After critically looking at these screens for over 5 days and taking over 200 pictures I must say this was one hard review. There are so many variables, they cannot all be covered here. In the end, it is important to try to achieve the greatest benefit for the environment or viewing you want to achieve. This review will focus on 5 high power screens surfaces and will include 3 lower power for reference only. The Lumenstar, which I was originally told was 5.8 gain was to be included in the high gain review, but did not turn out to be so. I would estimate it to be .58 gain, eliminating it from much comment. Also, I am not a professional reviewer. This review is for fun and therefore full of my observations and opinions. I did not use a Photometer to measure the gain, and I will try to present all information in understandable terms. My Camera is also not perfect or calibrated for color accuracy, however, all pictures are untouched and were taken from the same setting (not auto). Therefore you can use all pictures as references against themselves. I used 5 different lighting levels and pictures from 0 to 50 degrees off center. Three different ambient lighting sources were used(daylight, fluorescent and incandescent), and five different lighting levels. Virtually all pictures were taken in very tough(high) ambient lighting conditions to really put these products through the paces. I will try to be described when able. Now for the screens in order of brightnessHigh Power Screens
Vutec Silverstar - 9.5 Gain
Vutec Silverstar - 6.0 Gain
Da-Lite High Power - 2.8 Gain
Stewart Ultramatte - 2.75 Gain
Da-Lite Glass Beaded - 2.5 GainLower Power Screens
Stewart Retro Grey - 1.6 Gain
Da-Lite Cinema Vision - 1.3 Gain see update
Stewart Firehawk - 1.3 GainWhy Review High Power Screens?
Well, of course I'm trying to solve a problem. I do not like watching TV and sporting events in dark conditions that are necessary for front projection. Movies in darker conditions are ok, but there is nothing lamer than inviting some friends over to watch the Superbowl in the dark.
So how can I solve this problem? Find some magical screen with so much gain that it sheds all ambient light yet at the same time directs all projected light directly to all viewing areas. Hahahahahah. See, this review has already made me gone mad! Yes, I have come to the realization yet again you cannot cheat the physics!The problem:
I have an unusually large seating arrangement with viewing angles from some seating positions exceeding 50 degrees from the light source on one side of the screen and less than 15 degrees on the other side. If you have started thinking about this now you probably have figured out you need to consider the projection angles and type of screen.
How will the light reflect? This will determine what you should be seeing, and if certain viewing cones will allow for a consistent image. Before you jump to any conclusions you also have to consider "Net effect" based on the screen's viewing cone, projection angles and where you are sitting.Types of Screens
There are basically two types of screens.Retro-reflective
This is like a stop sign and other traffic related reflecting devices. The light is reflected back toward the source. The following screens in this review I found to have these properties were:
Da-Lite Hi Power, Da- Lite Glass Bead, and the Stewart Retro Grey (experimental)Angular reflective
This is like a ping pong table. The light is reflected along the trajectory of the reflection much like the ping pong ball. The following screens in this review I found to have these properties were:
Vutec Silverstar 9.5, Vutec Silverstar 6.0, Stewart Ultramatte (somewhat)
And I'm going to add a third property which is exhibited in standard uncoated white vinyl/pvc tensionable screen material which is illumination.
Although it is still angular in nature, it diffuses the light so well that no clear direction or change in gain is noticeable from any angle. More laterMy Home Theater
and what screen might be best? Because I'm trying to achieve high gain WITH a wide viewing stage and I'm thinking ANGULAR might be best. The projector being used is a JVC G1000 (D-ila), producing approximately 700 true lumens right now. It is "ceiling mounted" and aligned with the top of the screen. Center couch seating is 18' from screen, projector is 26' from screen. Screen is 10' wide 16:9 aspect ratio.
Background screen is the Da-Lite Cinema Vision 1.3 (white stretchable vinyl/pvc) see update
Here's an example of my set up and the projection angles in degrees. They are only estimates! The numbers are slightly high because my projector is actually farther back than the seating distances measured. This is of course exacerbated as the estimated angles get higher.
