used for decades while gray is available as either medium or light gray. Which screen should you get? Keep on reading to find out the differences between the screens.
White Projector Screens
The audio-visual or A/V industry has been using the white screen as the projector standard ever since film, overhead, and slideshow projectors came to prominence for home, school, and office use. It’s also the default projector used for home video and digital computer monitor mirroring purposes, from VHS to Blu-Ray. White is the no-nonsense color for screens and they remain the standard because of their color accuracy and bright whites. It also gives the most generous viewing angles of any screen type.
- White Screens Available in Different Materials: One of the appeals of manufacturing white screens is that there are plenty of materials available to fit the bill for a standard or matte screen with a white color. All matte or standard white screens basically offer neutral gain. It’s like how all bond paper is in white to perfectly capture whatever is printed on it with perfect fidelity. The same deal works with screens and projections. The whiteness is a netural type of color that doesn’t make the colors on it darker or less visible.
- Neutral Gain or Slight Gain: Some manufacturers claim their product is 1.1 or 1.3 instead of the standard neutral gain. However, the slight numbers bump is considered a false gain. It’s attributable to surface shine or sheen from making the product. You can also get increased gain from certain white screens like High Power or Da-Lite Cinema Vision, however, this time around it’s from emulsion that’s built into the backing of the screen. Don’t expect anything significant or noticeable in terms of gain from the 1.1 to 1.3 range though.
- PVC Material on White Screens: A good type of white screen is the extra white variety using material that’s PVC or vinyl tensionable (stretchable) with no emulsion or surface texture. This is a basic type of all-purpose white screen that can serve you well for years and years. With this screen material type, the light penetrates through it. This enables you to get an illumination effect from your projection that’s comparable to what you see on a regular monitor or HDTV screen. It’s an effect that blends and diffuses the light slightly to hide source material artifacts.
- The Illumination Effect: The illumination effect of the PVC material provides spot-on linear color fidelity and quality whites. This is on top of hiding artifacting by the way it diffuses the light and softens some source-material imperfections. Furthermore, light penetration on the material results in light diffusion that brightens the area between the pixels known as the screen door. In other words, the screen has enough gain and forgiving enough its transmission of the image to hide flaws from your video.
Grey Projector Screens
It was in 2001 when the concept of the grey screen was first introduced by the Grayhawk product of Stewart Filmscreen. They then sold well commercially and have become immensely popular since that date. They proved particularly helpful in dealing with the contrast problems of early digital video projectors during the days of VGA connectors and before HDMI, DVI, and DP connectors came into prominence in the middle 2000s. To wit, here are the pros and cons of going the grey or gray projector route.
- Before and After: Back in the day of the early 1990s, all Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) digital projectors from 2001 and before were contrast challenged. This necessitated the invention of the grey screen that assisted in adding contrast to the projection whether you’re in a darkened room or not. It became a staple of projectors until the invention of the Digital Light Processing (DLP) and Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCoS) projectors. Contrast performance of projectors has improved significantly in the last few years of the 2010s, however. Contrast ratios have been raised for 3000:1 and higher.
- Has DLP Projectors Rendered Gray Screens Obsolete? There are claims that modern high-contrast DLP projectors have rendered grey screens obsolete. You can get high contrast on a standard-issue white screen without buying a special gray screen for it. However, many projectionists and projector owners contend such claims. Although it is true that high-contrast projectors should be used with white screens when in a totally light-controlled environment. However, for everything else, a grey screen can assist your contrast needs.
- Ambient Light versus DLP Projectors: When dealing with conference rooms with ambient light or daytime movie viewings at your backyard, one of the best ways to showcase contrast and make the image brighter even in the presence of other light sources is using a grey projector screen. The other methods of fighting against muddy images due to the presence of ambient light include purchasing projectors with high amounts of brightness.
- Turning The Lights off: If your environment isn’t a dark room, then having a light or medium gray screen can help in giving contrast while ambient light is around. It even enhances the deepness of contrast and sharpness of a DLP projector with high contrast properties for good measure, making both the device and the screen a must-buy for screenings where you can’t turn off the lights, such in the case of meetings, presentations, and note-taking in schools. Your viewing room’s latent contrast value is enhanced with the screen’s help.
Silver Projector Screens
The silver screen is back. Movies using old-timey film projectors and their weaker incandescent or even gas flame lamps depended on two things to be viewable to the general public—a really dark theater akin to the dark room used for photograph development and a silver screen that enhances and reflects what little light there is from these weaker projectors in the first place. The movie industry from silent film onwards started out using silver to allow low-light projectors to project their images as strongly as possible.
- Boosting Gain Through the Silver Screen: Cinema theaters back in the day showed movies (or films with moving people instead of slideshows of still images) and talkies (as opposed to the silent films of Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, talkies contained dialog synched up with the footage of moving film images). They also used the silver screen to boost the gain of the low-light projectors to as high as 10 gain versus the zero gain you can get from a plain white screen. It’s the screen you use to maximize brightness.
- Best of Both Worlds: Unlike in grey screens that mostly concern themselves with brightness and contrast, the silver screen makes whites and contrast pop or even leap off the screen with the vividness of black & white photography. This goes double for colored films, with the way the material is enough to make even Technicolor technology look vibrant for its time. Silver is the best of both worlds in terms of the color fidelity of white and the high contrast of gray, with it offering better depth and detail perception of blacks and whites as well as every color in the spectrum.
- Hot Spotting Issues: A hot-spotting or hotspotting issue is when a bright spot appears on your screen, making it thusly difficult to see what you’re viewing. The advantage of white and grey screens is that they’re colored that way to neutralize hotspotting. They also use materials that negate the phenomenon versus the more reflective silver that will tend to have a bit of shining, shimmering spots due to the nature of the material. To avoid silver screen hot-spotting, you should find an emulsion or surface that provides silver properties with excellent diffusion you’d expect from a standard white screen.
- Silver Screen Advancements: Technology marches on and the film industry has seemingly left the silver screen for the white or gray screen. However, silver is making a comeback as a projector screen material of choice because there are emulsions or surfaces that emulate silver properties while also offering decent light diffusion to prevent hot-spotting, such as the Vutec SilverStar. This 122-inch movie screen provides colorful images that jump off the screen and whiteness that doesn’t look muddled at all. Additionally, it has a 1.35 gain to boot.
When Push Comes To Shove
Silver screens are the best at reflecting even low light so that it’s perfectly viewable in a commercial or home theater, but since they use silver they can get quite expensive. Meanwhile, the grey screen is what you use in order to absorb ambient light better than a white screen does, which makes it the ideal screen color for presentations or daylight projector viewings. This screen type is superior when it comes to maintaining the black level of the screen and the video. White is as vanilla as you can get (it’s even the color of vanilla ice cream), with it having the balance of silver screen light maximization and ambient light absorption.