So, I got my Da-Lite samples and here's what I've found. I'm going to add some pictures probably in a couple of days but I wanted to boil it all down to a final review and post that here. For this final review, I did several tests (which I took pictures of) but I also spent some time watching lots of different materials in order to get an overall final impression of what I saw. My pictures will let you take a look but it's hard enough to do a comparison in person. It's certainly much harder to judge from a picture. When I do post pictures I will also post an explanation clarifying what I saw in each of the tests I photographed.
Note 1 - 6" X 6" samples are not good for judging the overall impression of what a screen will finally do when you see the whole thing. I wish I had full screens but I don't. What the samples can do is give you a very small window into what it can do. But what might look good in a sample might not be as impressive on a full scale
Note 2 - I cannot test gain. So for all of my comments about these samples I'm going to try and keep it to brightness and white levels. Gain is a physical measurement; brightness and white level is something you perceive. When I talk about whiteness I'm talking about the color of the whites. This is throughout this entire review. These are more subjective measurements but it's what I have. Also, gain isn't a whiteness measurement. It refers to how much light goes in and then comes back out. Whiteness, as I learned, is a result of the material itself. Even though the positive gain materials like CV and XFS boost gain slightly their whites were not as pure white as the DA-Mat which is rated at a lower 1.0 gain. So more gain doesn't mean more white necessarily. The silver/grayness of CV and XFS impart that on the whites a bit. Watching XFS by itself it isn't something you notice because your eye adjusts, but in comparison you can see the whites being whiter with a screen like Da-Mat or HP.
(also I feel confident in now describing XFS as around 1.3 gain since, as you'll read, CV and XFS performed so close to each other I'm assuming that Da-lite's rating of CV at 1.3 gain is probably about what XFS would rate.)
Note 3 - While the CV and HCCV have listed viewing cones, I found them to be not much of a factor considering the very modest gains of 1.3 and 1.1. The only viewing cone worth talking about is HP. All other materials worked very well on and off axis with XFS possibly being a tiny bit better but hardly an advantage worth noting. HP is the only viewing cone I'll talk about. (see below.)
I taped all of these samples in various positions on my XFS Black Flame screen. I moved them around etc. And tried lots of video material over a couple days of viewing. (You'll be happy to know that the paint from my XFS screen did not rip off or fall off when I pulled off the samples and relocated them. Despite some fears others have posted about XFS. The paint is firmly on the PVC and is plenty durable. Durable enough to stick things to it and rip them off without damage.)
DA-MAT FLAT WHITE.
I had a full matte white Da-Lite screen from a friend when I first got my XFS screen so I know a good bit about this. This is the most common screen most people choose. They just go and get a white screen and it is also pretty cheap. Being a white screen, when I used a solid white image to compare I found that the Da-Mat whites were slightly whiter than XFS. This leads your mind to perceive the image as a bit brighter overall.
The big problem with this surface for me is everything seems more washed out (again I have seen this material on a full screen.) Now I know you'd think a white screen should be the most natural but it's not better to my eye because colors loose some of the dynamic-ness you see with other materials like the XFS. Over and over with video material a matte white screen looked more washed out and flat. And of course black levels are noticeably higher with the white screen. Much lighter blacks than what I could ever be happy with. This is something I knew a long time ago when I watched my friends screen and first went to a gray screen (the Draper).
High Contrast Cinema Vision (HCCV)
The whiteness of HCCV is very very close to the whiteness provided by XFS. XFS proved to be brighter and black levels were almost too close to call, but if I had to pick one I'd say the HCCV did have a tiny bit darker blacks. During normal viewing HCCV just seemed to make the picture a bit dimmer while the overall black levels didn't really improve much. So brightness takes a little hit but black levels are hardly much better. Similar results to the draper .8 gain gray screen just a bit brighter than the draper. HCCV was much smoother than the draper. That's an important note on all of these materials. They were all very smooth and did NOT introduce any texture into the image.
Cinema Vision (CV)
This is the most interesting for me. Its performance was very very very close to that of XFS in almost ever regard. Displaying a full white image the CV was a touch less white than XFS but not by much. On a solid black screen it was identical to XFS in black levels. During normal viewing I almost could not see the difference between the XFS and the CV. On certain footage XFS might be a hair brighter. On other footage CV looked to be a hair brighter. My main conclusion about this is it's nearly identical to XFS in almost all categories.
On the whole CV and HCCV are very close to XFS in terms of performance (again this is looking at small samples.) How each would do on a full scale against XFS I can't say. Depth, Richness, Detail, Color reproduction - these need to be judged on a full screen and these are the areas that make me happy with XFS. Could CV also do the same? I don't know, but I still have one more sample.
