Welcome to my third screen review. This review will demonstrate three professionally manufactured materials that are White, Grey, and Silver. I hope to demonstrate the differences of what these different screen colorations can offer and how you may benefit.
The White screen will be a white uncoated PVC vinyl that many manufacturers carry and is most similar to the Draper 1300/ Vutec Brite White. The Grey screen that will be demonstrated will be the Stewart Firehawk. This is a hybrid screen made on a tensionable grey PVC vinyl backing. And finally, I will present a Silver screen known as the SilverStar from Vutec.
I have lived with all three of these screens in my home theater. This is not a trade show review where a glimpse of a product and limited first impressions are stuck in my head. I have run all three of these screens through a battery of tests and am fairly confident of their abilities and limitations. They all represent their coloration characteristics to the highest available performance. As a reminder, this review is for fun and will be full of my observations and opinions. I will not use any special instruments in the review process (only YOUR eyes), and I will try to present all information and pictures as accurately as possible. My camera is also not perfect or calibrated for color accuracy; however, all pictures are untouched and were taken from the same manual setting. Unfortunately, there is no one perfect screen surface so you will likely have some tradeoffs. This review will show you images that are possible with these three different materials but not how they can be integrated into your theater.
Also, I get paid nothing to do this. I do not endorse or work for any manufacturer or even have any ties to the AV industry except as a hobbyist. I also do not claim to know why each manufacturer does what they do except that they are in business and they likely choose products that they can sell. Finally, and most importantly, I am not an expert. I will attempt to pass on my impressions and will try my best to call them as I see them.
Now, on to the screens!
1. Draper 1300 or similar Vutec Brite White 1.3
This, like all other vinyl/pvc material, needs tensioning. It is very white. With the slight surface sheen created from the manufacturing process it brings the gain up slightly above 1. It also does not suffer from any hot spotting. This screen has basically and unlimited viewing angle with virtually no noticeable drop-off. This material is actually light transmissive so you can see the image on the backside. This allows the material to illuminate and may help in the light diffusion process.
2. Stewart - Firehawk 1.35
The Stewart Firehawk is a grey pvc/vinyl material that also needs tensioning. The grey material is slightly darker than the Vutec Greydove/Draper HiDef Grey and it has a reflective emulsion carefully and lightly splattered on. The grey material is designed to give you good blacks and the reflective emulsion boosts the whites bringing the gain up to 1.35. This, of course, reduces the viewing angle.
3. Vutec - SilverStar 6.0
Material is some kind of silvery angular reflective paper laminated onto a solid composite foam board. Screen surface is silver in color and pretty smooth. Very bright, but not too bright for HT. Super vibrant colors and over the top whites. The SilverStar somehow has a better viewing cone horizontally than all the other high powers. It's hard to estimate the gain of this screen but it is definitely very bright. It feels like about 3+?. Remarkably, it doesn't seem to suffer from hot spotting. However, I bet if you went with screen sizes larger than what Vutec actually manufactures, you likely would see something.
Both the White and Firehawk screens are made with a PVC vinyl backing so they need to be tensioned to remove the wrinkles. The SilverStar comes as a solid fixed screen so it has no wrinkles at all. All three of the screens are Angular Reflective in nature so are ideal for most projector mounting applications including the ceiling.
How do they compare?
A standard white screen has been the AV industry standard now for a long time. Why? In offers accurate colors, great looking whites and the most generous viewing angles of any screen. Basically, no nonsense. Plus there are numerous materials to fit the bill for a matte white screen material. All standard or Matte White screens are basically neutral gain or 1. Some manufacturers say their product is 1.1 or 1.3, but this slight bump in these numbers are considered false gain and usually attributed to a slight surface sheen from manufacturing the product. There are white colored screens like the Da-lite Cinema vision or High Power that offer increased gain but from an emulsion that is put onto the screen backing. Don't expect to see noticeable differences in gain within the 1-1.3 gain range.
The white screen that I will be showing is extra white pvc/vinyl tensionable material with no surface texture or emulsion. This material has been in my own HT for years. The cool thing about this material is that light penetrates it allowing the illumination effect. This illumination effect diffuses and blends the light a bit hiding some source material artifacts and provides spot on linear color accuracy and whites. Also, since the light is able to penetrate the material, it may defuse the light in such a way as to lighten up the area between the pixels known as screen door and possibly soften some source material artifacts. Basically this screen is low enough gain and forgiving enough to hide many of the flaws of your system. In reality, it's about the same as all the other matte white screens but is tensionable to eliminate any wrinkles.
As we start thinking about grey and what it does we enter into negative gain territory. Obviously the darker the grey gets the less reflectivity it has and thus its ability to hide your system flaws increases. Of course what's really happening is you are just reflecting less light/image! Grey has just recently become popular and this can primarily be contributed to the fact that digital projectors are gaining in popularity, they typically have problems providing the deepest of blacks, and there are enough higher lumen projectors available now to make using grey possible.
Keep in mind grey reduces the reflected light and thus causes coloration changes. Some people don't mind this, others just can't get used to it. And of course, if it's the only screen in your theater, you may not even notice, as you have nothing to compare it to. In some applications grey screen may be necessary to tame a projector with lots of lumens or if your projector suffers from lack of contrast range it may also be of some benefit. How does it change colors?
Thank you Movie Bear for this illustration.
I will be showing the Stewart Firehawk for grey. This is not your typical grey screen. It actually is a grey hybrid screen that has reflective emulsion on a grey backing to give it the darks of a grey screen and the whites of a 1.35 gain screen. The Stewart Filmscreen team came up with this screen combination that essentially offers the deepest of blacks, a reflective coating for the punch of 1.35 gain in addition to rejection of ambient light via a viewing cone. Viewing on the Firehawk is a little like having an equalizer on your stereo and pushing up the bass and the treble. If you're a purist this may bother you. The casual observer will likely love it.
