Ok, maybe I'm a masking evangelist here. Though I don't for a second think "everyone ought to mask his image" because we all have our own criteria and variables to weigh. And it can be pricey, or require some time for DIY, so far be it from me to say anyone ought to go this route. However, I like to say "But IF YOU DO go for masking, here are the benefits..."
With that in mind...
Originally Posted by Toe
In my setup, the room is dark enough with all the velvet and black paint that I have never felt any need to make side masks. The 1.78 image really jumps off my HP screen and I just dont see the side bars. If I actually look for the bars, I can see them slightly but they never catch my eye like the top/bottom bars used to on my 1.78 screen when I watch a movie normally as one does. Even if I actively look for them, it always takes my eyes some time to actually adjust and see them which is in part why I never notice them while simply watching a movie.
If I were you OP, I would first test out your new screen without side masking to see if its even noticeable to you. Its hard to say for sure since I dont know how good your lighting control is, but you will be surprised if your results are anything like mine and you will be glad you saved the money by not going with a pricey masking system like the Masquerade. This was one of the unexpected bonuses of going to a 2.35 screen for me as the side bars honestly never catch my eye which I cant say for the top/bottom bars on my 1.78 screens before it.
Yes, whether to mask is a personal criteria for sure. But there are some issues to sort of untangle. There's the issue of "whether your unmasked image bothers you" and another of "Does masking make a difference?"
Certainly some portion of people (most?) live happily with unmasked systems, saying "I don't really notice the 'black bars,' they don't bother me, so I don't need masking." And of course that can be quite true.
But masking does make a difference WHEN you see it employed, and especially when you see it employed in your own system. Even in the darkest rooms, the best JVC projectors project far-from-black in the unused portions of the image - the unprojected black bar area "black levels" can't remotely compete with the true pitch black of black velvet. And that's something you really notice when you actually slide in the masking (as mentioned, I have the JVC RS55 in bat cave conditions).
Masking is much like the issue of presenting an image in a field of dark/black and removing visual clutter. Most people have projection set ups with all sorts of visual clutter near the image, be it their equipment racks with glowing buttons under or near the screen, speakers, and all manner of objects that light up around the image. And most people will say they "don't notice" these things because, after all "I'm watching the movie, not the objects around the screen." But the fact is they ARE seeing the things around the screen, any visual information IS part of the image presentation your brain is taking in. And that's what you realize when you actually take away that visual clutter. Once you see it gone, you realise it WAS contributing to the viewing experience...and not in an enhancing manner. My buddy now has my previous JVC RS20 projector in his set up. He's got a typical room, gray screen with gain, equipment under the screen, you can see the speakers, rug, ceiling, walls etc light up during movies etc. He thinks it looks great and it does. But the difference between how the image looks and the viewing experience at his place vs how it looks at mine (both with the RS20 and with my newer RS55) is HUGE. It's just a whole different ballgame as a viewing experience because the image floats in a sea of black which adds so much dimensionality and immersiveness. As my friend, and my other friend's with projectors, always comment when they watch movies in my room.
So, in fact, the things you don't really think you are noticing do contribute to the image and viewing experience, and you find this out when you actually see the difference with visual clutter stripped away.
Black projected areas on projection screens are, I find, the same way. You may not find yourself noticing them during movies, but once you see them actually gone with masking, suddenly you realise how much better it is and you want them gone. I occasionally try to watch unmasked images just for the heck of it. For instance I had my system in CIH mode recently, and switched to watching a 1:85:1 movie, without moving the side masking in.
If I didn't have masking would I think the image looks bad? Certainly not. It looked exellent! But having masking makes watching it this way really hard to do because I know it looks so much better once the true pitch black slides in to take over the unprojected area. And when I did that it was the usual "OMG that looks so much better!"
So it boils down to 2 questions one can ask on the issue:Do I need masking?
and:Do I want masking
In the first case, it's nice to be able to do some experimenting, or have some experience, to see whether you are actually bothered by an unmasked image. If anything nags. If not, if you are just fine with an unmasked image then in that sense you don't "need" masking. And you have saved yourself some money or perhaps time. If you are nagged by the "black bar" areas on your screen, then you may "need" masking to feel happy with your system.
In the second case, masking DOES make an appreciable difference to the image presentation, and it boils down both to whether want to push the performance of your system/presentation to a higher level. Masking WILL elevate the experience of your system...you just have to ask whether this particular aspect is something you value enough to pay for or create for your system. (Much like controlling room reflections will enhance your image/viewing experience...how far do you want to go?).