It should become obvious that at some viewing angles the projection angle will exceed the limitations of what even some Angular Reflective screens can do. I haven't really considered retro-reflective screens yet, because only the center couch would benefit from the higher gains since the light comes back toward the source.
Can you still get consistency across the screen from these viewing angles with an angular or retro-reflective screen? Well, I haven't cut my samples up yet to determine this by placing them throughout the screen and testing. I wish I just had full screen versions for more accurate evaluation. Because of this, I will also not be able to comment on hot spotting.
I think you can probably tell from the middle couch the reflection angle really never exceeds ~15 degrees from the light source(except on the far side if on one side of the couch). From the side couches though, angles from the projected light source can exceed 50 degrees! Retro-reflective is definitely not an option if I want the gain from all seating positions.What's Gain?
Gain is the amount of light that is reflected back from the screen surface. A standard of 1 gain is measured with a photometer as light is reflected off a piece of magnesium carbonate. As the gain goes up more light is reflected. As you reflect light you are not creating light, just reflecting it. So, as the gain goes up all you are really doing is reflecting more of the light directionally, like back toward the viewer. Since you cannot cheat the physics the more light you send back toward the viewer, the less gets reflected off to the side, thus a smaller viewing cone.
The only thing you can really change in this equation is how efficiently you can reflect it back. The Vutec Silverstar has managed to take this to the most efficient levels from what I can see. Without hot spotting? I can't tell with just this small sample.
What's hot spotting? The inability of the screen surface to diffuse the light consistently across the screen. For instance a regular mirror would be very efficient for reflection, but horrible for hot spotting. In fact, you would just see exactly where the light was coming from.Finally, The Review
Below are the samples I tested. This picture was taken with one third daylight conditions(estimate). The daylight coloration is very noticeable and none of the light was direct to the screen. The day was overcast. The ANSI checkerboard allows you to see and evaluate the whites, blacks, and real world contrast as they are both present at the same time.
My impressions and observations.Vutec Silverstar 9.5
Wow, over the top bright. Probably too much for home theater, plus I don't think they are currently manufacturing it. They told me they are only manufacturing the 6.0. Although it looks more like ~5.0 gain as it is really hard to tell without use of an instrument, and at these levels who knows!? I can assure you it is the brightest screen you will likely ever see!
Construction is on solid thick foam board. Screen surface is silver in color and somewhat smooth .Vutec Silverstar 6.0
Wow, very bright, could work for HT. At this brightness you WILL SEE compression artifacts in source material. Sorry, but when you get this bright, and you have a high end display device, you are going to see the flaws. Lower power screens do a good job of hiding these flaws. Until you see them you never even knew they were there! The Silverstars somehow have better viewing cones than the other high powers! I'd estimate this screen is more like 4 gain.
Construction is on solid thick foam board. Screen surface is silver in color and somewhat smooth.Da-Lite High Power 2.8
Nice screen, My favorite of the high powers(even though the Silverstar is very intriguing). Appeared brighter and more consistent than the Ultramatte. I would estimate if the Ultramatte is a true 2.75 the High Power should be 2.9 or maybe even 3 gain.
Construction is retro-reflective emulsion on a heavy vinyl backing. Screen surface is white in color and medium texture.Stewart Ultramatte 2.75
Good screen, The pearlescent emulsion is ok and has unique properties, but I think there is better emulsion available. The Ultramatte appeared to have much more angular reflective properties and the brightness consistency looked kind of spotty to me. This may be just an illusion or may not even be an issue with a full screen. I definitely waffled back an forth on whether liked it or not. In the end, it was pretty good for watching actual material.
Construction is angular reflective emulsion on a lighter vinyl backing. Screen surface is white/pearlescent in color and low texture. Material is stretchable.Da-Lite Glass Beaded 2.5
Lowest viewing cone. Better technology exists today in my opinion. Overall, it did what it was supposed to do but the others just did it better. Cleaning this screen would be difficult at best.