High Power (HP)
Well there is so much to say about this material. Brighter, yes, by a long shot. Whites - very white no grayish tone at all. Put HP whites at 100 and go down the grayscale and the whites of XFS might be a 94 and CV would be a 92 with the DA-Mat at a 97. When you combine this white white with the brightness of the HP you get the REALLY bright whites. All of my pictures of HP have it placed dead center on the screen and I am doing a shelf mount so this is the ideal situation for high power. The little I could see of color reproduction looked good. Sometimes color looked like it might be getting blown out but other times it just seemed that much brighter and vibrant. (Again almost impossible to judge this with a sample.) B U T
God you hate to hear the But. But put on a black screen and . . . . oh my this would never work for me. Black levels are dynamically raised. Put in Underworld and it's not going to be the same movie anymore. Watch Ice Age 2 and it wouldn't be as bad, but any large areas of black suffer greatly. This is a HUGE problem. But I've also stated in another thread that this isn't HP failing. It's really a digital projector failing. Digital projectors LCD or DLP can't do black. They leak light. My HD1000 also has a clear segment on its color wheel so that further pulls up the black levels. Now I found if there was an area with just a little bit of black and lots of white around it that my projector was able to keep that black relatively black and consequently the HP didn't have extra light to amplify, but with lots of black my projector couldn't do it and the HP screen was all to happy to show just how bad a job it was doing.
If you have a really really good projector with a REAL, ACCURATE, OUTSTANDING contrast ratio this might not be such a downside. But with the price of a projector like that you are probably also spending the big bucks for a high-end screen and not looking for a moderately priced HP. HP seems to call for CRT. If you have that big monster of a CRT which can really do black (the lack of any light at all) this might be a really good combo.
Now to a little more about HP. I was surprised to find that HP maintains its brightness across the screen from edge to edge. I was worried about this. If you're dead on let's say it's 100% of its brightness. Now it will also be 100% looking at the left side and on the right side. Then change seats and now it's 75% of its brightness. It will still be 75% to the left and right. Also as you move out of the viewing cone I found that the HP's brightness NEVER drops below into negative gain (whoops I said gain, I mean it never gets as low in brightness as compared with the Draper .8 gain gray screen.) I was afraid there would be that RPTV style dramatic fall off but there wasn't. At about 30 degrees XFS and HP are very close in brightness though because HP is a white screen the whiteness of the HP was more white like the Da-Mat with the XFS BF still looked slightly less white.
The viewing cone is pronounced with HP. In that sitting dead on and moving just one spot left or right on my couch did result in lower brightness, but brightness was still stronger on HP over XFS until you got out to around 20-30 degrees. (I have a chair next to my couch and from that spot the two had nearly identical brightness.) Also I was pleased to realize that even though you lose some brightness immediately, that brightness level remains uniform across the screen (I had thought that if you were in the center it was great but once you started to go a bit off axis that the furthest most edge of the screen would be dimmer. This didn't happen. I checked this by moving the HP sample to the edge of my screen. But also remember I didn't check it outside of my 85" XFS screen so I am using a small screen in comparison. Maybe at the edge of a 120" screen HP would start to show some uneven brightness across the screen.)
So what should YOU get? You know what I'm going to say. Only you can decide. Whites will be whiter on white screens like the Da-Mat and HP and the HP will then kick that white up a big notch - BAM - Now those are plasma-like whites. Here's my opinion. Da-Mat, the flat white, is not for me. It's just blah. It does nothing really well but because of that it doesn't do anything really bad. I went to gray a long time ago and don't think with most LCD and DLP projectors that white is a good option. The HCCV I didn't prefer over XFS because it lost brightness and didn't really do much to improve the black much more over XFS.
CV, however, is a very good competitor. Almost identical to XFS and at times I couldn't even see the sample anymore on the screen. I'd love to see a full screen of this to really see how Depth, Richness, Detail, & color reproduction turns out. Besides the HP, CV and the others are very flexible and need to be tensioned to be flat. XFS is much thicker and much more rigid. But if you were getting a cut to sized CV screen you would need to have the black backing and could get a black border put around it. This would save you the trouble of building a frame and then hopefully you could tension it enough simply by mounting it to the wall. Otherwise building a frame and nailing it to it would certainly tension it enough.
CV is very close in almost every way to XFS (besides the rigidity of the material) both in performance and price. While some might find this as proof it is better to just go with a major manufacturer like Da-Lite and get CV. I feel this proves XFS Black Flame competes very well and isn't a crappy DIY gray paint you can buy at home depot. CV and XFS perform very well. Seeing both head to head on full screens would be the only way to see which handles an image best, but in brightness, black levels, & level of whites they perform nearly identical. Also the color of CV is very close to the color of XFS Black Flame while HCCV is clearly a darker shade. This is why I keep referring to XFS as a silver/gray and not just a gray because it is a light color. Look at CV and you get a good idea what XFS BF is going to look like.
But what about HP? Well, if you've done your research you've heard from plenty of satisfied HP owners, but those black levels are beyond unacceptable to me. Maybe those people have much better projectors. Since Da-Lite will give you a sample for free you can take a look for yourself. I found the viewing cone wasn't as bad as I thought, and the brightness is very impressive. But as soon as I put up an all black screen it was over. As soon as I put in Underworld it was over. Black levels are just way to high. I didn't like the loss of black with a white screen, the loss of black on a white screen that is then boosted in gain by almost three times is three times as bad for black levels as a flat matte white Da-Mat screen. For a CRT projector HP could be great. I don't know if HP is the screen CRT guys are using and loving, but for the HD1000 I can say without a doubt it's not so great. And my CRT recommendation is only based on theory. I don't keep a 150lb CRT sitting in my living room.
So there you have it. Now all of this has one big asterisk - what does it all mean compared to the Light Fusion mirror option from XFS. When that screen arrives an update will be hopefully coming shortly afterwards. I'm still impressed with XFS. Somebody needs to professionally review an XFS Black Flame screen.