Ok - so I recently went to my local specialty home theater store. I was committed to spending $1500+ on a screen... until I saw that the difference between a $400 screen and a $1500 screen was nearly non-existent. The sales guy used the same projector and projected it onto a wide array of screens. Now, there was definitely a "difference" between the screens - HOWEVER, I wouldn't categorize the cheaper screens as worse.
The lighting was the same in all the rooms. they recreated a typical living room with a tiny bit of light, but overall pretty dark.
The top of the line screens looked amazing, but... so did the entry level screens. Am I missing something here???? I seriously do not get it. Please, someone enlighten me.
Read over this screen report put together by one of the professional calibrators on the forum. It will show you how much more there is to projection than just buying a screen and sticking it in a room.. It just may be your image obsessiveness only requires a $500 fixed frame screen.. if looking a pull downs or electric drop downs.. then Tension to prevent wrinkles can drive the price up.. there is a lot to consider and many compromises to be made. The data and insight in this document should help you a lot to understand what is real and what is BS..
It really just depends on the viewer, viewing conditions, etc.
The lower prices screens often have more artifacts (sparkles, color shifting, worse off-axis viewing, hotspotting, etc.) and frames which might not be as robust. That is not to say the higher priced screens are always perfect.
Some people don't see any of this and are fine with such screens.
Those with more critical viewing will see these things. Sparkles, for example, easily stand out to me. I was at Magnolia Best Buy recently and the screen in one of their display rooms had sparkles so badly I don't see how anyone could watch it. However, some people would never notice it.
Generally speaking, the higher priced screens have fewer artifacts.
But there are some good lower cost options depending on the situation.
Again, a lot of factors involved. The Accucal report is a great resource!
No Jesse, the more expensive screens are not a scam.
Take for example, two basic white screens of the same size. One screen is 400 dollars, the other one is 2000 dollars. You audition both screens, and find that both screens look great to you and you don't see why you should waste 1600 extra dollars. Upon closer inspection, you find that the cheap screen's material is a thin vinyl, while the expensive screen is a much thicker, stronger material. Upon inspection of the frames, you find that the cheap screen's frame will flex much more than the expensive one. You also find that much greater care is taken in how the material is Attached to the expensive frame. You may also find the wall mounting system superior in the expensive frame.
The Question is: After discovering the reasons why there is a big difference in price, Which screen would you buy?
I would say the larger majority would buy the 400 dollar screen because it performs perfectly well for a good price. The quality of the frame and screen material is good enough to do the job.
However. That doesn't make the 2000 dollar screen a scam purchase. The Quality of Materials and Frames are just as important to some people as the screen's performance.
Also, as DavidHir pointed out, pricier screen makers also take more care in addressing the problem of screen artifacts. When you first get into using a projection system, you enjoy the new world you've entered and either don't notice flaws or are not bothered by them. As time marches on, and you gain much more experience with projection systems, your eyes become much finer tuned to the flaws. Little things you didn't notice before, or were not bothered by, are now things that your sharpened senses see with ease. In time, these artifacts become so objectionable that you can no longer enjoy watching the cheaper screens anymore. So you look to the more expensive products because these problems (which would seem minor to the majority of viewers) are minimized, and you're now willing to pay for it.
If you read up on the concept of cost-performance (or price-performance) ratio, you'll learn about the increasingly steep curve. Near the bottom of the cost-performance curve you'll generally find lower performance at lower cost and near the top higher performance at higher cost. The curve gets steeper toward the top where you're paying increasingly more money for increasingly smaller performance gains. The sweet spot is the point on the curve where the most people find the most value. The formula varies depending on one's financial condition. For the filthy rich, why not pay 10 times more for a 2% gain? Also, paying more doesn't guarantee better performance in all instances. You still have to do your own research to learn which items actually perform at a higher level worthy of the higher cost and which are overpriced rip-offs. A lot of the discussion on forums like this one is based on finding the best performing products at the lowest possible prices.