Construction is retro-reflective emulsion on a heavy vinyl backing. Screen surface is white/crushed glass in color and high texture. The glass emulsion likes to fall off when the screen is manipulated.Stewart Retro Grey 1.6
(super secret experimental pink screen) Yes, it's pink. I really liked this material. It's really a toss up between this and the Firehawk. I liked the colors on this material much better than the Firehawk plus it was brighter. Whites looked whiter, yet it managed to give the same blacks as the Firehawk.
Construction is mildly retro-reflective emulsion on a heavy vinyl backing. Screen surface is pink in color and medium texture. Build quality, durable.Da-Lite Cinema Vision 1.3
My screen. By far, the best viewing angle. 180 degrees. All others have an emulsion so they suffer at certain viewing angles and have a viewing cone with drop off. My screen is stretched white vinyl/pvc with no coating. This allows light to be transmitted through the material. The white vinyl actually diffuses the light in such a way that all viewing angles look the same. I also liked the coloration of this screen the best.
Construction is light extra white vinyl. Screen surface is white in color and stretchable. UPDATE. I have received a new sample Da-Lite Cinema Vision and it now differs from my screen purchased in 2000. My screen... is a very white vinyl/pvc with a very small/no visable coating on it. Just a sheen(could just be surface properties), and some small almost non visable sparklies. Essentially extra white stretchable vinyl/pvc. Virtually identical to Draper 1300 and the Vutec Brite-White products that are also 1.3. For camparison, my screens white is definately brighter than say the Da-Lite's Da Mat vinyl/pvc at 1.0 gain. This material is a similar strechable vinyl just not as white. This New Cinema Vision does have a gain curve. I'm not sure why they would go with this opticle coating as IMHO it may not help the product.Stewart Firehawk 1.3
Very similar to Cinema Vision for brightness but slightly better blacks. Much smaller viewing cone. Starts to drop very gradually after 20 degrees in brightness. I could not get used to the grey look beside the white screens. Colors to me just looked better on the white screens. This likely would not be an issue if others where not present.
Construction is mild reflective emulsion on a light, grey in color, vinyl backing. Screen surface is grey in color and light texture. Material is stretchable.Lumenstar
I originally was told this was a 5.8 gain screen. However, I think something was lost in the translation from Japan where it's manufactured. It appears to be a .58 gain screen. So I'm really not going to say much about it except that it is designed to shed ambient light. The lumens necessary to even bring it up to the 1.3 gain screen would be significant. To reach the foot lamberts of luminance of the higher gain screen levels well. I'm not sure this product will work for HT unless you have a 5000 lumen projector or more! The product itself is approximately 8-10 times what the others cost, and if you couple that with the cost of a very high lumen projector it is likely out of the range for price for anybody but the extremely wealthy. This product is likely not for Home Theater.
Construction is on solid backing board. Screen surface is black/dark grey with small grooves similar to an LP record. Appears to be a laminate with an outer grooved (fresnel type) surface, with a reflective backing, and a supporting backing board. Looks washable and only comes in panels that are 40 x 60? inches at the largest. Panels are pieced together to make larger displays.What do the samples look like?
Here is another picture in medium indirect florescent lighting levels. These lighting levels would allow you to read a newspaper with out problem, but are much lower than the higher lighting levels displayed later.
As you can see from the ANSI checkerboard pattern that the different gains are dramatic. Coloration from my camera is a little weird but not that far off really.
Although this isn't really very scientific (because not all angles are the same for each sample) I will show you a color sample at 0 through 50 degrees. Pictures are taken at 10-degree intervals. This is a really fun shot because you can see each material and how the look changes the intensity of the colors as it gets wider and wider angle. Just for fun.Lets talk about viewing cones
Now the viewing cones are for these products are dramatically different. The higher the gain, the more noticeable the drop off is. To do this experiment we will focus on the HIGH GAIN SCREENS which I will align in the middle of my screen as shown. This is so the degree measurements of the pictures at 0, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 are accurately represented. The Stewart Retro Grey and Firehawk will be included off to the right as shown. Of course, my screen the Da-Lite Cinema Vision is in the background.