The Firehawk sheds ambient light better than any product I've seen, but the best picture is definitely obtained by watching on-axis. You do have some amount of leeway from side to side without noticing the drop-off and this should be fine for most home theater environments. I actually think this product performs it's best with a little ambient light. In total darkness blacks tends to lose shadow detail and whites tend to look crushed to me. If you like some ambient light in your viewing environment the Stewart Firehawk may be for you.
Silver, it's back and Wow!
The movie industry started out with silver for a reason low light projectors. This is similar to what some HTs experience. You can significantly boost gain through silver as high as ~10 gain! Unlike greys, colors and whites are vibrant and almost leap off the screen and yet it can still offer the perceived blacks of a grey screen. Silver however obviously has the highest probability for hot spotting. The trick is to find a surface or emulsion that offers the properties of silver with the excellent diffusion of a standard white screen. Enter the Vutec SilverStar and as far as I know they are the only company that offers such a screen.
I've been living with a 122" SilverStar for a few weeks now and can't stop getting excited about what it does. It's hard not to like this screen right from the get go. Colors are beautiful and almost leap off the screen! Whites are white white white. The dynamic range is in a totally different league, response is linear throughout the range, and the viewing cone is remarkably much wider than the Firehawk at 1.35 gain. Unfortunately, the biggest screen they manufacture is only 122 diagonal as I would love to have one even bigger! Trick questionhow do get a 122 plasma? Match a 1000 lumen projector with the SilverStar! Seriously though, I love watching stuff on this thing. Perfect screen? Of course not, there are tradeoffs with everything. One thing is the viewing cone/light diffusion efficiency. Hey this thing sets new standards for light diffusion efficiency. It is so good it has a hard time shedding ambient light. Make sure you have NO direct ambient light hitting the screen. You will see it. Even though you can still obtain a great image with low indirect lighting, no lighting will yield the most impressive results for Home Theater. Also because this thing is ~3+ gain (no, it's not too much) you may see flaws of your system more easily(projector, source, component etc.). Compression artifacts may become noticeable if sitting too close etc. Bottom line, this screen surface is very sensitive to light. Feed it the right stuff and you will be rewarded with a stunning image that other screens are just not capable of producing. People say this screen surface also has a characteristic behavior of being kind of sparkly/active in some scenes(sky). This is compression artifacts from the source material. How can you alleviate this? Sit at least 16 feet from the screen. My closest viewing puts me at 18 feet, so I can't see it but if I move closer to the screen it does become evident if I really start to look for it. Kids, this screen is like a high performance sports car. You will feel every pit, bump and piece of gravel on the road. If you're looking for a Ferrari this is probably the screen for you.
From the few weeks of viewing the SilverStar I have been very critical as I am a skeptic with every thing. However, the good definitely outweighs the bad in my system and it would be very hard at this point to go back now to anything with less gain and/or performance.
Now for the testingseeing is believing!
My Home Theater for testing
The projector being used in the test is a JVC G1000 (D-ila), producing approximately 600 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. Screens are approximately 9-10 feet wide and all 16:9 aspect ratio.
One interesting test I put these three screens through is the examination of a single pixel. I really wanted to see if I could illustrate my theory that a white uncoated PVC screen actually diffuses screen door effect in digital projectors slightly. What I found was something even more remarkable. I fully expected the SilverStar to exacerbate the screen door as it is much higher gain than the other two screens. What I found was that it actually minimized it? Huh? I'll let you decide, but I think it is actually harder to see the screen door and pixel dimple on the SilverStar Here are some pictures. Pull back from your screen a bit and see if you concur
Hey, I could go on and on about how great each one of these screen materials are or I can let you see for yourself. As they say A picture is worth a thousand words so I offer these full screen shots of these three different materials and same source material. These shots were high-resolution shots taken from the Kodak high resolution digital website. I apologize for those taken a little off center and I've been testing out my new camera. All pictures were taken from a subcompact digital camera (Canon Powershot S400). The lens is very sensitive to geometry issues compared to my other camera. I think you'll get the idea Enjoy!
Also, all shots will be presented in order of White, Grey, Silver for reference, and were taken in very low lighting conditions. Not total darkness but very dim. It would be impossible to read a newspaper under these lighting conditions without the reflection of the screen.
White, Grey or Silver
What's best for you? Of course it is important to match the best product with your own equipment and environment. In my case I went from a white screen which I loved, to a grey screen which took me a long time to get used to, and finally a silver screen which I'm having more fun with than... It's kind of like the first time I started watching High Definition materialI'm still watching in awe.
If you want no-nonsense performance and accurate delivery of colors and whites I highly recommend a white-based screen. If you are trying to overcome some limitations of your equipment or environment, like poor black level, a grey screen may be for you. If you want what is possibly the best of both worlds and an awesome punch to your image, you should really consider what Silver could do for you.
I hope that others manufactures will consider the benefits of silver and start working on their version of the best of both worlds Until then, bravo Vutec! what a screen!
Okay, one final White, Grey, Silver split screen shot of all the tested screens in one shot. I thought I'd bring back your favorite
Sorry about the green shading in the background on the right...that's from my D-ILA.
Again, Thank you AVScience! and
Vutec Corp for the SilverStar
Stewart Filmscreen for the Firehawk
For further information screen info you can contact:
Vutec Corp (FL): www.vutec.com (954) 545-9000
Stewart Filmscreen Corp. (CA): www.stewartfilm.com (310) 784-5300
Draper, Inc. (IN): www.draperinc.com (800) 580-1560
Da-Lite Screen Company (IN): www.da-lite.com (574) 267-8101