This photo will give you an idea of where these samples are as we move on to the main experiment.Viewing Angles, Different Lighting Levels, and Sources
The following pictures are screen shots taken on the above mentioned 10 degree increments. Four different lighting levels were used. Keep in mind my walls are painted sand/tan in color and the reflected lighting effects the pictures.High Light Direct Incandescent
This lighting is very bright. No where near Daylight conditions, but direct to the screen. Light is provided by 9 sixty watt incandescent flood lamps. Very bright, warm in color.High Light Indirect Florescent
This lighting is very bright. No where near Daylight conditions, but very bright even though not direct to screen. Light is provided by 9, four foot 40 watt fluorescent lamps. Very bright, cooler in color.Medium Light Indirect Florescent
This lighting is much dimmer. No where near higher lighting conditions, but bright enough to read and walk around the room comfortably. Mood lighting, dim yet navigable. Not direct to screen, light is bounced off ceiling from soffits. Light is provided by 4, four foot 40 watt fluorescent lamps. Mildly dim, cooler in color.Low Light indirect Incandescent
This lighting is very dim. Not direct to screen, only relected off walls. You could not read in this lighting. Excellent for watching movies in low lighting conditions as you can still see the walls. Light is provided by one 25 watt incandescent lamp in back of room. Very dim, warm in color.Viewing Cones
What did I see? Even though the pictures may not represent it, I did individually evaluate each sample and this is what I found for viewing cones and drop off. Of course different colors act differently. My observations for viewing cone were done using only a white and grey projected image.Silverstar 9.5
Starts to noticeably drop off at 14-15 degrees then consistently declines until it is neutral (1 gain) at 30 degrees. Continues to decline consistently at the same rate out to the wider angles.Silverstar 6.0
Starts to noticeably drop off at 14-15 degrees then consistently declines until it is neutral (1 gain) at 30 degrees. Continues to decline consistently at the same rate out to the wider angles.High Power
Starts to noticeably drop off at 10 degrees then consistently declines until it is neutral (1 gain) at 20 degrees, where it stays at the same rate (1 gain) out to the wider angles.Ultramatte
Starts to noticeably drop off at 10 degrees then consistently declines until it is neutral (1 gain) at 20 degrees, where it stays at the same rate (1 gain) out to the wider angles.Glass Bead
Starts to noticeably drop off at 7 degrees then consistently declines until it is neutral (1 gain) at 12 degrees, where it stays at the same rate (1 gain) out to the wider angles.Retro Grey
Slowly drops off and at 10 degrees is then neutral (1 gain), then continues to decline consistently at same rate out to the wider angles.Firehawk
Slowly drops off and at 10 degrees is then neutral (1 gain), then continues to decline consistently at same rate out to the wider angles.Cinema Vision
No noticeable decline in gain at any angle. 1.3 gain.see updateCONCLUSIONS
Well, I haven't found the magical screen that I have been looking for (for my circumstances. Unlimited viewing angles and higher gain). I guess I will have to stick with my Cinema Vision for the wide angles and balance a brighter projector with ambient lighting. I may have to resort to Designing a rear projection set up.
Some of the screen materials were very interesting. Both the Vutec 6.0 and the Da-Lite High Power really got my curiosity up. I may try these surfaces in the future for fun to really see how the full screen looks. The colors at these higher levels are so vibrant. If the High Power had 10 degree wider viewing angle I would buy it today. Unfortunately you can't cheat the physics and no screen is perfect. What I really need is a screen that doesn't just reflect, but illuminates as it defuses the light. Is it possible? Only time will tell.Thank you Don Stewart for personally sending me the samples, and to JimmyR for overnighting me the Vutec 6.0 sample.
I wish the Draper 2500 sample would have come but it was a no-show. I would have liked to do a longer review but time and other issues intervened. I'll monitor for questions.